Indian and Judean wisdom: Klearchos citing Aristotle (fourth century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Indian and Judean wisdom: Klearchos citing Aristotle (fourth century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 12, 2024,

Author: Klearchos of Soloi, On Sleep 1, reporting on Aristotle as cited by Josephos, Against Apion 1.175-181 (link).

Comments: In this passage attributed to Klearchos of Soloi (a peripatetic philosopher and follower of Aristotle of the fourth and early third centuries BCE), the Judeans (Jews) are presented as wise barbarians alongside Indian philosophers. The views are presented as though they come from a dialogue with Aristotle himself.


[Josephos’ introduction of the passage form Klearchos]

Not only did the Greeks know the Judeans, but they admired any of their number whom they happened to meet. This statement applies not to the lowest class of Greeks, but to those with the highest reputation for wisdom, and can easily be proved. Klearchos, a disciple of Aristotle, and in the very first rank of peripatetic philosophers, relates, in his first book On Sleep, the following anecdote told of a certain Judean by his master. He puts the words into the mouth of Aristotle himself. I quote the text:

[Aristotle speaks of Indian and Judean philosophers]

‘It would take too long to repeat the whole story, but there were features in that man’s character, both strangely marvellous and philosophical, which merit description. I [Aristotle] warn you, Hyperochides,’ he said, ‘that what I am about to say will seem to you as wonderful as a dream.’ Hyperochides respectfully replied, ‘That is the very reason why we are all anxious to hear it.’ ‘Well,’ said Aristotle, ‘in accordance with the precepts of rhetoric, let us begin by describing his descent group (genos), in order to keep to the rules of our masters in the art of narration.’ ‘Tell the story as you please,’ said Hyperochides. ‘Well,’ he replied, ‘the man was a Judean of Coele-Syria. These people are descended from the Indian philosophers. The philosophers, they say, are in India called Kalanians [followers of Kalanos], in Syria by the territorial name of Judeans; for the district which they inhabit is known as Judea. Their city has a remarkably odd name: they call it Hierusaleme. Now this man, who was entertained by a large circle of friends and was on his way down from the interior to the coast, not only spoke Greek, but had the soul of a Greek. During my stay in Asia, he visited the same places as I did, and came to converse with me and some other scholars, to test our learning. But as one who had been intimate with many cultivated persons, it was rather he who imparted to us something of his own.’


Source of the translation: H.S.J. Thackeray and R. Marcus, Josephus, volumes 1-7; LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1926-43), public domain (Thackeray passed away in 1930, Marcus passed away in 1956, and copyright not renewed), modernized and thoroughly adapted and revised by Harland based on the Greek.

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