Nethanel ben al-Fayyumi

views updated


NETHANEL BEN AL-FAYYUMI (d. about 1165), Yemenite scholar and philosopher. Nethanel appears to have been the father of Jacob b. Nethanel to whom *Maimonides addressed his Iggeret Teiman, ("Epistle to Yemen").

Nethanel wrote the Judeo-Arabic Bustān al-ʿUqūl ("Garden of Intellects"), a compendium of theology published by R. Gottheil, in: Festschrift… Steinschneider (1896), 144–7; text edited and translated into English by D. Levine, 1908; translated into Hebrew under the title Gan ha-Sekhalim by Y. Kafaḥ, 1954. The seven chapters of the work deal with (1) divine unity, (2) man as a microcosm, (3) obedience to God, (4) repentance, (5) reliance upon God and providence, (6) the nature of the Messiah with a discussion of the Islamic concepts of the abrogation of the Torah and the prophethood of Muhammad, and (7) the future life. In his discussion of the abrogation of the Torah, Nethanel denied that the Torah would be superseded, but, at the same time, maintained that there is a certain validity in the legislation of other religions. His tolerance is evident from his contention that God sent different prophets to the various nations of the world with legislations suited to the particular temperament of each individual nation.

The Bustān al-ʿUqūl, a popular work, contains numerous citations from aggadah and from Arabic legendary and anecdotal materials. In addition to drawing upon Jewish sources, such as *Saadiah's Book of Beliefs and Opinions and *Baḥya's Duties of the Heart, Nethanel borrowed heavily from Islamic philosophy, from the Epistles of the *Brethren of Sincerity, and, as S. Pines points out, from the writings of the Ismāʿīllya, in particular of the Fatimid branch. The Ismailian influence is particularly prominent in Nethanel's discussion of the nature of God, and the primary emanations. Pines considers the Bustān al-ʿUqūl an Ismailian treatise that was inspired by the theology of the Fatimids, in the same way that a work like Saadiah's Beliefs and Opinions was inspired by the Mutazilite *Kalām. Some identify the author of Bustān with Nethanel b. Moses ha-Levi the Gaon of Fostat or with the son of Fayyūmī b. Saadiah who sent an epistle to Maimonides.


ej, 2 (1925), 260ff.; A.S. Halkin (ed.), Iggeret Teiman (Moses Maimonides' Epistle to Yemen) (1952), viiff.; M. Steinschneider, in: jqr, 10 (1897/98), 522–3; idem, Arab Lit, 182; Neubauer, Cat, 2 (1906), 380; Mann, Egypt, 1 (1920), 244; 2 (1922), 315–6; S. Pines, in: Revue de l'histoire juive en Egypte, 1 (1947), 5–22.

[Frank Talmage]