The myth of the Jewish origins of philosophy in the Renaissance: from Aristotle to Plato

Abstract

The myth of the Jewish origins of philosophy and science is an ancient tradition dating from the Hellenistic period. It originated with pagan scholars, as part of the Greek-Hellenistic myth of the eastern origins of wisdom. Hellenistic-Jewish scholars acquired this theme from them, developed it further and transmitted it to the Church Fathers. In time, this myth achieved great popularity among Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Aristotle’s prominence in medieval culture gave rise to traditions claiming that he studied with Jewish sages and was deeply impressed and influenced by Jewish books. Some of these traditions even maintain that he converted to Judaism, or was born a Jew. Although stories about the Judaized Aristotle continued to circulate, many accounts of the Jewish sources of Plato also began to appear in various forms among Christian and Jewish scholars. Stories about Plato proliferated especially following the decline of the Aristotelian-Averroist tradition, when kabbalistic-hermetic influences were first discernible in the writings of Ficino and Pico della Mirandola in the late Quattrocento.

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Correspondence to Abraham Melamed.

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Melamed, A. The myth of the Jewish origins of philosophy in the Renaissance: from Aristotle to Plato. Jew History 26, 41–59 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10835-012-9156-4

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Keywords

  • Ancient Philosophy
  • Jewish Origin
  • Hellenistic Period
  • Greek Myth
  • Aristotelian Tradition