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Albo, Joseph (c. 1380–c. 1444)

(c. 1380c. 1444)

The Spanish-Jewish preacher and philosopher Joseph Albo was the last major figure of the philosophical surge in medieval Jewry. Little is known about his early life; he was probably born at Monreal, in the kingdom of Aragon, and he asserted that Hasdai Crescas was his teacher. Albo was one of the principal apologists for the Jews at the Colloquium of Tortosa (February 7, 1413November 3, 1414); his activities as apologist and preacher are reflected in the style of his philosophic classic, Sefer ha-'Ikkarim (The Book of Roots ).

Albo's acknowledged and unacknowledged borrowings from other writers are so extensive that he was accused of plagiarism in his own age, as well as in more recent and more sensitive times. We must recognize, however, that Albo's purpose was to systematize and thus to defend the dogmas of Judaism rather than to produce an original philosophic work. Clarity and lucidity, systematic and easily remembered organization of materials, and simple and uninvolved style of presentation have made Albo's The Book of Roots one of the most popular works of medieval Hebrew literature. Indeed, it was one of the earliest printed Hebrew books, the first edition having been issued at Soncino, Italy, in 1485. Albo's occasional use of medical materials to illustrate his thought has suggested to critics that he may have been trained as a physician. He was well trained in Jewish philosophy, and in addition he knew, probably at second hand, the works of the Arabic Aristotelians.

Albo asserted that there are three essential dogmas ("roots") of Judaism: the existence of God, revelation, and reward and punishment. Seven secondary principles were derived from these three. The existence of God yields four: his unity, his incorporeality, his timelessness, and his perfection. From the dogma of revelation Albo derived two secondary principles: the prophets were the medium of revelation, and the Mosaic law will have binding force until another law is proclaimed with equal publicity; that is, before 600,000 men. God's providential knowledge in the matter of retribution was, for Albo, the sole secondary derivative from the doctrine of reward and punishment. Beyond these primary and secondary roots are other logically derived "branches" that every professing Jew must believe or be guilty of heresy, among them the doctrine of the Messiah.

It may be presumed that Albo removed the doctrine of the Messiah from the center of the Jewish faith as an important part of his polemic against Christianity, a recurrent feature of The Book of Roots. As an aspect of this polemic, Book III, Chapter 25 contains an actual summary of a disputation between a Jew and a non-Jew (omitted in some editions).

See also Crescas, Hasdai; Jewish Philosophy.


bilingual edition

Husik, Isaac. Sefer ha-'Ikkarim, 5 vols. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 19291930. Critical edition of the Hebrew text, with facing English translation.


Agus, Jacob B. The Evolution of Jewish Thought. London and New York: Abelard-Schuman, 1959.

Blau, Joseph L. The Story of Jewish Philosophy. New York: Random House, 1962.

Guttmann, Julius. Philosophies of Judaism. Translated by D. W. Silverman. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964.

Husik, Isaac. History of Mediaeval Jewish Philosophy. New York: Macmillan, 1916.

J. L. Blau (1967)

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Albo, Joseph

Albo, Joseph (15th cent. CE). Spanish Jewish preacher and philosopher. Albo was the author of Sefer ha-ʿIkkarim (Book of Principles), a reasoned presentation of the articles of the Jewish faith, explained in the light of contemporary ideas. He was familiar with Islamic philosophy and Christian scholasticism and was greatly influenced by the teaching of Hasdai Crescas. He formulated three principles of Judaism—the existence of God, divine revelation, and reward and punishment (though he added eight further derivative principles). Subordinate to the principles are six dogmas, namely the creation of the world ex nihilo, the status of Moses as supreme prophet, the validity of Mosaic law, the possibility of attaining human perfection, the resurrection of the dead and the coming of the messiah. The work achieved great popularity and went through many edns.

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"Albo, Joseph." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

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