Theology of Nature in Sixteenth-Century Italian Jewish Philosophy1
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 September 2008
This paper focuses on several Italian Jewish philosophers in the second half of the sixteenth century and the first third of the seventeenth century. It argues that their writings share a certain theology of nature. Because of it, the interest of Jews in the study of nature was not a proto-scientific but a hermeneutical activity based on the essential correspondence between God, Torah, and Israel. While the theology of nature analyzed in the paper did not prevent Jews from being informed about and selectively endorsing the first phase of the scientific revolution, it did render the Jews marginal to it. So long as Jewish thinkers adhered to this theology of nature, Jews could not adopt the scientific mentality that presupposed a qualitative distinction between the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture.
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The term “Jewish philosophy” is ambiguous. In this paper it denotes a certain literary activity and educational orientation that involved a systematic reflection about Judaism by means of philosophical categories derived from ancient Greek philosophy. The scholars discussed herein received a formal philosophical training either in Italian universities or in Jewish academies whose curriculum included the secular sciences. Yet, as this paper observes, they considered philosophy to be epistemically inferior to revealed knowledge. Thus they subordinated their knowledge of philosophy to the interpretation of divine revelation — i.e., they engaged in theology.