Historical Claims of the Openness View

Advocates of the openness view, of course, will immediately object, challenging the impartiality of the Rabbis. Indeed, John Sanders, an advocate for the openness view, claims that Greek philosophy influenced both Christian and Jewish thinking about God. Sanders, who insists that "Hellenistic rational theology ... had a profound impact on Jewish and Christian thinking about the divine nature," writes:

Where does this "theologically correct" view of God come from? The answer, in part, is found in the way Christian thinkers have used certain Greek philosophical ideas. Greek thought has played an extensive role in the development of the traditional doctrine of God. But the classical view of God worked out in the Western tradition is at odds at several key points with a reading of the biblical text. . . .3

Furthermore, Sanders claims that Philo, the first-century Jewish Hellenist, bridged the gap between Greek philosophy and the Old Testament, profoundly affecting Jewish and Christian theology. "Philo of Alexandria," says Sanders, "was a Jewish thinker who sought to reconcile biblical teaching with Greek philosophy. To him goes the distinction of being the leading figure in forging the biblical-classical synthesis. Both the method and the content of this synthesis were closely followed by later Jewish, Christian and Muslim thinkers."4 Hence, Sanders's historical claims—of Greek philosophical influence and of Philo's role in transmitting Greek thought to Judaism—allegedly disqualify the Rabbis as impartial judges.

Modern Rabbinic authorities, however, deny that Greek philosophy influenced the Rabbis. They were not philosophers, nor students of phi-

3 John Sanders, "Historical Considerations," in Clark Pinnock, et al., The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Downers Grove, 11l.: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 68, 59. Boyd persistently argues that Plato influenced the classical (traditional) view of God. See, for example, Boyd, God of the Possible, 115, 130-132.

4 Sanders, "Historical Considerations," 69; cf. 72.

The Rabbis and the Claims of Openness Advocates 25

losophy, having only limited or casual interest in the subject,5 as the Reformed (liberal) C. G. Montefiore asserts:

Another point to remember in regard to Rabbinic literature is that it comes from men whose outlook was extraordinarily limited. They had no interests outside Religion and the Law. They had lost all historic sense. They had no interest in art, in drama, in belles lettres, in poetry, or in science (except, perhaps, in medicine). They had no training in philosophy. How enormously they might have benefited if, under competent teachers, they had been put through a course of Greek philosophy and literature. . . . The Old Testament was practically the only book they possessed . . . Yet this Bible, with all that it implied, is their world, their one overmastering interest. They picked up, it is true, many current ideas, opinions, superstitions, in a fluid, unsystematic form. But all that was by the way and incidental. . . . The Rabbis, for good or for evil, knew no philosophy.6

From the other side of the theological aisle, the Orthodox H. Loewe concurs: "The dialectics which Halakah involved made up, to no small extent, for the lack of philosophy. The Rabbis were no philosophers . . . and, as Mr Montefiore says, their outlook was limited. . . . They had but a casual acquaintance with Greek thought."7

This casual acquaintance, of course, had no discernable influence on the Rabbis. Abraham Cohen speculates that although some Rabbis may have been aware of Greek philosophy, "the interest in metaphysical speculation which characterized the thinkers of Greece and Rome was not shared by the teachers of Israel to any great extent."8 G. F. Moore cannot find Greek philosophy in Rabbinic thought: "The idea of God in Judaism is developed from the Scriptures. The influence of contemporary philosophy which is seen in some Hellenistic Jewish writings—the Wisdom of Solomon, 4 Maccabees, and above all in Philo—is not recognizable in normative Judaism, nor is the influence of other religions____"9 Similarly, Adin

5 Max Kadushin, The Rabbinic Mind, 2nd ed. (New York: Blaisdell, 1965), 273; Efraim E. Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs, trans. I. Abrahams (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1975), 29.

6 C. G. Montefiore, in C. G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology (New York: Meridian, 1960), xix-xx, xlii. The emphasis is his.

8 Abraham Cohen, Everyman's Talmud (New York: Schocken, 1975), 27.

9 George Foot Moore, Judaism, vol. 1 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1927), 115.

26 beyond the bounds

Steinsaltz declares: "Some of the mishnaic and talmudic sages were acquainted with Greek and classical literature, but this knowledge had almost no impact on their way of thinking where talmudic scholarship was concerned. In this they differed greatly from Egyptian Jewry which tried to combine Greek culture with Judaism."10 Saul Lieberman, arguably the greatest Rabbinic authority of the last century and a leading expert on Hellenistic influence in Judaism, admits that some purely Greek ideas penetrated into Rabbinic circles, but these were limited to ethical principles and Greek legal thought.11 Rabbinic literature, for example, abounds with Greek and Roman legal terms, and quotes verbatim from Gentile law books.12 Nevertheless, Lieberman emphatically rejects the influence of Greek philosophy on Rabbinic thought. The Rabbis never quote a Greek philosopher, never use Greek philosophic terms,13 and they mention only one prominent Greek philosopher: Epicurus, the embodiment of infidelity and "symbol of heresy," whose views the Rabbis regarded as worse than atheism, and whose advocates the Rabbis excluded from the world to come.14 Lieberman concludes: "They [the Rabbis] probably did not read Plato and certainly not the pre-Socratic philosophers. Their main interest was centered in Gentile legal studies and their methods of rhetoric."15

In fact, the Rabbis distrust, resist, and even despise Greek philosophy. The Talmud, for instance, indicates the proper time to study Greek philosophy:

Ben Damah the son of Rabbi Ishmael's sister once asked Rabbi Ishmael, May one such as I who have studied the whole of the Torah learn Greek wisdom? He thereupon read to him the following verse, This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night. (Josh 1:8) Go then and find a time that is neither day nor night and learn then Greek wisdom.16

10 Adin Steinsaltz, The Essential Talmud, trans. Chaya Galai (New York: Basic, 1976), 99.

11 Saul Lieberman, Texts and Studies (New York: Ktav, 1974), 217, 225-226.

13 Ibid., 223. Lieberman confirms the observation of Harry A. Wolfson, the distinguished Harvard historian: "In the entire Greek vocabulary that is embodied in the Midrash, Mishnah, and the Talmud there is not a single technical [Greek] philosophic term" (Harry A. Wolfson, Philo, vol. 1 [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1948], 91-92).

14 Lieberman, Texts and Studies, 222-223. The Rabbis also mention Oenomaus, an obscure second-century Cynic philosopher, and regard him as the greatest Gentile philosopher (Genesis Rabbah lxviii 20). Clearly, the Rabbis were not keeping close score of their Greek philosophers.

16 Menachot 99b.

The Rabbis and the Claims of Openness Advocates 27

Other Rabbis were more to the point, equating the breeding of swine to the learning of Greek philosophy: "Cursed be the man who would breed swine and cursed be the man who would teach his son Greek wisdom."17 The Rabbis distrusted Greek philosophy, with its naturalism and rationalism, because it threatened religious faith and eroded traditional Rabbinic training. One Rabbi reported: "There were a thousand pupils in my father's school, of whom five hundred studied Torah and five hundred studied Greek philosophy; and from them none were left but myself and my nephew."18 The Rabbis even exclude the Epicureans, who deny providence, from the world to come.19 Cohen well summarizes the Rabbinic attitude toward Greek philosophy: "So far as Greek thought [philosophy] is concerned, there is almost unanimity against it."20

This hostility, of course, arises from their differences. Greek philosophers trusted in reason and the senses; the Rabbis trusted in God and the Prophets. Greek philosophers believed in a pagan god subject to law, nature, and fate; the Rabbis, in the God who transcended all these. Greek philosophers connected God to the world pantheistically or semi-pantheistically; the Rabbis separated God from his creation. Greek philosophers rejected supernaturalism, providence, and creation ex nihilo; the Rabbis heartily embraced them all. The occasional similar-ity—the notion of divine perfections or of certain monotheistic ideas— is coincidence or, more likely, the result of general revelation (Rom. 1:18ff). In the end, Greek philosophy and Rabbinic thought are like oil and water, like iron and clay: they cannot mix, they cannot adhere.

Historians are just as emphatic as the Rabbis and modern Rabbinic authorities in rejecting Sanders's claim. Solomon Grayzel, for instance, writes:

For the Jews of Judea did not come in touch with the highest Greek civilization, not even with as high a Greek culture as surrounded the

Jews of Alexandria. Even if they had met the real Greek culture, that

17 Baba Qamma 82b.

18 Baba Qamma 83a and Cohen, Everyman's Talmud, 27. The antecedent of "from them" is somewhat unclear. It may refer to the one thousand pupils, or more likely from the context, it refers to the five hundred pupils who studied Greek philosophy (so Cohen, Everyman's Talmud, 178). The Rabbis forbid the teaching of Greek wisdom to children, though exceptions were allowed. See Saul Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (New York: The Jewish Theological Seminary in America, 1962), 100-104.

19 Sanhedrin 10.1.

20 Cohen, Everyman's Talmud, 178.

28 beyond the bounds of the famous Greek philosophers and poets, the Jews would still have rejected it as inferior to the culture of Judaism, though they might have had some respect for it.21

Likewise, G. F. Moore, also a historian of religion, states:

The Jewish conception of God is derived from the Bible, and from the purest and most exalted teachings of the Bible, such as are found in Exod 33ff, Hosea, Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Isaiah 40-5, and the Psalms. Monotheism was reached, as has been already observed, not from reflections on the unity of nature or of being, but from the side of God's moral rule in history, and it has therefore a more consistently personal character than where the idea of unity has been derived from physical or metaphysical premises.22

Allen R. Brockway rejects Greek philosophical influence, in particular Plato's influence, on the Rabbis: "The rabbis who re-invented Judaism during the second century did so, not on the basis of Platonism, but on grounds of a new intellectual contention. They held that the categories of purity established in their oral teachings as well as the scriptures were the very structures according to which God conducted the world."23 The Qumran discoveries only solidify these sentiments, as Emil Schurer confirms: "Moreover, recent research has shown that the Rabbis possessed an undeniable but limited knowledge of Greek culture. . . . The evidence emerging from the manuscript discoveries in the Judaean Desert largely confirms the conclusions reached so far."24

Since Greek philosophy did not influence the Rabbis, Philo cannot bridge Greek philosophy with Rabbinic theology, thus wrecking sanders's second historical claim. Philo, in fact, had little or no influence on the Rabbis. "Philo's ultimate influence was considerable," writes historian Jenny Morris, "but not, as far as one can discern, on Jewish thought

21 Solomon Grayzel, A History of the Jews (New York: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1947), 48.

22 George Foot Moore, History of Religions, vol. 2 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1949), 69.

23 Jacob Neusner, Alan J. Avery-Peck, William S. Green, eds., The Encyclopaedia of Judaism, vol. 1 (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 48. Contrast this statement with Boyd's lament of Plato's influence on classical theism (Boyd, God of the Possible, 115, 130-132).

24 Emil Schurer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.-A.D. 135), rev. and ed. G. Vermes, F. Millar, and M. Black, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1979), 78.

The Rabbis and the Claims of Openness Advocates 29

Jewish literature written in Greek was to be of minimal interest to the rabbinic schools of Palestine after the fall of the Temple."25 Similarly, G. F. Moore asserts: "Neither his [Philo's] conception of a transcendent God, nor the secondary god, the Logos, by which he bridges the gulf he has created between pure Being and the phenomenal world, and between God so conceived and man, had any effect on the theology of Palestinian Judaism."26 The Rabbis even disregard Philo's exposition of biblical law.27 In fact, the Rabbis simply ignore Philo, as Ronald Williamson indicates: "His [Philo's] life and works have a significant place within the history of Judaism (though for a long time not recognized by Judaism)... ."28 That is, the Rabbis did not recognize Philo. Harry A. Wolfson asserts that the Rabbis knew Philo (and Greek philosophy) only from hearsay.29 Rabbinic Judaism refused not only to read Philo but also to preserve his writings, as Seymour Feldman relates: "Nevertheless, it must be admitted that Philo's project had little impact upon Jews and Judaism So complete was the Rabbinic commitment to systematic purity at the expense of Platonism that Philo's own work was not preserved within Judaism but only became known as a result of the work of Christian copyists."30 While Sanders celebrates Philo as "the leading figure in forging the biblical-classical synthesis . . . followed by later Jewish, Christian and Muslim thinkers,"31 the Rabbis, in fact, snubbed him.

To buttress his historical claim that classical theism is the product of a classical-biblical synthesis, Sanders appeals to two authorities who, he argues, defend this synthesis: the late philosopher and theologian H. P. Owen, and the eminent patristics scholar G. L. Prestige.32 Owen, to be sure, occasionally agrees with the openness view. He seems to deny, based on philosophical reasoning, God's foreknowledge of future free actions, for example.33 Moreover, he denies, or at least redefines, divine

26 Moore, Judaism, 1:212.

28 Ronald Williamson, Jews in the Hellenistic World: Philo (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 306.

29 Wolfson, Philo, 1:91.

30 Neusner, et al., The Encyclopaedia of Judaism, 2:711.

31 Sanders, "Historical Considerations," 69.

32 John Sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 307.

33 H. P. Owen, Concepts of Deity (New York: Herder & Herder, 1971), 30-33, 144.

30 beyond the bounds immutability.34 Nevertheless, Sanders misleads when he quotes Owen— "So far as the Western world is concerned, theism has a double origin: the Bible and Greek philosophy"—and then states: "Classical theism is the product of the 'biblical-classical synthesis.'"35 Owen is not saying that Greek philosophy corrupted scriptural teaching, as Sanders clearly implies in his citing of Owen, but that the Fathers and Philo used Greek philosophy for expression and for amplification of the divine attributes that the Scriptures teach. Owen writes, "All the divine properties I named in the preceding paragraph [infinite, self-existence, incorporeality, eternity, immutability, impassibility, simplicity, perfection, omniscience, and omnipotence] are implied in the Bible; but the expression and, still more, the amplification of them were due to the influence of Greek philoso-phy."36 To say that the Fathers (not the Rabbis) used Greek philosophical vocabulary and concepts to explain scriptural truths accurately reflects Owen, but to say or to imply that Greek philosophy distorted or corrupted scriptural truths misrepresents Owen.37 Owen even equates classical theism with Christian theism because "it arose within the context of orthodox belief in Biblical revelation."38 Clearly, Owen believes that classical theism (or Christian theism) comes from biblical revelation.

Similarly, Sanders misreads and misrepresents G. L. Prestige. Prestige never claims that the Fathers derived their theism from a classical-biblical synthesis. In fact, he states that the Fathers inherited Hebrew theism39 and that the "main trunk of the Christian idea of God," that is, the divine perfections, which Prestige and the Fathers called transcen-

35 Sanders, The God Who Risks, 141. By "classical," Sanders means Greek theism; Owen usually means traditional or standard theism, not just Greek theism, but occasionally he interchanges the terms "classical theism" and "Christian theism" (Owen, Concepts of Deity, 2).

36 Owen, Concepts of Deity, 1.

37 Owen differs with Aquinas on occasion, usually on philosophical grounds, but I cannot find a statement where Owen states or implies that Greek philosophy has perverted the biblical teachings of the Fathers.

38 Owen, Concepts of Deity, 2. Owen's three other arguments are: "Secondly, although there are extensive parallels to many aspects of Christian theism in the writings of non-Jewish and nonChristian philosophers in the ancient world, there are some aspects that seem to be unparalleled. . . . Thirdly, even where there are parallels there is nothing in any non-Christian source that is philosophically comparable to the statements of theism given by Aquinas and those Christian thinkers who are directly or indirectly indebted to him. Fourthly (and consequently), throughout the Christian era non-Christian philosophers, as well as Christian ones, have almost always discussed theism in one or other of its Christian formulations" (ibid.). Owen defines classical theism "as belief in one God, the Creator, who is infinite, self-existent, incorporeal, eternal, immutable, impassible, simple, perfect, omniscient and omnipotent" (ibid., 1).

39 G. L. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought (London: SPCK, 1952), xviii.

The Rabbis and the Claims of Openness Advocates 31

dence, comes from the Hebrew Prophets40 not from Plato.41 Owen does not support Sanders's historical claims; Prestige refutes them—Sanders has fallen on his own sword.

Sanders's historical claims and appeals are hopeless, in whole and in part. They should raise the eyebrows, if not the hackles, of historians. These errors are serious, ominous with implications and grave with consequences for the openness view.

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