Creation and Temporality in Medieval Jewish Philosophy

Faith and Philosophy 14 (4):458-477 (1997)
Abstract
Of the many philosophical perplexities facing medieval Jewish thinkers, perhaps none has been as challenging or as divisive as determining whether the universe is created or eternal. Not unlike contemporary cosmologists who worry about the first instant of creation of the universe, or Christian scholastics who attempted to define the nature of an instant, so too medieval Jewish thinkers were aware of the philosophical complexities surrounding the issues of creation and time. Jews were immensely affected by Scripture and in particular by the creation account found in Genesis I-II. In the context of this tension, perhaps the most important word of Scripture is b’reishit, “in the beginning.” The very term b’reishit designates the fact that there was a beginning, i.e., temporality has been introduced if only in the weakest sense that this creative act occupies a period of time. In this paper I shall focus my study upon Jewish philosophical attempts to clarify what is entailed by postulating a first instant of creation. I shall begin with early Rabbinical commentaries upon Genesis, and then turn to three paradigmatic medieval Jewish thinkers who, influenced by these Rabbinical texts, represent the range of positions taken with respect to this issue
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