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Journal Article

The Philonic Distinction: German Enlightenment Historiography of Jewish Thought

Dirk Westerkamp
History and Theory
Vol. 47, No. 4 (Dec., 2008), pp. 533-559
Published by: Wiley for Wesleyan University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25478794
Page Count: 27
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The Philonic Distinction: German Enlightenment Historiography of Jewish Thought
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Abstract

Leon Roth's famous question "Is there a Jewish philosophy?" has been the subject of an ongoing controversial debate. This paper argues that the concept of a Jewish philosophy - in the sense of an allegedly continuous philosophical tradition stretching from antiquity to early modernity - was created by German Enlightenment historians of philosophy. Under competing models of historiography, Enlightenment philosophy construed a continuous tradition of Jewish thought, a philosophia haebraeorum perennis, establishing a controversially discussed order of discourse and a specific politics of historiography. Within this historiography, historical and systematical paradigms, values, and patterns kept shifting continuously, opening up perspectives for different, even contradictory accounts of what Jewish philosophy was (and is). With Hegel and his successors, this specific discourse came to a close. Hegel attacks "Jewish thought" as a form of metaphysics of substance - a critique countered by several thinkers who can be referred to as "Jewish Hegelians" (E. Fackenheim). The Jewish Hegelians fully accepted, however, Hegel's account of the "Philonic distinction": the difference between substance and subject within the conception of the One. This calls attention to the idea that not only the role of the "Mosaic distinction" (J. Assmann), the distinction between true and false in religion, should be examined more closely, but also the consequences of the "Philonic distinction" between identity and difference in monotheistic concepts of deity.

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