Bahya ben Joseph ibn Pakuda
Baḥyā ben Joseph ibn Paqūda (fl. 11th Century)
BAḤYĀ BEN JOSEPH IBN PAQŪDA
(fl. 11th century)
Baḥyā ben Joseph ibn Paqūda, the Jewish Neoplatonist, was the author of the first systematic philosophic work on ethics in the Jewish tradition. Beyond the fact that he served as a judge (dayyan ) of the rabbinical court in Saragossa, details of his life are unknown. About 1040 he wrote in Arabic Al-Hidaja ila Faraid al-Qulub (Guide to the duties of the heart). This work, as translated into Hebrew about 1160 by Judah ibn Tibbon, under the title Hoboth Ha-Lebaboth (Duties of the Heart ), has achieved great popularity, both in full text and in abridged versions.
Baḥyā's work cites Arabic as well as Jewish philosophers and contains many fine quotations from Arabic literature. There are considerable similarities between his general philosophic orientation and that of the Arabic school of encyclopedists known as the Brothers of Purity. If this relationship is accepted, there is no need to search further for the sources of the somewhat mystical, somewhat ascetic Neoplatonism that moderates the generally Aristotelian character of his position. It has also been suggested that Baḥyā fell under the influence of the Sufi mystics of Islam, chiefly because of his emphasis on the cultivation of self-renunciation and indifference to the goods of the world in the last three books of Duties of the Heart.
The distinction between outward and inward obligation, "duties of the limbs" and "duties of the heart," which accounts for the title of the treatise, is a familiar distinction in both Arabic and Hindu religious literature. Baḥyā used the theme to suggest that the rabbis, the leaders of the Jewish community, were overly concerned with the external obligations of men, rather than with the duties of the heart, and that, because of the rabbis' insistence on the duties of the limbs, the masses of the Jewish people remained totally unconcerned about all religious obligations. He tried to correct this deficiency by presenting Judaism as a message of great spiritual vitality and force, directed to the human heart and resting on the threefold base of reason, revelation, and tradition. The fundamental principle upon which the whole structure of Baḥyā's work is based is the wholehearted conviction of God's existence and unity, the subject of the first book of Duties of the Heart. From this, he moves to the necessity for apprehending the wisdom, power, and goodness of God by careful study of the larger world in which we live and the smaller world of our own human nature. In this latter study there emerge the duties of the heart: service of God, trust in God, wholehearted devotion to God, humility in God's presence, repentance, self-communion, and renunciation. In this way, humanity reaches the height of the religious life, the love of God. Despite the superficially rational structure of the book, Baḥyā was not truly a rationalist; rather, he used the techniques of reason to subserve the ends of a contemplative view of life whose method was moral intuition, and whose goal was piety.
An Arabic treatise, Maʿani al-Nafs (The attributes of the soul), known only in manuscript until its publication in the early twentieth century, bears the name of Baḥyā on its title page, but this is now generally conceded not to be his work. No other works of Baḥyā are known.
For Baḥyā's work, see Torath Hoboth Ha-Lebaboth, 5 vols. (New York: Bloch, 1925–1947). This contains Judah ibn Tibbon's Hebrew translation plus a facing English translation and an introduction by Moses Hyamson.
For discussions of Baḥya, see Isaac Husik, A History of Mediaeval Jewish Philosophy (New York: Macmillan, 1916); Jacob B. Agus, The Evolution of Jewish Thought (London and New York: Abelard-Schuman, 1959); and Joseph L. Blau, The Story of Jewish Philosophy (New York: Random House, 1962). See G. Vajda, La théologie ascétique de Bahja ibn Paquda (Paris: Nationale, 1947), for a comparison of Baḥya's doctrines with Islamic ascetic literature.
J. L. Blau (1967)