The Philosopher-King in Medieval and Renaissance Jewish Political Thought

By Abraham Melamed
Edited by Lenn E. Goodman
Foreword by Lenn E. Goodman

Subjects: Islam
Series: SUNY series in Jewish Philosophy
Paperback : 9780791455685, 287 pages, October 2002
Hardcover : 9780791455678, 287 pages, October 2002

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents



1. Philosopher, King, Prophet

2. The Sources

3. First Influences

4. The Class System

5. Transmission

6. Adaptation

7. Application

8. Christian Applications and the Machiavellian Revolution

9. Rejection


Appendix: The Hebrew Versions of the Philosopher King's Virtues




Illustrates Plato’s theory of the philosopher-king in the context of medieval and Renaissance Jewish thought.


This original treatment of medieval and Renaissance Jewish thinkers expands the scope of Jewish philosophy and adds new depth to our understanding of Jewish culture of the period. While medieval Christian political philosophy was based on Aristotle's Politics, Muslim and Jewish philosophy adhered to the Platonic tradition. In this book, Abraham Melamed explores a major aspect of this tradition—the theory of the philosopher-king—as it manifested itself in medieval Jewish political philosophy, tracing the theory's emergence in Jewish thought as well as its patterns of transmittal, adaptation, and absorption. The Maimonidean encounter with the theory, via al-Farabi, is also examined, as is its influence upon later scholars such as Felaquera, ibn Latif, Narboni, Shemtov ibn Shemtov, Polkar, Alemanno, Abarbanel, and others. Also discussed is the influence of Averroe's commentary on Plato's Republic, and the Machiavellian rejection of the theory of the philosopher-king and its influence upon early modern Jewish scholars, such as Simone Luzzatto and Spinoza, who rejected it in favor of a so-called "Republican" attitude.

Abraham Melamed is Professor of Jewish Philosophy at the University of Haifa.


"Melamed's careful analysis of the philosopher-king motif captures the core of medieval Jewish philosophy: the fusion of philosophy and law. Melamed is thoroughly familiar with all of the relevant primary sources of Jewish, Greek, Muslim, and Christian philosophers, and with the scholarship about them. Moreover, he takes this research forward by looking at the demise of the Platonic tradition brought about by exposure to the political philosophy of Machiavelli." —Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, author of Between Worlds: The Life and Thought of Rabbi David ben Judah Messer Leon