Ḥibat Allah, Abu Al-Barakāt (Nathanel) ben All (Eli) Al-Baghdādī

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ḤIBAT ALLAH, ABU AL-BARAKĀT (Nathanel) BEN ALL (Eli) AL-BAGHDĀDĪ (second half 11th–first half 12th century), philosopher, physician, and biblical commentator. Abu al-Barakāt spent most of his life in Baghdad. He was a well-known physician and served at the court of Caliph al-Mustanjid (1160–70). At the age of 60 he converted from Judaism to Islam. Maimonides mentions him in his Ma'amar Tehḥiyyat ha-Metim (ed. J. Finkel, in: paajr, 9 (1939), 13 [Heb.]), holding that his doctrine of the soul is incorrect and that he follows in the footsteps of the Islamic theologians, the mutakallimūn (see *Kalām), rather than in those of the true philosophers. In 1143 Abu al-Barakāt composed an extensive Arabic commentary on Ecclesiastes (extant in manuscripts in Oxford and Leningrad), dictating it to his pupil, Isaac, the son of Abraham ibn Ezra, who in the introduction to this work wrote a long poem in praise of his teacher. (Considerable portions of the commentary have been edited by Poznański in zhb, 16 (1913), 32–36.) Abu al-Barakāt was perhaps the author also of a Hebrew grammar written in Arabic (manuscript in Leningrad; see Harkavy, in zaw, 1 (1881), 159). Arabic bibliographers name the following medical writings by Abu al-Barakāt: "Ikhtiṣār al-Tashrīḥ" a compendium of anatomy according to Galen; "Ḥawāshī," annotations to Book i of Avicenna's Canon; a handbook of antidotes in three treatises; and studies on two remedies compounded by Abu al-Barakāt, one of which is described by the Aramaic name bar sha'ata.


Abu al-Barakāt's major work, written while he was still a Jew, is entitled Kitāb al-Muʿtabar, a title which S. Pines (see bibliography) renders as "the book of what has been established by personal reflection." This translation suggests the author's conception of the history of philosophy and the task of the philosopher. In his view, the ancient philosophers transmitted their teachings orally but only to persons qualified to receive them. Although their teachings were later set down in writing, it was merely in outline form, and when in following periods philosophers attempted to interpret them, they did not always succeed. Thus, much of the history of philosophy is a record of intellectual confusion and misinterpretation. Abu al-Barakāt therefore saw no need to base his philosophy on the teachings and interpretations of earlier philosophers, and claimed that his philosophy resulted from his own reflection on matters. While this claim is exaggerated, his book contains much that is novel.


Of special significance in the Kitāb al-Muʿtabar is Abu al-Barakāt's critique of certain physical, psychological, and metaphysical notions accepted by Aristotle and his followers. Two examples are his critiques of the Aristotelian conceptions of time and space. Aristotle had defined time as the measure of motion, thereby making time a property of the corporeal world. Rejecting this definition, Abu al-Barakāt held that time is a measure of being. In his view, the human mind knows a priori, immediately, and with certainty that being exists and concomitantly that time accompanies being. Hence, time is absolute and independent of the world. Since Abu al-Barakāt also maintained that there is no essential difference between the existence of God and that of other beings, it follows from his description of time that God exists in time – a proposition that Aristotelians deny. Again, Aristotle defined space as the inner surface of a surrounding body, thereby making it a property of bodies. But Abu al-Barakāt identified space with three-dimensionality, which can exist apart from bodies. Moreover, in his view space can be infinite. Abu al-Barakāt's account of motion was also unique. Aristotle held that a constant force produces a uniform motion, the velocity of which is proportional to the force that engenders it. Abu al-Barakāt's discussions seem to imply that a constant force produces an accelerated motion, a proposition that appears later in Newtonian physics. Abu al-Barakāt's definition of time shows a similarity to that of Abraham bar Ḥiyya (early 12th century), and his conception of space and some of his other physical notions show a similarity to the teachings of Ḥasdai Crescas (c. 1340–c. 1412). However, there is no evidence that Abu al-Barakāt influenced either of them.


Abu al-Barakāt mainly followed the psychological doctrines of *Avicenna, himself an innovating interpreter of Aristotle, but with certain disagreements. Aristotle based his analysis of the soul on various functions of organic substances, but Avicenna held that for man self-consciousness is the primary given. From this observation Avicenna concluded that the human soul exists in some fashion apart from the body. However, he limited self-consciousness to the rational part of the soul. Abu al-Barakāt agrees with Avicenna that self-consciousness is central, but differs in holding that it applies to the soul in its totality and not to the intellect alone.


Abu al-Barakāt's metaphysical position is also anti-Aristotelian. He rejected the notion of negative attributes (see *God, Attributes of), accepted by many Aristotelians, maintaining that positive qualities can be attributed to God and that these qualities are common to both God and man, though they are found first in God, their prime exemplar, and secondly in other beings. Contrary to the Aristotelians, too, is his view that God knows individuals and particulars, not only His own essence. Abu al-Barakāt also reflected on creation of the world, discussing the arguments of those who accept it as well as those who oppose it. His own opinion is not clear, but it appears that he believed in the eternity of the world.

Abu al-Barakāt had a distinct influence on Muslim philosophy. Even his critics accepted some of his ideas. Other philosophical writings mentioned by bibliographers include Maqāla fī Sabab Ẓuhūr al-Kawākib Laylan wa-Khafāʾihā Nahāran ("A Study of the Reason for the Visibility of the Stars by Night and their Invisibility by Day"), "Risāla fī alʿAql wa-Māhiyyatihi ("A Study of the Intellect and its Nature"), and "Fī al-Qaḍāʾ wa'l-Qadar" ("On Fate and Destiny").


S. Pines, in: eis2, s.v.Abu'l Barakat; idem, in: Scripta Hierosolymitana, 6 (1960), 120–98; idem, in: rej, 103 (1938), 3–64; 104 (1938), 1–3; idem, Nouvelles études sur Awḥad al-Zamān Abu'l Barakāt al-Baghdādī (1955); idem, in: Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen âge, 21 (1954), 21–98; idem, Beitraege zur islamischen Atomenlehre (1936), 82–83; Steinschneider, Arab Lit., 182–6; idem, in: jqr, 13 (1900/01), 93ff.; S. Poznański, in: mgwj, 49 (1905), 50–52.

[Encyclopaedia Judaica (Germany)]