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SOME NOTES ON “AVICENNA AMONG MEDIEVAL JEWS”

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 July 2015

Steven Harvey*
Affiliation:
Bar-Ilan University, Department of Philosophy, Ramat-Gan 52900, Israel

Abstract

In an article published in Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 22 (2012), pp. 217–87, by Gad Freudenthal and Mauro Zonta, “Avicenna among Medieval Jews: the reception of Avicenna's philosophical, scientific and medical writings in Jewish cultures, East and West,” the authors promise to present “a preliminary but comprehensive picture of Avicenna's reception by medieval Jewish cultures.” As such, it seemed to offer the “comprehensive study” referred to as a desideratum by Zonta at the conclusion of his groundbreaking and very important survey, “Avicenna in medieval Jewish philosophy” (2002). Zonta explained that such a future “comprehensive study of the many and different interpretations given to his doctrines by Jewish thinkers would allow us to evaluate the real role played by [Avicenna] in medieval thought.” Surprisingly, the recent article adds little that is new to the previous studies of Zonta and others on the subject, and omits useful information found in them. The main point of the present notes is to try to correct several oversimplifications, questionable assumptions, and misleading statements in the article under consideration. Its purpose is to help readers of the article to attain a fuller and more accurate – although certainly not comprehensive – picture of the reception of Avicenna among medieval Jews.

Résumé

Dans un article publié dans Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 22 (2012), p. 217–87 par Gad Freudenthal et Mauro Zonta (“Avicenna among Medieval Jews: the reception of Avicenna's philosophical, scientific and medical writings in Jewish cultures, East and West”), les auteurs annoncent “un tableau préliminaire mais complet (“preliminary but comprehensive picture”) de la réception d'Avicenne, en arabe et en hébreu, dans les cultures juives médiévales”, et fournissent en effet, semble-t-il, cet “examen complet” (“comprehensive study”) que Zonta appelait de ses vœux en conclusion de son étude fondamentale et incontournable, “Avicenna in medieval Jewish philosophy” (2002). Zonta expliquait qu'un “examen complet des diverses interprétations consacrées par les penseurs juifs à ses doctrines nous permettrait d’évaluer le rôle véritable qu'[Avicenne] a joué dans l'histoire de la pensée médiévale”. Curieusement, cet article n'apporte que peu de nouveauté aux études qui ont été précédemment offertes par Zonta et d'autres auteurs sur le sujet, et omet d'importantes informations contenues dans ces mêmes études. La présente contribution se propose de corriger plusieurs affirmations réductrices, des présupposés discutables et des observations erronées que renferme l'article en question. Elle souhaiterait ainsi aider le lecteur à se faire une idée meilleure et plus précise – mais certainement pas “complète” – de la réception d'Avicenne dans le monde Juif médiéval.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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References

1 Mauro Zonta, “Avicenna in medieval Jewish philosophy,” in Jules Janssens and Daniel De Smet (eds.), Avicenna and his Heritage (Leuven, 2002), pp. 267–79, on p. 279.

2 Ibid., p. 267.

3 Are the authors literally suggesting that this methodological point should be stressed at the outset of every such study? In the present paper, it allows the authors to explain that their intention in their comprehensive study is to “focus mainly on the historical questions of the dissemination of and acquaintance with Avicennian texts and ideas,” that is level one (p. 219). However, the methodological point is arbitrary and imprecisely worded. For example, can one really detect a thinker's direct acquaintance with Avicenna's works, as the authors claim, “more subtly, by the presence of distinctively Avicennian ideas” (p. 219). The authors themselves in effect argue no when they speak of Maimonides’ “appropriation of significant Avicennian doctrinal items,” but argue that Maimonides “was probably not acquainted with Avicenna's own works” (see, e.g., pp. 224–7).

4 Mauro Zonta, “The influence of Arabic and Islamic philosophy on Judaic thought,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2011 Edition), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2011/entries/arabic-islamic-judaic/>. Actually, the authors seemingly ignore their own advice on several occasions in this article and use the term “influence” in speaking of Maimonides’ “momentous influence on Jewish philosophy” (p. 222), the “little influence” of the Hebrew translation of al-Ġazālī's Incoherence of the Philosophers (p. 248), and Avicenna's substantial influence (p. 276). In fairness to Zonta, the critique is not of him alone, but apparently also applied to others. The term is used in the study repeatedly also in quotations from scholars most relied upon therein (H. Davidson, P. Fenton, S. Harvey, J. Janssens, C. Manekin, and S. Pines). The reason given for avoiding “influence” is “in line with its origin in astrology [where] the term construes thinkers of the past as passive, their minds having been affected by ‘influences’ emanating from other thinkers” (p. 219). Avicenna and Maimonides, who dealt at length with equivocal terms, would not have been persuaded by this reasoning. Perhaps Freudenthal who has written much on these celestial influences may have become overly sensitive to the possibility of confusion regarding the term. Indeed one example where an unwary reader may be confused by the term occurs in Freudenthal's recent entry, “Cosmology: the heavenly bodies,” in Steven Nadler and Tamar M. Rudavsky (eds), The Cambridge History of Jewish Philosophy (Cambridge, 2009), pp. 302–61, on p. 333, where he writes: “Other Jewish authors too subscribed to this influential astrological theory of history.”

5 On the former, see below, n. 16. For a translation of Joseph ben Judah's treatise, see A Treatise as to the Necessary Existence, the Procedure of Things from the Necessary Existence, and the Creation of the World, by Joseph ibn Aknin, ed. and trans. Judah L. Magnes (Berlin, 1904). Magnes, like others of the time, confused Joseph ben Judah ibn Shimʽon, the author of this treatise, with Joseph ben Judah ibn ʽAqnin.

6 See, e.g., David R. Blumenthal, The Commentary of R. Ḥōṭer ben Shelōmō to the Thirteen Principles of Maimonides (Leiden, 1974), pp. 13 and 134, n. 2.

7 See most recently, Langermann, Y. Tzvi, review of Hasse, Dag Nikolaus and Bertolacci, Amos (eds.), The Arabic, Hebrew, and Latin Reception of Avicenna's Metaphysics, in The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition, 7 (2013): 99107, on p. 103Google Scholar. Langermann refers to a certain early fourteenth-century Jew in Iraq, Jekutiel ben Uzziel, who wrote Kitāb al-ʿIlmayn, which is for the most part copied from al-Ṭūsī's commentary on Avicenna's Išārāt.

8 Frank Griffel, “Between al-Ghazālī and Abū l-Barakāt al-Baghdādī: the dialectical turn in the philosophy of Iraq and Iran during the sixth/twelfth century,” in Peter Adamson (ed.), The Age of Averroes: Arabic Philosophy in the Sixth/Twelfth Century (London, 2011), pp. 45–75, esp. 64–74.

9 The study by S. Harvey on ʽišq is referred to in n. 20 as forthcoming, but it appeared in Judaeo-Arabic Studies, ed. Norman Golb (Amsterdam, 1997), pp. 175–96.

10 See Mauro Zonta, “Maimonides’ knowledge of Avicenna: some tentative conclusions about a debated question,” in Georges Tamer (ed.), The Trias of Maimonides/Die Trias des Maimonides (Berlin and New York, 2005), pp. 211–22. F-Z state this thesis is confirmed in Zonta's study, but Zonta explicitly writes in the article that he does “not claim to give a definitive answer to this question … [but rather] to arrive at some tentative conclusions about Maimonides’ direct knowledge (if any) of Avicenna's writings” (pp. 212–13). Thus he writes: “Of course, Maimonides might have found them [i.e., Avicennian doctrines] by perusing Avicenna's” Šifāʾ and Naǧāt, but no one has yet “to give proof of this fact” (p. 215). His main point is that Maimonides’ knowledge of Avicenna's philosophical doctrines does not mean he actually read Avicenna's books, and no one has been able to prove definitively that he has. Zonta adds here (but not in the F-Z paper) that “more probably, he might have read some isolated passages of Avicenna's minor works (p. 221). Zonta does not claim here that he has provided proof that Maimonides did not study even Avicenna's major works directly.”

11 F-Z do add (p. 225): “Nonetheless, the possibility – maintained by some recent authors – that Maimonides read Avicenna's own al-Najāt (The Salvation) cannot be completely ruled out” (see also, p. 227). They add without explanation: “In any event, Maimonides does not seem to have known Avicenna's major philosophical work, al-Shifāʾ.” See similarly, pp. 236–7.

12 F-Z qualify this phrase, adding in parentheses “or at least no major work.” This qualification is not clear. Earlier (see the previous note), the only exception suggested was al-Naǧāt.

13 On Maimonides’ reading in the books of idolatry, see his “Letter on Astrology”; and for his reading in kalām, see Guide of the Perplexed I, 71.

14 See Langermann, “Another Andalusian Revolt?” p. 367; this article is cited by F-Z on p. 226, n. 31, in support of the negative attitude toward Avicenna in al-Andalus.

15 Stroumsa, p. xii; this article is cited by F-Z on pp. 223, n. 19, and 227, n. 35. Stroumsa adds: “A priori, therefore, and until proven otherwise, my assumption is that he was generally familiar with major books of his period, both those that circulated in the West, and those he could read in Egypt.” Zonta, in his article referred to above, “Maimonides’ Knowledge of Avicenna,” p. 212, rejected as “far-fetched or at least not supported by irrefutable proofs” a similar view of Idit Dobbs-Weinstein that “we can be reasonably certain” that Maimonides “would have read all those Arabic works of [Avicenna] available in al-Andalus, Fez, and Cairo.”

16 As F-Z mention (p. 227), Maimonides states that some of Samuel ben ʿEli's ideas “derive from Avicenna's al-Ma ʿād,” which Samuel mistakenly thought was a philosophic treatise. But they add, based in part on Davidson, that “it has proved impossible to trace the ideas in question in any of Avicenna's works whose title includes the word ma ʿād.” Davidson wrote that “It is impossible to tell whether Maimonides was referring to either of the two books that have been published [with this word],” and that there may have been a third such treatise. Davidson shows that actually both published works by Avicenna contain elements with which Maimonides disagreed philosophically, and thus he could have had either one of these treatises in mind (Herbert A. Davidson, Moses Maimonides: The Man and his Works [New York, 2004], pp. 528–9, n. 194).

17 Judah ben Solomon Nathan's introduction to his translation of al-Ġazālī's Maqāṣid is printed in Moritz Steinschneider, Die Handschriften-Verzeichnisse der Koeniglichen Bibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin, 1878), vol. I, pp. 130–2.

18 On these three approaches to the Maqāṣid, see Steven Harvey, “Authors' introductions as a gauge for monitoring philosophic influence: the case of Alghazali,” in Sara Klein-Braslavy, Binyamin Abrahamov and Joseph Sadan (eds.), Studies in Jewish and Muslim Thought Presented to Professor Michael Schwarz (Tel Aviv, 2009), pp. 53–66.

19 See, e.g., Zonta, “Maimonides’ Knowledge of Avicenna,” p. 216.

20 Paul Fenton, “The literary legacy of David ben Joshua, last of the Maimonidean Negidim,” The Jewish Quarterly Review, 75 (1984–1985): 1–56; citation on p. 20 (cf. pp. 3 and 23). F-Z claim, without explanation, that the recent study by Fenton “supersedes the author's conclusions in the earlier [1984 study].” This claim is puzzling, but it may explain the misleading comment in their conclusion to the discussion of arabophone Jews that “Maimonides’ descendants appropriated only Avicenna's refutation of metempsychosis” (p. 238).

21 Ibn Kammūna, Examination of the Inquiries into the Three Faiths, ed. Moshe Perlmann (Berkeley, 1967), esp. 12–13. It may be added that Perlmann, in his translation of this work that appeared several years after the edition, emended a word in the edition on the basis of the passage from the Metaphysics of the Šifā’ ([Berkeley, 1971], p. 28, n. 21). F-Z cite this note (p. 229, n. 42), but do not seem to be aware of its importance or, more significantly, of Ibn Kammūna's earlier citation from Avicenna's discussion of ḥads.

22 Curiously F-Z do not employ a consistent transliteration for the name ha-Levi. We find Judah Hallevi, but Moses ha-Levi. Although not specified here, this list includes only those arabophone Jewish authors in the West who wrote in Arabic.

23 F-Z conclude this section by noting that the “study of other texts in Arabic composed by Jews is apt to discover additional authors who drew on works by Avicenna” (p. 233; cf. p. 230, n. 48). This is unquestionably true, but some of this research has already been done. For another example of such research, see Nahem Ilan, “Fragments of al-Ġazālī's theory related to speech in the commentary on Avot by Rabbi Israel Israeli of Toledo” (Hebrew), in Nehemia Levtzion et al. (ed.), The Intertwined Worlds of Islam: Essays in Memory of Hava Lazarus-Yafeh (Jerusalem, 2002), pp. 20–58, where Israeli's knowledge of Avicenna is mentioned.

24 See Resianne Fontaine, “‘Happy is he whose children are boys’: Abraham Ibn Daud and Avicenna on Evil,” in Dag Nikolaus Hasse and Amos Bertolacci (eds.), The Arabic, Hebrew, and Latin Reception of Avicenna's Metaphysics (Berlin, 2012), pp. 159–75; Resianne Fontaine and Steven Harvey, “Jewish philosophy on the eve of the age of Averroism: Ibn Daud's necessary existent and his use of Avicennian science,” in Adamson (ed.), The Age of Averroes, pp. 215–27.

25 See Yossi Esudri, “R. Abraham Ibn Daʾud and his philosophical Book, The Exalted Faith: Miscellanea” (Hebrew), in Ari Ackerman, Esti Eisenmann, Aviram Ravitsky, and Shmuel Wygoda (eds.), Adam le-Adam: Studies Presented to Warren Zev Harvey (forthcoming).

26 See above, n. 17. F-Z, in fact, refer to this passage a few pages later when they write (p. 246): “Judah's introduction made it clear to users of his translation that al-Ghazālī's work was Avicennian in its tendencies.”

27 Gabriella Berzin, “The medieval Hebrew version of psychology in Avicenna's Salvation (Al-Najāt),” Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 2010, p. 6, n. 19.

28 Gitit Holzman, “The theory of the intellect and soul in the thought of Rabbi Moshe Narboni, based on his commentaries on the writings of Ibn Rushd, Ibn Tufayl, Ibn Bajja, and al-Ghazali” (Hebrew), Ph.D. diss., Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1996, pp. 20–1. This very large number of manuscripts suggests it was even more popular than Narboni's oft-cited commentary on Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed (for which Holzman lists 35 manuscripts [pp. 23–4]).

29 Steven Harvey and Charles H. Manekin, “The curious Segullat Melakhim by Abraham Avigdor,” in J. Hamesse and O. Weijers (eds.), Écriture et réécriture des textes philosophiques médiévaux: Volume d'hommage offert à Colette Sirat (Turnhout, Belgium, 2006), pp. 215–52.

30 On the impact of the book on ʽArama, see Sarah Heller Wilensky, The Philosophy of Isaac Arama in the Framework of Philonic Philosophy (Hebrew) (Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, 1956), p. 40; for the list of citations of al-Ġazālī's Tahāfut in the ʽAqedat Yiṣḥaq, see ibid., n. 93.

31 See Herbert A. Davidson, Alfarabi, Avicenna, & Averroes on Intellect (Oxford, 1992), p. 181. For a good overview of Averroes’ attitude toward Avicenna (and other falāsifa) in his epitomes (and their later revisions), see Thérèse-Anne Druart, “Averroes: The commentator and the commentators,” in Lawrence P. Schrenk (ed.), Aristotle in Late Antiquity (Washington, D.C., 1994), pp. 184–202. Druart concludes that “from the very beginning Averroes distrusted Avicenna as un-Aristotelian” (p. 202).

32 Averroes, Epitome of the Physics, Hebrew trans. Moses ibn Tibbon, trans. Steven Harvey in “Averroes on the principles of nature: The Middle Commentary on Aristotle's Physics I-II,” Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1977, p. 401; cf. Al-Ǧawāmiʽ fī al-falsafa: Kitāb al-samāʽ al-ṭabī ʽī, ed. Josep Puig (Madrid, 1983), p. 8. For the comment by Gersonides, see Harvey, “Averroes on the principles of nature,” p. 426, n. 2. Gersonides continues that it is only proper that these men and whoever wishes to criticize Aristotle first understand what he is saying.

33 Averroes, Epitome of the Physics, p. 421; cf. Kitāb al-samāʽ al-ṭabī ʽī, p. 26.

34 F-Z discuss this again on p. 258, where only one of the passages from Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī's book is mentioned.

35 Ayala Eliyahu, “Ibn al-Sid al-Batalyawsi and his place in Medieval Muslim and Jewish thought” (Hebrew), Ph.D. diss., Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2010. On Avicenna's influence, see esp. pp. 71–2.

36 See British Museum MS Add 27559, fol. 1r.

37 Tzvi Langermann has most recently mentioned two more such figures. See his above-mentioned review (above, n. 7), p. 103.

38 On Levi's consulting the Guide in the Arabic original, see Warren Zev Harvey, “Levi ben Abraham of Villefranche's controversial encyclopedia,” in The Medieval Hebrew Encyclopedias of Science and Philosophy, ed. Steven Harvey (Dordrecht, 2000), pp. 171–88, on pp. 184–5. Howard Kreisel provides different evidence for Levi's knowledge of Arabic, but questions the extent of this knowledge on the basis of Levi's discussions and citations and, in particular, his reliance on the Hebrew translations of Arabic works (see Kreisel's edition of Livyat Ḥen: The Quality of Prophecy and the Secrets of the Torah [Beer-Sheva, 2007], intro. [Hebrew], pp. 17–18).

39 On Bibago's knowledge of Arabic, see now Yehuda Halper's entry on Abraham Bibago in Springer's forthcoming Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy. Halper has informed me that he has recently found additional passages where Bibago corrects Qalonimos’ translation of Averroes’ Middle Commentary on the Metaphysics, yet Halper does not see sufficient evidence to conclude that Bibago had a good reading knowledge of Arabic. He suggests that it is also possible that one of the Christian scholars with whom he studied had a good knowledge of Arabic.

40 Langermann (above, n. 7), p. 103. Duran may have achieved competence in Arabic only after he moved to Algeria in the wake of the 1391 riots. Seth Kadish has examined this matter and concluded that it “thus appears that Duran preferred to use Hebrew translations when they were available, but was also able to read Arabic when needed.” For Kadish, the strongest evidence is his finding that Duran in his Magen Avot II, 3, consults the Arabic of Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed and suggests corrections to the translation of Samuel ibn Tibbon. See Seth (Avi) Kadish, The Book of Abraham: Rabbi Shimon ben Ẓemaḥ Duran and the School of Rabbenu Nissim Gerondi, revised online publication, 2011, of Ph.D. diss., University of Haifa, 2006: https://sites.google.com/site/kadish67/avraham-avinu, p. 12, n. 20, and the references thereto. Further evidence for Duran's reading competence in philosophical Arabic while he was writing the Magen Avot was brought to my attention by David Wirmer in a personal correspondence dated 23.10.14, where he writes: “In the parts of Magen Avot dealing with the intellect … Duran is certainly working closely with Arabic texts. He also on occasion mentions precise points from Arabic texts that had not been translated into Hebrew, e.g. Alfarabi's Kitāb al-burhān.” In his book Averroes, Über den Intellekt (Freiburg, 2008), p. 31, Wirmer suggests that Duran translated sections of Averroes’ Epitome of the De anima directly from the original Arabic, and did not rely on Moses ibn Tibbon's Hebrew translation. Wirmer is correct that Duran's text parts from Ibn Tibbon's translation, but his conclusion that Duran must have translated from an Arabic manuscript of the text is not correct. Actually, Duran cited word-for-word from Shem-Ṭov Falaquera's Hebrew translation of Averroes’ Epitome in his De‛ot ha-Filosofim, at least in the passages I have examined (cf., e.g., Duran, Magen Avot [Leghorn, 1785], fol. 80r-v; Falaquera, De‛ot ha-Filosofim, Parma, Biblioteca Palatina MS Hebr. 3156 [De Rossi 164], fol. 179r-v; and Averroes, Epitome of the De anima, Hebrew trans. Moses ibn Tibbon, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale MS Héb. 918, fols. 108v–109r; cf. also Wirmer, Über den Intellekt, p. 100, n. 138, and p. 106, n. 153). In other words, Duran did not translate these passages from the Arabic, but rather cited from the lesser known partial translation by Falaquera.

41 See Holzman, “The theory of the intellect and soul in the thought of Moshe Narboni” (above, n. 28), pp. 4–5. Most recently, Holzman writes that “it is almost certain that Narboni did not have a command of Arabic” (see Gitit Holzman, “R. Moshe Narboni's Commentary to Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed” [Hebrew], Daat, 74–75 [2013]: 197–236, on p. 197, n. 2). The strongest argument that Narboni had a good knowledge of Arabic is provided by Bos, Gerrit, “R. Moshe Narboni, philosopher and physician: a critical analysis of Sefer Orah Ḥayyim,” Medieval Encounters, 1 (1995): 219–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Bos suggests on the basis of the medical material in Sefer Oraḥ Ḥayyim that “Narboni had a certain command of Arabic” (p. 222) and may have “consulted Arabic medical works” (p. 251).

42 Vajda, Georges, “An analysis of the Maʾamar Yiqqawu ha-Mayim by Samuel b. Judah Ibn Tibbon,” Journal of Jewish Studies, 10 (1959): 137–49; quote on p. 149CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For further illustration of the Avicennian positions in Ibn Tibbon and the influence of Averroes upon him, see Rebecca Kneller-Rowe, “Samuel Ibn Tibbon's Maʾamar Yiqqavu ha-Mayim, a philosophical and exegetical treatise” (Hebrew), Ph.D. diss., Tel Aviv University, 2012, esp. pp. 23–6, 139–52, and 305–14. Kneller characterizes Ibn Tibbon as “an eclectic Aristotelian … whose principle teachings are based on Avicennian positions.” Yet Kneller points out that Ibn Tibbon does not mention Avicenna's metaphysical proof for the existence of God and that the concepts “Necessary Existent” and “possible existent” are virtually completely absent in his writings. She concludes that “this almost complete disregard of fundamental concepts of Avicenna's teaching along with the adoption of an Averroean position on a number of issues and statements … reflect a certain degree of inconsistency” (p. 26).

43 James T. Robinson, Samuel Ibn Tibbon's Commentary on Ecclesiastes (Tübingen, 2007), esp. pp. 99–104.

44 Fraenkel also provides instances where Ibn Tibbon sides with Averroes against Avicenna. See Carlos Fraenkel, From Maimonides to Samuel ibn Tibbon (Hebrew) (Jerusalem, 2007), esp. pp. 26–7, 188–94, 214–17.

45 The extent of Avicenna's influence on Ibn Daʾud has been clearly delineated by the two leading scholars of Ibn Daʾud today, Amira Eran and Resianne Fontaine, in their monographs (cited by F-Z on p. 231, n. 54) and in separate studies on Ibn Daʾud (see, e.g., above, n. 24).

46 Zonta refers to Schwartz's book in his two shorter studies mentioned above, but also mentions other Jewish thinkers who did not read Arabic.

47 Harvey, Steven, “Did Maimonides’ Letter to Samuel ibn Tibbon determine which philosophers would be studied by later Jewish thinkers?” Jewish Quarterly Review, 83 (1992): 5170CrossRefGoogle Scholar, citation on p. 55; cf. pp. 62 and 65. Actually it is Zonta who used the term “reserved” in this connection. He writes that Maimonides “was rather reserved with regard to Avicenna's books” (“Maimonides’ knowledge of Avicenna,” [above, n. 10], p. 221). Elsewhere, in his above-mentioned entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “The influence of Arabic and Islamic philosophy on Judaic thought” (above, n. 4), he characterizes the “explicit judgment of Maimonides about Avicenna's thought” as “substantially cool.”

48 Harvey, “Did Maimonides’ Letter,” p. 68. F-Z thus misrepresent my argument when they note that Harvey “perhaps circularly” considers the lack of interest in translating Avicenna as an indication of the influence of Maimonides’ letter on which texts were translated (p. 277, n. 237). It is the combination of these five unexpected features of the texts translated – not any single feature in itself – that led me to my conclusion.

49 F-Z, pp. 277–8. F-Z's next argument against my explanation (p. 278) is also sophistical: namely, that if Maimonides’ Epistle on Astrology failed to persuade Jews not to engage in astrology, how could his letter persuade them which texts to translate? The situations are quite different. Certain Jewish thinkers, following pre-Maimonidean scholars like Ibn Ezra, took astrology seriously and did not see it in conflict with the Aristotelian science propounded by Maimonides. It does not follow that since they did not accept his advice concerning astrology that they would not have accepted it in other areas. In any case, many of the Arabic-to-Hebrew translators of philosophical texts did accept Maimonides’ teachings regarding judicial astrology.

50 F-Z also point out that Ibn Tibbon translated Ibn al-Biṭrīq's translation of Aristotle's Meteorology, a translation Maimonides wrote him was problematic. This they argue shows he didn't listen to Maimonides. But Ibn Tibbon did not choose to translate Ibn al-Biṭrīq, he chose to translate the Meteorology, and he had no other choice, but to use this unreliable translation, and therefore he turned to the commentaries of Alexander, Averroes, and Avicenna for needed help. Aviezer Ravitzky explains: “Maimonides wrote elsewhere, ‘All of Biṭrīq's … commentaries are lost books and anyone who studies them is wasting his time. No one should study them unless he has no alternative.’ This warning did not prevent Ibn Tibbon from studying them, having ‘no alternative,’ there being no other translation of the Meteorology available to him” (Ravitzky, Aviezer, “Aristotle's Meteorology and the Maimonidean Modes of Interpreting the Account of Creation,” trans. Schramm, Lenn J., Aleph, 8 [2008]: 361400, citation on p. 364CrossRefGoogle Scholar). F-Z cite this statement from Maimonides, but omit the last sentence, “No one should study them unless he has no alternative” (F-Z, p. 278). See further, Resianne Fontaine, Otot ha-Shamayim, Samuel Ibn Tibbon's Hebrew version of Aristotle's Meteorology: A Critical Edition, with Introduction, Translation, & Index (Leiden, 1995), introduction, pp. IX–XI. Ibn Tibbon indeed listened very carefully to Maimonides and his comments on the Meteorology and on the faulty Arabic translation of it. According to Ravitzky's widely-accepted view, he chose to translate this Aristotelian work under the influence of Maimonides, in particular, his comments suggesting its importance in the Guide of the Perplexed II, 30 (see Ravitzky, “Aristotle's Meteorology”).

51 See “Did Maimonides’ Letter?,” pp. 61–5. F-Z raise a final objection that the translation of al-Fārābī's works had already begun around 1150–1160, so this interest in him has nothing to do with the letter. If the dating is correct, which is not at all certain, then these translations obviously had nothing to do with Maimonides's letter. One could also say that Ibn Daʾud wrote against Neoplatonism before Maimonides, so the paucity of such translation cannot be attributed to Maimonides. Again, my claim concerns five unusual features of this translation movement and the fact that they coincide with Maimonides’ particular recommendations. Included in these facts are translations of al-Fārābī's works made after the writing of the letter.

52 Zonta, “The influence of Arabic and Islamic philosophy on Judaic thought” (above, n. 4).

53 F-Z, p. 279. The description of the fame of medieval Islamic thinkers among medieval Jews as a “household name” is not the novel idea of F-Z. It is found in Isadore Twersky, “Aspects of the social and cultural history of Provençal Jewry,” in H. H. Ben-Sasson and S. Ettinger (eds.), Jewish Society through the Ages (New York, 1971), pp. 185–207, on p. 202, and adopted by others with acknowledgement. Twersky said that al-Ġazālī and Averroes “became household names for Hebrew writers.” F-Z's description of Avicenna, at the beginning of their explanation, as “a household name among medieval Hebrew-writing Jewish scholars, many of whom integrated Avicennian doctrinal items into their works” may be contrasted with their statement at the very end of their explanation that “reticence about Avicenna was specific to Jewish intellectuals” (p. 283, n. 251).

54 Fontaine, Resianne, “Was Maimonides an epigone?” Studia Rosenthaliana, 40 (2007–2008): 926CrossRefGoogle Scholar, citation on p. 23. Fontaine adds that Maimonides may have devised his Guide in part as a “correction” of Ibn Daʾud's book.

55 Zonta, The role of Avicenna and of Islamic ‘Avicennism’ in the 14th-century Jewish debate around philosophy and religion,” Oriente Moderno, 19 (2000): 647–60Google Scholar, esp. pp. 651–6; and ibid., “Avicenna in Medieval Jewish Philosophy,” esp. pp. 272–8. Zonta speaks of Avicenna's “reconciling attitude with regard to the relationship between falsafa and religion” (p. 272) and the view of him as “religious philosopher” (p. 276). This view that Avicenna's teachings were easier to harmonize with Judaism than those of Averroes was expressed clearly by Shlomo Pines in his introduction to his translation of Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed (Chicago, 1963), pp. xciii–ciii. At the end of their paper, F-Z ask regarding Avicenna: “What translator would volunteer to be the mouthpiece of a thinker condemned to hell [by a Jewish poet for his unorthodox views]?” (p. 283). The answer, of course, as Zonta makes clear in his studies, is Ṭodros, and precisely for religious reasons. F-Z's fourth fact, in light of Zonta's prior studies, may fuel the impression, expressed at the beginning of this article, that while F-Z borrow extensively from Zonta's important studies on Avicenna and Jewish thought, they seem, at times, to denigrate the approach and overall value of these same studies.

56 Kalonymus ben Kalonymus’ Sendschreiben an Joseph Kaspi, ed. Joseph Perles (Munich, 1879), p. 9.

57 “Avicenna in medieval Jewish philosophy,” p. 279.

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