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EMPEDOCLES ° (fifth century b.c.e.), Greek poet, prophet, and natural philosopher who set forth the doctrine of the four elements, which dominated Arabic, Hebrew, and Latin thought in the Middle Ages. Empedocles is known in medieval Jewish circles through stray references to him and his work, mainly found in the works of Aristotle, which were translated into Arabic and then into Hebrew. The form of his name in the Hebrew translations from the Arabic follows the Arabic form, that is, Abnduqlīs, Abīduqlīs, and others. In translations from the Latin, the Latin form is found. Empedocles' name was taken over by late Greek neoplatonic circles and affixed to treatises later translated into Arabic, which became known to medieval Jewish thinkers. The main representative of this literature is the Book of the Five Substances. The Arabic version is lost but it is partially preserved in a Hebrew translation, published by D. Kaufmann as an appendix to his Studien ueber Salomon ibn Gabirol (1899).

Among medieval Jewish philosophers, Shem Tov ibn Falaquera mentions that Solomon ibn Gabirol's Source of Life was influenced by the Book of the Five Substances (S. Munk, Mélanges, 1). Joseph ibn Zaddik refers to the true conception of the will as a secret whose true meaning may be derived from the Book of Empedocles or works by other philosophers written on these subjects. Judah Halevi twice refers to Empedocles as the head of a philosophic school, in his Kuzari (4:25 and 5:14). Maimonides, in his famous letter to Samuel ibn Tibbon, states that one should not waste one's time studying the works of Empedocles, which form a part of ancient (pre-Aristotelian) philosophy (A. Marx, in: jqr, 25 (1935), 380).


Stern, in: EI2, s.v.Anbadukīs; Steinschneider, Uebersetzungen, index; D. Kaufmann, Geschichte der Attributenlehre (repr. 1967), index; A. Altmann and S.M. Stern, Isaac Israeli, A Neoplatonic Philosopher … (1958), index.

[Lawrence V. Berman]