Ibn Daud, Avraham

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IBN DAUD, AVRAHAM (11101180), known in rabbinic texts by the acronym RABaD I (Rabbi Avraham ben David), to distinguish him from Rabad II, Avraham ben Yitsaq of Narbonne, and Rabad III, Avraham ben David of Posquières, was a Spanish astronomer, historian, and philosopher. Avraham ibn Daud ha-Levi is best known for his history of the Jewish people, Sefer ha-qabbalah (The Book of Tradition ; 1161), and his comprehensive Jewish philosophy, Al-ʿaqīdah al-rafiyah (The Exalted Faith ; 1168). He also published a work on astronomy (1180) that has not survived.

The Book of Tradition consists of a history of (1) the biblical period, (2) the Second Commonwealth, (3) the tannaim, (4) the amoraim, (5) the savoraim, (6) the Geonim, and (7) the rabbis after the Geonic period. On the surface, this work is a history of the Jewish people from its origins to the time of Avraham ibn Daud. But in reality, as the work's prologue and epilogue make clear, it is a detailed theological polemic that uses history. Against the Karaites, Muslims, and Christians who claimed that rabbinic tradition does not correctly record the revelation given to the children of Israel at Sinai, Avraham argues that rabbinic tradition is authentic. It is an unbroken chain of transmission of testimony to the true meaning of the divine revelation at Sinai by witnesses whose integrity is beyond question. In other words, the goal of The Book of Tradition is not to write the history of a people; rather, it is to show that the rabbinical account of the revelation at Sinai is true. The rabbis' testimony is to be accepted because all of the leaders of the rabbinic communities involved in the chain of tradition from Moses through Ezra to the rabbis of Andalusia in the twelfth century were individuals of intelligence and good character who therefore could be trusted to understand what they were told and to communicate the information they received honestly, without prejudice or distortion. Therefore, all accusations by Israel's enemies to the effect that rabbinic Judaism is a perversion of the theophany at Sinai are without foundation.

Whatever will be the ultimate judgment of historians on the accuracy of Avraham's history, The Book of Tradition has served as a prime source of information about Jewish history for Jewish and Christian historians from Avraham's own day to the twenty-first century. The seventh part of the book is considered authoritative for the history of Andalusian Jewry, because it in effect amounts to an eyewitness report. But the earlier sections of the history also continue to have great authority for modern Jewish history; for example, they remain the basis for the list of the generations of tannaim and amoraim in the studies of classical Judaism by scholars such as Isaac Weiss, Hermann Strack, and G. F. Moore.

The Exalted Faith is the first work of Jewish philosophy to apply the diverse elements in the thought of Aristotle to a religious philosophy of Judaism. Avraham's arguments and statements are not so developed as those of later Jewish Aristotelians such as Levi ben Gershom (Gersonides, 12881344), but his work is the most comprehensive of all the Jewish Aristotelians. Avraham does not cite his contemporary sources, but he was clearly influenced by Ibn Sīnā (9801037), Saʿadyah Gaon (892942), and Yehudah ha-Levi (c. 10751141).

The Exalted Faith is divided into three books. Book 1 deals with those presuppositions in Aristotelian natural science that are needed to explain what Avraham considers to be the basic principles of Judaism. Book 2 uses the claims in book 1 to explain what Avraham judges to be the basic principles of Jewish faith, namely, God's existence, oneness, and attributes (Principles 13); the existence and function of angels (Principle 4); the authenticity of the written Torah and rabbinic tradition (Principle 5); and divine providence (Principle 6). Book 3, "On Spiritual Healing," reads as an addendum to the treatise, the proper conclusion of which is the final principle of book 2.

Avraham asserts that the whole of The Exalted Faith was written to solve the problem of necessity and human choice. In the past the rabbis knew a great deal about science and religious law, but in his own time that is not the case. Those who know science know little about Jewish law, and those who know Jewish law know almost no science. This deplorable state of affairs leads many religious Jews to think that the study of science is in itself harmful to Jewish religious commitment. But the price they pay for ignoring science is that they lack the appropriate training that would enable them to grasp the fundamental principles of religious law. Hence, they are not equipped to provide a viable solution to fundamental questions of Jewish faith. The treatise is intended for Jews who have mature minds but insufficient knowledge and, in consequence of both conditions, are religiously confused. In other words, The Exalted Faith is intended to be a guide for the perplexed Jews of Avraham's time.

The Guide of the Perplexed (1190) of Maimonides (Mosheh ben Maimon, 1135/81204) overshadowed The Exalted Faith in subsequent Jewish philosophy. Maimonides' writings clearly exhibit Avraham's influence, but that is not to say that the two Jewish philosophers have the same philosophy. Clearly they do not. For example, Maimonides rejects Avraham's claims that being Jewish in some way is relevant to the qualifications for prophecy, and that to some extent God's relations with the world enable human beings to have positive knowledge of God. Also, Avraham's accounts of all of the sciences are vastly more detailed than the mere hints of information contained in The Guide. In fact, no other work in Jewish philosophy is so comprehensive as Avraham's. Book 1 in itself is an excellent introduction to medieval Aristotelian philosophy and science for modern students. It includes a reasonably detailed explanation of philosophical concepts such as substance and accident, as well as all of Aristotelian physics, psychology, and astronomy. (Only Levi ben Gershom presented a more detailed astronomy.) Similarly, book 2 provides an excellent introduction to classical Jewish philosophy and theology for modern students. In addition to its topical breadth, Avraham's work combines the atomistic and Neoplatonic teachings of the earlier generations of Jewish philosophers such as Saʿadyah Gaon and Yehudah ha-Levi (whose works he transcends but does not abandon) with new Aristotelian themes that subsequent Jewish philosophers such as Levi ben Gershom and asdai Crescas would develop in the fourteenth century. Students of Jewish history and Avraham's Book of Tradition will be especially interested in the fifth principle of part 2, in which Avraham spells out in detail the philosophical grounds and the theological purposes of his earlier history of the Jews.


Works by Avraham ibn Daud

The Book of Tradition. Translated by Gerson D. Cohen. Philadelphia, 1967. Contains a detailed discussion of Avraham's life.

The Exalted Faith. Translated by Norbert M. Samuelson. Rutherford, N.J., and London, 1986. Contains a detailed discussion of Avraham's thought.

Works about Avraham ibn Daud

Arfa, Milton. "Abraham ibn Daud and the Beginnings of Medieval Jewish Aristotelianism." Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1954.

Elbogen, Ismar. "Abraham ibn Daud als Geschichtsschreiber." In Festschrift zum Siebzigsten Geburtstage Jakob Guttmanns, pp. 186205. Leipzig, 1915.

New Sources

Eran, Amira. "Abraham ibn Daud's Definition of Substance and Accident." Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 7 (1997): 265282.

Eran, Amira. Me-emunah tamah le-emunah ramah: haguto ha-kedam-Maimonit shel R. Avraham ibn Daud. Tel-Aviv, 1998.

Fernández Urbina, José. "La historia romana de Abraham ibn Daud." Helmantica 124125 (1990): 297342.

Fontaine, T. A. M. In Defence of Judaism: Abraham ibn Daud: Sources and Structures of ha-Emunah ha-Ramah. Studia Semitica Neerlandica, no. 26. Assen, Netherlands, 1990.

Ginsberg, Cedric. "How Shall We Measure Time? The Chronicle of Abraham Ibn Daud." Jewish Affairs 47 (1992): 5457, 82.

Norbert M. Samuelson (1987)

Revised Bibliography

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Ibn Daud, Avraham

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