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The History of Philosophy: A Discovery

I mentioned last month that I was reading Simon Schama's new book, THE STORY OF THE JEWS.

I should say now that I did make a discovery in there I consider valuable. This was the first time I have ever come across the name Yehudah Halevi. That isn't because he is obscure, only a reflection on my ignorance.

Schama gives him a lengthy passage (given the presumptions and format of the book) from p. 278 to 291.

Halevi was born in Spain, possibly in Toledo, in the late 11th century. He lived much of his life passing back and forth between Moorish-held and Christian-held areas of that peninsula, what Schama calls a perilous shuttling between rival sets of persecutors of Jews, seeking at any moment the more bearable life in the one zone or the other.

He died in 1141, either on the way to Palestine or soon after having arrived.

His philosophical significance is as one of several philosophers within the three great monotheisms (the three "peoples of the book" if you prefer) -- one of several who have opposed the self-sufficiency of the intellect, the idea that faith ought to be dressed up in an intellectually respectable way, the idea that Jerusalem needs to be reconciled with Athens.

Schama describes his book Kuzari as a work written "as much for his own self-clarification as for the edification of others." what he wanted to clarify for himself was that the effort to understand God and Creation through reason was (again quoting Schama's paraphrase) "an exercise doomed to futility since the Jewish God was intrinsically and ultimately unknowable."


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