Abraham ben Isaac Shalom
Abraham ben Isaac Shalom, active in Catalonia in the late fifteenth century, belongs to the last phase of medieval Jewish philosophy. He typically combined his Jewish learning with influences of medieval philosophy – Jewish, Muslim, and Scholastic. His main writing is Neveh Shalom (Abode of Peace), a collection of homilies infused with these philosophic influences.
KeywordsFifteenth Century Jewish Learning Medieval Philosophy Aristotelian Philosophy Late Fifteenth
Shalom was active in the second part of the fifteenth century, one of the last Jewish philosophers in Spain before the great expulsion of the Jews (1492). Little is known concerning Shalom’s life. He was active in Catalonia and died there in 1492. Shalom was a typical Jewish scholar of the period, who combined his Jewish learning with deep proficiency in the current philosophical trends. His thought integrated three traditions: medieval Jewish philosophy, mostly Maimonides, Gersonides, and Hasdai Crescas; Muslim philosophy, mostly Averroes, as he was translated into Hebrew; and Scholastic philosophy.
Shalom’s main writing is Neveh Shalom (Abode of Peace), a collection of homilies based on aggadic passages from the Talmudic tractate Berakhot (twice published, Constantinople, 1539; Venice, 1574). Into this traditional literary genre, he interpolated various philosophical discussions, influenced by the abovementioned philosophic sources. His main aim here was to prove that “Moses [=Maimonides] is true and his teaching is true.” He endeavored to prove the veracity of Maimonides’ teachings against his many critics. In this, he joined the fierce Maimonidean controversy which raged in Jewish scholarly circles throughout the late Middle Ages. He fiercely defended the equilibrium Maimonides endeavored to create between the Torah and Aristotelian philosophy. He critiqued Gersonides’ extreme position which criticized Maimonides for compromising philosophy, on the one hand, and Crescas’ position which criticized Maimonides for compromising the Torah, on the other, and identified with what he considered to be Maimonides’ true balanced position. Attempting this, he often got into difficulties in his quest to harmonize these conflicting authorities. His staunch belief in the authority of Maimonides led him at times to read him allegorically, thereby solving theological problems caused by the plain reading of Maimonides’ views. This was also the tactic which he employed in order to answer the criticisms which both Gersonides and Crescas hurled at Maimonides, each from the opposite angle.
Neveh Shalom reveals a careful study of medieval Jewish thinkers, mainly Maimonides, Gersonides, and Crescas, and non-Jewish philosophers, such as Averroes; through him, he was influenced by the Platonic political thought. Shalom, however, is not considered an original thinker. His main motivation was not the revelation of philosophical truth, but apologetic, to defend the theological doctrines of the Jewish faith.
Another important facet of Shalom’s scholarly activity was the translations of Scholastic treatises from the Latin into Hebrew. This is another example of the increasing influence of Scholastic philosophy on contemporary Jewish scholars. Shalom translated two philosophical writings from Latin to Hebrew: a compendium of the physical sciences by Albertus Magnus, Philosophia Pauperum, under the title Ha-Filosopyiah ha-Tivit (i.e., “Natural Philosophy”), extant in manuscript form (Hamburg Ms. 266), and a discussion of certain problems of Aristotle’s Organon by Marsilius of Inghen, under the title She’elot u-Teshuvot (“Questions and Answers”), partially published during the nineteenth century.
- Davidson, H. 1964. The philosophy of Abraham Shalom: A fifteenth-century exposition of and defense of Maimonides. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Melamed, A. 2003. The philosopher-king in medieval and Renaissance Jewish political thought, 125–134. Albany: SUNY Press.Google Scholar