Greek Stoicism is Hijacked Jewish Torah Wisdom

It has been some time since I have written a blog on this site. I began this site several years ago, to explore the ideas of ancient Jewish Stoicism as expressed in 4th Maccabees and the writings of Philo of Alexandria. This eventually took the form, for a time, of Torah Parsha studies based on this material. At a certain point in time, life got to busy to maintain these studies, as they required a lot of research each week.

This blog marks the beginning of a new phase for this blog and this site. Phase one was merely the collection of data and the exploration of an idea. In this new phase, I intend to draw conclusions, and move forward into analysis and synthesis of these ideas. By analogy, in the past I acted as a paleontologist, but from this point forward, I will be acting more as the dinosaur itself.

This blog will no longer be analysis of what these ancient Jewish Stoics believed, but a restoration of ancient Jewish Stoicism itself.

In fact I have come to the conclusion that ancient Jewish Stoicism was actually just the natural Jewish Torah Wisdom which the Greeks had borrowed and repackaged as “Stoicism.”

The Greeks were phenomenal at borrowing from the ancient Hebrews. Even the Greek Alphabet was borrowed from the ancient Paleo-Hebrew Alphabet (though some claim that it borrowed the nearly identical Phoenician Alphabet). Even elements of Greek mythology may have been borrowed from the Book of Enoch and material later found in the Zohar. (many examples could be cited, but are beyond the scope of this blog.

When ancient Jews first encountered Greek Philosophy, and especially Stoicism, they immediately recognized that it had been borrowed from the Wisdom of the Torah.

For example Alexandrian Jewish writer Aristoblus, wrote in the Second Century BCE:

“It is evident that Plato imitated our Torah and that he had investigated thoroughly each of the elements in it. For it had been translated by others before before Demetrius Phalereus, before the conquests of Alexander and the Persians.”
(Aristoblus; Fragment 3; quoted in Eusebius 12:12:1f)

“And it seems to me that Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato with great care follow him [Moses] in all respects. They copy him when they say they hear the voice of God, and they contemplate the arrangement of the universe, so carefully made and so unceasingly held together by God.
(Aristoblus; Fragment 4; quoted in Eusebius 13:13:4)

Moreover, Philo of Alexandria maintained that the founder of Greek Stoicism, Zeno, had derived one of his maxims from the Torah:

And Zeno, as much as any one else, being under the influence of virtue, ventures boldly to assert that the wicked have not a right to any equality of speech towards the virtuous; for he says, “Shall not the wicked man suffer if he contradicts the virtuous man?” Therefore the wicked man has not a right to freedom of speech as respects the virtuous man.
(Every Good Man is Free 53)

After some analysis, Philo writes of this maxim:

But Zeno appears to have drawn this maxim of his as it were from the fountain of the legislation of the Jews, in the history of which it is recorded that in a case where there were two brothers, the one temperate and the other intemperate, the common father of them both, taking pity on the intemperate one who did not walk in the path of virtue, prays that he may serve his brother, conceiving that service which appears in general to be the greatest of evils is the most perfect good to a foolish man, in order that thus he may be deprived of his independence of action, so as to be prevented from misconducting himself with impunity, and that he may be improved in his disposition by the superintending management of him who is appointed to be his master.
(Every Good Man is Free 57)

Philo here refers to Genesis 27:38-40

[38] And Esau said unto his father, Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up his voice, and wept.
[39] And Isaac his father answered and said unto him, Behold, thy dwelling shall be the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above;
[40] And by thy sword shalt thou live, and shalt serve thy brother; and it shall come to pass when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck.
(Gen. 27:38-40 KJV)

The Stoic concept of the Logos is really just the Jewish idea of the Davar (in the Tanak) and the Memra of the Targums. The Stoic concept of the four virtues were actually first codified by King Solomon in the Wisdom of Solomon:

5 If riches are a desirable possession in life,
what is richer than wisdom who effects all things?

6 And if understanding is effective,
who more than she is fashioner of what exists?
7 And if any one loves righteousness,
her labors are virtues;
for she teaches self-control and prudence,
justice and courage;
nothing in life is more profitable for men than these.
(Wisdom of Solomon 8:5-7 RSV)

One might ask then, why bother to use the word “Stoicism” since it is of Greek origin. Why not simply refer to this Jewish Torah Based Philosophy as “Torah Wisdom”?

The reason for this is that, if one was to teach something that obviously fits the definition of what is today recognized as Stoicism, yet avoid calling it “Stoicism”, people would rightly point at it and say “Well isn’t that just Stoicism?” And while, as Torah Wisdom, it is certainly much more than “just Stoicism,” it seems evasive to avoid the identification of “Stoicism”. Likewise if one teaches ancient Jewish Mysticism, it would be evasive to avoid the modern label “Kabbalah” despite the fact that it was not called “Kabbalah” in ancient times (that label, in that context, arose in the Middle Ages).

So in coming weeks I will be expounding the Jewish sources and Torah basis of ideas that were co-opted by the ancient Greeks, and repackaged as Greek Stoicism.

James Trimm, the Jewish Stoic

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