Suggested Paper Topics in Medieval Jewish Philosophy

(includes bibliography of journal articles)

General Guidelines to Research Papers

The following list of recent journal articles related to Medieval Jewish Philosophy reflects the main topics that are being discussed in the literature. The disproportionate volume of material on Maimonides is partially attributable to the manner in which I conducted my search, though there is no escaping Maimonides' dominant stature in the field of Jewish rationalism.

Although it is recommended that you make use of articles in journals and other collections, it would probably be more efficient to begin your search from a more general introduction to [medieval] Jewish philosophy, such as those by Gutmann, Husik, Sirat, Holtz or the Encyclopedia Judaica, until you find a topic that interests you.

I srongly urge you to consult with me as frequently as possible. I can provide useful advice (maybe even lend you my books), as well as steer you away from some of the pitfalls that might befall your research.

For your short reports it will usually be sufficient to summarize the material the descriptions in the studies from which you are working. Extensive analysis is not expected, though it is encouraged. At any rate, you should provide me with evidence that you have understood the material ( e.g., by presenting the material from a novel perspective); or an honest explanation of what it was that baffled you, and why.

In your major research paper the expectations are much higher. It will not be sufficient to summarize what the authors of modern studies ("secondary literature") have said. You are required to subject their conclusions to your own judgment and, where possible, to look at the sources that they cite ("primary sources") in support of their arguments, to decide whether their conclusions are justified by the evidence. That is why scholarly literature is required to include source references.

In light of the above considerations, it is advisable to choose a topic that you have discovered to be problematic or controversial, so that it will allow you to evaluate the cogency of the respective opinions.

In a research essay it is always preferable to deal with a narrow, specialized topic, rather than to present a broad, generalized survey. As you conduct your research you will probably discover that your topic is narrowing down more and more, as you recognize the complexity of issues that previously seemed straightforward. That is a very healthy sign that you are on the track of something interesting!

Please make sure that your topic is appropriate to the assignment; i.e., that it deals with a subject that is both medieval and philosophical. If that sounds insultingly obvious, I apologize. But you would be amazed at how many students have gotten into serious trouble for that reason.

Explanations of the Topic Classifications That Are Used in the Bibliography

  1. Faith and Reason

    Assuming that philosophy and traditional Judaism lead to the same conclusions about the existence of a single non-physical God, what was the purpose of providing humanity with the "two sources of truth"? Is revealed religion superior in some way to philosophy? These questions were discussed by most of the important medieval Jewish philosophers.
  2. Spirituality

    I use this term to designate those aspects of medieval thought that relate to the conduct of a person's life in accordance with philosophical objectives; e.g., the nature of the contemplative life, and the reinterpretation of concepts like "prayer," "holiness," etc.
  3. Theology

    Theoretical discussions about the nature of God, proofs for his existence, etc. Much of the literature deals with religious language; i.e.: How may one employ human language to speak about God? Is it possible to apply different attributes to God ("good," "wise," "just," existent") without compromising his absolute unity?
  4. Creation

    Ond of the most conspicuous conflicts between philosophy and traditional Judaism involved Aristotle's belief that the universe had existed form eternity, an apparent contradiction of the Biblical creation story. Most Jewish philosophers aggressively defended the Biblical account, but there were some interesting variations.
  5. Prophecy

    The Biblical concept of prophecy (God channeling messages through selected human agents) was reformulated in light of the Aristotelian doctrines of the developed human intellect partaking of inspiration from the "Actual Intelligence." Philosophers held differing views about the relationship between prophecy, philosophical contemplation, literary imagination and other phemonema.
    The question of prophecy took on additional importance because of interreligious rivalries, since both Judaism and Islam based their claims to authenticity on prophetic revelations.
  6. Providence

    Does the sublime, spiritual, utterly unified God pay individual attention to every one of his creatures? To every drop of rain? To all human beings?
  7. Law and Ethics

    Medieval Jewish rationalists attempted to apply Greek ethical theories, especially Aristotle's concept of the "Golden Mean," to traditional Jewish law.

    I have also included under this heading assorted attempts to provide philosophical rationales or classifications to Biblical and Rabbinic commanements.

  8. Other Religions

    Jewish attitudes towards other religions were influenced by philosophical considerations. In particular, Christian trinitarianism posed certain problems to Jewish monotheism.
  9. Aesthetics

    Jewish discussions about the Aristotelian (and other?) theories of natural and artistic beauty.
  10. Maimonides: Strauss

    The German-Jewish-American political philosopher Leo Strauss has written extensively about his theories that Maimonides, like other enlightened medievals, composed his works in a kind of code so that his actual heretical views would not be discerned by the authorities or by the masses. Strauss' views have had considerable influence, as well as many critics. Note that much of the discussion about Strauss is in the form of book reviews.
Faith and Reason Konvitz, Milton R Natural Law and Judaism: The Case of Maimonides Judaism 45\1 1996 29
Faith and Reason Kreisel, H. Weiss, Raymond L., Maimonides' Ethics: The Encounter of Philosophic and Religious Morality (Review) Speculum 69\2 1994 581
Faith and Reason Shore, Eliezer At the Center: Beyond human knowledge in Maimonides Parabola 22\1 1997 59
Faith and Reason Frank, Daniel H. The Duty to Philosophize: Socrates and Maimonides Judaism 42\3 1993 289
Faith and Reason Buijs, J. A. Maimonides and St. Thomas on the limits of reason - Dobbs Weinstein, I. (Review) Journal of the History of Philosophy 35\1 1997 137-8
Spirituality Kaplan, Lawrence The Love of God in Maimonides and Rav Kook Judaism 43\3 1994 227
Spirituality Fenton, P. B. In the Margins of the 'Kitab Kifayat al-Abidin' (the Sufficient Provisions of the Servants) bt Maimonides, Abraham ben-Moses, 1186-1237--Islamic Influences on Jewish Worship Revue des Etudes Juives 150\3-4\3 1991 385-405
Spirituality Friedman, R. Z. Maimonides and Kant on Metaphysics and Piety The Review of metaphysics 45\4 1992 773
Spirituality Benor, Ehud Z. Petition and Contemplation in Maimonides' Conception of Prayer Religion 24\1 1994 59
Spirituality Benor, Ehud; Frank, Daniel H Worship of the Heart: A Study in Maimonides' Philosophy of Religion Journal of the history of philosophy 35\2 1997 298
Spirituality Harvey, W. Z. Sacrifice, Prayer, and Study according to Maimonides Révue des Etudes Juives 154\1-2 1995 97-103
Spirituality Seeskin, K. Holiness as an Ethical Ideal (Human Perfection within a Jewish Worldview according to Maimonides) Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 5\2 1996 190-203
Spirituality Kellner, M. Maimonides' Conception of the Ultimate Meaning of Life, Human Perfection Ultimate Reality and Meaning 14\3 1991 175-84
Theology Lachterman, D. R. Mathematical Construction, Symbolic Cognition and the Infinite Intellect--Reflections on Maimon and Maimonides Journal of the History of Philosophy 30\4\1 1992 497-522
Theology Leonard, J. M. Robelin, J., Maimonides and Religious Language (Review) Etudes Théologiques et Réligieuses 67\3 1992 446-7
Theology Kasher H Self-Cognizing Intellect and Negative Attributes in Maimonides' Theology (Medieval Jewish Philosophy and the Contradiction between Aristotelian and Neoplatonic Concepts of the Divinity Harvard Theological Review 87\4 1994 461-72
Theology Mandel, P. The Call of Abraham--A Midrash Revisited (Maimonices on the (Re)Discovery of Monotheism from Postbiblical Literature through Rabbinic Midrash) Prooftexts 14\3 1994 267-84
Theology Broadie, A. Maimonides on the Great Tautology--Exodus III, 14 Scottish Journal of Theology 47\4 1994 478-88
Theology Turner, M. The Structure of the Lexicographical Chapters in the Moreh-Nevukhim (Maimonides' Treatment of Biblical Anthropomorophism) Hebrew Union College Annual 62 1992 347-360
Theology Benor, E. Z. Meaning and Reference in Maimonides' Negative Theology Harvard Theological Review 88\3 1995 339-60
Creation Samuelson, N. Maimomides' Doctrine of Creation Harvard Theological Review 84\3\4 1991 249-71
Creation Bertola, E. The Problem of the Eternity of the World in the Thought of Maimonides, Moses Sefarad 56\1 1996 19-43
Prophecy Buijs, Joseph A. Believers, prophets and philsophers: Maimonides on knowledge Studies in religion. Sciences religieuses 21\1 1992 43
Prophecy Kleven, Terence David Bakan. Maimonides on Prophecy: A Commentary on Selected Chapters of the Guide of the Perplexed (Review) Studies in religion. Sciences religieuses 21\4 1992 488
Prophecy Faierstein, M.M. Prophetic inspiration after the prophets: Maimonides and other medieval authorities (Review) Expository Times 108\9 1996 286
Providence Ramisch, Sandra Walker Between the lines: Maimonides on providence Studies in religion. Sciences religieuses 21\1 1992 29
Law and Ethics Stern J The fall and rise of myth in ritual (Exploring formative influences on the ''naturalization'' of Judaic law in the Middle-Ages: Maimonides versus Nahmanides on the ''Huqqim'' (rabbinic statutes), astrology, and the war against idolatry) Journal of Jewish Thought and philosophy 6/2 1997 185-263
Law and Ethics Ward, Ian Natural Law and Reason in the Philosophies of Maimonides and St. Thomas Aquinas The Durham University journal 86\1 1994 21-32
Law and Ethics Frank, Daniel H. Weiss, Raymond, Maimonides' Ethics: The Encounter of Philosophic and Religious Morality (Review) The Journal of religion 74\1 1994 116
Law and Ethics Frydmankohl, B. Covenant, Conversion and Chosenness--Maimonides and Halevi on the Question of Who Is a Jew Judaism 41\1 1992 64-79
Other Religions Strousma, S. Alfarabi and Maimonides on the Christian Philosophical Tradition Islam--Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Kultur des islamischen Orients 68\2 1991 263-78
Aesthetics Bland, Kalman P. Medieval Jewish Aesthetics: Maimonides, Body, and Scripture in Profiat Duran Journal of the history of ideas 54\4 1993 533
Aesthetics Bland, K. P. Beauty, Maimonides, and Cultural Relativism in Medieval Jewish Thought Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 26\1 1996 85-112
Aesthetics Segal, E. Midrash and Literature: Some Medieval Views Prooftexts 11 1991 57-65
Maimonides: Strauss Green, Kenneth Hart; Benor, Ehud Z Jew and Philosopher: The Return to Maimonides in the Jewish Thought of Leo Strauss Journal of the American Academy of Religion 64\1 1996 191
Maimonides: Strauss Deutsch, Kenneth L. Strauss's Maimonides (Review) The Review of politics 56\4 1994 768
History of Philosophy Harvey, W. Z. Did Maimonides' Letter to Samuel Ibn Tibbon Determine Which Philosophers Would Be Studied by Later Jewish Thinkers? Jewish Quarterly Review n.s. 83\1-2 1992 51-70

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