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Delmedigo, Elijah ben Moses Abba


DELMEDIGO, ELIJAH BEN MOSES ABBA (c. 1460–1497), philosopher and talmudist. Born in Candia, Crete, Delmedigo was also known as Elijah Cretensis. While still a young man he immigrated to Italy. He received a traditional Jewish education, and studied the classics of Islamic and Jewish philosophy, particularly the works of *Maimonides and *Averroes. In addition he became conversant with classical literature. His Jewish learning was recognized by his contemporaries as can be seen from an exchange of letters with Joseph *Colon, who addressed Delmedigo in terms of high regard (see Resp. Maharik, no. 54). Delmedigo served for a time as head of the yeshivah in Padua. He also delivered public lectures on philosophy in Padua and possibly other Italian cities. *Pico della Mirandola was among Delmedigo's Christian disciples and admirers. On the basis of his reputation as a philosopher, Delmedigo was chosen, under the patronage of the Venice authorities, to act as a mediator in a philosophic dispute which arose between two schools of Italian scholars, and his decision in favor of one side aroused hostility toward him on the part of the other. In addition to this animosity on the part of the Christians, a bitter controversy on a halakhic question developed between Delmedigo and the rabbi of Padua, Judah *Mintz, and after the death of his patron, Pico, in 1494, Delmedigo was compelled to leave Italy and return to his birthplace, where he was welcomed by Jews and Christians alike. There in 1496 he completed his major work, Behinat ha-Dat ("The Examination of Religion"), which he wrote at the request of one of his disciples Saul ha-Kohen *Ashkenazi. He remained in Crete until his death three years after his return.

The main subject of Delmedigo's Behinat ha-Dat (first published in 1629 in Ta'alumot Hokhmah of Judah Samuel *Ashkenazi; published a second time, together with a commentary, by I.S. *Reggio in 1833) is the relation between religion and philosophy. Basing himself on a text of Averroes, Delmedigo holds that the study of philosophy is permissible, affirming further that in cases of contradiction between religious faith and philosophic reasoning, the philosopher may interpret religious beliefs as to make them accord with philosophic truth. This, however, does not apply to the basic principles of faith. Every person, including the philosopher, is obligated to believe in the basic dogmas of religion, even when these appear to contradict philosophic truth. Recognizing the possible contradiction between religious principles and philosophic truths Delmedigo tended toward the double faith theory of the Christian Averroists. In Behinat ha-Dat Delmedigo also described rabbinic literature and attacked the Kabbalah. He argued against the antiquity of the Kabbalah, noting that it was not known to the sages of the Talmud, or to the geonim, or to *Rashi. He also denies that *Simeon b. Yohai was the author of the *Zohar, since that work mentions personalities who lived after the death of Simeon. In addition, he attacks the extreme allegorists among Jewish philosophers. In another section of his work he discusses the reasons underlying the commandments of the Torah (ta'amei ha-mitzvot). Delmedigo's importance in the history of philosophy rests in his making the teachings of Averroes known to the Italian scholars of the Renaissance, especially through his Latin translations of many of Averroes' works.

He composed the following translations: a translation, no longer extant, of Averroes' commentary on Plato's Republic; a translation of six of Averroes' questions on Aristotle's logic (Venice, 1497); a short translation of Aristotle's Meteorologia, and a translation of parts of Averroes' middle commentary on that work (Venice, 1488); a translation of parts one to seven of Averroes' middle commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics (Venice, 1560); a translation of Averroes' introduction to his large commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, man. latin, Ms. no. 6508); a translation of Averroes' De Spermate (Venice, 1560). In addition to his translations, Delmedigo composed the following original works in Latin: Questiones Tres, consisting of three sections: De Primo Motore, De Mundi Efficentia, and De Esse Essentia et Uno (Venice, 1501); a commentary on Aristotle's natural philosophy (Venice, 1480); a Latin and Hebrew commentary on Averroes' De Substantia Orbis, in Hebrew, Ma'amar be-Ezem ha-Galgal, and two questions on Averroes' theory of the hylic intellect (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Cod. héb., 968). A copy of Delmedigo's Behinat ha-Dat was found in the private library of *Spinoza, and it may be assumed that it influenced the development of Spinoza's ideas in the Theologico-Political Treatise.


Guttmann, Philosophies, 258–9, 263; M.D. Geffen, Faith and Reason in Elijah del Medigo's Behinat ha–Dat… (1970); microfilm); U. Cassuto, Ha-Yehudim be-Firenzi bi-Tekufat ha-Renaissance (1967), index, s.v.Elia del Medigo; Graetz, Hist, 4 (1894), 290–5; J.S. Delmedigo, Mazref la-Hokhmah (1864), 10–11; Weiss, Dor, 5 (1904), 275–8; Munk, Mélanges, 510, n.2; Rippner, in: mgwj, 20 (1871), 481–94; J. Dukas, Recherches sur l'histoire littéraire du 15e siècle (1876), 25–77; HB, 21 (1881), 60–71; A. Huebsch, in: mgwj, 31 (1882), 555–63; idem, ibid., 32 (1883), 28; J. Perles, Beitraege zur Geschichte der hebraeischen und aramaeischen Studien (1884), 196; M. Steinschneider, in: mgwj, 37 (1893), 185–8; Guttmann, in: Jewish Studies in Memory of Israel Abrahams (1927), 192–208 (Ger.); A. Geiger, Melo Chofnajim (1840), xxii and xxiv.

[Jacob S. Levinger]

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