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Colloquium on: The Concept of Friendship in Ancient Greek Philosophy, Early Christianity and Judaism

Colloquium on: The Concept of Friendship in Ancient Greek Philosophy, Early Christianity and Judaism


Date and Time
Date(s) - 04/06/2014
6:30 pm - 9:00 pm


Précis of presentations and participating scholars



Dr. Jeffrey Macy (Hebrew University, Jerusalem)


The Greek Philosophic Concept of Friendship and its Influence on Maimonides


The Greek concept of friendship, philia [φιλία], has great significance in ancient Greek philosophy.  In Plato’s Republic, friendship has considerable thematic significance, both as an illegitimate standard for being just to some (your friends) and not to others (those who are not your friends) and as a positive standard encompassed in the idea that “friends share all things in common”. For Plato, however, friendship appears to be more significant in a political context than as a clearly defined personal relationship with independent, individual significance.  For Aristotle, the definition of friendship is far more personal and well defined than is the case with Plato, although Aristotle also is concerned with the political implications of friendship.  It is Aristotle’s concept of friendship, presented in considerable detail in Books 8 and 9 the Nicomachean Ethics, that influenced much of later philosophic thought and, in the Jewish tradition, influenced in particular the outstanding Jewish medieval philosopher, Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides). While Maimonides examines various types of friendship that are defined by Aristotle, the Aristotelian ideal of perfect friendship serves to highlight Maimonides’ ideal of the intellectual community, expressing itself in Maimonides’ description of the relationship between teachers and students that represents the model for promoting individual perfection.  It is this idea of friendship that Maimonides attempts to integrate into Jewish religious thought.


Jeffrey Macy is a Senior Lecturer and Past Chair of the Political Science Department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  He has been a visiting professor at numerous universities, including Yale University, Wesleyan University and the University of Crete.  He has published and lectured in Ancient Greek and Medieval Jewish, Islamic and Christian political thought and philosophic thought, with emphasis on the relationship between religion, philosophy and political thought.



Dr. David Satran (Hebrew University, Jerusalem)


The Dilemma of Friendship in Early Christianity


A variety of attitudes toward friendship emerged in the early, formative centuries of Christianity – from the writings of the New Testament through the works of the great theologians of the fourth and fifth centuries. These attitudes, not surprisingly, drew on diverse sources: fundamentally, of course, the central Greco-Roman tradition of friendship (Greek: φιλία; Latin: amicitia), but also the discussion by Jewish-Hellenistic thinkers (e.g. Philo of Alexandria) of the special relationship between the divine and the unique individual, such as Moses, who becomes a “friend of God.”


It may be possible to explore some of these tensions through the investigation of two important documents (one Greek, the other Latin) by central figures of fourth-century Christianity. Gregory Nazianzen – one of the Cappadocian Fathers and a pillar of the Greek Orthodox theological tradition – composed a funeral oration for Basil (“the Great”) of Caesarea, including a remarkable portrait of their youthful friendship. Two decades later, Augustine of Hippo penned his Confessions, famously tracing his path through philosophy and heresy to Christian faith. Both works present us with striking and very challenging portraits of the promises and dangers of human intimacy.


David Satran is a Senior Lecturer and Past Chair of the Department of Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has served as the academic director of the University’s honors program in Humanities and of the Research Center for the Study of Christianity. He has been a visiting professor at Yale and Princeton universities and was recently a research fellow in the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His principal teaching and publication interests are the relationship between the religions and philosophies of the Greco Roman world and the history of Christian thought in Late Antiquity.