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Falaquera, Shem Tov ben Joseph ibn


FALAQUERA, SHEM TOV BEN JOSEPH IBN (1223/8–after 1290), philosopher, translator, commentator, poet, and encyclopedist. Falaquera was born in Spain between 1223 and 1228; his last known work refers to events in 1290. Various etymologies have been suggested for his name, which was the name of a prominent Jewish family in Tudela. Hebrew spellings include פלקריי ,פלאקיר ,בלקירה ,פלכרה ,פלקירה ,פלקירא. European spellings include Falaquera, Palquera, Palaquera, Palquira, Palqira, Palkira, Palkera, Phalkira, Phalchera.

Most of Falaquera's prose works survive, many in multiple editions or manuscripts, but Falaquera testifies that half of his prolific youthful poetry (totaling some 20,000 verses) was lost, and in later life, although he abandoned his poetic career, he continued to intersperse poetry with his prose works. Some of this poetry was humorous. "Time said to the fool: Be a doctor / You can kill people and take their money / You'll have an advantage over the angels of death / For they kill a man, but for free." His prose is also marked by occasional humor. His last known work, in defense of *Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed, plays on the name of the philosopher's opponent Solomon Petit and calls him peti (fool).

We do not know how Falaquera supported himself. Repeated references to poverty in some of his writings may indicate personal indigence. We also have no evidence whether he ever married or had a family. With only a few exceptions, Falaquera's references to women were generally quite negative and even misogynist. In one of his poems he aims his barbs at women: "Let your soul not trust in a woman / A woman is a spread net and pit (Proverbs 1:17, 22:14) / How can we still believe that she is honest [straight] / For woman was taken from a rib?" If the "Seeker" in his Book of the Seeker represents Falaquera himself (since the Seeker's curriculum would have made him approximately Falaquera's age at the time he composed the book), and if the "Seeker" is patterned after the character Kalkol in his earlier Epistle on Ethics, we may be able to infer from Kalkol's never marrying (because he did not want to waste his time or strength on women, or to become entrapped by them) that Falaquera himself never married for similar reasons.

Modern scholarly interest in Falaquera, going back to the early stages of *Wissenschaft des Judentums, began with Leopold *Zunz's doctoral disseration, "De Schemtob Palkira" (Halle University, December 21, 1820) on the life, times, and doctrines of Falaquera. In 1857 Solomon *Munk published Falaquera's Hebrew paraphrase of selections from the lost Arabic original of the Fons Vitae, on the basis of which Munk determined that the previously unknown and presumably Arab author was actually the Hebrew poet and philosopher Solomon ibn *Gabirol. Over the next century most of Falaquera's works were published (some with translations into European languages). The latter decades of the 20th century saw a resurgence of interest in Falaquera, with books, major studies, and doctoral dissertations by R.K. Barkan, G. Dahan, S. Harvey, M.H. Levine, A. Melamed, D. Schwartz, Y. Shiffman, L. Stitskin, M. Zonta. R. Jospe's Torah and Sophia: The Life and Thought of Shem Tov ibn Falaquera (Cincinnati, 1988) includes a biography, descriptions of Falaquera's works, and systematic survey of his philosophy, with a special study of his psychology.


We know of eighteen works by Falaquera, all written in Hebrew, in line with Falaquera's aim of spreading philosophy among the Jewish people. Based on internal evidence, in their probable chronological order they are the following:

1. Battei Hanhagat ha-NefeshBatei Hanhagat Guf ha-Bari (Verses on the Regimen of the Healthy Body and Soul), a composite of two works on health and ethics, published by S. Munter (Tel Aviv, 1950).

2. Iggeret ha-Musar (Epistle on Ethics), a *maqama (prose narrative interspersed with verse), replete with Jewish and Arabic ethical maxims, recounting the adventures of a youth, Kalkol, in search of wisdom. Edited by A.M. Haberman (Jerusalem, 1936), this early work forms a model for Falaquera's later and larger Book of the Seeker.

3. Ẓori ha-Yagon (The Balm for Sorrow), also a maqama, containing rabbinic and philosophic consolations, in several editions; critical edition with annotated English translation and a survey of the consolation genre of literature by R.K. Barkan (Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1971).

4. Megillat ha-Zikkaron (The Scroll of Remembrance). The work, of which Falaquera says elsewhere "in which I discuss times past, for at this time hordes of troubles come upon us daily," probably chronicling Jewish sufferings, is not extant.

5. Iggeret ha-Vikku'aḥ (The Epistle of the Debate). The subtitle of the book is Be-Ve'ur ha-Haskamah asher bein ha-Torah ve-ha-Ḥokhmah (Explaining the Harmony Between the Torah and Philosophy). A popular work, much of it written in rhymed prose, the book describes a debate between a ḥasid, a pious traditionalist Jew and a ḥakham, a philosopher, and is deeply indebted to Ibn Rushd's Faṧl al-Maqal (Decisive Treatise). S. Harvey's Falaquera's Epistle of the Debate: An Introduction to Jewish Philosophy (Cambridge, ma, 1987; Italian: Genova, 2005) includes a critical edition of the Hebrew text with annotated English translation and valuable appendices. Harvey (1992) has also suggested persuasively that the debate is patterned on the Maimonidean controversy of the 1230s. A Latin translation of the Epistle with French notes and introduction was published by G. Dahan (in Sefarad, 39 (1979), 1–112).

6. Reshit Ḥokhmah (The Beginning of Wisdom), an encyclopedic introduction to the sciences in three parts: i – On the moral qualities necessary for the study of science; ii – The enumeration of the sciences; iii – The necessity of philosophy for the attainment of felicity; the philosophy of Plato and the philosophy of Aristotle. Major portions of the book, which was edited by M. David (Berlin, 1902), are paraphrases of Arabic philosophers, especially Al-Farabi.

7. Sefer ha-Ma'alot (The Book of Degrees), an ethical work describing the corporeal, spiritual, and divine degrees of human perfection. The term ma'alot, degrees, also means virtues. Those of the divine rank are the most perfect people, namely the prophets, who no longer exist. Those of the spiritual rank are the true philosophers. Most people are of the corporeal rank, enslaved to their bodily needs. The book, a sequel to Reshit Ḥokhmah, but unlike the former an original work of Falaquera's own ideas, was one of three Hebrew books in the library of the 15th century Italian Christian philosopher Pico della Mirandola. Leopold *Zunz first wished to publish this book, but found only one manuscript, and it was eventually published by L. Venetianer (Berlin, 1894).

8. Sefer ha-Mevakkesh (The Book of the Seeker). The book was composed in Ḥeshvan, 5024 (= Oct.–Nov. 1263) when Falaquera was past 35 and approaching 40 years of age. A maqama expanding on the theme of the youthful seeker of wisdom (like his earlier Epistle on Ethics), the book surveys the arts and professions, as well as the sciences (only the sciences had been presented in his Reshit Ḥokhmah), culminating in philosophy. Several 19th- and early 20th-century editions of the book exist. M.H. Levine prepared a critical edition and translation of Part i in his Ph.D. thesis (Columbia University, 1954), and his translation was revised and published separately (New York, 1976).

9. De'ot ha-Philosofim (The Opinions of the Philosophers). This voluminous work, only minor sections of which have been published, is a major encyclopedia of the sciences, extending over some 600 pages in ms. Parma – De Rossi 164 (= Jewish National and Hebrew University Library microfilm 13897) and ms. Leyden 20 (= Jewish National and Hebrew University Library microfilm 17368). It was written to propagate philosophy and science among the Jews, and quotes extensively from Arabic sources. R. Jospe (1988) published a table of contents of the work, aspects of which were analyzed by S. Harvey, G. Freudenthal, A. Ivry, and M. Zonta in The Medieval Hebrew Encyclopedias of Science and Philosophy, ed. S. Harvey, (Dordrecht, 2000). Falaquera states that his purpose in composing the work was to teach true philosophy to the Jews, distinguishing true opinions from those which have not been demonstrated and are mere conjecture; and to provide a convenient and systematic collection of the opinions of the philosophers in accurate Hebrew translation, which would also serve as "a review book for me in old age."

10. Sefer ha-Nefesh (The Book of the Soul). The first systematic Hebrew work of psychology, the book was published in several 19th- and early 20th-century editions. A critical edition with annotated English translation and extensive discussion was published by R. Jospe (1988). The book, which frequently reviews material earlier discussed in De'ot ha-Philosophim, reflects (and in places paraphrases) classical and Arabic sources, prominent among them Ibn Rushd, Ibn Sina, and Isḥaq ibn Ḥunain.

11. Shelemut ha-Ma`asim (The Perfection of Actions). An annotated edition of this work on ethics in ten chapters was published by R. Jospe (1988). The first six chapters of the book, as B. Chiesa has shown (in A. Vivian, ed., Biblische und judaistische Studien, Festschrift fuer Paolo Sacchi [Frankfurt am Main, 1990], 583–612), are for the most part an abridged translation of the Summa Alexandrinorum, an epitome of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. The last four chapters reflect Arabic ethical literature, especially Ḥunain ibn Isḥaq's Adabal-Falasifah (Aphorisms of the Philosophers). Typically, Falaquera translated anew or paraphrased those Arabic passages he was interested in citing – as he also did in his other works – and did not take advantage of existing Hebrew translations, such as Judah Al-Ḥarizi's translation of the Adab, the Musarei ha-Filosofim.

12. Iggeret ha-Ḥalom (The Treatise of the Dream). Edited by H. Malter (in jqr, n.s. 1, 1910/11, 451–501), this treatise does not deal with dreams (as some scholars thought), but derives its name from a superscription by a copyist about the author: "He said that he saw in a dream that he was composing this treatise, and when he awoke, he engaged in it, and this is its beginning." The treatise begins: "A treatise [literally: epistle] collecting words of peace and truth." Maimonides had understood Zechariah 8:19 ("Love truth and peace") as referring to intellectual and moral perfection, and Falaquera's division of Part i (Peace), dealing with physical and spiritual well-being, and Part ii (Truth), dealing with truth in speech and actions, and speculative truth, reflects Maimonides' interpretation.

13. Sefer ha-Derash (The Book of Interpretation). The work is not extant. It was probably a rationalistic commentary on aggadic passages in the Talmud or Midrash. Fragmentary citations in later authors (published by R. Jospe and D. Schwartz, 1993) may be taken from this work. (See below, Perush).

14. Perush (Bible Commentary). Falaquera's Bible Commentary is no longer extant. However, Samuel ibn Seneh Zarza's commentary on the Torah, Mekor Ḥayyim, which frequently deals with the commentaries of Abraham Ibn Ezra, also cites Falaquera in twenty-six passages; these citations, presumably taken from Falaquera's Bible commentary, were published with English translation by R. Jospe (1988). Nineteen additional citations to Falaquera are found in Zarza's Mikhlol Yofi, a commentary to rabbinic derashot (homilies) and aggadot (lore). Of these nineteen, seven are identical with passages cited in Mekor Ḥayyim. Since the Mikhlol Yofi is a commentary on rabbinic texts, and since eight of the remaining twelve citations make no reference to a biblical verse, it may well be that the twelve, or at least these eight, citations are not from Falaquera's Bible Commentary but from his Book of Interpretation. The twelve passages in question were published with English translation and discussion by R. Jospe and D. Schwartz (1993). The surviving fragmentary citations support the view that both commentaries, on the Bible and on rabbinic texts, were frequently philosophical in approach.

15. Moreh ha-Moreh (The Guide to the Guide). One of the very first commentaries to Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed, Falaquera's work is unusual in its philosophic precision and breadth; in its extensive citations of Arabic sources and comparisons of Maimonides' opinions with those sources; and in its new and precise translation of those sections of the Guide discussed by Falaquera. The title is usually understood as a play on the title of Maimonides' book, but based on Falaquera's own explanation of the name in the Introduction, it could also be called "The Guide of the Rebellious," namely as correcting the opinions of those who oppose and misinterpret Maimonides' Guide. It was first published by M.S. Bisliches (Pressburg, 1837); an annotated, critical edition with commentary and extensive research into Falaquera's Arabic sources was published by Y. Shiffman (Jerusalem, 2001). Falaquera cites Ibn Rushd so frequently throughout the book that he does not refer to him by name, but simply refers to him as ha-ḥakham ha-nizkar ("the mentioned philosopher"). The third appendix to the book entails a detailed and careful critique of Samuel ibn Tibbon's Hebrew translation of the Guide of the Perplexed.

16. Likkutim mi-Sefer Mekor Ḥayyim (Selections from [Solomon ibn Gabirol's] Fons Vitae). This text is extant in two manuscripts. The Paris manuscript was published with an annotated French translation by S. Munk in his Mélanges de Philosophie Juive et Arabe (Paris, 1857; reprinted 1927); the Parma manuscript was edited with an annotated Italian translation by R. Gatti (Genova, 2001). The Selections eliminate the dialogical form of Solomon ibn Gabirol's original, and may reflect agreement with Abraham ibn Daud's criticism that Gabirol's "words could be included in less than one tenth of that book," and that he had substituted many untrue arguments for one true demonstration. The Selections also occasionally rearrange the order of the original, perhaps in accordance with what Gabirol himself said (3:1), that he had not followed any specific order and that the student should reorder the arguments as appropriate. Occasionally the Selections are nearly identical with the original, and sometimes even longer, including examples or illustrations not found in Gabirol's work.

17. Likkutim mi-Sefer ha-Aẓamim ha-Ḥamishah (Selections from the Book of the Five Substances). Also an abridged Hebrew translation or paraphrase of passages from a Neo-Platonic, Pseudo-Empedoclean work, this work was published by David Kaufmann in Studien ueber Salomon ibn Gabirol (Budapest, 1899).

18. Mikhtav al Devar ha-Moreh (Letter Concerning the Guide [ of the Perplexed ]). Falaquera's last known work, the letter in defense of Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed against opponents of philosophy was written in 5050 (= 1290 c.e.). Falaquera mocks Maimonides' opponents, comparing them to Korah's rebellion against Moses. Part of the problem results from the anti-rationalists' ignorance of philosophy and Arabic, and the inadequacy of the two Hebrew translations of the Guide, especially the second translation, by Judah Al-Harizi. The letter is included anonymously at the end of Abba Mari ben Moses Ha-Yarḥi's Minḥat Kena'ot, ed. M.L. Bisliches (Pressburg, 1838), pp. 182–185, and at the end of Iggerot Kena'ot, pp. 23–24 (Part 3 of Koveẓ Teshuvot ha-Rambam ve-Iggerotav, 1859).


Since Falaquera considered philosophy to be necessary for attaining ultimate human felicity, and believed in the harmony of revealed and rational truth, he wrote many of his works with the explicit aim of propagating the study of philosophy among the Jewish people by making it available in Hebrew translation.

These works, which can be characterized as text-books, encyclopedic surveys or introductions to philosophy, were often replete with new Hebrew translations or paraphrases (typically abridged) from Arabic philosophical literature, even in cases like the Guide of the Perplexed and the Aphorisms of the Philosophers for which Hebrew translations already existed, because of Falaquera's insistence on accuracy, terminological consistency and stylistic clarity.

His competence in philosophy and his critical sense for nuance led him to juxtapose, compare and contrast diverse philosophical opinions. Since true human perfection is intellectual, dissemination of philosophy in Hebrew and rebuttal of its opponents serve a religious as well as a cultural need.

A consistent theme in Falaquera's works is the harmony of faith and reason. The Torah and philosophy, when both are properly understood, are "sisters" and "twins." The rabbinic saying, "Rabbi Meir found a pomegranate; he ate what was within and discarded the peel" (bt Ḥagigah 15b) means that one should accept in philosophy what is true and in accord with the Torah. Reason can verify religious truth, and faith perfects reason.

To reject philosophy because some philosophers have erred is (in an image borrowed from Ibn Rushd) like denying water to a person dying of thirst, just because some people have drowned. A Jew should learn the truth from any source, as one takes honey from a bee. For "all nations share in the sciences; they are not peculiar to one people;" and "Accept the truth from whoever utters it; look at the content, not at the speaker" (Sefer ha-Ma'alot).

Falaquera's rationalism is manifest throughout his works, including his Bible exegesis and his specific treatises. He equates the Platonic doctrine of creation with that of Genesis, and he reads his intellectualism into Biblical ethics, to derive an extreme asceticism with misogynic overtones. Falaquera's position (Shelemut ha-Ma'asim, ch. 6, following the Summa Alexandrinorum, an epitome of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics) emphasizing the priority of contemplation and rejecting ethics as the ultimate human end, is more extreme than that of Aristotle himself, for whom the external causes or goods required for ethics can become an impediment to perfection and contemplation (theoria), whereas for Falaquera the ethical involvement and social commitments themselves impede contemplation (Hebrew: eẓah; Arabic: ra'y). Despite Falaquera's clear concern for the philosophic education of his people, he believed that genuine felicity is attained by the "solitary" (mitboded) individual, who is isolated not physically but spiritually from the external distractions of society and the internal interference of the appetites.

Knowledge of God begins, for Falaquera, with self-knowledge, i.e., knowledge of one's soul. We find throughout his works statements reflecting the Delphic Maxim, "Know yourself." Thus: "Know your soul, O Man, and you will know your Creator." By the science of psychology, a person "will know his soul and his Creator." Psychology is, therefore, prior to all the other sciences: "Knowledge of the soul is prior to the knowledge of God, and … is the most excellent form of knowledge after the knowledge of God" (Sefer ha-Nefesh, Introduction; De'ot ha-Philosofimvi:a:1).

Falaquera was not an original thinker of the first order, nor did he claim to be original; but the breadth and depth of his knowledge of Judaism, philosophy, and science make him an important figure in the history of Jewish philosophy. The pioneering philosophical efforts of earlier luminaries attained an enduring impact through their consolidation and popularization by philosophers like Falaquera, whose contribution is no less important for the fact that their light was often a reflected one.


I. Efros, "Palquera's Reshit Hokmah and Alfarabi's Ihsa al `Ulum," in: jqr, n.s. 25 (1934–35), 227–35; P. Fenton, "Shem Tov ibn Falaquera ve-ha-Te'ologiyah shel Aristo," in: Da'at (1992), 27–39; S. Harvey, "Falaquera's Epistle of the Debate and the Maimonidean Controversy of the 1230s," in: R. Link-Salinger (ed.), Torah and Wisdom: Studies in Jewish Philosophy, Kabbalah and Halacha: Essays in Honor of Arthur Hyman (1992), 75–86; S. Harvey, "Mekoran shel ha-Muva'ot min ha-Etica le-Aristo ba-Moreh u-ve-Moreh ha-Moreh," in: A. Ravitzky (ed.), From Rome to Jerusalem: J. Sermonetta Memorial Volume (1998), 87–102; R. Jospe, "Rejecting Moral Virtue as the Ultimate Human End," in: W.M. Brinner and S.D. Ricks (eds.), Studies in Islamic and Judaic Traditions (1986), 185–204; idem, "Ikkarei ha-Yahadut shel R. Shem Tov ibn Falaquera," in: S. Heller-Willensky and M. Idel (eds.), Studies in Jewish Thought (1989), 291–301; R. Jospe and D. Schwartz, "Shem Tov ibn Falaquera's Lost Bible Commentary," in: huca, 64 (1993), 167–200; H. Malter, "Shem Tob ben Joseph Palquera: A Thinker of the Thirteenth Century," in: jqr, n.s. 1 (1910–11), 151–81; A. Melamed, The Philosopher-King in Medieval and Renaissance Jewish Political Thought (2003); S. Munk, Melanges de Philosophie Juive et Arabe (1857; reprint, 1927); M. Steinschneider, Uebersetzungen, 5ff., 37ff., 356, 380, 422ff., 989; Y. Shiffman, "Shem Tov Falaquera ke-Farshan Moreh Nevukhim la-Rambam: Kavim le-Haguto," in: Maimonidean Studies 3 (1992–3), 1–29; L. Stitskin, Eight Jewish Philosophers in the Tradition of Personalism (1979), 134–40; M. Zonta, Un Dizionario Filosofico Ebraico del xiii Secolo: L'introduzione al "Sefer De'ot ha-Filosofim" di Shem Tob ibn Falaquera (1992); M. Zonta, Un Interprete Ebreo della Filosofia di Galeno: Gli Scritti Filosofici di Galeno Nell'opera di Shem Tob ibn Falaquera (1995); idem, La Filosofia antica nel Medioevo Ebraico (Brescia, 1996), 204–12.

[Raphael Jospe (2nd ed.)]

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