Messianism in Medieval Jewish Thought

Messianism in Medieval Jewish Thought


Dov Schwartz
Translated by Batya Stein

Series: Emunot: Jewish Philosophy and Kabbalah
ISBN: 9781618115690 (hardcover)
Pages: 288 pp.
Publication Date: March 2017

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How did medieval Jewish scholars, from Saadia Gaon to Yitzhak Abravanel, imagine a world that has experienced salvation? What is the nature of reality in the days of the Messiah? This work explores reactions to the seductive promises of apocalyptic teachings, tracing their fluctuations between intellect and imagination. The volume extensively surveys the tension between naturalistic and apocalyptic approaches to the history of the messianic idea so fundamental to the history of Jewish philosophy in the Middle Ages and reveals the scope and challenges of medieval thought.

Dov Schwartz, a former Dean of Humanities at Bar Ilan University and head of the departments of Philosophy and of Music, currently heads its interdisciplinary unit, and holds the Natalie and Isidore Friedman Chair for Teaching Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s Thought.


Dov Schwartz is undeniably one of the most prolific, wide-ranging, and profound scholars of medieval Jewish philosophy and modern Jewish thought active today. In 1997 he published in Hebrew a ground-breaking study on the history of an idea: messianism among medieval Jewish theologians. That work remains unsurpassed today and its appearance in English, in an elegant translation by Batya Stein, is greatly to be welcomed. No one before Schwartz, and no one since, has sought to follow the permutations of the messianic idea (as Gershom Scholem famously called it) from R. Sa’adia Gaon through Don Isaac Abravanel. Given the salience of messianism in contemporary Judaism, be it in Habad circles or among (Orthodox) religious Zionists (about whom Schwartz has also written several influential works), this important study proves itself to be of great contemporary relevance.
— Menachem Kellner, Shalem College, Jerusalem; University of Haifa (Emeritus), author of Science in the Bet Midrash: Studies in Maimonides and Torah in the Observatory: Gersonides, Maimonides, Song of Songs

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Methodological Introduction                                   
Chapter Two: Apocalyptic Messianism in a Rationalist Garb                
Chapter Three: Individual Redemption and Naturalism                    
Chapter Four: The Resurgence of Apocalyptic Messianism                  
Chapter Five: The Decline of Collective Naturalism                          
Chapter Six: Between Naturalism and Apocalyptic Messianism              
Chapter Seven: Clarifying Positions: The Last Stage                           
Chapter Eight: Conclusions: Redemption, Models, and Decisions               
Appendix: History, Ideas, and the History of Ideas