The Hebrew word אפיקורוס “apikoros” (or “apikores”) has its origins in ancient Greece, specifically in the philosophy of Epicurus. The term was later adopted by Jewish scholars to refer to someone who rejects or deviates from traditional Jewish beliefs and practices.
Epicurus was a Greek philosopher who lived from 341 BCE to 270 BCE. He founded a school of philosophy known as Epicureanism, which emphasized the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain as the ultimate goals in life. However, it is important to note that the concept of pleasure in Epicureanism was not synonymous with indulgence in sensual or materialistic desires, as it is often misunderstood today.
Epicurus believed that true pleasure was achieved through the absence of pain and anxiety, which he saw as the main sources of human suffering. He advocated for a simple and moderate lifestyle, free from unnecessary desires and fears. He emphasized the importance of friendship, knowledge, and tranquility of the mind.
While in modern times, the name Epicurus has become associated with the pleasures of good food and drink, it is important to recognize that his philosophy was more nuanced and complex than simple hedonism. In fact, Epicurus’ philosophy shares some similarities with nihilism, a belief system that rejects traditional values, morality, and the existence of inherent meaning or purpose in life.
Epicurus argued that the gods, if they existed, were distant and uninterested in human affairs. He believed that death was the end of consciousness and that there was no afterlife or divine judgment. Therefore, he encouraged people to focus on enjoying the present moment and finding happiness in the here and now.
The association between Epicurus and apikoros in Jewish tradition likely stems from the perceived departure from traditional Jewish beliefs and practices. In Jewish literature and discourse, an apikoros is someone who rejects the fundamental tenets of Judaism, such as the belief in God, the authority of religious law, or the divine origin of the Torah.
It is worth noting that the term “apikoros” is not solely reserved for those influenced by Epicurean philosophy. It is a broader term that encompasses any form of heresy or rejection of traditional Jewish teachings. However, due to the historical context and influence of Greek philosophy in the Hellenistic period, Epicurus became one of the notable figures associated with this term and the rejection of Torah and Jewish community practices.
In summary, the Hebrew word “apikoros” originated from the Greek philosopher Epicurus and his philosophy of Epicureanism. Although popularly associated with the pursuit of pleasure and good food in modern times, Epicurus’ philosophy was more concerned with the pursuit of a tranquil life free from unnecessary pain and anxiety through disregarding all structures, social mores, and of course religion. While there are some parallels between Epicureanism and nihilism, it is important to recognize the nuances of both philosophies. In Jewish tradition, the term “apikoros” refers to anyone who deviates from Jewish beliefs, seeking to undermine Torah for the primacy of his own ideals.