Where Greek Philosophy and Biblical Theology Differed . . . (new)

It is fascinating to compare and contrast the world of Greek and Judaic thought. Each people had a sense of purpose and manifest destiny. While Alexander sought to Hellenize the barbarian world, ancient Israel chose to bear witness to God’s Presence and Reality by introducing ethical monotheism to the world.

Unlike the Greek philosophers who sought to understand God as the Ultimate Reality of the logical order in discursive terms, Israel’s conception of God is mediated through her experience of the Divine, which always has ethical implications in the formation of the social values and precepts of the Torah. Knowledge of God is grounded in what Abraham Joshua Heschel terms, “the grammar of experience.” Biblical prophets, beginning with Abraham, taught the world that God is not some abstract or impersonal being who is indifferent to how human beings treat one another and the world. The manifestation of God’s Presence is visible in the actions of justice, integrity, compassion and liberation of the body and soul from the chains of degradation and bondage. Heschel cites an interesting proof text that illustrates the nature of “knowing God” that appears throughout much of the Tanakh:

King Jehoiakim, you are doomed!

You built a palace

with large rooms upstairs.

You put in big windows

and used cedar paneling

and red paint.

But you were unfair

and forced the builders to work

without pay.


More cedar in your palace

doesn’t make you a better king

than your father Josiah.

He always did right—

he gave justice to the poor

and was honest.

That’s what it means

to truly know me.

Jeremiah 22:13-16 (CEV)

Abraham Joshua Heschel adds:

  • Here knowledge is not the same as thought, comprehension, gnosis or mystical participation in the ultimate essence. Knowledge of God is action toward man, sharing His concern for justice; sympathy in action. Inner identification with God’s will and concern is the goal of the new covenant, “Here is the new agreement that I, the Lord, will make with the people of Israel: “I will write my laws on their hearts and minds. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Jeremiah 31:32 (CEV)


Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets (New York: Harper Collins, 1962), 270.

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