Abner of Burgos

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ABNER OF BURGOS (also Alfonso of Valladolid or of Burgos ; c. 1270–1340), apostate and anti-Jewish polemicist. Abner was practicing as a physician in Burgos in 1295, at the time of the appearance of the false prophet in *Avila. Some of those who had been confused by miraculous portents they had witnessed came to Abner for medical advice. Their reports shook Abner's own faith in Judaism, which was already troubled by doubts. The phenomenon of the sufferings of the Jews in exile and of the righteous had long disturbed him, and he experienced visions which he was unable to interpret. Finding no solution in the Bible or the doctrines of the Jewish and Arab philosophers, he turned to the New Testament and the works of the Christian theologians. Abner wrestled with this problem for 25 years. Jewish scholars tried to restore his faith, but he eventually became converted to Christianity when he was about 50. Some time after his conversion, he sent his disciple, Isaac b. Joseph ibn *Pollegar (Pulgar), a copy of a pamphlet setting forth his messianic theories. Pulgar responded with a work which he circulated among the Jewish communities in Spain. Abner subsequently published a number of books and tracts written in Hebrew and directed to Jews. Some were later translated into Castilian under his supervision. He also engaged in his old age in oral disputes with Jewish scholars, including *Moses b. Joshua of Narbonne. In 1334 he tried to convince the elders of Toledo that they had erred in fixing the date of Passover.

Abner was among the first apostates to formulate an ideological justification for conversion. He rejected the rationalist interpretations of the Torah current in his day and avoided taking a stand on the *Kabbalah, which was known to him. The theological system which he propounded accepts predestination, identified with astrological influences, as well as philosophic determinism. The theories expressed in his Iggeret ha-Gezerah ("Epistle on Fate") combine astrology with the doctrine of fatalism of Muslim theologians and the Christology of Paul and Augustine. Abner found the answer to the problem of salvation – individual salvation as well as the salvation of all Christians, who alone truly deserved the name "Israel" – in the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation, which he tried to ascribe to Aristotle and the aggadic Midrashim (following Raymond *Martini's Pugio Fidei). He proposed harsh measures for dealing with the Jewish question, including conversionist preaching, isolation of the Jews from the Christian population, and stirring up mob violence. These proposals he justified by means of malicious allegations about the Talmud. Following the example of the Karaites, Abner alleged that the Talmud contained an evil "Ten Commandments." He employed Karaite arguments against the Talmud in addition to the criticisms of contemporary rationalists and did not shrink from publishing blatant forgeries. He repeated current slanders that the Jews displayed a hostile and unethical attitude toward Gentiles and gave them a sharper edge.

Some of Abner's works have not yet been published and others have been lost, including his Milḥamot Adonai ("Wars of the Lord") which he wrote in Hebrew and translated into Castilian at the request of the Infanta Doña Blanca. Preserved in Castilian translation are Abner's major work Moreh Ẓedek ("Teacher of Righteousness"), under the title Mostrador de Justicia, and his tract Minḥat Kena'ot ("Offering of Zeal"), directed against Isaac Pulgar. In the original Hebrew are Sefer Teshuvot li-Meḥaref ("Refutation of the Blasphemer"), a reply to Pulgar and other minor polemics. Pulgar assembled his arguments against Abner in his Ezer ha-Dat ("Aid to Faith"), in which, as customary in the works of other polemicists, he quotes from Abner's writings. Ḥasdai *Crescas, in his Or Adonai, quotes whole passages from Abner's works in order to refute them. Subsequently, the apostates *Solomon ha-Levi of Burgos (Pablo de Santa María) and Joshua Lorki (Gerónimo de Santa Fe) drew upon Abner's arguments. In conjunction with the Pugio Fidei of Raymond Martini, Abner's writings served as source material for later polemics against Judaism in Spanish Christian literature in general.


Baer, Spain, index; Sefarad, index vols. 1–15, s.v.Abner de Burgos and Valladolid, Alfonso de; E. Ashkenazi, Divrei Ḥakhamim (1849), 37ff.; Graetz-Rabbinowitz, 5 (1896), 396–9; Y. Baer, in: Minḥah le David (1935), 198ff.; Baer, Urkunden, 1 pt. 2 (1936), 144, 521; idem, in: Tarbiz, 11 (1939/40), 188ff.; idem, in: Sefer ha-Yovel… G. Scholem (1958), 152–63 (Tarbiz, 27 (1957/58); J. Rosenthal, in: Meḥkarim… Âbraham A. Neumann (1962), 1–34 (Hebrew section); idem, in: Meḥkarim u-Mekorot, 1 (1967), 324–67: Guttmann, Philosophies, 230–2, 271–2.

[Zvi Avneri]