Albo, Joseph

views updated Jun 08 2018


ALBO, JOSEPH (15th century), Jewish philosopher in Christian Spain. Albo participated in the famous Jewish-Christian disputation at *Tortosa and San-Mateo (1413–14) as a representative of the Jewish community of Daroca and wrote a theological-philosophical treatise by the name of Book of Principles (Heb. Sefer ha-Ikkarim). Albo's Ikkarim has become one of the most famous compositions of medieval Jewish thought and was translated into Latin, English, German, Russian, and Italian (part A only).

Little is known about Albo's life. The general opinion regarding the dates of his birth and death (1380–1444) is based on assumptions rather than on historical documents or facts. Albo was born, presumably, in the Crown of Aragon, where he studied with Ḥasdai *Crescas of Saragossa, to whom he refers in his book as his teacher (Ikkarim, 1, 26; 3, 16; cf. Book of Principles, 1, ed. Husik, Philadelphia, 1929, vol. 1, p. 200, 1, 18; vol. 3, p. 148, 1, 9). According to Albo's own words, he moved to Soria in the Crown of Castile, very possibly following the destruction of his community at Daroca (1415), and there he completed his major treatise (Ikkarim, intro.; cf. Principles, vol. 1, p. 37, 2, 1–2). Historical documents indicate that Albo was a social as well as a religious leader in both Daroca and Soria. His judgment was requested, for instance, in matters of family quarrels as well as in halakhic questions. It also seems that he was a physician and that he understood, apart from the Hebrew language in which he wrote his philosophical treatise, both Spanish and Latin. Whether or not he could read Arabic is an unresolved question.

A survey of Albo's written work shows, quite interestingly, that the Ikkarim was not his sole publication. Several researchers claim that Albo also wrote a polemical treatise in Spanish by the name of The One (Heb. Ha-Eḥad). Others attribute to Albo a composition called One Hundred Pages (Heb. Me'ah Dapin) that deals with the dogmas of faith. Finally, two other short compositions attributed to Albo are still available only in manuscripts: (a) Commentary to Maimonides' Treatise on Logic; (b) notes on Maimonides' Thirteen Principles.

Sefer ha-Ikkarim

chronological and historical background. Nevertheless, Albo's major contribution to the history of Jewish philosophy lies in his Sefer ha-Ikkarim. Another aspect of the uncertainty surrounding Albo's biography is the difference of opinions regarding the exact year in which he completed the writing of this book (e. g. 1424, 1425, 1428, and a more cautious opinion stating only that it could not have been before 1415). The prevailing opinion among scholars seems to be, however, that it was completed by the year 1425.

Important chronological information concerning the composition process of the Ikkarim can be drawn from Albo's retrospective comment at the end of part A of his book. Albo notes that his initial intention was to discuss exclusively the doctrine of religious dogmas, an aim that was fulfilled in the course of part A alone. However, later on, at the request of a group of people who presumably had read his original work, he decided to expand his discussion of these matters and, consequently, to add three more parts to the first (Ikkarim, 1, 26; cf. Principles, vol. 1, p. 203, 2, 1–9). In light of this remark several scholars have concluded that part A of the Ikkarim was, and henceforth should be treated as, a work Albo had written independently of the final version of the whole book. The question as to the year in which part A of the Ikkarim was actually written in its first version remains open. Scholars addressing this issue are mainly divided with regard to the question of whether it was written before Albo's immigration from Aragon to Castile and before the Tortosa disputation, namely, many years before the completion of the entire composition, or not, namely, a relatively short period of time before the book's completion. Differences between part a and parts b–d of the book with regard to both style and content can be considered to favor the former point of view.

After considering the narrow chronological aspect of the composition stages of the Ikkarim, the broader historical one should also be taken into account. Two historical-cultural circumstances can be pointed to as sources of influence on Albo's theoretical activity: (1) Massive, rapidly growing, and multidimensional pressure exerted by the Christian church upon the Jews in northern Spain to encourage them to convert to Christianity. (2) Internal dissension within the Jewish theological camp between rationalistic thinkers on the one hand and conservative and kabbalistic thinkers on the other hand. It should be noted that these motifs have been highlighted in the research that has been conducted on Jewish thought in 15th-century Spain in general.

contents and characteristics. As indicated above, the Ikkarim is divided into four parts. Part A presents Albo's dogmatic system, namely the system of the main beliefs in what he calls "Divine Law." That system is divided into three hierarchic categories: (a) fundamental principles (Heb. Ikkarim), (b) derivative principles (Heb. Shorashim), and (c) obligatory dogmas (Heb. Anafim). Denying one of the fundamental or the derivative principles, Albo claims, is equivalent to heresy, but not the denial of one of the obligatory dogmas, which is considered by him merely a religious sin.

According to Albo there are three fundamental principles of "Divine Law": (1) the existence of God, (2) divine revelation, and (3) reward and punishment. The remaining three parts of the Ikkarim (parts b–d) address these principles, respectively.

Part b discusses the first fundamental principle in Albo's list, namely the existence of God, and its four derivative principles which are God's unity, incorporeality, independence of time, and absence of defects. The main theme of part b is the doctrine of the divine attributes, yet attention should also be drawn to Albo's interesting critical discussion of Maimonides' philosophical proofs for the existence of God (Ikkarim, 2, 4–5; cf. Principles, vol. 2, pp. 26–35).

Part c discusses the second fundamental principle, namely divine revelation, and its two derivative principles, which are prophecy and the authenticity of the messenger of "Divine Law." Other important issues discussed in the framework of part c are the question of ultimate human felicity, the Law of Moses and its commandments, and finally the religious duties of fear and love of God.

Part d discusses the third fundamental principle, namely reward and punishment, and its two derivative principles, which are God's knowledge and providence. In the course of this part Albo addresses the problem of evil and offers interesting analyses of two major religious phenomena, prayer and repentance. In the sequel Albo discusses extensively the doctrines of reward and punishment in the hereafter, resurrection of the dead, and the messiah.

Thus, the Ikkarim offers a systematic, detailed, and broad examination of the cornerstones of religious philosophy in general, and of Jewish thought in particular. To be precise, this book offers a summation of medieval Jewish thought as it appears from the abundance and divergence of its philosophical and theological sources. The Jewish thinkers who seem to have had the greatest influence on Albo's thought are *Maimonides, *Naḥmanides, *Nissim of Gerona, Ḥasdai Crescas, and Simeon ben Ẓemaḥ *Duran. Albo was also familiar with kabbalistic sources and views on the one hand and with works of non-Jewish philosophers, such as *Aristotle, *Avicenna, *Averroës, and Thomas *Aquinas, on the other.

These qualities of the Ikkarim, in addition to its plain language, have contributed to its popularity within divergent Jewish and non-Jewish circles. The Ikkarim was one of the first philosophical treatises to be printed (1485), and in the following two centuries it was twice commented on, first by Jacob Koppelmann (Ohel Ya'akov, 1584), then by Gedaliah Lipschuetz (Eẓ Shatul, 1618). Moreover, Albo's name is mentioned in the works of later Jewish philosophers, medieval as well as modern, and references to his book can be found in their writings. Such thinkers are, for example, Isaac *Arama, Isaac *Abrabanel, *Spinoza, and Moses *Mendelssohn. Lastly, Christian theologians in the 16th and 17th centuries used the Ikkarim in order to promote their polemical purposes.

A last remark should be made in regard to the research conducted on Albo's thought during the last 150 years. This research has taken three main courses: (1) an exposure of the philosophical sources of the Ikkarim, (2) a discussion of the historical circumstances in which Albo's theoretical activity took place, and (3) an examination of Albo's theological opinions.

Until recently researchers shared the general agreement that Albo was not an original thinker, but rather an eclectic one. Correspondingly, the Ikkarim was mainly considered a popular homiletic and encyclopedic treatise that lacked originality and philosophic profundity. This approach to Albo's work emphasized especially his polemical and apologetic interests in the light of the massive Christian spiritual as well as physical attacks on the Jews of his time and place.

An alternative approach to Albo's work wishes to supplement the analysis of his philosophy as such with an analysis of his philosophical "art of writing." In other words, it views the Ikkarim as not merely a compendium of views randomly put together but as a composition that was written purposefully and meticulously as an esoteric work, very much like Maimonides' in his Guide for the Perplexed. Albo intentionally expresses certain points of view on the exoteric, outer level, of the book and conceals other, opposing ones on its esoteric, inner level. It should be mentioned that this approach to Albo's thought is primarily supported by his opening remarks in part b of the Ikkarim, where he indicated that the book contains deliberate contradictions and therefore should be carefully read (Ikkarim, 2, opening; cf. Principles, vol. 2, pp. 1–4).

Albo's treatise indeed hardly displays any significant theoretical novelty. However, researchers of both camps point to one discussion that reflects some originality, that is, the discussion of the different kinds of "Law," namely "Divine," "Human," and "Natural" (Ikkarim, 1, 5–8; cf. Principles, vol. 1, pp. 70–92). They assert that Albo was probably the first Jewish thinker to use the political concept of "Natural Law" in his book, possibly under the influence of Thomas Aquinas. Another discussion that points to an original approach to a familiar subject is the one regarding the meaning of human love of God (Ikkarim, 3, 35–37; cf. Principles, vol. 3, pp. 316–51). This discussion has influenced several later Jewish thinkers who addressed the issue.


S. Back, Joseph Albo's Bedeutung in der Geschichte der jüdischen Religionsphilosophie: Ein Beitrag zur genauern Kenntniss der Tendenz des Buches "ikkarim" (1869); Y. Baer, Spain, 2, ch. 11 (1966); D. Ehrlich, "Filosofyah ve-Omanut ha-Ketiva be-Sefer ha-Ikkarim le-Rabbi Yosef Albo," dissertation, Bar-Ilan University (2004); H. Graetz, History of the Jews, 4 (1894), 239–44; J. Guttmann, "Le-Ḥeker ha-Mekorot shel Sefer ha-Ikkarim," in: S.H. Bergman and N. Rotenstreich (eds.), Dat u-Madda: Koveẓ Ma'amarim ve-Harẓa'ot (1955), 169–91; idem, Philosophies of Judaism: The History of Jewish Philosophy from Biblical times to Franz Rosenzweig (1964), 247–51; W.Z. Harvey, "Albo's Discussion of Time," in: jqr, 70 (1979–80), 210–38; I. Husik, A History of Mediaeval Jewish Philosophy (1916), 406–27; M. Kellner, Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought From Maimonides to Abravanel (1986),140–56; H. Kreisel, Prophecy: The History of an Idea in Medieval Jewish Philosophy (2001), 486–543; D.J. Lasker, "Torat ha-Immut be-Mishnato ha-Filosofit shel Yosef Albo," in: Da'at, 5 (1980), 5–12; R. Lerner, "Natural Law in Albo's Book of Roots," in: J. Cropsey (ed.), Ancients and Moderns: Essays on the Tradition of Political Philosophy in Honor of Leo Strauss (1964), 132–47; S. Rauschenbach, Josef Albo: Juedische Philosophie und christliche Kontroverstheologie in der Frühen Neuzeit (Studies in European Judaism, 3) (2002); D. Schwartz, Setirah ve-Hastarah ba-Hagut ha-Yehudit Bi-Yemei ha-Beinayim (2002), 182–96; E. Schweid, "Bein Mishnat ha-Ikkarim shel R. Yosef Albo le-Mishnat ha-Ikkarim shel ha-Rambam," in: Tarbiz, 33 (1963), 74–84; idem, "Ha-Nevua'h be-Mishnato shel R. Yosef Albo," in: Tarbiz, 35 (1965), 48–60; idem, "Ha-Pulmus neged ha-Naẓrut ke-Gorem Me'aẓev be-Mishnat ha-R.Y. Albo," in: pwcjs, 4 (1968), 309–12; C. Sirat, A History of Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages (1985), 374–81; A. Taenzer, Die Religionsphilosophie Josef Albo's nach seinem werke "Ikkarim": Systematisch Dragestellt und Erläutert (1896); S.B. Urbach, Amudei ha-Maḥshavah ha-Yisra'elit, v. 2 (1972), 519–656.

[Dror Ehrlich (2nd ed.)]

Albo, Joseph

views updated May 23 2018


Spanish-Jewish philosopher, theologian, and polemicist; b. c. 1380; d. c. 1440. Not much is known of his life. He lived for a while at Daroca (province of Saragossa) and later at Soria (province of Castile). One of his teachers was Hasdai crescas. At the celebrated theological Disputation of Tortosa (141314), which had been convoked by the antipope benedict xiii during his self-imposed exile in Spain, Albo was one of the leading spokesmen in defense of Judaism against the attacks on it by the convert from Judaism, Gerónimo de Santa Fe (called before his conversion Joshua ben Joseph ibn Vives de Lorca and commonly known as Lorki).

As a result of the debate, Albo, recognizing the need for a good theological work for the defense of Judaism, composed his best-known book, the Sefer ha-Ikkarim (Book of Principles), completed in 1425. It soon became one of the most popular works on Jewish theology. It was first printed at Soncino in 1485, and later editions with commentaries were published at Fribourg (1584) and at Venice (1618). In this work Albo attempted to determine precisely the essential beliefs of Judaism. Four tractates make up the work. The first, which serves as a general introduction, discusses the bases of all true religion, which are Albo's three "principles": the existence of God, divine revelation, and reward and punishment. In the three following tractates the author studies in detail each of these three basic principles and their consequences. In this way he sets forth a complete system of Jewish theology, sometimes following maimonides and sometimes Crescas and borrowing much from his contemporary Simeon ben Tzemah Duran. Like Crescas, he detached himself from the pure intellectualism of the earlier Jewish philosophers and placed the goal of human life not only in intellectual but also in religious and moral perfection. Jewish writers, e.g., Isaac abrabanel, have noted Albo's seeming indifference toward the Jewish belief in a coming Messiah.

See Also: jewish philosophy.

Bibliography: j. albo, Sefer ha-Ikkarim, tr. i. husik, 5 v. in 4 (Philadelphia 192930), a critical ed. of the Hebrew text with Eng. tr. i. husik, A History of Medieval Jewish Philosophy (2d ed. New York 1930; pa. 1958); "Joseph Albo: The Last of the Jewish Mediaeval Philosophers," Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 1 (192830). g. vajda, Introduction à la pensée juive du moyen âge (Paris 1947) 18689, 286. a. tÄnzer, Die Regionsphilosophie des Joseph Albo (Frankfurt 1896).

[a. brunot]

Albo, Joseph (c. 1380–c. 1444)

views updated May 08 2018

(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)

Albo, Joseph

views updated May 23 2018

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.