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Plato and the Talmud

The distinctive intellectual and spiritual life of the West springs from the creative tension between Greek philosophy and biblical faith. This course explores that tension by bringing several Platonic dialogues into conversation with some of the more famous narratives from the Babylonian Talmud. These texts tell stories about exemplary human beings—the philosopher Socrates and the Talmudic sages—who inquire rationally into all things in search of humanly essential truth, but who know, or learn by suffering, that intellectual majesty must be tempered by the humility of faith and guided by the common good. Our readings illuminate the different (but surprisingly compatible) ways in which Socrates and the sages understood the relationship between man and God or the gods, the limits of reason, the paradoxes of politics, and the moral errors to which those who quest after wisdom are prone.

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