Saadya [Addendum] 882–942

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Saadya's intellectual career was characterized by polemic and defense of rabbinic Judaism. As head (gaon ) of the rabbinic academy of Sura in Babylonia in the first third of the tenth century, Saadya felt compelled to respond to the Karaites, those who challenged the authority of rabbinic Judaism. Saadya's major philosophical work, written in Arabic, Kitāb al-Āmānāt wa'l-Iʿtiqādāt (The book of doctrines and beliefs) should be understood in large part as a defense against the Karaites. Following the Muslim Muʿtazilites, who emphasized divine justice and unity, Saadya's Āmānāt focuses on creation, divine unity, divine law and justice, and reward and punishment in this world and posthumously.

Prefacing the particular discussions just noted, Saadya outlines the sources of human knowledge and understanding, and of error. The senses can be unreliable, reason may be derailed if inferential skills are lacking, and overarching all of this is the propensity to impatience in inquiry. For Saadya, the sources of error and doubt are both intellectual and moral. Human beings are frail creatures, and as a result, out of benevolence God provided humankind with a superhuman source of insight and true beliefthe prophetic traditionencapsulated in scripture and in the oral tradition of the rabbis. In advance of people's (slowly and laboriously) discovering the truth unaided, God has provided them the answers through his prophets. In this way revelation and reason, revealed religion, and rational speculation coincide over time. Revelation provides an anchor for humans as they quest for knowledge. As Alexander Altmann puts it on behalf of Saadya: "Revelation is not essentially superior, but historically prior to Reason and has an educational function in the evolution of humanity" (1946, p. 18 [2002]). Maimonides viewed Saadya's project as less than philosophical, assuming conclusions that ought to be proved. But Saadya's defense against this would be that revelation of the truth provides just the starting point for patient inquiry.

See also Jewish Philosophy.


works by saadya

Altmann, Alexander, tr. Saadya Gaon, The Book of Doctrines and Beliefs. Abridged edition. Oxford: East and West Library, 1946. Reprinted with a new introduction by Dan H. Frank. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2002.

works on saadya and the background of his thought

Altmann, Alexander. "Saadya's Conception of the Law." Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 28 (1944): 320339.

Altmann, Alexander. "Saadya's Theory of Revelation: Its Origin and Background." In Saadya Studies, edited by E. I. J. Rosenthal, 425. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1943.

Brody, Robert. The Geonim of Babylonia and the Shaping of Medieval Jewish Culture. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998.

Davidson, Herbert. Proofs for Eternity: Creation and the Existence of God in Medieval Islamic and Jewish Philosophy. 95106. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Davidson, Herbert. "Saadia's List of Theories of the Soul." In Jewish Medieval and Renaissance Studies, edited by Alexander Altmann, 7594. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967.

Davidson, Herbert. "The Study of Philosophy as a Religious Obligation." In Religion in a Religious Age, edited by S. D. Goitein, 5368. Cambridge, MA: Association for Jewish Studies, 1974.

Goodman, Lenn E., tr. The Book of Theodicy: Translation and Commentary on the Book of Job by Saadiah ben Joseph al-Fayyumi. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988.

Goodman, Lenn. "Maimonides' Responses to Saadya Gaon's Theodicy and Their Islamic Background." In Studies in Islamic and Judaic Traditions II, edited by W. M. Brinner and S. D. Ricks, 322. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989.

Goodman, Lenn. "Rational Law/Ritual Law." In A People Apart: Chosenness and Ritual in Jewish Philosophical Thought, edited by D. H. Frank, 109200. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.

Goodman, Lenn. "Saadiah Gaon's Interpretive Technique in Translating the Book of Job." In Translation of Scripture Jewish Quarterly Review, 4776. Philadelphia, 1990.

Stroumsa, Sarah. "Saadya and Jewish kalam." In The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Jewish Philosophy, edited by D. H. Frank and Oliver Leaman, 7190. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Wolfson, Harry A. The Philosophy of the Kalam. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976.

Wolfson, Harry A. Repercussions of the Kalam in Jewish Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979.

Daniel H. Frank (2005)