Bibago, Abraham ben Shem Tov

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BIBAGO, ABRAHAM BEN SHEM TOV (15th century), Spanish scholar, religious philosopher, commentator on Aristotelian works, and preacher. His name is also spelled Bivach. Bibago was born in the province of Aragon. He first resided in Huesca, where, in his youth, he completed a commentary on Aristotle's Posterior Analytics, and where there is reference to his having a wife and children (1446). Bibago seems to have been forced out of his community; in his own words, "for they suspected me for my studying the books of the Greeks … and I was wandering and alone, away from my land and the place of my desire, exiled among the nations." Bibago presumably outgrew or overcame his reputation as a radical. In 1465 he participated in the conversion of a Maranno in Huesca. He later settled in Saragossa, where he was head of the yeshivah (c. 1470), and preached publicly on Sabbaths and festivals. He engaged in numerous disputations with Christian scholars at the court of Juan ii, king of Aragon, on the Trinity and other Christian tenets, and for this reason kept abreast of Christian theology and scholastic philosophy. He died before the Inquisition's trial and execution in 1489 of the participants in the Huesca conversion years before, including Bibago's brother Isaac, a physician.


Bibago knew Arabic and Latin, and his works are replete with references to Greek, Latin, and Arabic as well as a wide variety of Hebrew sources, including the Kabbalah. He knew the works of Aristotle and wrote commentaries to several of his books, including Posterior Analytics (preserved in Vatican ms. 350 and Paris ms. 959), Physics (no longer extant), and Metaphysics (Munich ms. 357), based on the Middle Commentaries of *Averroes. Among the Greeks, he quotes Euclid, Galen, Ptolemy, Alexander of Aphrodisias, Themistius, Apollonius of Perga and others. Among Christian sources, he quotes the Gospels, Eusebius, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and Thomas Aquinas. Among the Arabic philosophers, besides Averroes he mentions, Al-Farabi, Avicenna, Al-Ghazali, Ibn Tufayl, and Avempace. Many of his numerous works, including on medicine and astronomy, and some of his philosophical works, have not survived.

Bibago's Eẓ Ḥayyim ("Tree of Life") has survived in a single manuscript (Paris ms. 995), dealing with the creation of the world, and presenting arguments against the doctrine of eternity. Several of Bibago's letters to Moses *Arondi (who had also participated in the 1465 conversion) have survived (Parma ms. 457), as have a treatise on the multiple forms, which M. Steinschneider and A. Nuriel attribute to Bibago (Paris ms. 1004/1), and Zeh Yenaḥamenu ("He will comfort us," Gen. 5:29; printed in Salonika, 1522/3, and also found in Paris ms. 995 and Adler ms. 28), a homily for the first Sabbath of the year. Bibago's most important work is his Derekh Emunah ("Path of Faith"), probably written in Saragossa around 1480, and printed in Constantinople in 1521/2. (A defective photo-offprint, Jerusalem, 1970, is missing pp. 98–101). Annotated selections were published by Chava Fraenkel-Goldschmidt (Jerusalem, 1978). Four manuscripts of the book exist (Paris ms. 747 and ms. 995; Munich ms. 43; Cambridge Trinity College). The book is divided into three treatises. The first discusses the acts of God, His knowledge, and His providence; the second the intellect and its objects, faith and reason, sin, and related topics; and the third, the principles of the Jewish religion, miracles, creation, and special articles of faith.

His "Derekh Emunah" and Philosophy

M. Steinschneider called Bibago "a rational believer" ("Denkglaubigen"), and A. Altmann described him as a "staunchly … Orthodox thinker." Perhaps the experiences of his youth, when he felt his faith and piety were wrongly doubted, led him to insist on the supremacy of faith (thus, the name of his book, "the Path of Faith"), although he accepted the view of many of his predecessors that the ancient prophets and rabbis originally knew the sciences, and that in fact science had originated as Jewish wisdom, which subsequently became forgotten in exile. Since the ancient Jewish authors knew the rational truth, by accepting their truth on the authority of faith one shares in their rational knowledge without having to resort to speculation. Faith and reason thus differ in method but not in content. Indeed, since it is the conclusion that matters, once we have true conclusions, we do not need the speculative principles which led to those conclusions (de 70c).

Faith is thus both rational in content and superior to reason, because "faith itself is that by which the soul becomes actualized and immortal, and is thus the immortality itself … For the path of faith (derekh emunah) is what saves (moshi'ah) and provides immortality to the faithful nation … and gives perfection to conception and verification" (de 59c–60a). Rational speculation can only provide the basis of salvation for a few intellectuals, "but in faith, every person is saved, 'for the just will live by his faith' (Hab. 2:4)" (de 49d). Faith is thus the highest human perfection, and "I say that the ultimate purpose of miracles is the imparting of faith" (de 85b). In an interesting collective twist on Maimonides' intellectual theory of providence, Bibago suggests that since the Torah, teaching true faith, actualizes the Jews' intellects, the Jewish people enjoys special national providence. Faith thus provides for national as well as individual salvation.

Faith being both superior to reason and rational in content, Bibago opposed both the extreme opponents and proponents of philosophy. On the one hand, he sharply denounced the bigoted zealots "who retain the shell but reject the kernel, posing as pious before the multitude, while vilifying and mocking the master [i.e., Maimonides] and his disciples" (Derekh Emunah 45:4). On the other hand, however, he sharply criticized the destructive tendency of some of the rationalists in their pursuit of philosophy and free enquiry.


Bibago's views influenced Isaac *Arama, who refers to them, without, however, mentioning the author's name. It appears that Arama gained this knowledge through personal contact rather than through reading the Derekh Emunah (Wilensky, Yiẓḥak Arama, 44–5; cf. J.S. Delmedigo, Maẓref la-Ḥokhmah, 8b). Arama describes Bibago as "one of the most important scholars and philosophers of our people" (Akedat Yiẓḥak, Gate 80). Isaac *Abrabanel quotes the Derekh Emunah in his Rosh Amanah, without, however, mentioning its author's name. Jacob *Ibn Habib speaks highly of Bibago's scholarship, although he objects to his allegorical interpretation of talmudic passages (Ein Ya'akov, end of tractate Berakhot).


Baer, Spain, index, s.v.Abraham Bivach; Munk, Mélanges, 507; Graetz, Gesch, 8 (18903), 219ff.; Steinschneider, in: mgwj, 32 (1883), 79ff., 229; Steinschneider, Uebersetzungen, 89ff., and passim; S. Wilensky (Heller), Yiẓḥak Arama u-Mishnato ha-Filosofit (1956), index; Y. Hakker, in: Fifth World Congress of Jewish Studies, vol. 3 (1969); A. Altmann, "Moses Narboni's 'Epistle on Shi`ur Qoma,'" in: Studies in Religious Philosophy and Mysticism (1969), 209; A. Lazaroff, The Theology of Abraham Bibago (1981); A. Nuriel, Concealed and Revealed in Medieval Jewish Philosophy (Heb., 2000); idem, in: Tarbiz, 52 (1983), 154–66; C. Sirat, A History of Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages (1985), 384–89; R. Jospe, in: A.J.S. Newsletter, 33 (1983), 8–9.

[Raphael Jospe (2nd ed.)]