What is Hebraic Stoicism?

According to Wikipedia:

Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy which was founded by Zeno of Citium, in Athens, in the early 3rd century BC. Stoicism is a philosophy of personal ethics informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world.

However, Stoicism was also a Jewish Philosophy, from at least as early as the time of the Maccabees, and arguably as early as Moses, which flourished at least until the early second Century CE.

Many Jews in ancient times maintained that the principles of “Helemistic philosophy” and “Stoicism” in particular, actually originated from the ancient Hebrews, and were borrowed by the Greeks.

The 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)

Aristoblus saw in these “Greek” philosophies, concepts that could be found much earlier in his Jewish Scriptures. Likewise the Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria, in the first Century, expounded upon the Torah, finding these same ideas in it.

The book of 4th Maccabees, likewise expounds principles of Stoicism, citing as examples, passages and narratives from the Tanak and the Channukah story as given in 2Maccabees.

And when the Mishna presents Simeon Ben Zoma’s four Stoic paradoxes (late first to early second century), he shows how each may be derived from a passage in the Tanak:

Ben Zoma would say:
Who is wise? He who learns from everyone. As is stated (Psalms 119:99): “From all my teachers I have grown wise”;
Who is strong? He who controls his impulses. As is stated (Proverbs 16:32), “Better one who is slow to anger than one with might, one who rules his spirit than the captor of a city.”;
Who is rich? He who is happy with what he has. As is stated (Psalms 128:2): “If you eat of toil of your hands, fortunate are you, and good is to you”; “fortunate are you” in this world, “and good is to you” in the World to Come;
Who is honored? He who honors everyone! As is stated (1 Samuel 2:30): “For to those who honor me, I accord honor; those who scorn me shall be demeaned;”.
(Pirkei Avot 4:1)

Hebraic Stoicism is a renascence of the ancient Stoic Wisdom of the Hebrews.

Some of the basic points of Hebraic Stoicism are:

  1. “The Torah corresponds to the world and the world to the Torah, and that a man who is obedient to the Torah, being, by so doing, a citizen of the world, arranges his actions with reference to the intention of nature, in harmony with which the whole universal world is regulated.” (Philo, On Creation 3)
  2. “Elohim fashioned man, he planted in him emotions and inclinations, but at the same time he enthroned the mind among the senses as a sacred governor over them all. To the mind he gave the Torah; and one who lives subject to this will rule a kingdom that is temperate, just, good, and courageous.” (4Macc. 2:21-23) “emotions are the causes of all good and of all evil; of good when they submit to the authority of dominant reason, and of evil when they break out of bounds and scorn all government and restraint.” (Philo; Life of Moses 1; VI, 26)
  3. Ultimately we cannot control anything external. Worry is irrational, and a form of fear. The only thing we truly control is what we think, and as a result, how we choose to feel.
  4. The Memra (Word) is a rational intellect which permeates the universe. This results in the universe having a sort of intent or will, known as “providence” (not to be confused with predestination). While we have a freewill, it may be compared to a dog on a leash attached to a moving wagon.
  5. A man who lives by these principles will manifest four key “labors of wisdom” or “virtues”: wisdom, temperance, justice and courage.

I want to invite everyone who is interested in this renascence of “Hebraic Stoicism” to join us in building a Hebraic Stoicism community online.

Join us at the Hebraic Stoicism Facebook group

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