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A New Hebrew Passage from the Theology of Aristotle and its Significance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2008

Y. Tzvi Langermann
Institute for Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem 91904


On some of the end-leaves of a Bible manuscript someone has copied out a passage from the Theology of Aristotle in Hebrew translation. The passage deals with the immunity of person of intellect from magical manipulation. No other copies of this passage in Hebrew are known to exist. The dependence of the translator upon the so-called “long version” of the Theology, specifically the copy in St Petersburg, is demonstrated, and it is suggested that the translator may be Shem Tov ibn Falaquera. The passage differs significantly from other versions of the Theology, and from Plotinus, in placing intellectual achievement ahead of ethical perfection in the scale of values.

Sur quelques-uns des derniers folios d'un manuscrit de la Bible, se trouve copié un passage de la Théologie d'Aristote en traduction hébraïque. Ce passage porte sur l'innocuité de la pratique magique pour “l'homme d'intellect”. On ne connaît pas l'existence d'autre copie de ce passage en hébreu. On démontre la dépendance du traducteur vis-à-vis de ce que l'on appelle la “version longue” de la Théologie, en particulier dans la copie de St Petersbourg, et on suggère que le traducteur pourrait être Shem Tov ibn Falaquera. Le passage, de façon significative, est différent d'autres versions de la Théologie, et de Plotin, car, dans l'échelle des valeurs, il pose l'accomplissement intellectuel au sommet de la perfection éthique.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1999

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1 Concerning the Theology of Aristotle see the following articles which together make up the second section of Kraye, J., Ryan, W., and Schmidt, C. (eds.), Pseudo-Aristotle in the Middle Ages: The Theology and Other Texts (London, 1986)Google Scholar; Zimmermann, F.W., “The origins of the so-called Theology of Aristotle,” pp. 110–240Google Scholar; Fenton, P.B., “The Arabic and Hebrew versions of the Theology of Aristotle,” pp. 241–64Google Scholar; Kraye, J., “The Pseudo-Aristotleian Theology in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe,” pp. 265–86Google Scholar; a thorough review of the problems associated with the text and a full bibliography is provided by Aouad, M., “La Théologie d'Aristote,” in Goulet, R. (ed.), Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques (Paris, 1989), pp. 541–90.Google Scholar

2 Badawi, A., Aflūṭīn ‘inda al-‘Arab (Plotinus apud Arabes) (Kuwait, 1977).Google Scholar See the detailed and highly critical review by Lewis, G.L. in Oriens, 10 (1957): 395–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Lewis' translation is found in Henry, P. and Schwyzer, H.-R. (eds.), Plotini Opera, vol. 2 (Paris and Brussels, 1959).Google Scholar

3 I.e. the person whose opinion (somewhat in the sense of Weltanschauung) is sound, worthy, and wholesome. Note the separate and equal statement of moral virtue (ma‘aseh nirṣeh, ‘amal ḥasan) and intellectual attainment (de‘ah yafah, ray’ ḥasan). Lewis (p. 147, sentence 67), renders the first quality “good action” and the second “good contemplation.” Cf. Enneads IV, 4, 43:1; the elaborations of the Theology upon Plotinus' spoudaios will be discussed below.

4 Hebrew sikhlī. Concerning this pivotal variant, see below.

5 Hebrew yafim. The Arabic ḥasan can mean both “beautiful” and “good”; Lewis chose the latter in his translation. While the Hebrew yafeh can also mean “good”, “beautiful” would seem to be the primary meaning.

6 Lewis (p. 147, sentence 68): “does not transfer them to anyone else.”

7 Lewis (p. 147, sentence 68): “he knows what the thing is that compels him to action.”

8 Lewis (p. 147, sentence 68): “turn.”

9 Hebrew sikhlī. Concerning this pivotal variant, see below.

10 Lewis (p. 147, sentence 69): “the true beauty and seen only the trace and shadow of beauty, and imagined that it was the true beauty.”

11 Lewis (p. 147, sentence 69): “the imagined beauty and [he] forsakes the true beauty.”

12 I cannot decipher one word in the manuscript. Badawi's text reads here: “…but thinks that it is enduring, and he endures in that act; then he is ignorant of the true act and drawn to bad things.” Cf. Lewis (p. 147, sentence 70): “…and thinks it permanent, relying on that work, has ignored the true work and followed evil things.” The missing Hebrew word may be niṣḥī, “eternal,” “permanent,” but this is far from certain.

13 Lewis (p. 148, sentence 71): “on account of a brute lust.”

14 Here Lewis (p. 148, sentence 71) parses the sentence differently: “…and therefore the things led him whither he did not wish, without his knowledge. This is the very self of sorcery, as no one will doubt.”

15 The manuscript clearly reads yanu‘aḥ which in this context would mean “dwell upon.” However, the verb yanu‘aḥ is never used with the preposition 'el; in light of this fact, as well as the preceding phrase (“not drawn to”), and the lack of anything in the Arabic text which may serve as a check, I accept the suggestion of the anonymous reader (one of several valuable comments) and emend the text to yanu‘a, “move towards.” The phrase “does not move towards them” is missing from Lewis.

16 Lewis (p. 149, sentence 73): “He is the constant man who perseveres in the truth.”

17 The Hebrew phrase, which accurately renders the Arabic, means in effect that the person described is a world unto himself. This is an elegant paraphrase of to pros auto, a difficult expression used by Plotinus a bit earlier on (IV, 4, 43:18) to describe the person who has acquired immunity from magic.

18 Genesis Rabba 35:3.

19 Lewis (p. 149, sentence 74): “If the man is of this description and condition and also looks at himself.”

20 Lewis (p. 149, sentence 74): “separateness.”

21 The Hebrew is cumbersome, and I would be hard pressed to make sense of it without the assistance of the Arabic, which reads quite clearly: “Then that person alone is the one who shall escape Nature's spell, and he is not vulnerable to any of its effects. Instead, he is the one who enchants Her [Nature], and exercises an effect over Her, on account of his superiority over Her and being distinct from Her.”

22 The last three words have been added by the copyist.

23 I have here relied upon the edition and translation of Armstrong, A.H., Loeb Classical Series, vol. 4 (Cambridge, USA, and London, 1984).Google Scholar

24 Rosenthal, F., “Aš-Šayḫ al-Yūnānī and the Arabic Plotinus source,” Orientalia, 24 (1955): 4266, at p. 59Google Scholar (repr. Rosenthal, F., Greek Philosophy in the Arab World: A Collection of Essays [London, 1990]).Google Scholar

25 The manuscript is described in detail by Fenton, “Arabic and Hebrew versions,” pp. 246–7. Fortunately it is now readily available on film (F 60783) at the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem.

26 London, British Library Or 1512 and IOM 3832. I learned of these manuscripts from the list provided by Fenton, “Arabic and Hebrew versions,” p. 249. However, the manuscript which Fenton lists separately as British Museum [now: British Library], Suppl. 722, is in fact the same as Or 1512. I thank Dr Colin Baker of the British Library for his kind assistance. In light of Lewis' review (cited above, n. 2), it may be safer to say only that none of these variants are listed by Badawi; perhaps a reexamination of Aya Sofia 2457 (unavailable to me) may confirm some of the readings of the St Petersburg manuscript.

27 Lewis, review of Badawi (cited above, n. 2), p. 398.

28 Fenton, , “Arabic and Hebrew versions,” p. 260, n. 2.Google Scholar

29 Ibid., pp. 241, 258–9; Kraye, J., “Theology,” p. 265.Google Scholar

30 Munk, S., Mélanges de philosophie juive et arabe (Paris, 1859; repr. 1988), p. 257, n. 1Google Scholar; Fenton, , “Arabic and Hebrew versions,” p. 259.Google Scholar

31 Sefer ha-Ma‘alot was edited by Venetianer, L., Das Buch der Grade (Berlin, 1894).Google Scholar See the detailed discussion in Jospe, R., Torah and Sophia: The Life and Thought of Shem Tov Ibn Falaquera (Cincinnati, 1988), pp. 42–6.Google Scholar Kaufmann pinpointed the citations from the Theology in a rich footnote (n. 6) to his study on pseudo-Empedocles as a source for Ibn Gebirol (Studien uber Salomon ibn Gebirol [Budapest, 1899]; Hebrew translation, Meḥqarīm bi-Sifrūt ha-‘Ivbrit shel Yemei ha-Beynayyim [Jerusalem, 1965], p. 79).Google Scholar These passages were later collected and set against Badawi's edition by Fenton, Paul, “Shem Tov Ibn Falaquera and the Theology of Aristotle,” Da‘at, 29 (1992): 2739 [in Hebrew].Google Scholar See also Fenton, , “Arabic and Hebrew versions,” p. 258.Google Scholar

32 I examined films of all of these at the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, Jerusalem. I should like to call special attention to MS Moscow, Ginzburg 1213 (F 48215), which contains, in addition to some correspondence of the Christian Hebraist Johannes Buxtorff, a copy of Sefer ha-Ma‘alot with a facing Latin translation. The translation covers only a few portions of the text. Apparently Buxtorff, who did publish a Latin translation of Judah Hallevi's Cuzari, contemplated issuing a Latin version of Sefer ha-Ma‘alot as well.

33 For a survey of Falaquera's writings see Jospe, , Torah and Sophia, pp. 31–76.Google Scholar

34 In particular, had the translator indeed consulted the manuscript now at St Petersburg, his attention would have been stimulated by the marginal note on fol. 59b, which reads: “Note. A very fine discourse on magic.”

35 Idel, M., “The magical and neoplatonic interpretations of the Kabbalah in the Renaissance,” in Cooperman, B. (ed.), Jewish Thought in the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge, USA, 1983), pp. 186242, at p. 217Google Scholar; see esp. notes 178 and 179.

36 Rist, J.M., Plotinus, : The Road to Reality (Cambridge, 1967), p. 206.Google Scholar

37 Enneads IV, 4, 40:7–14, and especially IV, 4, 43:6 (erotas ek farmakon).

38 A word in the gloss is not clear.

39 Sleeman, J.H. and Pollet, G., Lexicon Plotinianum (Leiden and Leuven, 1980), column 943.Google Scholar

40 Fenton, , “Arabic and Hebrew versions,” p. 260, n. 3.Google Scholar

41 Note that here too the St Petersburg manuscript displays a significant variant from Badawi's text, reading (on fol. 58b) al-naqiyy in place of al-bārr al-taqiyy. On orthographic grounds the variants naqiyy and taqiyy are easily explained; if the Vorlage had no diacritical points, they would look exactly the same. Nonetheless, it appears that al-fāḍil al-naqiyy adequately render the ethical virtues of spoudaios, whereas the addition of al-taqiyy (“God-fearing”) adds a dimension of religiosity to the characterization.

42 Pines, S., “La longue recension de la Théologie d'Aristote dans ses rapports avec la doctrine ismaélienne,” Revue des études islamiques, 22 (1954): 720Google Scholar; repr. The Collected Works of Shiomo Pines, vol. 3, Studies in the History of Arabic Philosophy, ed. Stroumsa, S. (Jerusalem, 1996), pp.390403.Google Scholar

43 Cf. the discussion in Fenton, “Arabic and Hebrew versions,” pp. 254–7.

44 Rosenthal, F., Knowledge Triumphant: The Concept of Knowledge in Medieval Islam (Leiden, 1970), pp. 336–7.Google Scholar

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