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Moses ben Joshua (ben Mar David) of Narbonne


MOSES BEN JOSHUA (Ben Mar David ) OF NARBONNE (Narboni , Lat., Maestre Vidal Bellsom [Blasom? ]; d. 1362), French philosopher and physician. Moses was born in Perpignan at the end of the 13th, or beginning of the 14th, century, to a family originally from Narbonne. As a youth he studied with his father and private tutors and was introduced to the study of Maimonides at the age of 13. In addition to the Bible, rabbinic literature, and Jewish philosophy, he studied general philosophy and medicine. Moses began his literary career in Perpignan, where he remained until 1344, and continued in Spain, writing most of his works there. Although he lived in various Spanish cities – he mentions Cervera, Barcelona, Soria, Toledo, and Burgos – he never completely severed his ties with Perpignan. He expressed nostalgia for the intellectual circles there and intended to return. He probably spoke Provençal and Catalan, and it is likely that he knew Arabic and some Latin. He shows no familiarity, however, with Christian thinkers, the major philosophical influence on him being Islamic thought, particularly Averroes, whose works he read in Hebrew translation. Moses, who is known primarily for his commentary on Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed and for his espousal of Averroes' teachings, is the author of some 20 works, an impressive number for the troubled period in which he lived. An early work, Ma'amar ba-Sekhel ha-Hiyyulani or Ma'amar be-Efsharut ha-Devekut, was written in Perpignan under conditions of siege and warfare; in Spain, as a physician, he undoubtedly had to cope with the bubonic plague of 1348–50 and, as a Jew, with the antisemitism that followed it. In 1349 he fled Cervera with the rest of the Jewish community, leaving his possessions and books behind. Before his work on Maimonides, Moses had written a number of commentaries and supercommentaries, most of them on Islamic philosophical texts. He composed major commentaries on al-*Ghāzalī's Maqāṣid al-Falāsifa ("Intentions of the Philosophers") and Ibn Ṭufayl's Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān, and a number of supercommentaries to Averroes' commentaries on Aristotle's works on logic, physics, metaphysics, astronomy, and psychology. Moses' commentary on the Guide (ed. by I. Euchel, and printed together with text of the Guide, 1791; ed. J. Goldenthal, 1852; the latter reprinted with text, 1946, and in Sheloshah Kadmonei Mefareshei ha-Moreh, 1961), his last work, begun in Toledo in 1355 and finished in Soria in 1362, was based on his thorough knowledge of Islamic philosophy. He opposed Maimonides' neoplatonic interpretations of Aristotle's doctrines, which Maimonides had derived from al-Fārābī and Avicenna, with Averroes' more purely Aristotelian interpretations. He criticized, in particular, Maimonides' discussion of the proofs for the existence of God, his concept of God, and his doctrine of divine attributes. In the following, more conservative centuries, critics such as Isaac *Arama, Isaac *Abrabanel, and Joseph *Delmedigo opposed his Averroistic critique of Maimonides' Guide and his clarification of points that Maimonides had left discreetly implicit. They also disparaged his difficult style of writing and highly eclectic, often confusing use of sources.

In Iggeret al Shi'ur Komah (ed. and tr. into English as Epistle on Shiur Qomah by A. Altmann in his Jewish Medieval and Renaissance Studies (1967), 225–88), one of his early works, Moses attempted a reconciliation between philosophy and Kabbalah, reflecting the influence of Joseph *Ibn Waqar. He pursued a similar direction in his commentary on Ibn ṭufayl's work (see G. Vajda, Recherches sur la philosophie et la Kabbale (1962), 396–403). Though more critical of kabbalistic concepts in his later years, Moses retained throughout his writings an affinity for the mystical phrase and symbol, a trait which has attracted recent scholarly attention (see Altmann's essay, ibid.). Averroes' doctrine of the conjunction of man's perfected intellect with the universal Agent Intellect that Moses accepted in his Ma'amar bi-Shelemut ha-Nefesh ("Treatise on the Perfection of the Soul," Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Ms. Heb., 988) resembles the mystic's experience of eternal being and loss of individuality in his relation to his creator. In his Ma'amar bi-Shelemut ha-Nefesh, Moses quoted almost the whole of Averroes' middle commentary on Aristotle's De Anima, as well as much of his "Treatise on the Possibility of Conjunction," to which he then added his own comments. Among Moses' other works are Ha-Ma'amar bi-Veḥirah ("Treatise on Free Will," ed. by E. Ashkenazi in Sefer Divrei Ḥakhamim (1849), 37–41), a polemical work written in answer to *Abner of Burgos'Minḥat Kena'ot, which expounds a theory of determinism; a number of medical treatises, in particular Oraḥ Ḥayyim, in which his reliance on classical and medieval sources is ostensibly tempered by an empirical approach; commentaries on Lamentations and Job; and four works which are no longer extant: a supercommentary on Abraham ibn Ezra's allegorical commentary on Genesis 2:2; Pirkei Moshe, a work containing philosophical aphorisms; a treatise on metaphysics; and a supercommentary on Averroes' commentary on Aristotle's De Caelo et Mundo.


Husik, Philosophy, index, s.v.Moses of Narbonne; Guttmann, Philosophies, 206–8, 225; Munk, Mélanges, 502–6; Ivry, in: jqr, 57 (1966/67), 271–97; Steinschneider, Cat. Bod, 1967–77; Steinschneider, Uebersetzungen, index s.v.Moses Narboni; Renan, Ecrivains, 320–35; Ch. Touti, in: Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen âge, 21 (1954), 193–205.

[Alfred L. Ivry]

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