About the Jewish Intellectual Timeline

About the Jewish Intellectual Timeline

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Here is some information about this timeline. This timeline is a work-in-progress, so if you have questions, or would like to propose corrections, additions, etc., please send mail to . Much appreciated! —DMF


Purpose

Does everything have to have a purpose? Well, if there is a purpose to this timeline it is two-fold. The first fold is the one mentioned in the blurb at the top of the timeline: It is interesting (I think) to look at the connections between Jewish and non-Jewish thought at different points in time, and I hope the timeline will help people in that endeavor. The second fold is a personal one, which is that I can never seem to remember when different individuals worked and lived (e.g., Baal Shem Tov, Peter Abelard, etc.), and I just wanted a central reference where I could go to check these things. Of course, I could have just put all this information in an Excel spreadsheet for my own use (which is exactly what I did), but it wouldn't have been much fun if I didn't think other people might eventually use it too. And is anything worth doing if it isn't fun? Hmmm....


Authorship

In general, my goal has been to use the best information available regarding authorship, which is (hopefully) that yielded by modern scholarship. However, for ancient books, certainty about matters of authorship is usually impossible to obtain. Thus, when there is a traditional attribution which seems credible (e.g., Isaiah), I use that attribution. When the traditional attribution seems more speculative, I put the word "traditional" in parentheses (e.g., Lao Tzu). When the traditional attribution is likely to be in error (e.g., Zohar), I use the opinion of modern scholarship.


Dates

Below is a summary of the heuristics I have used for dating. Being that they are heuristics, some of the dates provided on the timeline may not stand up to close scrutiny. Please feel free to contact me about corrections.

The dates of ancient events given on this timeline are (or should be) the best estimates provided modern scholarship, except where they are tagged by the term "traditional" in which case they are (or should be) the date accepted within the given tradition (usually Jewish). It should be understood that dating for almost all ancient events is approximate.

The date provided for a given work is the date of publication, if this date is known (i.e., known to me) and does not significantly postdate the author's death. When the latter does not hold, I have tried to use a date closer to the actual date of authorship, if known. When the exact date of publication or authorship is not known, but a time frame is given (e.g., "early 18th century"), I have chosen a representative date in that time frame (e.g. "1715"). When I could not find any publication or authorship information, but only the author's date of death, I have arbitrarily selected a date 10 years prior to death on the assumption that this date should not be too much in error. A question mark (?) follows dates or attributions which are considered highly speculative.

Remark: The dates on this timeline should not be taken as authoritative in any sense. The timeline is intended solely to kindle interest and raise curiosity in Jewish and non-Jewish intellectual history. To find an authoritative or accepted date for an event, please follow the usual research protocol (i.e., check a reliable encyclopedia or other work composed by serious and respected scholars.)

Remark: This timeline is not necessarily kosher in the sense that kashrut is sometimes predicated of non-food products. That is, this timeline generally attempts to follow the dating of modern scholarship rather than traditional religious chronologies, and it of course includes authors from outside the Orthodox tradition. Other Jewish timelines which are based exclusively on "traditional" sources are available on the web, if that's what you're after.


Works Selected

On the Jewish side of the timeline I have tried to include any work of substantial significance to Jewish intellectual history, whether scholarly or popular, including works of philosophy, halachah, politics, fiction, liturgy, etc. On the non-Jewish side, for reasons of tractability and my own personal interests, I have favored works of philosophy and science, although I have also included some highly notable examples of literature. On both sides I have tried to balance familiar works with relatively unknown works, which might help to spark people's interest. For this reason also, I confess to sometimes selecting a work based on its suggestive title rather than its scholarly renown.

Not every work listed on the timeline is a "greatest hit". In some cases, individuals of tremendous stature produced very few written works, and I tried to include such individuals along with whatever minor works they may have published. In cases where an important person X left no identifiable written works, but is referenced in later works (e.g., Jesus, Socrates, Hillel), I have substituted "Statements of X" or "Teachings of X" for the title of an actual work.

On the other hand, some individuals were quite prolific and wrote dozens of well-known and important works. I have made no effort to represent all the famous works, and I think it would be somewhat distracting to have one individual listed 27 times on the timeline, however well-deserved that position might be. Rather, I tried to choose one or two works from each period of the author's life to represent that person's contributions. The particular works selected are meant to be illustrative of the author's thinking at that time.


Who Is a Jew?

The works or events that appear on the Jewish side of the timeline are works that are uniquely of Jewish interest or of importance to Jewish intellectual history. These works were generally intended by their creators as contributions to Jewish life and culture. The authors need not necessarily have been Jewish themselves, although in almost all cases they are.

The works or events on the non-Jewish side of the timeline comprise everything that could not go on the Jewish side under the above guidelines. This includes both religious works of a non-Jewish character, as well as secular works. Many of the contributions on the non-Jewish side have Jewish authorship (e.g., Freud), but appear there because they were neither intended nor received as contributions to Jewish culture.


Naming Conventions

I have not yet standardized naming, so names of books and authors may appear in Hebrew, English, Latin, German, or any combination of the above. I will try to sort this out in a future version. My current plan is to use Anglicized names for people and popular names for books.


Wikipedia Links

Many of the entries on the timeline are linked to Wikipedia articles, which constitute a wonderful learning resource — in spite of the fact that the information found there must be sometimes treated with a healthy skepticism. For the most part, articles on "obscure" topics such as Jewish Rabbis are not targets for malicious editing or turf battles, and are therefore reasonably trustworthy; most are critical rather than hagiographical. (Many articles borrow text from the fantastic 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, which is now in the public domain.)

It is important to note that the Hebrew [עבךית] versions of Wikipedia [וויקי׀דיה] articles are not simply translations of the English versions (or vice versa). In general, different language versions are written by different individuals and contain different information. If you find the content of an English language article unsatisfactory, it may be worthwhile to check the Hebrew version (if one exists).

If you identify an error in a Wikipedia article to which the timeline links, then by all means, go ahead and make the necessary corrections; Wikipedia is a collaborative project, and anyone can edit articles. Just be sure to read the guidelines before you do so. If there are broken or misdirected links on the timeline, please send me email. Much appreciated!


Sources

The information on the timeline comes from too many sources to mention each individually. Among several that I relied on heavily are the following:


Jewish Intellectual Timeline