Abraham ben Shem Tov Bibago
Abraham Bibago was a Jewish Averroist, whose work treats the connection between Judaism and philosophy as well as Aristotelian logic, physics, and metaphysics. His numerous writings can essentially be divided into two groups: (1) philosophical and scientific works and (2) religious works. The first group consists of interpretations of Aristotle’s works taking into account inter alia several of Averroes’ commentaries. He also addressed current scholastic issues and in general strove to promote the Aristotelian approach. His religious writings, most prominently the Derekh Emunah (“Way of Faith”), strive to present a unified portrait of the world, which preserves a place for science and philosophy alongside Talmudic based religious life. In general, Bibago says in these works that philosophy and science can lead to human perfection, but so can faith. Often, he suggests that the perfection obtained through faith is superior to that attained through human intellect. These views, however, are not supported by the philosophical and scientific works, where Bibago presents Aristotelian philosophy as the only way to achieve human perfection. He even suggests in these works that the true purpose of Judaism is to allow the elite to study philosophy. Bibago’s two contradictory views, which he gives in different kinds of works, mark him firmly as a Jewish Averroist.
KeywordsPhilosophical Work Jewish Education Human Intellect Philosophical Interpretation Intellectual Thought
Abraham Bibago lived, wrote, and taught in Aragon in the turbulent years that led to the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain. Bibago grew up in the aftermath of the widespread destruction of the Jewish communities of Castile and Aragon between 1391 and 1412. As an adult he witnessed the widespread unification of much of Iberia by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1479 and the subsequent establishment of the Inquisition in 1480. He lived through the expulsion of the Jews from Andalusia in 1483, but died about 3 years before the expulsion of Jews from all of Iberia in 1492. In addition to a classical Jewish education, involving study of Bible, Talmud, and a wide range of Jewish mystical, theological, and philosophical works, Bibago was well versed in the Greek works available to him (mostly Aristotle), Arabic works including Averroes, Avicenna and Al-Ghazzali, and Christian scholasticism. Bibago certainly read the scholastic works in Latin, but his study of the Greek and Arabic thinkers seems to have relied on Hebrew translations (it is not certain whether he knew Arabic; he probably did not know Greek). While in Huesca, he had some dealings with King John II of Aragon and seems to have been involved in a public discussion with a Christian scholar. It seems he left Huesca sometime in 1466–1470 under suspicion of heresy. Despite this, he seems to have led an academy at Saragossa by 1471 and to have been involved in communal life, delivering public sermons in the synagogue and working with Jews who had been forcibly converted to Christianity. He seems to have died before the 1489 trial against prominent Aragonian Jews who helped forced converts return to Judaism.
Works and Themes
The majority of Bibago’s works are philosophical and scientific in character, and while they may make reference, usually in introductions, to Jewish religious texts, their primary content is not religious. Nevertheless, his writings are all in Hebrew for a presumably Jewish readership that was educated and interested in science and philosophy. His most important philosophical works are his Commentaries on Aristotle and Averroes: he wrote on the Posterior Analytics, on the Physics (now lost), on the Metaphysics, on the De Anima (which survives as marginal notes to Averroes’ Middle Commentary), and on Averroes’ medical compendium known as the Colliget (now lost). In those commentaries that are extant, we see Bibago make use of a vast number of scholars, Greek, Arabic, Jewish, and Christian, in addition to Aristotle and Averroes. Bibago generally presents these thinkers by name, but he does not always state when he is quoting Aristotle and Averroes. Indeed, he often substitutes Averroes’ words for Aristotle’s without indicating this and presents Averroes’ words as though they were Bibago’s own. This is most evident in certain sections of his commentary on the Metaphysics, where Bibago quotes from Averroes’ Middle Commentary on the Metaphysics as if it were the text on which he comments and then presents text from Averroes’ Long Commentary on the Metaphysics as if it is Bibago’s own commentary. That is, Bibago sometimes uses Averroes’ Long Commentary to explain Averroes’ Middle Commentary. This confusion may be deliberate. In his introduction in rhymed-prose to the Commentary on the Metaphysics, Bibago says that “necessity” brings him to speak in “the language of the author or according to his views” even when those views run counter to religion. As a result, Bibago notes, anywhere his commentary departs from religiously acceptable views may reflect the voice of Aristotle or Averroes. That is, Bibago’s Commentary on the Metaphysics, like his other philosophical commentaries, presents philosophy as it is without apologetics and leaves to the readers the task of sorting what is religiously acceptable from what is not, and of attributing the latter to Aristotle and Averroes, but not to Bibago. Yet, Bibago sees his commentaries as fulfilling a religious function. Especially in the Commentary on the Metaphysics, Bibago describes philosophical speculation such as he undertakes in that work in religious terms as leading to salvation and redemption. That is, despite acknowledging philosophy’s occasional differences with Judaism, he casts philosophy as the ultimate task of religious life and, in other sections, as true human happiness.
Nevertheless, Bibago’s religious works depict faith as the ultimate purpose of human life, perhaps even above intellectual thought. In his most widely read work, Derekh Emunah (“Way of Faith”), Bibago attempts to fuse an essentially Aristotelian view of the world with one that he sees as acceptable to regular Jews of his time. Derekh Emunah approaches this fusion through an analysis of central theoretical and theological issues, such as God’s providence, the role of human intellect and faith, and fundamental religious principles. Bibago’s approach to these issues is most frequently to bring and then interpret numerous statements from the Bible, Talmud, Midrash, and even Jewish folk legends. The interpretations he gives are clearly philosophical and, indeed, quite obviously Aristotelian. That is, Bibago’s interpretations of traditional texts are with a view to an outside, philosophical standard: Bibago makes religious texts conform to a view of philosophy, rather than vice versa. Moreover, Derekh Emunah adopts intellectual conjunction as the ultimate end of human life. Like Maimonides, Bibago identifies this conjunction with prophecy and prophetic activity and generally with human spiritual happiness. Yet, he recognizes that the traditional Jewish texts do not describe intellectual conjunction in sufficient detail and accordingly sends his readers to Aristotle’s De Anima and Metaphysics as well as Averroes’ Epistle on the Possibility of Conjunction. Most importantly, Bibago claims in Derekh Emunah that Faith can imitate intellectual thought and together with Revelation, which comes with conclusions of scientific notions, can create conjunction between humans and divine intellect, even without full performance of the human intellect. That is, faith and revelation provide a substitute for intellect that can allow nonintellectual Jews to attain ultimate human happiness, viz. conjunction. Whereas in the philosophical works, the emphasis is on the activity of philosophy with somewhat open-ended conclusions, Derekh Emunah focuses on alleged conclusions of philosophy and utilizing them to form a pseudo-intellectual conjunction.
Impact and Legacy
Bibago’s significance is in promoting an Aristotelian/Averroist view of the world after such a view had already been called into question by such important thinkers as Crescas and Albo. His community building efforts at Huesca and Saragossa were ultimately not fruitful, no doubt due to the expulsion of the communities in 1492. He had a more marked influence on other Jewish thinkers, particularly Isaac Arama and Isaac Abravanel. In particular, Abravanel’s discussion of principles of faith in Rosh Amana is a response to part iii of Derekh Emunah, even though Abravanel does not mention Bibago by name there. Unlike Bibago, Abravanel does not include philosophical interpretations of traditional texts in his Rosh Amana, and it is possible he found those interpretations to be overly fanciful. Bibago is vehemently criticized by Jacob Ibn Habib in his En Yakob for his philosophical interpretations of the Talmud, which Ibn Habib states that even Bibago himself did not believe. The En Yakob strove to derive theological notions from the Talmud, rather than read philosophical ideas into it. We find mention of Bibago in a number of other important Jewish thinkers including Shelomo Alqabeṣ, Jacob Luzzatto, Joseph Solomon Delmedigo, Judah Moscato, Moses Mat, and Samuel David Luzzatto.
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