The Mishnah is the first canonical writing of Judaism after the Hebrew Scriptures of ancient Israel (the Old Testament) and the foundation of the two Talmuds and of all Judaism thereafter. According to eminent religion scholar Jacob Neusner, the key to understanding the Mishnah is to read it as philosophy, in accord with the generally accepted understanding of philosophy in its time and place. In 'Judaism as Philosophy', Neusner studies a large sample of evidence, meticulously translated and carefully explained, and identifies the philosophical side of the Mishnah's system, method, and message alike.
The philosophical tradition in which the Mishnah takes its place, Neusner explains, utilizes the Aristotelian method of hierarchical classification to demonstrate the proposition (important to Middle Platonism and profoundly expressed by Plotinus) that many things really form a single thing: many species, a single genus; many genera, an encompassing, well-crafted and cogent whole. Through the systematic and orderly hierarchical classification of the things of nature, the framers of the Mishnah illustrate the ultimate unity of all being emanating from the One on high. Arguing that the document's writers chose a legal form for a philosophical proposition, this book completely changes a centuries-old way of reading the Mishnah. Judaism emerges as a sustained demonstration of the unity of all being under one God.