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Did Paul Make Use of Greek Philosophical Categories?


It was my privilege as a young man to have studied Plato and Aristotle under Dr. Marvin Zetterbaum and to have worked as his research assistant for a time. Dr. Zetterbaum himself studied under and was personally mentored by none other than Dr. Leo Strauss of the University of Chicago - who, in Germany, had worked along side Ernst Cassirer and Martin Heidegger. It was also my privilege to have been enrolled in a seminar taught by Leo Strauss for a small number of honors graduate students.

What’s particularly fascinating about both Strauss and Zetterbaum is their insistence that neither Plato nor Aristotle was a novel thinker; that the philosophical categories they developed arose from a primordial intuition rooted in premodern culture. That intuition, Strauss contended, is no longer accessible to modern thinkers – because the culture that informs and governs their thoughts is so far removed from antiquity. It’s buried under the sophistries that emerged during the Renaissance and Enlightenment - a conviction shared by Ludwig Wittgenstein. What we’re left with, Strauss suggested, is a wholly artificial culture stripped of the underpinnings needed to make it truly authentic. The premoderns, both Zetterbaum and Strauss claimed, were far closer to the truth; indeed, their culture was impregnated with it – though even then it was under attack and beginning to dissipate - which is exactly the point Plato was trying to make in so many of the dialogues he attributes to Socrates - especially his dialogue with Thrasymachos recorded in The Republic. If Strauss and Zetterbaum are right, there’s no need to insist that Paul was either a Platonist or an Aristotelian. The same fundamental presuppositions that guided Greek culture also guided Hebrew culture.

Strauss, of course, didn’t play down the difference between, as he and Heidegger put it, “Athens and Jerusalem.” Indeed, he was quick to acknowledge that one was a culture of “Reason” and the other a culture of “Faith.” Nevertheless, the two cultures were not as radically dissimilar as William Barrett made them out to be in his epic tome Irrational Man, A Study in Existential Philosophy. That’s because both cultures wholly embraced a teleological mind-set - a fact that Barrett mystifyingly overlooked.

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