Philo’s Heirs: Moses Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas

Philo’s Heirs: Moses Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas


Luis Cortest

ISBN: 9781618116307 (hardcover)
Pages: 136 pp.
Publication Date: July 2017

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The central claim of this book is that Philo of Alexandria’s philosophical method served as the model for the philosophical works of Moses Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas. Moses Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas stand as two pillars in the history of religious philosophy. In their respective religious communities each philosopher is considered the great master who expressed the doctrine of the religious tradition in philosophical terms. One of the most important points established in this book is that both of these thinkers inherited a set of standard philosophical topics (divine attributes, creation ex nihilo, divine providence, etc.) which were first developed as philosophical/religious questions by Philo. In effect, Philo’s philosophical method shaped the history of Western philosophy until the late seventeenth century.

Luis Cortest is Professor of Medieval Spanish Studies at the University of Oklahoma. He is the author and editor of a number of books, including The Disfigured Face: Traditional Natural Law and Its Encounter with Modernity.


Professor Cortest makes a good case that Philo’s philosophical approach to religion was picked up by many early Christian theologians (notably John Philoponus) and that this created the intellectual ambience in which Maimonides’ and Aquinas’ thought developed.
— Shmuel Ben-Gad, Gelman Library (George Washington University), AJL Reviews
Though a long millennium separates them, after opening with Philo, the heart of the book is dedicated to a comparison of Thomas Aquinas and Moses Maimonides in which Cortest uncovers a subtle genealogy that begins with Philo: how to read the Bible allegorically and do so through the lenses of Plato and Aristotle. All three thinkers ask: what is the role of religion in the establishment of politics and law, was the world created, what is God and does he shape world events? Rather than retrace the obvious, Philo’s Heirs encourages us to tease out the subterranean influences that animate the big questions of the western philosophic tradition and to think broadly, across large time periods and geographies, to answer these questions in our own day.
— Moses Lapin, New Books Network
Alfred North Whitehead famously called the history of philosophy in the West a series of footnotes to Plato. Harry Wolfson showed that much of that tradition consists not of footnotes but of colorful elaborations of the synthesis of Greek philosophy with biblical ideals forged by Philo of Alexandria. In this incisive book Luis Cortest traces the great tradition of religiously committed philosophy from Philo and Maimonides to Aquinas and beyond, pursuing not ‘influences’ alone but thematic affinities and conceptual commitments that bind the tradition together—insights and reasoning about God and creation, providence, natural law, and revelation. Cortest’s intelligent, thoughtful, and accessible exploration shows clearly that there is indeed a perennial Judaeo-Christian tradition and gives us reason to see that this robust tradition is alive and well today.
— Lenn Goodman, Vanderbilt University
In this deeply erudite study, Luis Cortest traces the influence of Philo on Christian thought from the Church Fathers to the Middle Ages. He analyzes the influence of the Greeks on Maimonides and of the Jews on Aquinas, demonstrating that the two are more closely interwoven than many might have believed. The relationship of Greek thought to Christian and Jewish thought is complicated. In this groundbreaking book, Luis Cortest turns to Philo to provide an erudite but clear account of that complex relationship. Cortest bridges a gap between the two traditions in ways that are much needed among Jewish and Christian thinkers today.
— David Patterson, University of Texas at Dallas

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Marriage of Athens and Jerusalem: Philo of Alexandria
Chapter 2: Christian Philosophy after Philo
Chapter 3: The Rabbi and the Friar at a Glance
Chapter 4: The Divine Attributes
Chapter 5: In the Beginning
Chapter 6: Divine Providence
Chapter 7: Natural Law
Chapter 8: Prophecy