Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about Hebraic thought. Please contact us to suggest questions at cht@tkc.edu.

The term “Hebraic” only refers to the language and people from whom the Hebrew Bible descends. It gives us a suitable designation for a philosophical style prior to Hellenism and distinct from other philosophical thought in the ancient Near East. This style does not necessarily belong to the Judahite returnees or great Jewish scholars from antiquity to present.

We could have chosen “Israelite thought” or the well-known “Jewish thought,” but both of those terms identify subsets of people discussed within the Hebrew Bible. Jewish thought also includes the study of the Talmud, medieval rabbis, and current Jewish philosophers.

We are specifically interested in the philosophical thought of the Hebrew Bible, not in all the ensuing Jewish works. And so, the term “Hebraic thought” will have to do. “Hebraic” offers, at the least, a way to minimally bind the collection of texts with the language used by those biblical authors going back to the 10th century B.C.E.

Studying systems of thought in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament is by no means a new endeavor. Even within the Hebrew Bible, Ezra and Nehemiah describe those who studied the Scriptures in order to coherently explain them to the Israelites.

We could have chosen “Israelite thought” or the well-known “Jewish thought,” but both of those terms identify subsets of people discussed within the Hebrew Bible. Jewish thought also includes the study of the Talmud, medieval rabbis, and current Jewish philosophers.

Hans Frei’s famous book The Eclipse of the Biblical Narrative could also include the eclipse of studying the intellectual world of Scripture throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Because of massive sea-change in aims and tools for biblical studies, the systematic philosophical style of the Hebrew Bible appeared to be a non-starter for scholars (see Joshua Berman’s essay “The Corruption of Biblical Studies” for more on this). Until the late 20th century, most biblical scholars were not even interested in the question of Hebrew thought across the Bible.

Ironically, one of the most recent examinations of Hebraic thought comes not from biblical scholars, but rather from a group of ancient Near Eastern scholars. The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man, written in 1946, traces the conceptual worlds of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Israel from their textual traditions and finds the Hebrew Bible has a form of “critical intellectualism” more like Greece and Rome, which is noticeably absent in Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Because of rising biblical illiteracy and an openness amongst biblical scholars to renew their study of the Bible’s thought-world, the opening of the Center for Hebraic Thought is timely and needed in scholastic and Church circles.

By “intellectual world,” we mean that Hebrews conceptualized things such as truth, knowledge, math, and ethics apart from any one instance of these things. Though deeply informed by their encounters with the land, neighbors, strangers, and God, the biblical texts show principled reflections that are not so exclusively local as to be mere reactions to circumstance. The Christian Scriptures show all the characteristics of an intellectual world: their thoughts are conveyed across varying literatures, demonstrate reflection and principled ideas, and are consistent over time and across the many Israelite cultures spanning the Bronze and Iron Ages. To study their intellectual world means reading carefully across the biblical texts, hoping to discern what they thought about meteorology, logic, math, justice, love, politics, and more.

If the Hebrew Bible and New Testament have a consistent intellectual world, then some of their thinking remains consistent from King David to the apostle Paul. Beyond being just a collection of thoughts, an Hebraic intellectual world means that we could explain a republican democracy or a smartphone to an ancient Hebrew, and they would have a way of thinking about them and helping us to think about how God might want us to understand these things.

Look at our “For Scholars” page for a growing list of scholars and their work on Hebraic Thought.

Among biblical scholars, the practice of looking for principles across biblical texts is called “biblical theology.” Studying Hebraic Thought, then, is studying biblical theology specifically aimed at philosophical topics or questions across Scripture. To amplify Hebraic philosophy for modern ears, we often compare the biblical authors’ thoughts on a particular topic with those of famous philosophers or movements.

Generally, we associate theology with systematic thinking within a religion about relations between humanity, the world, and the divine realm. Philosophy is often described as aimed at clarifying abstract notions not necessarily tied to the events of history. So philosophy might seem to be opposed to theology, which is necessarily about particular people in particular places throughout history relating to a god or gods. However, since Plato and Aristotle often assign significant realizations about the nature of reality as such to oracles or gods, it’s difficult to say where their philosophy stopped and theology started. It’s safe to say that such ambiguity might also be expected in Christian versions of philosophy and theology.

See this essay by Dr. Dru Johnson for the basics of epistemology in Scripture.

The last generation of New Testament scholarship has seen a resurgence in studying Paul as a Second Temple Jew. This might seem unbelievable, but Paul has been studied as much as a Stoic philosopher as he has a Jewish leader. However, the New Testament was written mostly by Jewish Christians and often to an audience of Jewish Christians, though the early Church was a mixed multitude. What’s more, Jesus tells us that he came to fulfill the Torah, not abolish it, and Paul calls himself a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” Jesus, Paul, and the NT authors all knew the Hebrew Bible (or Greek translations of it) as their Scriptures. Despite being surrounded by and sometimes learned in the rigorous intellectualism of Roman philosophies, the NT authors all think through a Hebraic lens and hold up the reasoning and history of the Hebrew Bible as the sourcebook of their intellectual world.

If you are researching or writing on a topic suited to our focus, we would like to know more about you and your work. We would also like to connect you with other scholarship in the field. To connect with us, go to “Contact The Center” and send us a note. To pitch an idea for an essay in our magazine, The Biblical Mind, which is aimed at a more general audience, email the editor, Celina Durgin, at cdurgin@tkc.edu.

If you like our work, you can also donate to the center on our Give page.