WOLFSON OF HARVARD: Portrait of a Scholar by Leo W. Sehwarz

WOLFSON OF HARVARD: Portrait of a Scholar

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Every lover of books should love Harry Wolfson. Books read and books written aroused in him an affection for learning that infected his students, colleagues, and readers. Leo Schwarz tells the story of this remarkable man who would seem to have had no life to write about at all, ensconced as he was for over 60 years in his study at Harvard, venturing out only to teach philosophy and Semitic languages and find more of the written word to read. To be sure, there is little in the way of incident to report after Wolfson's arrival in Cambridge from Lithuania in 1908, but there is the life of the mind, which Wolfson found ""full of mystery, danger, intrigue, suspense, and thrills""--e.g., the stalking of medieval manuscripts through Europe's archives and the unraveling of philosophic and historical puzzles. Woffson's absorption in this life, mingling as it did high adventure and priestly asceticism, robbed him of a normal social life but did not thwart his attention to the contemporary world or his wit in describing it. But above all that life yielded a series of scholarly works which are, as Schwarz says, ""feats of detection,"" interweaving the great traditions of Western philosophy with the religious currents of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Wolfson left monuments to these philosophical adventures in his powerful studies of Spinoza, Philo, the Church Fathers, and the Kalam. Schwarz relates Wolfson's story with energy and affection, although he describes the intellectual suspense and thrills from the outside rather than analyzing or unfolding them from within. Probably only Wolfson himself could have truly reconstructed the excitement he experienced.

Pub Date: April 7th, 1978
Publisher: Jewish Publication Society