Plato and the Talmud

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This innovative study sees the relationship between Athens and Jerusalem through the lens of the Platonic dialogues and the Talmud. Howland argues that these texts are animated by comparable conceptions of the proper roles of inquiry and reasoned debate in religious life, and by a profound awareness of the limits of our understanding of things divine. Insightful readings of Plato’s Apology, Euthyphro, and chapter three of tractate Ta’anit explore the relationship of prophets and philosophers, fathers and sons, and gods and men (among other themes), bringing to light the tension between rational inquiry and faith that is essential to the speeches and deeds of both Socrates and the Talmudic sages. In reflecting on the pedagogy of these texts, Howland shows in detail how Talmudic aggadah and Platonic drama and narrative speak to different sorts of readers in seeking mimetically to convey the living ethos of rabbinic Judaism and Socratic philosophizing.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Jacob Howland's Plato and the Talmud is a splendid addition to the small – but growing and distinguished – body of work in the secular academy, which takes as its fundamental principle that teaching and scholarship in the humanities must include a basic knowledge of the great Rabbinic corpus of the first millennium of the Common Era. And here Howland shows with remarkable clarity that the Rabbinic material has a tight conceptual relationship to one of the other formative traditions of western culture, namely Greek philosophy of the Platonic school. This is a remarkable book, wide in its knowledge, graceful in its presentation, modest in its posture: exactly what real scholarship should be.”
– Donald Harman Akenson, author of Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds

"Diverse readers should find in Jacob Howland's comparative study many appealing features.... Their narrative details are analyzed with tremendous historical erudition, literary acuity, and philosophical enthusiasm.... this exegetical work are not only some rather persuasive interpretations, but also some thought-provoking comparisons.... not only interesting and informative analyses of these texts, but also an example of what one ought to do in tackling these texts oneself.
–Sol Goldberg, University of Toronto, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"....His work is to be appreciated for its meticulous study of its chosen passages and for its revisiting of an issue that cannot be considered closed. In the face of this study, we must seriously consider the ways in which, and if, our understanding of these literatures is advanced if we begin with the idea of an essential incongruity between “Athens” and “Jerusalem.”
–Alan Avery-Peck, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts, Review of Biblical Literature

"....Plato and the Talmud meets its expressed standard for success, namely that the reader be stimulated to return to the texts with fresh questions.... Jacob Howland’s comparison of Plato and the Talmud bears great fruits and urges its readers to “rediscover the sacred character of thought itself” ...."
–Meir Simchah Panzer, Bar Ilan University

“The book abounds with valuable interpretive insights that are worth considering and reconsidering.…the book’s great merit [is] in waking its readers to the beauty, both of Japheth and of the tents of Shem (Genesis 9:27)".
–David Janssens, Shofar

“Howland offers a close reading of representative texts—Plato’s Apology and Euthyphro and a selection of aggadot (stories) from Ta’anit, the Talmud’s treatise on fasts.… his readings are illuminating, sensitive to intertextual connections and to historical and intellectual contexts.”
–Carlos Fraenkel, Times Literary Supplement

"Jacob Howland’s Plato and the Talmud remains, despite its slightly misleading title, a delightful surprise … Howland, long known as a profound interpreter of Plato, shows himself to be an equally serious student of at least the relatively tiny part of the Talmud that he discusses.… Such bare summaries of Howland’s conclusions do not do justice to the grace and subtlety with which he analyzes his texts in order to reach them.… Howland has done a fine job of showing how students of political philosophy might begin to take the Talmud seriously."
–Charles T. Rubin, Duquesne University, Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521193139
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 10/11/2010
  • Pages: 294
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Jacob Howland is McFarlin Professor of Philosophy at the University of Tulsa. He is the author of Kierkegaard and Socrates: A Study in Philosophy and Faith (Cambridge University Press, 2006), The Paradox of Political Philosophy: Socrates' Philosophic Trial (1998) and The Republic: The Odyssey of Philosophy (1993). He also edited A Long Way Home: The Story of a Jewish Youth, 1939–1948, by Bob Golan (2005) and has published numerous articles.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Athens and Jerusalem; 1. Talmudic and Platonic writing; 2. Rabbis and holy men; 3. Prophets and philosophers; 4. Fathers and sons; 5. Words and deeds; 6. Gods and men; 7. Miracles and necessity; Epilogue: tests and traditions.

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