Ibn Gabirol, Shelomoh

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IBN GABIROL, SHELOMOH (c. 10211058), known in Latin texts as Avicebron, Avencebrol, and Avicembron; Jewish poet and the first Jewish philosopher in Spain. Ibn Gabirol was born in Malaga, was raised in Saragossa, and died in Valencia. He is best known in the Jewish community as the author of secular, ethical, and liturgical poetry that reflects Jewish faith under the influence of both Neoplatonism and ūfī poetry. His poems include Ha-ʿanaq, a 400-verse Hebrew grammar that he composed when he was twenty years old; Azharot, a rhymed enumeration of the 613 commandments of the Torah; and Keter malkhut (The Royal Crown ), his most famous liturgical poem, which is a part of the liturgy for the Day of Atonement.

The Royal Crown contains four sections. The first two deal with names of God, the third presents Ibn Gabirol's cosmology, and the fourth is a confessional prayer. The overall theme of the poem is the great distance between God and man, and Ibn Gabirol's description of the structure of the heavens in section three reinforces his account of this vast separation. The universe is arranged in five parts, consisting of the sublunar world, the supralunar world (the heavens), the sphere of Intelligence, the "Throne of Glory," and the Will of God (or God's Wisdom).

Of particular importance in Ibn Gabirol's spiritual cosmology are the doctrines of divine glory (kavod ) and the throne of glory (kisse ha-kavod ). The soul is generated from the radiance of the former, and the latter is the place under which the souls of the righteous are stored after their separation from their bodies and until the end of days. Ibn Gabirol's eschatology reflects the tension within his own thought between his affirmation of the traditional rabbinic belief in a final end of humanity that is a return to corporeal life and his interpretation of this belief via a Neoplatonic schema that identifies the realm of spirit with good and the realm of body with evil. The result of the tension is that he spiritualizes the nature of the world to come (ha-ʾolam ha-ba ). Hence, the final vision is not of a particular place at a particular time, but simply of an idealized perfection, a summum bonum, of the human soul.

In 1045 Ibn Gabirol composed an ethical study in Arabic, Islah al-akhlaq (On the improvement of the moral qualities), which was translated into Hebrew by Yehudah ibn Tibbon in 1167 under the title Tiqqun middot ha-nefesh. Man's soul, Ibn Gabirol says, comes from the realm of Intelligence and enters Nature, but it remains between these two realms throughout its embodied life. Its goal during this life is to return to the level of Intelligence by means of knowledge and practice. Perhaps the most original part of this book is the correlation that Ibn Gabirol draws between virtues and vices, the external human senses, the humors, and the four elements of the sublunar world (air, water, earth, and fire). All human beings are composites of these elements and corresponding humors. A proper balance of these components produces human virtues, whereas an imbalance produces vices.

Ibn Gabirol's major philosophic work is Yanbuʿ al-hayat (The Fountain of Life ), of which no copies of the original Arabic text have survived. It was translated into Latin in 1150, under the title Fons vitae, by Dominicus Gundissalinus, archbishop of Segovia, with the assistance of a Jewish convert. In the thirteenth century Shem ov ben Yosef Falaquera translated excerpts from the original into Hebrew under the title Liqqutim mi-sefer meqor hayyim ; Jewish scholars apparently felt no need to prepare a Hebrew translation of the entire work, since the Aristotelian Avraham ibn Daud had judged it to be excessively verbose, philosophically shallow, and religiously questionable. Ibn Daud's critique of The Fountain of Life in his work The Exalted Faith (1168) is a major reason why Ibn Gabirol's philosophic masterpiece was ignored by subsequent generations of Jewish philosophers.

A philosophic study of matter and form, The Fountain of Life is devoid of any direct reference to biblical or rabbinic texts or doctrines, which in itself explains why subsequent Christian scholars could mistake this book's author for a Muslim or a Christian. In fact it was only in 1845 that Salomon Munk identified Avicebron, the author of Fons vitae, as Ibn Gabirol, the author of Meqor hayyim.

The Fountain of Life is divided into five treatises. The first is a general introduction of the topic of matter and form and their relation to physical substances. The second deals with the substance or matter that underlies the corporeality of the sublunar world. The third is a proof of the existence of simple substances, which function in Ibn Gabirol's ontology as intermediaries between God and the physical world. The fourth is a proof that these simple or spiritual substances are composed of form and matter, and the fifth treatise is an account of the universal form and universal matter that underlie everything in the universe except God.

The main thesis of the work is that everything in God's universe has matter as well as form, a doctrine severely criticized by Ibn Daud and ignored by all subsequent Jewish philosophers until Barukh Spinoza. While The Fountain of Life had little influence on Jewish thought, it was a major influence on thirteenth-century Christian philosophy. The main thesis was adopted by Duns Scotus and the Neoplatonic Franciscans, while it was opposed by Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, and the Aristotelian Dominicans. Among the Christian thinkers who explicitly referred to Avicebron were Dominicus Gundissalinus, William of Auvergne, Alexander of Hales, Bonaventure, William of La Mar, and Giordano Bruno.

See Also

Ibn Daud, Avraham; Jewish Thought and Philosophy, article on Premodern Philosophy.


Works by Ibn Gabirol

The primary edition of the Latin translation of Ibn Gabirol's The Fountain of Life is Avencebrolis fons vitae, edited by Clemens Bäumker (Münster, Germany, 18921895). A partial English translation has been made by Harry E. Wedeck (New York, 1962), and a complete English translation by an unnamed author can be found at the library of the University of Pennsylvania. In addition, Salomon Munk's Mélanges de philosophie juive et arabe (1859; reprint, New York, 1980), in which Munk demonstrates that Ibn Gabirol is Avicebron, contains the selections from The Fountain of Life that were translated into Hebrew by Shem ov ben Yosef Falaquera.

Ibn Gabirol's philosophical poem Keter Malkhut (Y. I. Zaidman, ed.; Jerusalem, 1950), which closely parallels the content of the Fons vitae, was translated into English by Bernard Lewis under the title The Kingly Crown (London, 1961). There are published collections of Ibn Gabirol's liturgical (Jerusalem, 1979) and secular (Jerusalem, 19751976) Hebrew poetry, but as of yet no English translation of either collection. Israel Zangwill made English translations of some of the liturgical poems in Selected Religious Poems of Solomon Ibn Gabirol, edited by Israel Davidson (1930; reprint, New York, 1973). The primary study of Ibn Gabirol's major work in ethics is Stephen S. Wise's translation and edition of The Improvement of the Moral Qualities (New York, 1902), which contains the original Arabic text.

Works about Ibn Gabirol

Modern critical study of Ibn Gabirol's philosophy is almost virgin territory for scholars. Published general studies, most of which date from the nineteenth century, range from Herman N. Adler's Ibn Gabirol and His Influence upon Scholastic Philosophy (London, 1865) to Jacques Schlanger's La philosophie de Salomon ibn Gabirol (Leiden, Netherlands, 1968) and Raphael Loewe's Ibn Gabirol (London, 1989). Studies of Ibn Gabirol's poetry include Raphael Loewe's "Ibn Gabirol's Treatment of Sources in the Kether Malkhuth " (in Studies in Jewish Religious and Intellectual History Presented to Alexander Altmann, edited by Siegfried Stein and Raphael Loewe, pp. 183194 [Tuscaloosa, Ala., 1991]), a variety of articles written in Hebrew, and Adena Tanenbaum's extensive treatment of the poetry in The Contemplative Soul: Hebrew Poetry and Philosophical Theory in Medieval Spain (Leiden and Boston, 2002). Of special interest are the following: Raymond P. Scheindlin's study of the relationship between Ibn Gabirol's poetry and ūfī poetry (in Sefarad 54 [1994]: 109141), and John M. Dillon's study of Ibn Gabirol's doctrine of intelligible matter in Neoplatonism and Jewish Thought, edited by Lenn E. Goodman (Albany, N.Y., 1992).

Two works have been published in Hebrew that deal with Ibn Gabirol's relationship to Jewish mysticism. They are Israel Levin's Mystical Trends in the Poetry of Solomon ibn Gabirol (Lod, Israel, 1986) and Yehudah Liebes's "Rabbi Solomon ibn Gabirol's Use of the Sefer Yesira and a Commentary on the Poem 'I Love Thee'," Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 6 (1987): 73123. However, neither has been translated into English.

Other related studies that deserve mention are Michael Wittmann's study of Thomas Aquinas's opposition to Ibn Gabirol, entitled Die Stellung des heiligen Thomas von Aquin zu Avencebrol (Münster, Germany, 1900), and Milton Arfa's "Abraham ibn Daud and the Beginnings of Medieval Jewish Aristotelianism" (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1954), a discussion of Ibn Daud's severe criticism of The Fountain of Life.

Norbert M. Samuelson (1987 and 2005)

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Ibn Gabirol, Shelomoh

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