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Hebrew and Greek Thought Revisited: Law and Holiness, Virtue, and the Good Life

The vibrant culture of the West—its distinctive religious and political traditions, philosophical and scientific inquiries, and literary and artistic modes of imagination—springs from the creative tension between Hebraic and Greek thought. We cannot understand the challenges of the present or chart a path into the future without returning to these two intertwined roots of our civilization. What do Greek and Jewish approaches to the fundamental human problems—of life and death, war and peace, family and friendship, love and loss, justice and cruelty, hope and history—have in common? Where do they diverge? How do these ancient traditions help us to identify, and begin to correct, the errors of modern life and thought?

The books of the Greek philosophers, the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh, and the writings of the rabbis all contain profound teachings on the origins and purposes of law, the nature of moral virtue, wisdom, and holiness, and the importance of law and virtue for human flourishing. This course brings those teachings into conversation. What is the good life for human beings? What is virtue, and what role do the virtues play in the good life? Which virtues are most important? Why do human beings need law? What are the authoritative foundations of law, and what are its aims? What is the relationship between law, holiness, and virtue? Is politics part of the good life, or merely a precondition for it? Can a community thrive without a meaningful connection to G-d or the gods? These are some of the questions we shall explore in this course.

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