Who Is Epikoros?
Epikoros (or Apikoros or Apikores or Epicurus; אפיקורוס, lit. “Heretic”, pl. Epicorsim ) is a Jewish term cited in the Mishnah, referring to one who does not have a share in the world to come:
“All Israel have a share in the world to come as states: Your people are all righteous, they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, wherein I glory. And these are the ones who do not have a portion in the world to come: He who maintains that there is no resurrection of the dead derived from the Torah, and [He who maintains] that the Torah was not divinely revealed, and an Epikoros”
—Mishnah, Seder Nezikin, tractate Sanhedrin, 90a
The Rabbinic literature uses merely the term Epikoros, without a specific reference to the Greek philosopher Epicurus, yet it is apparent that the term is derived from the Greek philosopher’s name, a philosopher whose views contradicted Jewish scripture, given by the living God of Israel, the strictly monotheistic conception of God in Judaism and the Jewish belief in the world to come.
The Talmudic interpretation is that the Aramaic word is derived from the root-word פק”ר (PKR; lit. licentious), hence disrespect, and accordingly:
“AN EPIKOROS. Rab and R. Hanina both taught that this means one who disrespects a Talmid Chacham [erudite Torah scholar]. R. Johanan and R. Joshua b. Levi maintained that it is one who disrespects his neighbour in the presence of a Talmid Chacham. “
—B. Talmud, Seder Nezikin, tractate Sanhedrin, 99b
Maimonides combined the two commentaries, and according to him, scorning a Talmid Chacham is actually a singular case of disrespecting the entire Torah or its Rabbinic scholar-sages. In his work Mishneh Torah (Yad, Teshuvah 3:8), Maimonides rules that an Epikoros is a person who denies that God communicates with humans through prophecy, or one who denies the prophecy of Moses, or one who denies God’s knowledge of the affairs of humans (i.e., one who maintains there is no Divine Providence). It is most likely that Maimonides’ acquired knowledge on the Greek sources, citing the Greek philosopher, is what lead him to conclude on how to define the term.
Following the Christian censorship of the Talmud, starting with the aftermath of the Disputation of Barcelona and during the Roman Inquisition and the Spanish Inquisition, the term spread within the Jewish classical texts, since the censorship’s authorities would not view with favour, expressions like Minim (“sectary”), which they viewed referring to the Christian faith, and replaced them with the term Epikoros or Epicurus, hence an heretic, since the church would also fight the heretics.
Epicurus and the Epicursim
In Judaism, Epicursim are ones which do not have a share in Olam Haba — the afterlife and the world to come.
In Rabbinic literature the term Epikoros is used, without a specific reference to the Greek philosopher Epicurus, yet it seems apparent that the term was derived from his name.
Epicurus’ technically hedonistic views and philosophical teachings, though opposed to the Hedonists of his time, countered Jewish scripture, the strictly monotheistic conception of God in Judaism and the Jewish belief in the afterlife and the world to come.
The Talmudic interpretation is that the Aramaic word is derived from the root-word פק”ר (PKR; lit. licentious), hence disrespect, though.
The Christian censorship of the Jewish Talmud in the aftermath of the Disputation of Barcelona and during the Spanish Inquisition and Roman Inquisition, let the term spread within the Jewish classical texts, since the church censors replaced terms like Minim (“sectarians”, coined on the Christians) with the term Epikorsim or Epicursim, meaning heretics, since the church had heavily persecuted heretics at that time.