- Jewish philosophy
- Jewish philosophy Colette Sirat INTRODUCTION The history of medieval Jewish philosophy can be divided into two consecutive periods. The first, beginning in the ninth century and ending roughly with the death of Maimonides in 1204, occurred in Islamic lands. The second, which lasted from the twelfth century until the end of the Middle Ages, took place in Christian Europe. Whether they lived among Muslims or Christians, Jews centred their lives on the Torah, a word which was used beyond its strict meaning to designate, not just the Pentateuch, but the whole scriptural tradition: the twenty-four books of the Hebrew Bible, their commentaries and also (except for the Karaites) the oral law: the Mishnah and Guemarah which make up the Talmud. In Jewish schools the Torah was studied in Hebrew and, for the believer, the world was built around the revealed text. From the creation, God has guided the course of universal history. The sun and the planets are subject to his will. The God of the Bible is a moral agent who wills and decrees. To man, whom he has created ‘in our image and likeness’, he gives commandments and issues prohibitions. Humans can grumble to God, plead with him, make him change his mind. Moses speaks to God man to man: there is a dialogue between them. God is free to reply or not, but he is visibly and audibly in the presence of the prophets, appearing as a majestic king or sending his angels. God has made a pact with the Jewish race. They are the chosen people, especially close to God. Other peoples are God’s instruments, whom he uses to punish the people of Israel and bring them back to the right course. God has given his people, through Moses, his Law, the Torah. Even for the later prophets, who considered that God was king over all humanity, it was the Bible which enshrined divine will. This text, revealed just once in human history contained all God’s commands and all his prohibitions. For Jews the Torah, regarded as eternal and complete truth, given once and for all, was the criterion for all other truths. To turn against it would be to turn against God himself. Philosophy came from outside. It was enshrined in Greek texts, translated into Arabic and, from the twelfth century onwards, into Hebrew. It appears that, at the very start, the Jews made use of doxographies; but the texts of Plato and Aristotle, along with Arabic commentaries, very soon became available to them. Arabic was the language which the Jews in Islamic lands spoke and wrote (sometimes, using Hebrew characters). For the whole of the first period of Jewish philosophy, philosophical texts were written in Arabic. Philosophy also included science and was a requisite for many physicians, astronomers and astrologers. It was not taught in the Jewish schools but by private tutors, and so it was available only to the better off Yet the majority of philosophers who had a significant influence on Jewish thought in general were also rabbis, talmudic scholars and leaders of their communities. Although they were sometimes attacked for their opinions, the philosophers remained none the less within the Jewish community. This was possible, perhaps, because there are no articles of faith in Judaism. Orthodoxy is based, rather, on the Bible, which is far from monolithic and contains various passages that can be interpreted in more than one way. It is well known that, with regard to the Law, from early times oral teaching gave room for variety, nuance and innovation on the basis of the written text. The teaching was then recorded in writing and itself expounded and glossed until it formed an enormous (and even today still-expanding) body of material. Its importance shows how new problems were resolved without going against the old texts. And this use of allegory and symbolism as tools for interpretation allowed different systems of thought—philosophical, kabbalistic or ascetic—to remain within Judaism. JEWISH PHILOSOPHY IN ISLAMIC LANDS Jews in Islamic lands divided into the same philosophical schools as the Muslims: the kalām, Neoplatonism and Aristotelianism. Similarly, the questions which Jewish philosophers set themselves were, to a large extent, the same as those discussed by their Muslim counterparts. The kalām The kalām or, to be precise, the Mu‘tazilite school, provided the context for rabbinic thought for a number of generations, and it lasted even longer among the Karaite Jews. Dāwūd ibn Marwān al-Muqammiṣ (ninth century) is the first rationalist Jewish thinker whose work survives. His ‘Ishrūn Maqāla (Twenty Chapters) expounds ideas inspired by the kalām but strongly influenced by Christianity, to which—for part of his life—he was a convert. His treatise is modelled on treatises of the kalām, except for his vigorous defence of Judaism and his arguments against other religions. By contrast, other Jewish thinkers adopted only some ideas from the kalām, in particular, the definition of reason as a universal moral law transcending race and religion, which man finds within himself, and which applies to God, assuring us that there exists a good God in whom we can trust. Among the Karaites, Abū Yūsuf Ya‘qūb al-Kirkisānī (Jacob al-Kirkisani) gave the fullest theoretical discussion of this doctrine, whilst Japheth ben Ali made a translation of the Bible into Arabic, accompanied by a commentary where these ideas emerge in the reading of the text. Both thinkers lived in the tenth century. Their great contemporary among rabbinic Jews was Saadiah ben Joseph Gaon (882–942), who was born in Egypt and moved to Babylon; there, in 928, he became Gaon, the head of the Talmudic academies. He was extremely prolific in every field: as a grammarian and lexicographer, a translator of the Bible into Arabic and commentator on it, as a liturgical poet and compiler of a prayer book, as a Talmudist and a jurist, as a writer on the calendar and chronology. Saadiah philosophized and engaged in polemic to prove the absolute truth of rabbinical Judaism against the claims of the Karaites and dangers posed by other religions, and by the various schools of philosophy and by scepticism in its different forms. Arguments based on reason are found in most of Saadiah’s works, but it is in two of them that they receive a systematic exposition. They are the Commentary on the Book of Creation (Tafsīr Kitāb al-Mabādī, Peroush Sefer Yetzira), which was translated into Hebrew several times and used especially in the eleventh and twelfth centuries; and the Book of Doctrines and Beliefs (Al-Amānāt Wa-l‘I‘tiqādāt, Sefer Emunot Wede‘ot), which still remains today one of the fundamental works of Jewish theology. Saadiah makes especial use of arguments taken from the kalām, as the plan of the Amānāt shows. Its first two chapters discuss the unity of God, the topic with which exponents of kalām usually begin their treatises, whilst the seven following chapters consider God’s justice, the second main theme of the kalām. None the less, Saadiah does not adopt one of the central ideas of the kalām, that of atomism and the renewal of creation by God at every instant (the corollary of which is the denial that there are laws of nature). He chooses instead a somewhat vague Aristotelian understanding of the physical world. In the introduction to his Amānāt, Saadiah proposes a theory of knowledge. Conviction (i‘tiqād) arises from three sources: external reality, reason (that is to say, knowledge of good and evil) and what reason deduces necessarily from the reality of things and from the knowledge of good and evil. To these three Saadiah adds ‘the truthful tradition’, that of the Torah (including the oral Torah, the Talmud). The truthfulness of this tradition has been proved, Saadiah says, by signs, prodigies and, in particular, by the miraculous feeding of the Children of Israel with manna during their flight from Egypt. Whereas miracles and prodigies might be illusory or simulated, the miracle of the manna could not have been simulated, since it lasted for forty years and was so public an event that any idea of a carefully contrived lie is implausible. Nor could it have been a natural phenomenon which Moses was able to produce, since the philosophers would also have known about it and made use of the technique themselves. The ‘truthful tradition’, the fourth source of knowledge, is therefore based on the historical experience of the Jewish people. And Saadiah’s argument gains added strength since none of the other religions questions the historical reality of the exodus from Egypt and the Jews’ wanderings in the desert. The Torah itself asks us to seek to understand the teachings it transmits. It does so for two reasons: first, so that the knowledge transmitted by tradition becomes firmly fixed in the intellect; and, second, so that we can reply to those who call the Law into question. Now, the knowledge which rational, scientific investigation uncovers turns out in fact to conform to traditional knowledge. Saadiah was thus able to represent the Torah and scientific knowledge as two twigs from the same branch. They can in no way contradict one another. Any apparent contradictions are the result either of mistakes in our reasoning, or of our failure to interpret Scripture correctly. The structure of the Amānāt reflects this identity between tradition and reason. Each chapter begins with an introduction to the problem. Then follows an examination of biblical texts which confirm the thesis and, finally, there is a rational analysis of the problem and a refutation of opposing theses. In his chapter on the creation, Saadiah begins by setting out the way in which this enquiry should be pursued. Here the senses cannot be of any help. Only rational arguments can be used. Whatever the hypothesis—the eternity of the world, the eternity of matter, and so on—an attempt must be made to establish it by reason. Saadiah’s deep intuition is that the world is limited and changing. Only the infinite action of God can sustain and explain this constant change, the perceptual generation of a world both spatially and temporally finite. The world and man, limited and imperfect, bear witness to a perfect and infinite being and lead us to a rational knowledge of the one God, creator of the world. In the introduction to the chapter on the unity of God, Saadiah lists all the objections which were made in his time to this rational way of thought and refutes them all ([4.3] 78, 80): Our Lord (be He exalted and glorified) has informed us through the words of His prophets that He is One, Living, Powerful and Wise, and that nothing can be compared unto Him or unto His works. They established this by signs and miracles, and we accepted it immediately. Later, speculation led us to the same result. In regard to His Unity, it is said, ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One’. (Deut. 6:4) God, the creator of the world, is therefore one; but who is he? And, when we say of him that he is one, about what unity are we speaking? What is the knowledge he possesses, on account of which we say he is knowing, and what are the actions which are attributed to him, on account of which we say that he acts? The rabbinical Jews replied to these questions with verses from the Bible which often use in connection with God not only such adjectives as ‘powerful’, ‘good and merciful’, ‘jealous’, but also attribute to him bodily movements— ‘God rises’, ‘God comes down’ and even parts of the body—‘God’s arm’, ‘God’s hand’. But Saadiah strongly opposes any notion of divine corporeality. One of the central aims in his thought is to purify the idea of God and demonstrate that God is incorporeal and transcendent. Everything in our world can be defined according to the Aristotelian categories. Even the soul and ‘divine Glory’ are definable substances and so more or less corporeal, because for Saadiah body and substance are one and the same thing. God, however, cannot be defined by any of the Aristotelian categories. He transcends them all; and there is nothing in common between finite, composite bodies, which are subject to change, and God, who is immaterial and always remains exactly what he is. Whilst his attributes, power and knowledge, signify that God is not lacking in power or knowledge, power and knowledge such as they are found in man cannot be applied to God because, in God, attributes are identical to essence. Men gain knowledge by learning over a period of time: it comes to be where it was not previously, and in old age it decreases, at death it disappears. But God has knowledge for all eternity. When we talk about God using positive attributes, in reality we are talking about ‘something other’, about which we can only form a vague notion and of which we know only that it does not resemble what exists here below. God’s attributes are identical to his essence (or quiddity), and none is outside his essence. God is absolute unity. Since we can arrive by reasoning at a refined and exact knowledge of God, why was it necessary to send the prophets? According to Saadiah, God, in his supreme knowledge, has acted ‘for the good’. He does nothing in vain. The ‘justice of God’ (‘adl), as conceived in the second of the Mu‘tazilites’ theses, shows why the very nature of God makes prophecy legitimate. Saadiah then goes on to explain why revelation was necessary for mankind. First, it sets out the actions which allow the very general moral laws, dictated by reason, best to be put into practice. Second, it includes other commandments, which are of value and which reason does not teach. Third, it allows people to act immediately, whereas reason, although based on the same principles, takes time to arrive at its conclusions. Moreover, some men never reach the level of rational knowledge, because of their imperfection or their disinclination to study, or because of the doubts which trouble them. The Bible, however, is often written in anthropomorphic terms, which contradict what reason teaches us: that God is one and incorporeal. Yet tradition is drawn from the same source as rational knowledge and so it cannot be contrary to reason. A rational explanation must therefore be given for the whole of scriptural revelation, and especially for the visions of the prophets. Three principles guide this explanation: 1 All the manifestations of the supernatural are the work of God and God alone. Prophecy is a grace, a gift which God has put into a human receptacle, who is then called a prophet. The prophet is mortal like other men. He cannot do without food or drink. He leads a normal married life. He cannot predict the future. Nor can he perform miracles, except under exceptional conditions—otherwise it would be necessary to suppose that he had superhuman capacities. The prophet is merely an instrument of God’s will, the receiver of supernatural visions. 2 God, who is unknowable and incorporeal, makes manifest his created Glory, the first of his creations, an air which is finer and more subtle than the visible air: the ‘Second Air’. This Second Air is audible and visible, filled with light and colour, striking in its splendour. It is through the Second Air that the created word was produced which Moses heard, and the Ten Commandments heard in the visible air by the whole people of Israel on Mount Sinai. It is the Second Air which the prophets saw and called the Throne of Glory and Cherubim, Angels, Seraphim… 3 God makes his glory visible in the manner of a teacher going from the easier to the more difficult. He created man in such a way that he was free to obey or disobey his commandments. His wish was that man should merit the highest reward, the world to come, and it is to this end that he made his orders and prohibitions. Among them are some which reason would have shown us were necessary, and others which revelation alone teaches us (though none of them is contrary to reason). These purely religious laws allow the faithful to prove their obedience and merit the reward which God wishes to give them: immortality and resurrection at the time of the Messiah. Saadiah Gaon’s thought remains very close to tradition, both in his conception of God and his exegesis of texts. His charm and optimism cannot fail to allure the modern reader. His simplicity ensures that he will remain for ever young. Jewish Neoplatonists Isaac Israeli (born 850, died by 932, or perhaps c. 955) was a slightly older contemporary of Saadiah’s. He was a famous doctor, and he has the credit of having introduced into medieval Jewish thought texts and ideas taken directly from the Greeks. Like al-Kindī, he also used Greek texts which have not survived to modern times. His type of Neoplatonism is based on emanation. Between the perfection of God and the imperfection of the world below there are interposed more or less perfect essences which link the incorporeal deity to the world of matter. According to Isaac Israeli first matter and first form come from God. Intellect is engendered from these. From Intellect emanates the world of souls (that is, of the rational soul, the animal soul and the vegetative soul). There follows the world of the spheres, then the sublunary world with its four elements and what is made from them. Our earth is a mixture of the four elements: earth, water, air and fire. It is at the centre of the universe and without motion. The spheres, which are made of a more perfect matter, the quintessence, revolve around the earth and create by their movements the composite beings which are bodies. Other Neoplatonists held that first form and matter emanated from God in a manner which was involuntary and outside time. But Isaac Israeli lays great stress on the creation. God creates first matter and first form. He makes them come to be from nothing, something which God alone can do. Isaac is, however, in agreement with other Neoplatonists in believing that first matter is intelligible, that is to say, absolutely incorporeal. First form contains all other forms which come into existence, but in a perfect way. Intellect, which is light and splendour, comes from the conjunction of first form and first matter. From Intellect emanates the rational soul, which is the human soul. The Intellect holds a high rank in the scale of being, since its source is a pure light, more elevated and brilliant than any body, even one as perfect as the sphere of the heavens. The so-called ‘metaphysics of light’ play an important role in this description of the higher world, and it is because the soul is part of this world that it is able to climb back up again towards its former habitation. The start of this return is knowledge of the higher world and certainty of the truth. God, by his will and his power, has created and made manifest first matter and first form from nothingness. But it is by emanation—a necessary action—that Intellect, which is the source of souls and the universe, comes from these two created beings. Intellect and souls act in a different way from that found in the celestial sphere and the sublunary world. It can be said to create, in that nothing is lost of the essential light and lower beings are created from the shadow of this light. But in the world of the spheres and below, natural action is by generation and corruption, since the source of action is changed and diminished by the action itself which it carries out on bodies with qualities opposed to it. Below the celestial sphere all beings come into being from the four simple elements: fire, air, water and earth. Whereas in other bodies one or another of these elements predominates, in man they are in harmonious equilibrium. Every creature made of the elements is given a soul according to its capacity and each finds pleasure in bringing itself closer to the principal element in it. The three degrees of the soul—intellectual, animal and vegetative— are not absolutely separate. For instance, certain animals have almost as much intelligence and prudence as man. All this is due to the inclination of one soul towards another. Sometimes, the rational soul tends towards the animal soul and its actions tend towards those of the animal soul which desires eating, drinking and pleasure. In the same way, the animal soul has a tendency to assimilate its actions to those of the rational soul when it is instructed and influenced by it. The rational soul tends to draw itself near to the Intellect and reach perfection, in which case it will be clear and pure, and it will seek good and true things such as knowledge and understanding, purity and saintliness, service of God and nearness to him. This all comes about from the influence of the higher substance. Since man of his own accord raises himself towards the Intellect, and so towards God, what part does revelation play? Isaac Israeli divides mankind into types according to which of each of the three souls is dominant: the rational soul, the animal soul or the vegetative soul. Only a small proportion of the human race is, therefore, truly close to the light of the Intellect. These are the privileged individuals whom God will use as intermediaries in order to bring the divine word to humankind. One of Isaac Israeli’s pupils, Dunash ben Tamin, brings out his train of thought when he discusses Moses. Moses differs from the other prophets because he heard the word of God in the way described in Exodus 32:11: ‘the eternal one spoke to Moses face to face.’ Moses’ soul was superior to that of other men: it was subtle, light and, even before it was separated from Moses’ body, it was united with the world of the rational soul. For when souls are separated from their bodies, they remain alive and are united with the world above: the soul becomes intellect and, in an incorporeal, spiritual union, the intellect is united with light. Prophetic visions are no longer conceived as real, external phenomena which are seen and heard, but as internal visions which reflect spiritual rather than sensory reality. So far from being inferior to sensory reality, spiritual reality is as much superior to it, as the soul is superior to the body: One whose rational soul has withdrawn itself [i.e. from the lower souls] and upon whom intellect causes its light and splendour to emanate becomes spiritual, god-like, and longing exceedingly for the ways of the angels, as far as lies within human power. The Creator, exalted and blessed be He, therefore chose from among His creatures one qualified in this manner to be His messenger, caused him to prophesy, and showed through him His truthful signs and miracles. He made him the messenger and intermediary between Himself and His creatures, and caused His true Book to descend through him. ([4.20] 139) The Bible is not, however, a work of philosophy. It includes narratives which have a sense which is far from intellectual (and some which can hardly be understood at all!). The reason for this, Israeli explains, is that God speaks the language of men so that all will understand him. He bases his language on the capacities of his audience. Those among them able to discern the pure sense will find it; because they are distant from material things and their minds are detached and luminous, they will see God’s words and his light. Those who are still incapable of seeing the light will ask the sages to expound the Bible to them and, little by little, thanks to their expositions, they will understand and will come nearer to the source of purity until they are so close to the Intellect that it will print its form in their soul. God himself provides the example which the Intellect follows. God puts himself within reach of human understanding: the Intellect imitates this divine way of teaching when it wishes men to know future events, and the philosophers in their turn take the same course when they explain viva voce what their pupils cannot understand in their written work. The superior beings are like a ray of light which penetrates through the entire breadth of a solid body. The Intellect, the prophets and the philosophers all follow God’s own footsteps as they incline themselves towards lower beings and help each of them, so far as he is able, to climb the ladder of light. It was not only philosophers who developed such themes: the quest for purity, freedom from bodily desires, and the desire for union with the Intellect. They were also taken up by scholars, rabbis, poets and courtiers during the tenth to twelfth centuries: for instance, Haï Gaon (938–1038, Babylon), president of the Talmudic academy; Baḥyā ibn Paqudah (c. 1050–80, Andalusia), a judge on the rabbinical tribunal and author of the famous devotional work, Guide to the Duties of the Heart; the famous poet, Moses ibn Ezra (1055–c. 1135, Spain); Abraham ibn Ezra (c. 1092–1167, Spain then Italy and France), also a famous poet and biblical commentator; Joseph ben Jacob ibn Z. addik (died 1149 at Cordoba), a judge on the rabbinical tribunal and a philosopher; Abraham bar Ḥiyyah (died after 1136 at Barcelona), an astronomer and mathematician who held an important post at the court of Alphonsus I of Aragon and of the counts of Barcelona; and Solomon ibn Gabirol and Judah Halevi. Solomon ben Judah ibn Gabirol (c. 1022 to 1054/8, Spain) is wellknown for his Hebrew poetry, both sacred and secular. His philosophy is expounded in a treatise which has not survived in its Arabic original but in the Latin translation, Fons Vitae (Source of Life) made by John of Spain and Dominicus Gundissalinus in the mid-twelfth century. The Fons Vitae was widely read by thirteenth-century Christian theologians, who knew its author as ‘Avicebron’ or ‘Avencebrol’ and took him to be an Arab—or even a Christian—thinker. In addition, there survive some extracts from the work, translated into Hebrew, made in the thirteenth century by Shem Tov ibn Falaqera. These do not preserve the dialogue form found in the Fons Vitae. Gabirol’s treatise was known to Neoplatonic Jewish philsophers and was fiercely criticized by the first Jewish Aristotelian, Abraham ibn Daud. Then it was almost entirely forgotten until 1846, when Solomon Munk showed that the extracts made by Falaqera were from the work translated into Latin as the Fons Vitae, and so that ‘Avicebron’ was none other than the famous Hebrew poet, Solomon ibn Gabirol. Gabirol’s system is Neoplatonic. Through knowing his own soul, man can know nature, free himself from it and return to the spiritual world, his place of origin. Knowledge is knowledge of being. There are only three sorts of being: (1) primary substance, (2) primary matter and form, (3) God and the Will, which is an intermediary between God and matter-with-form. Man is able to grasp these types of being because he finds within himself equivalents of them: his understanding corresponds to primary substance, his soul to the Will and his matter and form to primary matter and form. Man can know God’s actions but not his essence apart from his acts, since it is infinite and above all things. In the order of emanation, primary matter and form are the nearest to the divine Will. From them together is engendered Intellect, then Soul, and from Soul Nature, which is the last of the simple substances. It is from Nature that bodily substance derives. The path which will take the soul back to Intellect goes by the knowledge of composite beings: spiritual beings which are called ‘simple’ although they are in fact composite. Indeed, ‘simple’ and ‘composite’ are relative terms: a being is simple with regard to that which is lower than it, and composite with regard to that which is above it. The entirety of things can thus be regarded as if it were arranged in a line, beginning with universal matter and form. The further it is from its source, the more composite a being is with regard to that which goes before it, although it remains simple in relation to that which follows it. Matter, form and the Will are the true subject-matter of the Fons Vitae. Gabirol describes at length the various types of matter and form, universal and particular, which make up the universe. Beings are individuated in the first place by forms, material or spiritual, whereas matter is one and universal. But to the unity of form there corresponds a unity of matter and, in another passage, Gabirol makes it clear that the diversity of beings is not brought about because of form, since form is one and entirely spiritual, but by matter which can be perfect and subtle or thick and heavy. The Will is the ultimate goal of man’s quest. This Will is identical to the Wisdom of God and his logos. Conceived apart from its acts, the Will is indeed identical to the divine essence, but it is distinguished from it when its acts are considered. In the former case, it is infinite, but finite in the second. It is an intermediary between the divine essence and form and matter. It penetrates all things and is their efficient cause; itself without motion, it is the cause of spiritual and bodily movement. In Gabirol’s philosophy, as in other Jewish Neoplatonic (and later Aristotelian) philosophies, God can be approached only through rational knowledge. Prophets and philosophers imitate God by their intellect, in thought, and prophetic visions are no longer considered to be dialogues with God or his angels but rather internal illuminations. Bodily acts have no value in themselves: they prepare the soul to separate from the body, since only then will it be able to fulfil its destiny. It is this very approach to philosophy which Judah Halevi (born before 1075, died 1140) wishes to supersede in his Kuzari. Written in Arabic, the Book of Refutation and Proof, in Defence of the Despised Faith is a dialogue between the king of the Khazars and the defenders of philosophy, of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. From the beginning, Judah Halevi insists that good intentions are not sufficient to please God, who also cares about which rites and observances are used. Above the natural manner of action, there is the supernatural way of acting of the Amr Ilahi (God’s word and action): God has revealed himself in history, in his choice of a people, a land and a language. This choice is the only real proof of God’s existence, and it is part of the order of the world. On to the mineral, vegetable, animal and rational kingdoms, there is added, in the hierarchical order, the prophetic order, that of Adam and his sons, of Noah and then of the whole people of Israel. Man is able, by his own strength, to rise as far as the level of the Intellect. To do so, he must follow the discursive path, that of philosophy. But, in order to be marked out by the Amr Ilahi, he needs to follow the supernatural path, that of the Torah. God has reserved this path for his elect. In every generation since Adam there was one pure man, worthy of the Amr Ilahi; but then the whole people of Israel and it alone was chosen by God. Along with the choice of the people of Israel goes the choice of the land of Israel and of its holy language, Hebrew. The land of Israel has a special place in Judah Halevi’s work, and his Hebrew poems about Jerusalem are among the most beautiful of all Jewish literature. They are still recited today, and Judah Halevi’s thought, with its particularist view of Judaism, remains as popular among modern Jewry as the thought of Maimonides. The most original writing of the twelfth century, however, steps aside from debates between religion and philosophy. It is that of Abu’l- Barakāt al-Baghdādī, who lived in Iraq and died, at a very old age, after 1164. Towards the end of his life he converted to Islam. His Kitāb al-Mu‘tabar, a sort of reply to Avicenna’s philosophy, is based on his own personal reflections. He upholds the unity of the soul, denying that there is a distinction between it and the intellect. In his view, there is just one time, which measures esse and is similar for all beings, including God. Space is three-dimensional and infinite. Abu’l-Barakāt had a deep influence on Arab philosophy but none on Jewish thought, and his works were not translated into Hebrew. Maimonides Moses ben Maimon was born in 1138 at Cordoba, where his father was a rabbinical judge. In 1148 Maimon and his family fled from the religious persecution which took place after the town fell to the Almohades. After wandering from town to town in Spain, and perhaps also in Provence, in 1160 they arrived at Fez in Morocco, In about 1165 the whole family fled from Fez and set off to Acre. For five months, Maimon and his children lived in the land of Israel, then they went to Cairo and settled at Fostat. Maimon’s son Moses rose rapidly in Egyptian Jewish society, helped perhaps by family ties with some of the important people there. For about five years from 1171 he was ‘Leader of the Jews’. He was subsequently deprived of this post, but twenty years later he regained it and kept it until his death. Maimonides earned his living by practising and teaching medicine, which he had studied in north Africa. His fame reached its peak in 1185 when he was chosen as one of the official doctors of Al Fadil, Saladin’s vizier. At the same time as he followed his profession and composed his medical treatises, Maimonides completed two great works, the Mishneh Torah in 1180 and the Guide of the Perplexed in 1190, as well as conducting a lengthy correspondence with the many Jewish communities of Egypt and in other countries. His death in 1204 was the occasion for public mourning among Jews everywhere. With the exception of the Mishneh Torah, all Maimonides’ works were written in Arabic. They were almost immediately translated into Hebrew. The Guide of the Perplexed was translated by Samuel ibn Tibbon in 1204, and a second, less precise, more literary translation was made a few years later by Judah al-Harizi. It formed the basis for the Latin translation used by Christian scholastics such as Thomas Aquinas. Maimonides’ reputation rests, in the first place, on his contribution to law. It was as a legal authority that he was first known to the Jews of the diaspora and still today many eastern Jewish communities follow his juridical and religious rulings. The comparison between Maimonides and Averroes is inescapable, and one difference between the two thinkers is striking. By contrast with Averroes, who held that philosophy should be carefully hidden from the ignorant, Maimonides is a philosopher in all his works, legal as well as philosophical, in the texts intended for the general public as much as in those written for students of philosophy. After Aristotle, al- Fārābī was Maimonides’ real master. His influence is visible in a youthful work, the Milot-ha-Higayon, ‘A Logical Vocabulary’, written at the age of 16, and it remains in Maimonides’ last work, the Guide. In a letter written to Samuel ibn Tibbon a year or two before he died, Maimonides told him: Aristotle’s intellect [represents] the extreme of human intellect, if we except those who have received divine inspiration. The works of Aristotle are the roots and foundations of all works on the sciences. But they cannot be understood except with the help of commentaries, those of Alexander of Aphrodisias, those of Themistius, and those of Averroes, I tell you: as for works on logic, one should only study the writings of Abū Naṣr al-Fārābī. All his writings are faultlessly excellent. One ought to study and understand them. For he is a great man. On Avicenna, his view is more qualified: Though the work of Avicenna may give rise to objections and are not as [good] as those of Abu Nasr [al-Fārābī], Abu Bakr al-Sāigh [Ibn Bajjah] was also a great philosopher, and all his writings are of a high standard. ([4.13] lix-lx) And to read the other Jewish and Arab philosophers was, he thought, a waste of time. The philosophical school to which Maimonides says he belongs, and which he recommends to Samuel ibn Tibbon, is that of the Andalusian philosophers, who strictly separated scientific knowledge from religion. Maimonides, however, did introduce philosophical principles into all his works, including those intended for the simple believer, such as Book I, part one of his Mishneh Torah, the Book of Precepts and the commentary on the Mishnah. These principles, thirteen in all, which are discussed afresh in the Guide, are presented by Maimonides as truths which everyone should accept by authority because they are the beliefs of the Jewish people, the necessary condition for belonging to it: When a man has accepted these principles and truly believes in them, he forms part of the community of Israel; and it is incumbent upon us to love him, to care for him and behave towards him as God has ordered us to do: to love and comfort him; if he sins because of his corporeal desires or his bad instincts, he will receive the punishment proportioned to his crime, and he may [afterwards] have the part [that belongs to him in the world to come], he is a sinner within the community of Israel. But if someone casts doubt on one of these principles, he has foresworn his faith, he is a renegade, a heretic, an unbeliever, he has rebelled against God and it is a duty to hate him and to cause him to perish. ([4.7] 148–9) The ‘Thirteen Principles’ are divided into three groups. The first five are concerned with God, who is one and incorporeal; the following four with prophecy and the Law; the last four with reward and punishment, the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead. The principles include certain articles of faith which were far from being unanimously accepted by the Jewish community, especially in these two respects: (1) Divine incorporeality implies the rejection or allegorization of many biblical passages and of a certain number of texts which are an integral part of the oral Law. Maimonides was not the first to declare that God is not corporeal, but he was the first to exclude from the people of Israel those Jews who took the anthropomorphic comments in the Bible in their literal sense. (2) By ‘the world to come’ Maimonides understands the immortality of the soul, and he does not make clear whether this is a matter of individual immortality. Traditional texts use two other expressions to talk about man after death: ‘the days of the Messiah’ and ‘the resurrection of the dead’. For Maimonides, ‘the days of the Messiah’ means political independence of the Jews and their return to the land of Israel. The Messiah will easily be recognized, since his coming will coincide with a new period of history, totally different from the time of the diaspora. As for the corporeal resurrection of the dead, Maimonides holds that it is neither necessary from a scientific point of view, nor theoretically impossible. If one believes in divine omnipotence, it is a possibility. Clearly, this bodily resurrection is not of great importance to Maimonides, especially since it would be followed by a bodily death. Samuel ben Eli, Gaon of Baghdad, attacked Maimonides sharply for failing to insist on the resurrection of the dead and the survival of the individual human soul. In his final work, The Letter on the Resurrection of the Dead, Maimonides repeats his earlier view, unchanged, often with fierce irony. A fourteenth-century versification of the Thirteen Principles became part of the daily prayers of almost every Jewish community, except for the Ashkenazim, thus impressing themselves on the great majority of Jews and definitively shaping the Jewish notion of God. The Guide of the Perplexed is the Jewish philosophical work most known outside Judaism. By contrast with Maimonides’ other works, which are models of clarity and order, the Guide is avowedly difficult to understand. Like the Torah, the prophetic books and the Aggadot of the Talmud, it is constructed in such a way as simultaneously to hide and reveal its inner sense. The difficulties of its plan and the ambiguities in its expressions can be traced back to the obscurities of the texts it discusses. Maimonides suggests, moreover, that his book should not be studied chapter by chapter, but rather problem by problem. He asks that it should not be read in the light of preconceptions, but that the reader should first have studied all that ought to be studied, and that he should not explain it to others. The book is intended neither for the ignorant, nor for philosophers— neither of these are in difficulties—but for those who, like Maimonides’ follower, Joseph ben Judah, have studied science, mathematics, astronomy and then logic, and who pose themselves questions about the Bible and its interpretation. Take the example of God’s incorporeality. From the conceptual point of view, belief in the existence of God is inseparable from his absolute unity and his absolute unity is inseparable from his incorporeality. But it is quite otherwise when seen from the pedagogical or historical angle. The Law of Moses, a political law like every other religious law, was given to the Jewish people at a certain point in its history. For it to be accepted, it had to take into consideration the beliefs to which the people were accustomed. If it had not done this, the political and intellectual good it brought would have been lost. Before insisting on the existence of an incorporeal God it was necessary to bring about acceptance of the existence of God himself. When they fled from Egypt, the only type of existence which the Jews could conceive was that of a corporeal being: ‘The minds of the multitude were accordingly guided to the belief that He exists by imagining that he is corporeal and to the belief that he is living by imagining that He is capable of motion’ (I, 46; [4.13] 98). ‘God, may He be exalted above every deficiency, has had bodily organs figuratively ascribed to Him in order that His acts should be indicated by this means’ ([4.13] 99). What was a gain in understanding at the time of Moses had become an inexcusable fault by the time of Maimonides: those who believe that God is corporeal were, as we have seen, to be excluded from the Jewish community. The Sages themselves had never committed this fault: ‘the doctrine of the corporeality of God did not occur even for a single day to the Sages, may their memory be blessed and…this was not according to them a matter lending itself to imagination or confusion’ ([4.13] 102). The problem which the Guide is intended to resolve is, therefore, that of the Law’s double character. Sometimes its external sense, which results from the historical situation at the time when it was granted, serves to introduce and helps to discover the internal sense, which alone is true. Sometimes the external sense prevents the reader from reaching ‘the knowledge of the Law in its reality’ and is contrary to reason. The object of the Guide is to bring to light the two senses of the Bible: through this duality alone can knowledge from science and revelation be reconciled. In the Guide there can be found the elements of the method which allows the cloak of divine, scriptural allegory to be removed: Know that the key to the understanding of all that the prophets, peace be on them, have said, and to the knowledge of its truth, is an understanding of the parables, of their import, and of the meaning of the words occurring in them. You know what God, may He be exalted, has said: And by the ministry of the prophets have I used similitudes (Hos. 12:11). And you know that He has said: Put forth a riddle and speak a parable (Ezek. 18:2). ([4.13] 10–11) The first half of Book I treats in general the expressions in the Bible and the Talmud which cannot be taken in their literal sense. In the second half, God’s attributes are described and the Mu‘takalimun, among them Saadiah, are attacked. Book II discusses philosophical doctrines, then prophecy. Book III begins with an allegorical explanation of the ‘Account of the Chariot’ and then considers providence and the fact that the world will end and not continue eternally. Maimonides gives a psychological explanation of the book of Job, a history of religions and types of worship, and he goes on to talk about religious commands. Clearly, it is beyond the scope of this survey to examine the great variety of interpretations of the Guide. Our discussion must be limited to mentioning a few of the especially important points in its doctrine. (1) God and his attributes According to Maimonides, only negative attributes can be applied to God. Any relation between two terms implies something they have in common. But there can be nothing in common between a being which is totally separate and another being which depends on every other being. Even existence is not common to them both, because ‘existence’ does not describe the same thing when one speaks of God and when one speaks of a created being, because God is a necessary existence and a created being a possible existence. For Moses, the prince among the prophets, as for man in general, to know God means, not to know anything of his essence but to know his actions. Through the speculative method which God showed to Moses, it is possible to make progress in knowing the unknowability of God’s essence. As we deny attributes of God, we understand better his supereminence and the lack of relation between his perfection and ours. To deny that God has emotions is already to be closer to the truth about him than just to deny that he has a body. To deny not only that he has emotions but that there is any relation between him and other beings is to take another step on the path of negative theology, a step which brings us closer to the idea that God is above all our categories of thought. We should, therefore, say nothing about God, and true prayer—the only prayer which is befitting to God—is silence, since every positive praise in fact consists of attributing to him what, to us, is perfection and, for him, a defect. Maimonides quotes with great praise a Talmudic story (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 33b) where a worshipper adds eulogistic adjective to eulogistic adjective in his prayers. Rabbi Haninah tells him that these praises are as unfitting as if one were to praise a king for all the silver coins he possessed, when his treasury was full of gold. Indeed, Maimonides says, were we left to follow reason alone, we would use none of these adjectives. We do so because men have need for images in order to understand and also just because the Torah used them. Since they were written in the Torah, we are allowed to read them as part of the biblical text. But we use them in our prayers only on the authority of the men of the Grand Synod, since they have taken the responsibility for this decision. Verbal prayer is, in fact, a concession to human weakness. ‘Knowing God’s actions’ is the second aspect of knowledge of God. By knowing his creation, we learn what we should deny of God. Every branch of knowledge can teach us something about this. Arithmetic and geometry teach us that God’s unity is not like the unity to which we add, or which can be multiplied. Physics and astronomy teach us how God puts the world into motion through the intermediary of separated intellects, in a perfect and absolute manner. It is only because we have a tendency to describe God in anthropomorphic terms that certain of God’s, or nature’s, actions seem beneficent and certain others seem destructive. In reality, God’s action is intended to maintain the immutable order of nature, which includes the preservation of the human race as of other species of living things. (2) God’s understanding In Part I, Chapter 68 of the Guide, Maimonides proposes a theory of understanding which seems to contradict his negative theology. Now when it is demonstrated that God, may He be held precious and magnified, is an intellect in actu… It is accordingly also clear that the numerical unity of the intellect, the intellectually cognizing subject, and the intellectually cognized object, does not hold good with reference to the Creator only, but also with reference to every intellect. Thus in us too, the intellectually cognizing subject, the intellect and the intellectually cognized object, are one and the same thing wherever we have an intellect in actu. (I, 68, [4.13] 165–6) Contrary, then, to the views of Aristotle and al-Fārābī, Maimonides holds that God does not merely know his own essence but also every intelligible thing and the laws of nature: ‘for through knowing the true reality of His own immutable essence, He also knows the totality of what necessarily derives from all His acts’ (Guide, III, 21, [4.13], 485) The commentators have not found a convincing explanation for this contradiction. (3) The origin of the world In the Mishneh Torah, the proof of God’s incorporeal existence is based on the perpetual movement of the sphere and so on the eternity of the world. In the Guide, Maimonides shows the extent to which the philosophical point of view contradicts the religious one: [T]he belief in eternity the way Aristotle sees it—that is, the belief according to which the world exists in virtue of necessity, that no nature changes at all, and that the customary course of events cannot be modified with regard to anything—destroys the Law in its principle, necessarily gives the lie to every miracle, and reduces to inanity all the hopes and threats that the Law has held out… If, however, one believed in eternity according to the second opinion we have explained—which is the opinion of Plato—…this opinion would not destroy the foundations of the Law and would be followed not by the lie being given to miracles, but by their becoming admissible. It would also be possible to interpret figuratively the texts in accordance with this opinion. And many obscure passages can be found in the texts of the Torah and others with which this opinion could be connected or rather by means of which it could be proved. However, no necessity could impel us to do this unless this opinion were demonstrated. In view of the fact that it has not been demonstrated, we shall not favor this opinion, nor shall we at all heed that other opinion. (II, 25, [4.13] 328–9) Commentators have interpreted these passages in opposing fashions. Some take them to be a clear statement in favour of creation, whereas for others they seem rather to disguise Maimonides’ view, which he proposes clearly elsewhere, in favour of the eternity of the world. Shlomo Pines, in the most recent discussion of the problem, suggests that problems of method came to occupy Maimonides increasingly as his thought matured, which can be summarized as follows: 1 Aristotle’s physics are true so far as the sublunary world is concerned, but dubious with regard to the heavens and the order of intelligences. 2 Man cannot reach the level of intellectual understanding except through the imagination, through the phantasmata of bodily things which, according to a quotation he makes from al-Fārābī’s Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics, implies the denial of the immortality of the soul. (The only happiness would be a political one.) Maimonides’ extreme intellectualism was not an easy doctrine to live with: his son, Abraham, who followed as head of the Jewish community in Egypt adopted a sufi-like mysticism and gathered around him a group of spiritually intense pietists. The descendants of Maimonides continued to practise this mystical approach to religion for two hundred years. Ibn Kammūnah (thirteenth century) may be considered the last Jewish philosopher living in Islamic lands. In the fifteenth century, however, there was a sort of renaissance of Jewish philosophy, accompanied by mysticism, in the Yemen. JEWISH PHILOSOPHY IN CHRISTIAN LANDS From the twelfth century onwards, Christians and Jews discovered a whole body of Greek texts and their Arabic commentaries. They were translated into Hebrew for the use of Jews, just as they were put into Latin for Christian readers. Jewish philosophy in Christian lands was based on Greek and Arabic sources, but also on the works of Jews who had written in Arabic. Maimonides had seen no need to use texts written by other Jews, since Greek and Islamic works provided what was essential in disciplined knowledge. But his successors, who lived among Christians, wanted to know this Jewish philosophy, and there were translators—often dynasties of translators—who worked to make these texts available to them. The first of them was Judah ben Saul ibn Tibbon. He translated works by Baḥyā ibn Paqudah, Judah Halevi and Saadiah. In 1204 Samuel ibn Tibbon put Maimonides’ Guide into Hebrew. The work came as a revelation to educated Jews. All of a sudden, the passages of the Bible which offended reason became clear and rational. Maimonides, as the spiritual leader of Judaism, was already celebrated for his religious learning. Now, with the Guide, he showed that he was also a consummate philosopher, who accepted the true path of scientific knowledge—that of Aristotle—and showed that true Judaism was the religion which fostered this knowledge. The Guide became a manual of philosophy. Aristotle could not be studied without a commentary, and Maimonides himself had recommended those of Averroes. From the beginning of the thirteenth century, Averroes’ commentaries were translated into Hebrew but also, in the middle of the century, popularized through encyclopaedias: the Midrash ha-Hokhma of Judah ben Solomon ha- Cohen, the Sha‘ar ha Shamayim of Gerson ben Solomon of Arles and the De‘ot ha-philosophim of Shem Tov ibn Falaqera. Besides Averroes, there are frequent references to Aristotle, Plato, Alexander of Aphrodisias, Themistius, al-Fārābī, Avicenna, Ibn Bājjah, and Greek and Arabic mathematical, astronomical and medical texts. The Jewish philosophers were deeply affected by their reading of Averroes and this coloured their interpretation of Maimonides. Very often, Averroist ideas were preferred to those of Maimonides, thereby sharpening the opposition between philosophy and religion. Except in Italy, no Christian author is named and the influence of Christian scholasticism is not explicitly acknowledged. Indeed, the universities were Christian institutions to which the Jews had no access. Jews spoke the vernacular (French, Provençal, Italian or Catalan), but these spoken languages did not give them knowledge of Latin. Whereas Jewish philosophers in Islamic countries benefited from all the sources of inspiration open to their Muslim colleagues, those in Christian lands were limited to Hebrew texts. This gave a certain homogeneity to Jewish philosophy, but also limited it. In contrast with what had happened in Islamic lands, Jewish philosophy developed in parallel, but separately, from Christian thought, and the connections between the two are not easy to discern. Often they share common problems; their answers are usually different. During the thirteenth century, many philosophical works were written. Along with pursuing the sciences, authors engaged in the philosophical explanation of traditional texts, as Maimonides had shown, and of their anthropomorphic expressions. Philosophy was no longer the preserve of a learned or rich minority, but became available to a large section of society. An enlightened middle class had grown up in the south of France and Provence, in Catalonia, Spain and Italy. The existence of towns, material prosperity and the extensive links between the various Jewish communities encouraged the growth of a milieu where science and philosophy were keenly studied, and where scholars were numerous and influential within the community. Philosophy became the subject of public sermons. True, Jacob Anatolio was forced, by the opposition of some of his community, to abandon the set of philosophical sermons he had been giving on Saturdays in the synagogue. But the very fact that he had begun to give them, with the agreement of a certain number of the community, shows well how public philosophical teaching had become. Both the upholders of traditional Judaism and the exponents of the kabbalah, which was developing in this period in Catalonia and Provence, were violently opposed to this surge of interest in philosophy. There was fierce anti-philosophical polemic in the Jewish communities during the whole of the thirteenth century, which reached its climax at several points: in 1202, about the resurrection of the dead (even before the Guide of the Perplexed had been translated), in 1240–2 and then at the very end of the century. This controversy about studying philosophy itself came to an end when the Jews were expelled from France in 1305, but the underlying differences of view continued until the end of the Middle Ages. In the fourteenth century, Maimonides remained the fixed point of reference and provided the framework for Jewish thought. The central problems, however, and the way of tackling them began to be affected by the scholastic philosophy of the Christian universities: for instance, the question of individual forms in Yedaya ha-Penini, at the very beginning of the century; that of future contingents in the 1320s and 1330s; that of non-Aristotelian (Parisian) physics at the end of the century. In the second half of the fourteenth century, translations from Latin into Hebrew were more often of medical than philosophical texts, but they began to include works of logic. There was also a resurgence of interest in astrology, with a Neoplatonic emphasis. Gersonides and Crescas The dominant Jewish philosopher of the fourteenth century was Gersonides. Gersonides (Levi ben Gerson, Leo of Bagnols) (1288–1344) seems never to have left the south of France, where he lived at Bagnolsur- Cèze, in Languedoc, in Avignon and in Orange. He is often considered the greatest Jewish philosopher after Maimonides. Like Maimonides, he was a philosopher and a Talmudist, as well as being learned in the sciences. Besides works on astronomy (where he attacks some of the fundamental principles used by Ptolemy and proposes his own solutions) and biblical commentaries, Gersonides wrote (still mostly unpublished) commentaries on the epitomes and Middle Commentaries of Averroes. They were composed between 1319 and 1324 and cover the greater part of Aristotle’s oeuvre. These are purely philosophical works and do not deal with questions linked to religion. In the excursus, where Gersonides expresses his own ideas, he refers readers to his Wars of the Lord. This work, divided into six books, took ten years to write and was finished in January 1329. Its introduction shows how much it differs from Maimonides’ writings both in method and in its thoughts: I would like to examine in this book several important yet difficult questions on which many crucial doctrines relevant to man’s intellectual happiness are based. First, is the rational soul immortal when it has achieved [only] some perfection? Second, when a man is informed by dreams or divination or prophecy of future events, is he informed of them essentially or accidentally?… Third, does God know existent things?… Fourth, is there divine providence over existent things?… Fifth, how do the movers of the heavenly bodies move these bodies, and how many movers are there, as far as we can know?… Sixth, is the universe eternal or created?… Now it is without doubt essential that the reader of this book be familiar with the mathematical science, the natural sciences, and metaphysics. Of the questions mentioned so far, some belong to the sciences, others to metaphysics, and others require a knowledge of mathematics [including astronomy]. ([4.14] 91–4) Gersonides has therefore written a work about science, and he deals with mathematical, physical and metaphysical—that is to say, philosophical—questions. His intended audience are those who are plunged into perplexity by scientific questions to which previous philosophers have found no solution. It is not the letter of the biblical text which causes problems: The reader should not think it is the Torah that has stimulated us to verify what shall be verified in this book, [whereas in reality] the truth itself is something different. It is evident, as Maimonides (may his name be blessed) has said, that we must believe what reasoning has proved to be true. If the literal sense of the Torah differs from it, it is necessary to interpret those passages and accord them with reasoning. Accordingly, Maimonides (may his name be blessed) explains the words of the Torah that suggest that God (may He be blessed) is corporeal in such a way that reason is not violated. He, therefore, maintains that if the eternity of the universe is demonstrated, it would be necessary to believe in it and to interpret the passages of the Torah that seem to be incompatible with it in such a way that they agree with reason. It is, therefore, evident that if the course of speculation causes us to affirm doctrines that are different from what appears to be the literal sense of Scripture, we are not prohibited by the Torah to pronounce the truth on these matters, for this is not incompatible with the true understanding of the Torah. The Torah is not a political law that forces us to believe false ideas; rather it leads us to the truth to the extent that is possible… ([4.14] 98) In Gersonides’ view, most of the prophets did not have revelations about things to do with the intelligible world. So Abraham did not know how many stars there are, because this number was not known in his day. Ezekiel thought that he had heard the voice of the celestial spheres, because this is how people thought of it in his times. Nor did the prophets have a political role (and here Gersonides rejected the whole Arab and Jewish political tradition); the purpose of dreams, divination and prophecy is to reveal the future, especially future contingents which will happen to individual human beings. These future events seem accidental. In fact, they can be known in advance, by dream, divination or prophecy, because they have been determined and arranged. The fact that accidental events are part of an order is proved by the existence of men who are said to have been born under a good star. They are granted every success whilst for other men misfortune is heaped on misfortune. But, if good or bad fortune were accidental, they would be distributed in fairly equal measure. Another argument is that, as the most eminent of creatures, man is taken care of by the celestial substances to such an extent that his actions and thoughts come from them. So astrologers know what people think and their predictions are often correct. When they predict wrongly, this is because of the distance of the stars from us and the limitations of the astrologers’ knowledge. Since that which, for man, is an accident, is ordered and determined for the stars, these human events are in fact ordered and determined. There are, however, acts which cannot be foreseen in the ordering of the stars: those which are freely chosen by men. But such acts are few. Indeed, almost all the thoughts of men and their movements are determined by the stars. Men are the most noble creatures and the order of the stars is intended for the good, and so men benefit more than other animals from the beneficent influence of the stars. It is rare that men set themselves against this order and, in fact, the great majority of events which we call accidental are determined and knowable. They are therefore the objects of scientific knowledge: of God’s knowledge, eminently perfect; of the more partial knowledge of the Agent Intellect; and of the very limited and incomplete knowledge of man—a degree of knowledge which, none the less, gives him immortality. God’s thought is directed not merely toward himself but also to the law, order and organization of beings, which he considers in a single, unified concept. All the attributes which he has disseminated to the pure forms are perfect within him. To him then can be attributed those attributes which are the reflection of the perfection of the divine being in us: essence, existence, unity, substantiality, understanding, the joy which accompanies doing good and so on. Gersonides discusses the creation of the world from an astronomer’s point of view. God created the world by beginning with a first body lacking in form and therefore not being. This first body, entirely in potency, neutral and lifeless, has an existence which is known to the senses. It is the fluid body between the spheres and sometimes it is opposed to form. It can be seen in the spheres, where God has given it a geometrical form along with the ability to keep this form; whilst, in the sublunary world, it has the form of the elements and the ability to receive every form. God created the world in time. Gersonides rejects the definition of the present instant as that which separates the past from the future. An instant can be the beginning or the end of an interval of time. In order to support the idea that the world was created in time, Gersonides also brings in the argument that history is still going on and is far from having reached its conclusion; consider the history of the branches of knowledge, or of the dissemination of God’s law, or the history of languages. Although he was deeply convinced of the truth of astrology, Gersonides upholds the existence of human free will, as all the other Jewish philosophers had done. The problems of determinism and future contingents which, in Christian scholastic philosophy, had taken a clear form in the work of Peter Aureoli, were raised in Jewish circles by Abner of Burgos. Abner’s unqualified determinism was the justification for his conversion to Catholicism in the 1320s. It is all the more astonishing to find an equally complete determinism in the thought of Hasdaï Crescas. Hasdaï Crescas was the leader of the Jewish community in Barcelona, already well known in 1367. His only son was killed in the anti-Jewish uprisings of 1391, though he himself survived. The wave of conversions to Catholicism which would go on through the whole of the fifteenth century had already begun, and Crescas dedicated himself to combating it and to reconstructing the Jewish communities which had been destroyed. His two polemical works were written in Catalan and his philosophical book in Hebrew. Aristotelian philosophy was accused of having disturbed people’s minds and of having driven the heads of communities—rich men who were often interested in philosophy—to convert and take with them other Jews. The Light of God (Or Adonaï) was planned by Crescas as just the first part of a more extensive project, intended to replace the whole of Maimonides’ work, both in philosophy and rabbinical jurisprudence. But the second part of it was never written. According to Crescas, the very root of Maimonides’ philosophy, like that of any thinker basing himself on Aristotle, was false. The route to God is not intellectual understanding, but fear and love. The final purpose of human existence is the fulfilment of the divine commands given by God himself to the children of Israel, in order that they should love and fear him. Scientific knowledge, a preliminary to the knowledge and understanding of the commandments, must be based on a physics different from Aristotle’s, because his physics is false. Book I of the Light of God is devoted to a critique of Aristotelian physics as it is expounded by Maimonides in the twenty-five propositions which precede Book II of his Guide. Crescas argues that Aristotle gives to the infinite the characteristics of finite bodies, and conceives the infinite only in relation to the finite. If it exists, the infinite is not contained within bounds. It has neither weight nor lightness, neither form nor shape. If it has a circular movement, it is not around a centre and, although it moves itself voluntarily, it has no need of any external object to bring about its movement. It can just as well be a simple being as a composite one. Similarly, place in the Aristotelian definition is the place of the elements, not the place of the world as a whole. Crescas holds that it is necessary to dissociate body and space. Space can be empty of bodies. In this case, the definition of the place of the world as being its external boundary no longer applies, and we can conceive an infinite space. Space is no longer the relation between bodies, but, as pure extension, it exists before bodies. The finite corporeal world is situated within an infinite void. Crescas does not deny the possibility of an infinite number of worlds and this hypothesis, although not explicitly adopted, is perhaps implied by his citation of a passage from the Talmud. In the same way, Crescas refuses to define time as the measure of movement: time is also a measure of rest. If we can conceive an infinity of time and an infinite numerical series, we can no longer accept the proof of God’s existence based on showing that he is the Prime Mover because this proof is based on the assertion that a series of causes cannot be infinite and so must end in a first cause. Crescas’ central intuition, then, is that, because God is infinite, space and time are infinite, and a numerical series can be extended infinitely. The human mind cannot reach the essence of an infinite God either through philosophy or through revelation. God is unknowable in his essence. But, like Gersonides, Crescas asserts the existence of positive divine attributes. Yet, for him, there is no possible relation or comparison between God and his creatures. We gain our idea of God’s attributes in the way in which we gain our idea of the infinite from the finite. Equally, the number of divine attributes is itself infinite. Just as the final aim of human existence is not understanding, so our joy in God cannot be the contemplation or understanding of his essence: it is the joy of a gift, of the Good which gives of itself. God is the true agent of all creatures. He makes them act through will and intention, and maintains them always in being through the emanation of his goodness. God likes to spread goodness and perfection and his joy is that of always giving the being which he spreads over the whole of creation, in the most perfect way that can be. The joy which God experiences in an infinite and essential way is a giving; it is also love and desire. God has loved and desired the patriarchs, and he loves and desires the love of Israel. God’s power is infinite. If it has given rise to a finite world, that is a result of will and choice. It is not merely infinite in potentiality but also in act. God’s omnipotence, which reason shows to be infinitely strong in act, is revealed in the biblical miracles, when substances are created or destroyed, as when Moses’ rod was changed into a snake. As a result of God’s omnipotence, there is no place for free will. Only the feeling of freedom differentiates freedom from compulsion. All human acts are made necessary by their causes. The will of the agent who causes an act is itself determined by causes which might be external or internal or both. Divine commands and the rewards or punishments which follow obedience to them or their disregard are themselves links in the causal chain which leads to a human act. A man is said to act ‘voluntarily’ when a cause is internal and not perceived by him, and ‘involuntarily’ only when an external cause is perceived as forcing him, despite his internal dissent, to such and such an action. Joy accompanies the fulfilment of God’s commandments as an effect accompanies a cause, but only when the soul has acted voluntarily, without any external obligation which it regards as contrary to it. Beliefs, especially true beliefs, are obligations on the soul, not results of its will, since their reality constrains the soul to accept them. Beliefs, then, give rise neither to reward nor punishment, and they are unrelated to the knowledge of intelligible things. Nor are the intelligibles what one calls ‘the survival of the soul’. Reward—joy— is brought by the effort towards knowledge, the desire to know, the wish to understand. The goal of the Torah is to enable men to acquire perfection in behaviour and belief, material happiness and happiness of the soul. Most important is the happiness of the soul. This is the ultimate aim of God’s law. The soul’s eternal happiness is the love and fear of God. Love and fear of God are the final stage, not only of the Torah, but also of true philosophy. EPILOGUE In Crescas’ thought, we can see the influence not only of Christian scholasticism, but also of the kabbalah, which became more and more important in Jewish thought, the worse became the political situation of Jews in Spain and the more eagerly they returned to the sources of their religion. It became necessary to define precisely what were the principles of Judaism. It is not correct to speak of ‘dogma’ in Judaism. Jewish tradition, the Bible and the Talmud, was considered as a whole, over a long period. It had to be accepted in its entirety, since belief was involved in each of the commandments. It was in confrontation with other religions that Judaism found itself obliged to clarify and systematize the principles of the faith. This problem was marginal up until the end of the fourteenth century, but it became a burning issue in the fifteenth century, culminating with Albo (c. 1366–1444?). Albo places his assertion of the superiority of the Torah within the context of a consideration of the different types of law: natural, conventional and divine. The Torah alone, he believes, is divine law, because it guides men towards the true good: the immortality of the soul. Traditionally, the fifteenth century is taken to mark the end of medieval Jewish philosophy. Yet as many philosophical works were written as they had been during the previous two hundred years. Here—as in the history of medieval Jewish philosophy in general— history has been distorted in favour of the ‘great philosophers’, whose works were printed in the sixteenth century and so widely diffused. Here in this chapter an anachronistically disproportionate weight has been given to the better known philosophers, in order to avoid too thin a treatment of too many figures. More obscure philosophers, whose works are still unprinted, deserve to have a more important place. We would then see that the fifteenth century, far from being a barren period, witnessed a real renewal of all the types of philosophy which had previously flourished: the Aristotelian current with Joseph ben Shem Tov ibn Shemtob and his son Shem Tov, Abraham ben Yomtob Bibago, Isaac Abraham and, in the area of Padua, Elias del Medigo and his circle. In Italy, the Neoplatonic current was represented especially by Judah Abraham. In Provence, Africa and Turkey, as well as the Yemen, medieval philosophical texts were still read and taught to a wide audience. True, kabbalistic ideas came little by little to figure in the work of most philosophers. No longer did intellectual understanding play the only important part in the philosophers’ systems—too many political and religious events had shaken the philosophers’ ivory tower. But philosophical ideas (the most important of which is that of God’s incorporeality) had taken root in the Jewish community, and to this day they remain an integral part of Judaism. (translated by John Marenbon) BIBLIOGRAPHY English translations of the most important texts are given here, followed by some English studies. Translations Karaite thinkers 4.1 Karaite Anthology, ed. L.Nemoy, New Haven, Conn., 1952; repr. 1980. Saadiah Gaon 4.2 The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, a translation of the Amanat by S.Rosenblatt, New Haven, Conn., 1948. 4.3 The Book of Doctrines and Beliefs, an abridged translation of the Amanat by A.Altmann, in I.Heinemann (ed.) Three Jewish Philosophers, New York, 1969. Solomon ben Judah ibn Gabirol 4.4 The Fountain of Life, Book III, trans. H.E.Wedeck, London, 1963. Judah Halevi 4.5 Book of Kuzari, trans. by H.Hirschfeld, New York, 1946; also in I.Heinemann (ed.) Three Jewish Philosophers, New York, 1969. Maimonides 4.6 Mishneh Torah: The Book of Knowledge, trans. M.Hyamson, Jerusalem, 1962. 4.7 Intoductions to Commentary on the Mishnah, in Ethical Writing of Maimonides, trans. R.L.Weiss and C.E.Butterworth, New York, 1975. 4.8 Crisis and Leadership: Epistles of Maimonides, trans. and notes by A.Halkin, discussions by D.Hartman, Philadelphia, Pa., New York and Jerusalem, 1985. 4.9 ‘Maimonides’ Arabic treatise on logic’, trans. M.ha-Higgayon, ed. E.Efros, Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 34 (1966), supplementing a previous publication ibid., vol. 8 (1938). 4.10 Letters of Maimonides, trans. and ed. with introduction and notes by L.D. Stitskin, New York, 1977. 4.11 ‘The first letter on astrology’, in ‘The Correspondence between the Rabbis of Southern France and Maimonides about Astrology’, ed. and trans. by A. Marx, Hebrew Union College Annual 3 (1926):311–58. 4.12 ‘The second letter on astrology’, trans. R.Lerner, in ‘Maimonides’ Letter on Astrology’, History of Religions 8 (1968): 143–68. 4.13 The Guide of the Perplexed, trans. S.Pines, Chicago, 1963. Gersonides 4.14 The Wars of the Lord, Book One: Immortality of the Soul, trans. and with introduction and notes by S.Feldman, Philadelphia, Pa., 1984. 4.15 The Wars of the Lord, Book Two: Dreams, Divination and Prophecy; Book Three: Divine Knowledge; Book Four: Divine Providence, trans. with appendix and notes by S.Feldman, Philadelphia, Pa., New York and Jerusalem, 1987. 4.16 The Creation of the World according to Gersonides, J.J.Staub, Book VI, part 2, ch. 1, of The Wars of the Lord, Chico, Calif, 1982. Joseph Albo 4.17 Sefer ha-Ikkarim (Book of Principles), critical edn with trans. by I.Husik, Philadelphia, Pa., 1929. Isaac Abrabanel 4.18 Isaac Abravanel: Six Lectures, ed. J.B.Trends and H.Loewe, Cambridge, 1937. Studies Saadiah Gaon 4.19 Maker, H. Saadia Gaon: his Life and Works, New York, 1929. Isaac Israeli 4.20 Altmann, A. and Stern, S.M. Isaac Israeli, a Neoplatonic Philosopher of the Early Tenth Century, Oxford, 1958. Abu’l-Barakāt al-Baghdādī 4.21 Pines, S. Studies in Abu-l-Barakat al-Baghdadi: Physics and Metaphysics. Collected Works, vol. I, Jerusalem, 1979. Solomon ben Judah ibn Gabirol 4.22 Loewe, R. Ibn Gabirol, London, 1989. Maimonides 4.23 Yellin, D. and Abrahams, I. Maimonides, his Life and Works, repr. with notes by J.I.Dienstag, New York, 1972. 4.24 Goiten, S.D. ‘Moises Maimonides, man of action: a revision of the master’s biography in light of the Geniza documents’, in G.Nahon and C.Touati (eds) Hommage à Georges Vajda, Louvain, 1980. 4.25 Efros, I. Philosophical Terms in the Moreh Nebukhim, New York, 1924, repr. 1966. 4.26 Fox, M. Interpreting Maimonides: Studies in Methodology, Metaphysics and Moral Philosophy, Chicago, Ill., 1990. 4.27 Hartman, D. Maimonides, Torah and Philosophical Quest, Philadelphia, Pa., 1976. 4.28 Kellner, M. Maimonides on Human Perfection, Atlanta, Ga., 1990. 4.29 ——Maimonides on Judaism and the Jewish People, Albany, NY, 1991. 4.30 Leaman, O. Moses Maimonides, London, 1990. 4.31 Hyman, A. (ed.) Maimonidean Studies, with bibliography (1950–86) by D.R. Lachterman, New York, 1990. 4.32 Strauss, L. ‘The literary character of the Guide for the Perplexed’, in Persecution and the Art of writing, Glencoe, Ill., 1976. 4.33 Reines, A.J. Maimonides and Abrabanel on Prophecy, Cincinnati, Oh., 1970. Isaac Abrabanel 4.34 Natanyahu, B. Don Isaac Abravanel, Statesman and Philosopher, Philadelphia, Pa., 1953. 4.35 Sarachek, J. Don Isaac Abravanel, New York, 1938. Crescas 4.36 Wolfson, H. Crescas’ Critique of Aristotle, Cambridge, Mass., 1929.
Routledge History of Philosophy. Taylor & Francis e-Library. 2005.
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