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Basic Worldview:
104 Why Christianity?

History of Judaism Study

Introduction, Purpose, Definitions and Terminology
Timelines: Jewish and Gentile Writings and Thought
Eliminating Potential Sources of Complex Monotheism
Was Jewish Complex Monotheism Borrowed from the Greeks?
The Hebrew Bible Teaches Complex Monotheism - Part 1
The Hebrew Bible Teaches Complex Monotheism - Part 2
Complex Monotheism after the Close of the Hebrew Bible
Philo Affirms Complex Monotheism in Pre-rabbinic Judaism
Criteria of Biblical Monotheism, Christianity & Pre-Rabbinic Judaism
New Testament Christianity as a Sect of Judaism
When Was Complex Monotheism First Rejected?
Simple & Complex Monotheism before the Rabbinic Period
What Separates Biblical Judaism & New Testament Christianity?
God's Sovereign Choice of Abraham & His Offspring
Summary, Conclusions, and Implications

Testing the Hypothesis that Jewish Forms of Complex Monotheism Were the Result of Borrowing from Greek Complex Monotheism

Four factors are involved in the conventional view that Jewish Complex Monotheism was the result of borrowing from the Hellenistic religious ideas displayed in Platonic philosophy.

The first factor concerns whether or not Greek philosophy and various Judeo-Christian sects share similar concepts about divinity. In this case, perhaps some of the more obvious comparisons include that Greek philosophy and various Judeo-Christian sects share an insistence on the unparalleled uniqueness of the Supreme Being, the use of the title Logos for a sort of divine hypostasis, and (particularly with regard to the Trinity) the specific enumeration of three associated divine hypostases.

The second factor concerns whether or not Jewish and Christian communities did have cultural contact with these Hellenistic theological ideas. Contact between Hellenistic, Jewish, and Christian communities provides the necessary interaction for one religious group to potentially borrow ideas from another. If there is no point of contact wherein one group became aware of the ideas expressed by the other, then there is no means for one group to borrow ideas from the other. While historical contact between Hellenistic, Jewish, and Christian communities is not disputed, timing is crucial to the question of influence.

The third factor concerns whether or not these ideas existed in Greek philosophy prior to their presence in various Jewish and Christian sects. If the two cultures did have contact, share similar ideas, and those ideas are present in Hellenistic culture before Judeo-Christian culture, then it is possible that the latter borrowed its concepts from the former.

The fourth factor concerns whether or not there are other competing sources for the concepts in question. Are there earlier forms of Judaism that exhibit these same views prior to the Greek or at least prior to sufficient cultural contact with the Greek philosophy? If Greek philosophy and Judeo-Christian Complex Monotheism have certain peculiar concepts in common while pre-Hellenistic Judaism does not, then it is possible to suggest that later Judeo-Christians borrowed ideas of complexity (multiplicity) of God’s selfhood from Greek philosophy rather than inheriting it from other earlier Judaism. On the other hand, if sufficient strands of pre-Hellenistic Judaism likewise share these concepts, the cultural influence from Hellenism becomes more and more unlikely and unnecessary to explain the presence of Complex Monotheism within later Judeo-Christian views.

As we turn toward the first factor, a surprising correlation unavoidably emerges. Previously, we noted that comparisons can be made between Greek philosophy and various Judeo-Christian sects on the basis of their shared insistence on a single, unparalleled Supreme Being, the use of the title Logos, and the specific enumeration of three divine hypostases. But certainly the first characteristic, insistence on One Supreme Being, is also shared by Simple Monotheistic forms of Judaism.

On this question, it is necessary to familiarize ourselves with those forms of Judaism that are strongly committed to Simple Monotheism and reject Complex Monotheistic concepts of God. The theological perspectives of Moses Maimonides will provide a sufficient test case.

Maimonides is a significant and influential figure in the formation of the modern Jewish understanding of the Law (Torah.) He lived between 1135 and 1204 AD.

Maimonides – Moses ben-Maimon, called Maimonides and also known as…Rambam…

Hebrew acronym for "Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon"), was a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages. He was born in Córdoba, Spain on Passover Eve, 1135, and died in Egypt (or Tiberias) on 20th Tevet, December 12, 1204.[6] He was a rabbi, physician and philosopher in Morocco and Egypt. – wikipedia.org

Moses Maimonides – Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon, 1135–1204), a native of Spain, is incontestably the greatest name in Jewish medieval philosophy, but his reputation is not derived from any outstanding originality in philosophical thought. Rather, the distinction of Maimonides, who is also the most eminent codifier of Jewish religious law, is to be found in the vast scope of his attempt, in the Dalalat al-ha'irin (Guide of the Perplexed ), to safeguard both religious law and philosophy (the public communication of which would be destructive of the law) without suppressing the issues between them and without trying to impose, on the theoretical plane, a final, universally binding solution of the conflict. – Encyclopedia Britannica

Moses Maimonides – or Moses ben Maimon, 1135–1204, Jewish scholar, physician, and philosopher, the most influential Jewish thinker of the Middle Ages, b. Córdoba, Spain, d. Cairo. He is sometimes called Rambam, from the initials of the words Rabbi Moses ben Maimon. His organization and systemization of the corpus of Jewish oral law, is called the Mishneh Torah [the Torah Reviewed] and is still used as a standard compilation of halakah. He also produced a number of discourses on legal topics; a work on logic; a treatise on the calendar; and several medical books, including an important work on hygiene. His great philosophical work is the Moreh Nevukhim (tr., Guide for the Perplexed, 1963), written in Arabic, in which he explained the esoteric ideas in the Bible, formulated a proof of the existence of God, expounded the principles of creation, and elucidated baffling metaphysical and religious problems. The Moreh Nevukhim, which reflects Maimonides’s great knowledge of Aristotelian philosophy, dominated Jewish thought and exerted a profound influence upon Christian thinkers. – Columbia Encyclopedia

H. Polano’s English translation of selections of the Talmud has the following to say about the significance of Moses Maimonides with respect to modern Judaism.

Moses Maimonides, one of the greatest of Jewish commentators, and a descendant of Rabbi Judah, the compiler of the Mishnah, was born in the city of Cordova, Spain, March 30th, 1135.” – H. Polano, the Talmud, p. 233

Maimonides simplified the Talmudic rules and traditions, making them clear to the comprehension of all. He was the author of an exhaustive work, entitled ‘Mishne Torah,’ the ‘Second Law,’ which was eagerly copied and extensively disseminated.” – H. Polano, the Talmud, p. 236

The theological perspective of Maimonides constitutes a clear commitment to the correctness of Simple Monotheism and the rejection of Complex Monotheism. For Maimonides, the God of Israel was an incorporeal being who was a simple, indivisible unity.

Maimonides – Philosophy – In this theology, one attempts to describe God through negative attributes. For instance…We should not say that "God is One," but we can state that "there is no multiplicity in God's being." – wikipedia.org

…Maimonides attempts to deny the corporeality of the biblical and rabbinic God. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 136

The most extreme antifluidity positions are those of the philosophers, especially Saadia and Maimonides, who insists that monotheism is incompatible with a belief in divine embodiment, as Moseh Halbertal and Avishai Margalit point out: “For Maimonides the belief in the oneness of God meant not merely denial of polytheism, which is obvious, but, more important, denial of the perception of God himself as a complex being. The description of God as one according to Maimonides refers mainly to his own ‘simple unity.’ ‘Multiplicity’ is therefore not only the belief in many gods, it is also an error that concerns God himself, which may be called ‘internal polytheism.’ The strict demand on unity implies a rejection of corporeality, which assumes that God is divisible like any other body.” 79 – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 141-142

Yochanan Muffs points to a tension that pervades and nourishes the entire Hebrew Bible. He argues that “the tension between the concept of transcendence, which insists the Deity is not to be identified with the physis of the world, and radical personalism, which insists the Deity is anthropomorphically involved in the world, is the very source of the creative dynamism of biblical anthropomorphism.”…(In its most extreme forms, the tension produces a line of reasoning that leads to highly abstract conceptions of God that deny not only divine embodiment but even divine selfhood [e.g., in the philosophical work of Maimonides or, quite differently, in the thought of Mordecai Kaplan].) – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 140-141

Endnote 41: …For Maimonides, forging physical images of God represented a mistake or an illusion; it would constitute an attempt to portray physically something that has no physical existence. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 178-179

Let us now examine Maimonides’ concept of God using the same factors that are used to suggest that Jewish Complex Monotheism is the result of blending Judaism with Greek philosophical religion.

For review, four factors were relevant to the question of whether forms of Complex Monotheism within Jewish and Christian sects were the result of borrowing ideas from Hellenistic philosophical ideas of God. The first factor was similarity. Did the particular form of Judaism have critical concepts in common with Greek philosophy? The second factor was cultural contact. Did Judaism have either direct or indirect communication with Greek culture creating an opportunity for influence or borrowing? The third factor was chronological. Did the Greek philosophical idea of God predate the Jewish view under consideration? The fourth factor was competing sources. Are there other potential, maybe even more likely, sources from which the critical concepts might have been inherited besides Greek philosophy?

As it turns out, Moses Maimonides’ conception of God also satisfied at least the first three of these criteria. For the sake of brevity, we will start with the chronological factor.

First, it is clear that Greek philosophical religion preceded Maimonides. Maimonides is a twelfth century AD figure. Greek philosophical schools such as Platonic religions had been in existence since the fourth century BC. Neo-Platonism’s re-articulation of Platonic religion occurred in the third century AD.

Second, it is clear that Maimonides was not only aware of Greek philosophical theology, but an ardent admirer of it. Because of his affinity for Platonic philosophy, Maimonides may be considered a Jewish scholastic. The Scholastics were medieval, Christian philosophers and religious thinkers who sought to reconcile theology with Greek philosophy, especially Platonic philosophies including those of Plato’s student Aristotle.

Scholasticism – As a program, scholasticism was part of an attempt at harmonization on the part of medieval Christians thinkers: to harmonize the various "authorities" of their own tradition, and to reconcile Christian theology with classical and late antique philosophy, especially that of Aristotle but also of neoplatonism.[2] – wikipedia.org

Maimonides – Philosophy – Through the Guide for the Perplexed (which was initially written in Arabic as Delalatul Ha'yreen) and the philosophical introductions to sections of his commentaries on the Mishna, Maimonides exerted an important influence on the Scholastic philosophers, especially on Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Duns Scotus. He was himself a Jewish Scholastic. Educated more by reading the works of Arab Muslim philosophers than by personal contact with Arabian teachers, he acquired an intimate acquaintance not only with Arab Muslim philosophy, but with the doctrines of Aristotle. Maimonides strove to reconcile Aristotelian philosophy and science with the teachings of the Torah…The principle, which inspired his philosophical activity, was identical with the fundamental tenet of Scholasticism: there can be no contradiction between the truths which God has revealed, and the findings of the human mind in science and philosophy. Maimonides primarily relied upon the science of Aristotle and the teachings of the Talmud, commonly finding basis in the former for the latter. In some important points, however, he departed from the teaching of Aristotle; for instance, he rejected the Aristotelian doctrine that God's provident care extends only to humanity, and not to the individual. Maimonides was led by his admiration for the neo-Platonic commentators to maintain many doctrines which the Scholastics could not accept…. – wikipedia.org

Hebrew literature, The period of retrenchment, 1200–1750, Hebrew culture in western Europe – The appearance in 1200 of the Hebrew version, translated from Arabic, of Moses Maimonides’ Moreh Nevukhim (1851–85; The Guide of the Perplexed), which applied Neoplatonic and Aristotelian philosophy to biblical and rabbinic theology, provoked orthodox circles into opposition to all secular studies. As a result of Maimonides’ work, there was a return to Neoplatonist mysticism in a form known as Kabbala. - Britannica.com

biblical literature…The development of biblical exegesis and hermeneutics in Judaism – …Sa’adia ben Joseph (882–942), who was the gaon, or head, of the Sura academy in Babylonia…” – britannica.com

Sa’adia ben Joseph – (born 882, Dilaz, in al-Fayyūm, Egypt—died September 942, Sura, Babylonia), Jewish exegete, philosopher, and polemicist whose influence on Jewish literary and communal activities made him one of the most important Jewish scholars of his time…The years that followed turned out to be the brightest in Sa’adia’s literary career. During these years he composed his major philosophical work, Kitāb al-amānāt wa al-itiqādāt. The objective of this work was the harmonization of revelation and reason. In structure and content it displays a definite influence of Greek philosophy and of the theology of the Mu’tazilī, the rationalist sect of Islām.” – britannica.com

Not only did Greek philosophy precede Maimonides, but Maimonides avidly sought to reconcile Jewish theology with the ideas of Greek philosophy, including Neo-Platonism. It should be no wonder then that a comparison of Greek philosophy and Maimonides’ view also satisfies the factor of conceptual similarity.

Both Maimonides and Greek philosophy emphasize the incorporeal, immaterial nature of God as well as his simple, indivisible unity. These two important concepts (arguably the most defining components of the Greek philosophical view of God) are rejected by early forms of Jewish and Christian Complex Monotheism which held that God was embodied and manifest as more than one simultaneously-existing, divine figure.

Maimonides was led by his admiration for the neo-Platonic commentators to maintain many doctrines which the Scholastics could not accept…. In this theology, one attempts to describe God through negative attributes. For instance…We should not say that "God is One," but we can state that "there is no multiplicity in God's being." – wikipedia.org

This relationship between Maimonides’ conception of the Jewish God and the Greek philosophical concept of God is not a novel discovery. Furthermore, the correspondence between medieval Jewish conceptions of God and Greek philosophy is further compounded by the medieval, Jewish concept of the shekhinah.

We have seen that Greek philosophy thought of God as indivisible and incorporeal. And we have also seen that Greek philosophy’s commitment to the indivisibility of God did not prohibit the existence of hypostases, which emanate from the One, are closely associated with the One (in proximity and likeness), and functioned as conceptual intermediaries between the One and the physical universe.

Not only did certain medieval Jewish philosophers such as Maimonides’ share the Greek philosophical conception of God as indivisible and incorporeal, but the conception of the shekhinah offered by rabbinic and medieval Judaism (2nd century AD through 12th century AD) also bears similarities to the Platonic conception of divine emanations. Within rabbinic and medieval Jewish thought, the shekhinah is discussed in ways that include the idea of a divine, hypostatic manifestation that is God and yet can be distinguished from God.

Shekhinah – Shekhinah (Heb., ‘dwelling’). The divine presence as described in Jewish literature. The Shekhinah is sometimes used to refer to God himself, but generally it signifies God's presence in this world. It is frequently associated with light. Later Jewish philosophers were concerned to avoid anthropomorphism and therefore tended to maintain that the Shekhinah does not refer to God himself, but is an independent created intermediary. Thus Saadiah Gaon argued that the Shekhinah is the same as the glory of God which was seen by the prophets in visions. – The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions

Rabbinic Literature: Multiple Conceptions of Shekhinah – Several scholars note the importance of a passage in a late rabbinic text, Midrash Mishle to Proverbs 22.29, in which the shekhinah stands before God and pleads, successfully, on behalf of King Solomon (who would otherwise have been denied a share in the world-to-come). As Peter Schafer notes in his discussion of this text, “In depicting the Shekhinah as standing up before God and speaking to Him, the Midrash goes very far in its dramatic and bold personification. As a matter of fact, it draws a clear distinction between God and His Shekhinah: the Shekhinah has become a “persona” different and distinct from God.” This case is not unique; there are other late midrashic texts in which the shekhinah achieves a measure of distinction from God. 19 Yet this distinction is extremely loose or fleeting. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 126-128

Endnote 8: On the relationship between the terms, see further Goldberg, Untersuchungen, 468-70, who points out that the rabbis use shekhinah in place of kabod only when the latter term is used in the sense of the Godhead that has entered the sanctuary or that reveals itself – that is, in the concrete sense that the term has in priestly texts in the Hebrew Bible. The identification of the rabbinic shekhinah with the biblical kabod is already suggested by medieval Jewish philosophers who, however, regarded it as a created being separate from God. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 252

Endnote 22: Already medieval Jewish philosophers debate whether the shekhinah is identical with God or a created being; – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 254

There may be perhaps some shifting of the Jewish concept of the shekhinah between the writings of the earlier rabbinic period and the writings of medieval, Jewish philosophers. However, when taken together it is apparent that rabbinic and Jewish medieval concepts of God included an indivisible God along with what was often understood as a separate, created, intermediary hypostasis between God and the world.

As another example of blending between Jewish and Greek thought on the topic of God, Segal cites the first-century Jewish philosopher Philo. As Segal explains, Philo demonstrates the conceptual overlap suggested between Greek philosophy’s idea of divine emanations (like the Logos) and rabbinic and medieval Jewish view of the shekhinah. 

For Philo, “place” is an important concept which may have three different meanings…The second corresponds to the logos, the hypostasized intelligence of God, and the third corresponds to God himself. Although he defines the terms philosophically, Philo’s terminology bears striking resemblance to the early rabbinic designation MQWM for God. His concept of logos is similar to the rabbinic doctrine of God’s Shekhinah, each of which is often used to explain the same difficult scriptures. When “place” refers to something divine revealed to man, as it did in the passage above, for Philo, it may mean God’s image, His logos. It is, in fact, impossible for man to see God and live (Ex. 33:20). However, Moses and the elders see the image of God or everything “that is behind me” (Ex. 33:23). These are equivalent to the logos which as a second God can also be given the title “Lord” (kyrios = YHWH.) This doctrine, which allows that the “place” is a divine creature called Lord, cannot strike us as innocent… – Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, p. 161-162

When we include the Jewish concept of the shekhinah within our discussion, we can see an even greater degree of correspondence between Platonic philosophy and medieval Jewish thought about God. Both medieval Jewish thought and Greek philosophy understood God to be incorporeal. And despite their commitments to the indivisible nature of God, both allowed for hypostatic emanations of God’s presence that were somehow uniquely associated with God and yet also distinct beings from God. For the Greeks, this was the Divine Mind (or Logos) and the World Soul. For the Jews, this was the shekhina.

Both Jewish Complex Monotheism and Jewish Simple Monotheism share an insistence that there is only one Supreme Being, an idea also shared by Greek philosophy. But while Complex Monotheism shared the term Logos and perhaps the concept of multiple divine hypostases with the Greeks, it rejected the central Greek insistence on God’s absolute indivisibility and placed these hypostases within rather than outside the Supreme Being as the Greeks had done. It also rejected the Greek denial of God’s embodiment or corporeality. In contrast, the Jewish Simple Monotheism of the medieval period embraced both of these central Greek tenets.  

In this sense, the similarities between Complex Monotheism and Greek philosophy emerge as superficial, involving shared terminology applied to diametrically opposed concepts. On the other hand, the similarities between Simple Monotheism and Greek philosophy are not superficial, but substantial, entailing the very core of the conceptual model. Consequently, if the charge is raised that certain outgrowths of Jewish thought have been influenced by Greek philosophy, it would appear that the evidence against the Simple Monotheism of the rabbinic and particularly medieval Judaism is far more incriminating than the merely skin-deep case against Complex Monotheism.

There are two ways that we can contrast Judeo-Christian Complex Monotheism with medieval, Jewish Simple Monotheism in regards to their potential incorporation of Greek philosophical religion.

First, while Judeo-Christian Complex Monotheism may bear some external resemblance to the terminology used with regard to divine beings in Greek philosophy, it rejects other key components of the Greek philosophical view including God’s incorporeal nature and his utter indivisibility. If similarity is used to signal adoption of an idea from Greek philosophical religion, then dissimilarity signals an aversion to adopting ideas from Greek philosophical religion. Therefore, these dissimilarities demonstrate that Jewish and Christian Complex Monotheism exhibits at least some sign of ideological reticence and resistance to the incorporation of Greek philosophical teachings about God.

The same cannot be said of medieval Jewish thinkers such as Maimonides who have an expressed attraction to and admiration for Greek philosophy and whose theologies do not express any significant conceptual departure from it. The rabbinic and medieval discussion of concepts such as the shekhinah make it difficult to distinguish their view from Greek philosophy’s belief in both an indivisible, incorporeal God and divine, hypostatic emanations of that God.

Second, it is clear that the great, medieval Jewish philosophers like Maimonides highly regarded Greek thought, including Neo-Platonism. This admiration serves to provide a strong explanation for the number of apparent correspondences between the medieval Jewish view of God and the Greek philosophical view of God. In other words, the medieval Jewish view is similar to the Greek philosophical view of God because leading medieval, Jewish theologians favored Greek philosophical religious concepts. This preference led them to incorporate Greek philosophical concepts into their understanding of Jewish religious teaching.

In this respect, the preference for Greek philosophy among medieval Jewish theologians provides yet another difference from Complex Monotheism within ancient Jewish sects. Medieval Jewish theologians like Maimonides exhibit a clear fondness for Greek philosophy. However, the earliest forms of Complex Monotheism within Jewish sects (such as the New Testament followers of Jesus) do not include the same inclination towards Gentile philosophy.

On the contrary, New Testament texts articulate an aversion to Greek philosophy and Hellenistic wisdom. When considering this, it is important to keep in mind two facts. The New Testament texts were written by Jews in the first century AD. And these texts clearly display a form of Complex Monotheism.

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the two major sects of Judaism were the Pharisees and the Sadducees. In contrast to the Pharisees, the Sadducees were known for having been thoroughly influenced by Greek culture.

Sadducees, In Literature - Saadducees, if not in name, at least in their Epicurean views as opposed to the saints, are depicted also in the Book of Wisdom (i. 16-ii. 22), where the Hellenistic nobility, which occupied high positions likewise in Alexandria, is addressed. – Jewishencyclopedia.com

Sadducees - They espoused the hellenizing tendencies of the Asmonean princes in which they were strongly opposed by the Pharisees... - www.newadvent.org (the Catholic Encyclopeedia)

Sadducee - They came under the influence of Hellenism... – Encyclopedia Britannica

The New Testament epistle entitled 1 Corinthians was written by Paul. Paul was trained as a Pharisee.

Saint Paul the Apostle – Paul was a Greek-speaking Jew from Asia MinorAlthough the exact date of his birth is unknown, he was active as a missionary in the 40s and 50s of the 1st century ad. From this it may be inferred that he was born about the same time as Jesus (c. 4 bc) or a little later. He was converted to faith in Jesus Christ about ad 33, and he died, probably in Rome, circa ad 62–64. Until about the midpoint of his life, Paul was a member of the Pharisees, a religious party that emerged during the later Second Temple period. What little is known about Paul the Pharisee reflects the character of the Pharisaic movement. Pharisees believed in life after death, which was one of Paul’s deepest convictions…Pharisees were very careful students of the Hebrew Bible, and Paul was able to quote extensively from the Greek translation. – Encyclopedia Britannica

Acts 21:40 And when he had given him licence, Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue, saying, 22:1 Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defence which I make now unto you. 2 (And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,) 3 I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.

Acts 26:1 Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself: 2 I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews: 3 Especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently. 4 My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; 5 Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.

Philippians 3:5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;

Unlike the Sadducees and their tendency toward Greek culture, Paul iterates in his first letter to the Corinthians that, in his understanding, the Christian message was not based on the wisdom of the world. Here Paul uses the Greek word “sophia” (“wisdom”) to contrast God’s truth with the wisdom that was available in the Greco-Roman world that surrounded first-century Judaism.

1 Corinthians 2:1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom (4678), declaring unto you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom (4678), but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: 5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom (4678) of men, but in the power of God. 6 Howbeit we speak wisdom (4678) among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom (4678) of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:

Later in 1 Corinthians 3, Paul again states that the wisdom of the Greek world was foolishness to God.

1 Corinthians 3:19 For the wisdom (4678) of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.

Like 1 Corinthians, Paul states in Colossians 2 that the Christian faith is opposed to worldly philosophy (“philosophia,” Strong’s concordance number 5385.)

Colossians 2:4 And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words. 5 For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ. 6 As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: 7 Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. 8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy (5385) and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

5385 philosophia
from 5386; TDNT-9:172,1269; n f
AV-philosophy 1; 1
1) love of wisdom

1a) used either of zeal for or skill in any art or science, any branch of knowledge. Used once in the NT of the

The Greek word Paul uses in Colossians 2:8 (philosophia, 5385) is derived from the Greek word “philosophos” which is used by Paul’s associate Luke in Acts 17:18 to refer to Greek philosophical schools including the Epicureans and the Stoics.

Acts 17:18 Then certain philosophers (5386) of the Epicureans, and of the Stoics, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.

5386 philosophos
from 5384 and 4680; TDNT-9:172,1269; n m
AV-philosopher 1; 1

These New Testament passages provide evidence that that Jews like Paul who were trained in the Pharisaic traditions in the climate of first-century Judaism objected to Greek philosophy. (Although rabbinic Judaism traces its origins to the Pharisees, as seen in earlier references to Jewish Scholasticism, by the medieval period the disposition regarding Greek philosophy had become one of admiration.) Yet despite their repudiation of Greek philosophy, New Testament Jews like Paul express no inherent aversion to Complex Monotheism. And their theologies possess clear distinction from Greek philosophical ideas about God. (For New Testament Jews, God was embodied and he was not indivisible. Rather he was one God who was more than one person: Father, Word, and Holy Spirit.)

More importantly, as we can see from the New Testament quotes above, the leading New Testament Jewish figures and authors like Paul were familiar with Greek philosophy. Consequently, they would have been aware of any similarities between their form of Jewish Complex Monotheism and Greek philosophy. Yet they confidently proclaimed that their religious ideas were not based on Greek philosophy and the theological ideas of the Gentile world at a time when critics could easily and publicly have refuted this claim. We can contrast this with the paramount medieval Jewish thinker, Maimonides. Unlike the Jewish, Complex Monotheist Paul, Maimonides lived and wrote over a millennium removed from the Pharisees of the New Testament period. Additionally, Maimonides exhibits a clear preference for Greek philosophical thought. And he expresses ideas that are not just superficially similar to Greek philosophy but which are actually conceptually similar to Greek philosophy on a fundamental level. 

(Interestingly enough, due to the strong correspondence between the conceptions of God in Platonism and medieval Jewish philosophers who exhibit a high regard for Greek thought, it is entirely reasonable to identify such medieval Jewish views as Hellenistic in character despite their distance in time. Moreover, any form of Judaism which follows the Jewish, medieval, philosophical conceptions of God can also be identified as Hellenistic Judaism. Such an ideological identification would be at least as justified, perhaps even more so, than the common application of Hellenistic Judaism to forms of Judaism expressing Complex Monotheism.)

For these reasons, superficial similarities might initially suggest that Jewish and Christian Complex Monotheism borrowed from Greek philosophy based on shared terminology, a closer inspection reveals that the terms were defined and applied in diametrically different ways by these groups. Furthermore, a deeper investigation shows that it is far more reasonable to suggest that the Simple Monotheism of medieval Judaism was heavily influenced in its view of God by Greek philosophy.

To be fair, those who have an appreciation for Maimonides’ view may defend the medieval Jewish views by claiming that, despite its conceptual similarities with Greek philosophy, the medieval Jewish concept of God didn’t come from the Greeks. To the contrary, it may be insisted that the Simple Monotheism exhibited by medieval Jewish theology are the continuation of longstanding, ancient traditions which were truly Jewish, and not Greek in origin. This explanation is worth examining and considering. However, to be fair, the same defense could be raised for the far more superficial similarities found within Jewish Complex Monotheism and Greek philosophy.

In order to further determine if borrowing occurred and exactly who was borrowing from who, we need to include additional factors in our examination. In this regard, the best way to determine which Jewish view of God is most authentically Jewish, is to identify which Jewish views of God existed prior to the appearance of similar concepts with Greek philosophy. This historical investigation will allow us to determine which aspects of Greek philosophy were blended into Jewish views to create a novel Jewish view (and alternately which aspects of Greek philosophy simply mirrored or perhaps borrowed views that were already present in earlier Judaism). In other words, such an investigation will allow us to determine which Jewish view (Simple Monotheism or Complex Monotheism) is a result of incorporating Platonic philosophies.