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Jewish Avicennism


Avicenna (980–1037) is one of the most representative authors of Arab-Islamic philosophy and science in the Middle Ages and early modern era, from circa 1050 to 1600. However, a clear distinction should be made among the various ways in which Avicenna was apprehended and read at different times and places, both in the East and in the West, and in different religious cultures. The diffusion of Avicenna in the Arabic world is beyond question; the Latin West’s acquaintance with and use of his philosophical and medical texts, especially the Shifāʾ and the Canon, remains an important object of scholarly study and research.

In the Jewish world, Avicenna was perceived differently, both as a physician and as a philosopher. Jewish knowledge of Avicenna the physician and the Arabic-to-Hebrew translations of some of his key medical works are an undisputed fact. For example, Avicenna’s bulky treatise, the Canon, is extant in dozens of manuscripts, including the four full or partial Arabic-to-Hebrew versions produced between 1280 and 1400 in Spain and Italy. From 1050 to 1500 (and even later), Avicenna the physician exerted a major influence on numerous Jewish practitioners in both Europe and the Near East, who read him in Judeo-Arabic or Hebrew. However, this is not the topic of the present article, which deals with Avicenna the philosopher as interpreted by Jewish intellectuals.

Jewish scholars read Avicenna in two ways: either as an Aristotelian philosopher, like al-Fārābī and Averroes, or as a mystic. The latter understanding is found, for example, in the Jewish reception of Avicenna’s The Living Son of the Awake, or in a minor work like the Risāla ’l-ṭayr (Epistle on Birds). As a philosopher he was studied differently by the Arabophone Jews of the Middle East, North Africa, and al-Andalus, and by non-Arabic speaking Jews elsewhere.

An additional and more important point has to be underlined here. There is no question that Jewish philosophers were aware of Avicenna, although they usually had only a vague and imprecise (and often indirect) knowledge of specific aspects of his thought. “Jewish Avicennism,” by contrast, is a different phenomenon. That rubric does not refer to knowledge of Avicenna as reflected in implicit quotations from his work, but to instances in which he was studied in depth, adapted and assimilated into the Jewish thought. Here we find more than mere endorsement of his views. These cases are very few, in both Judeo-Arabic and Hebrew philosophical writings. But they are important and will be examined in detail below, in order to arrive at a clear notion of what is meant by “Jewish Avicennism.”

First of all, we should analyze how the ideas of Avicenna the philosopher were absorbed into the Jewish thought.

Many Judeo-Arabic philosophers of the mid-eleventh to mid-twelfth centuries drew on Avicenna and particular aspects of his thought, including Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Baḥya Ibn Paquda, Moses Ibn Ezra, and Joseph Ibn Saddiq. Judah ha-Levi quotes some passages of Avicenna verbatim. Rarely, however, is Avicenna credited as their source. Hence these instances cannot be taken as evidence that a given Judeo-Arabic author employed Avicenna as his main mediator to Aristotelian thought (and philosophy in general). The use of Avicenna is almost completely implicit. In the second half of the twelfth century and later, as has been shown elsewhere, authors such as Abraham Ibn Daud and Maimonides do seem to have known and adopted some aspects of Avicenna’s thought, but it is not clear whether they read Avicenna himself or al-Ghazālī’s interpretation of his thought. Moreover, it seems that Jewish and Arab philosophers who were working at the same time and in the same place understood Avicenna in similar ways. Dimitri Gutas has pointed out that while many Muslim philosophers of the eleventh to fifteenth centuries read and employed Avicenna’s philosophical works, their “Avicennism” took on two forms: some tried to read his treatises as if they were reference books—sources of reliable truth; others read him critically and tried to develop further some aspects of his work. This is the approach found in many Judeo-Arabic authors of thirteenth to sixteenth centuries. With one exception (Moses ha-Levi), they used Avicenna as a sort of a “toolbox,” reading him eclectically and in conjunction with other philosophical sources. For example, Yemenite Jewish thought circa 1150 to 1550 (notably philosophical commentaries on the Bible) offers a curious mixture of Avicennism, Ghazalism, and the Neoplatonic philosophy of the Ikhwān al-Safā, under the cover of the interpretation of Maimonides’ thought. Modern studies have shown, though, that one cannot speak here of “Jewish Avicennism”; instead, each of these Yemenite Jewish authors expounded his own interpretation of diverse Arab-Islamic sources, including Avicenna.

There are few explicit references to Avicenna in Jewish authors who wrote in Hebrew in Western Europe (mostly northern Spain, Provence, and Italy), from the beginning of twelfth century (notably Abraham Bar Ḥiyya and Abraham Ibn Ezra). By contrast, implicit references to some particular point of his philosophy are abundant (and future research may find more). However, they seem to be substantially different from those found in Judeo-Arabic texts, for the simple reason that many European Jewish philosophers of the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries and later did not read Arabic, so they could know Avicenna’s thought or philosophical works only in translation. Our information about the Hebrew translations of philosophical texts from Arabic or Latin, produced in Western Europe from the eleventh to fifteenth centuries, includes very few versions of Avicenna’s philosophical works (in contrast to his medical treatises). Moreover, they had little circulation in that period and milieu, as shown by the paucity of extant manuscripts. Hence it is difficult to identify a “Jewish Avicennism” here. Avicenna’s most important philosophical work, the Shifāʾ, was almost completely neglected by Jewish scholars. Only two of more than twenty books of this encyclopedia were rendered into Hebrew in full in the late Middle Ages, and they both deal with mathematics: one on arithmetic, through the literal Arabic reproduction of Umayya Ibn Abi l-Salt’s Encyclopedia on the same subject (an Arabic-to-Hebrew translation produced by Benveniste Ibn Labi in Zaragoza in 1395); and the second on geometry, translated directly from the original Arabic text (completed in Spain around 1400). Neither has many copies and only one or two manuscripts of each survived. Only one of Avicenna’s many philosophical encyclopedias was rendered from Arabic into Hebrew in the Middle Ages: the Najāt (Salvation), translated around 1330–1340 by Todros Todrosi in Provence (the sections on physics and metaphysics); this version survives in only two manuscripts, one of them a copy of the other. By contrast, Averroes’s commentaries on Aristotle (there are more than thirty of them) were translated into Hebrew and widely diffused in Western Europe (more than a hundred existing manuscripts) between 1250 and 1500. Thus the ratio of extant Hebrew manuscripts of Averroes versus Avicenna is approximately a hundred to one, and that of Averroes’ commentaries on Aristotle versus Avicenna’s ones is ten to one: these facts cannot be ignored. Moreover, as scholars have shown, a considerable number of supercommentaries (Hebrew commentaries on Arab-Islamic commentaries on Aristotle)—more than twenty in the case of the Physics—were written from 1300 on; but there is nothing similar in the medieval Hebrew tradition of Avicenna.

 Jewish Avicennism as a historical phenomenon

As a matter of fact, Jewish Avicennism can be found in writings of some authors of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, who explicitly cite Avicenna as one of their main sources (or only source). It is only in such cases, based on a direct or almost direct knowledge of Avicenna, whether through his original Arabic texts or their Hebrew translations that one can truly speak of “Jewish Avicennism.”

As Gad Freudenthal and the present author wrote, in their conclusion to a recent survey of “Avicenna amongst the Jews,” we should distinguish between two types of thinkers who related to Avicenna. First are the “committed Avicennians,” who knew Avicennian writings and accepted the essentials of his thought, or who explicitly sided with Avicenna against other philosophers (notably al-Ghazālī and Averroes). These committed Avicennians explicitly credit him with points of doctrine they also embraced. Inasmuch as Avicenna was all-but-unavailable in Hebrew, the committed Avicennians had to know Arabic. The “eclectic Avicennians,” who appropriated one or more ideas from Avicenna for integration into their works, are a different case. These thinkers did not read Avicenna’s own works; nor did they adhere to an overall Avicennian scheme or defend Avicenna against his adversaries. They rarely referred to him explicitly as a source. Authors of both types occasionally made an ideological use of Avicenna, notably in polemics against Averroes.

Committed Avicennians are few and scattered in time in the history of Jewish thought. In fact, as shown in the aforementioned survey, only three thinkers seem to qualify: Samuel Ibn Tibbon (at least towards the end of his life), Moses ha-Levi, and Ḥayyim Israeli. All of them overtly endorsed Avicenna against Averroes in at least one of their key philosophical works. (It remains possible, of course, that future scholarship will identify additional committed Avicennians.) There were also Jewish authors who, like some fourteenth-century Provençal philosophers and translators (Todros Todrosi in particular), employed Avicenna’s philosophical writing in an eclectic way, together with al-Ghazālī, and against some of Averroes’s ideas. The latter group was undoubtedly larger. Abraham Ibn Daud’s Exalted Faith, Judah ha-Levi’s Kuzari, and Maimonides’ Guide contain significant Avicennian elements, but none of these authors can be called Avicennian. They merely borrowed certain notions from Avicenna, such as the distinction between essence and existence, and ideas regarding the soul, theory of prophecy, the giver of forms, and divine providence and divine knowledge. In this sense, Avicennism can be said to be present in these Judeo-Arabic works, although their authors were not committed to Avicenna’s philosophy. The points borrowed from Avicenna were not usually credited to him. While it can be assumed that those who read the Judeo-Arabic originals of these works were sufficiently immersed in Arabic culture to recognize his fingerprints in them, the same cannot be said of those who read them in Hebrew.

The bulk of Jewish philosophy was written in Hebrew, however. Thanks to their translations into Hebrew, Judeo-Arabic works that drew on Avicenna introduced his ideas—without identifying the source—into Hebrew philosophy. Later, though, some works that allowed Hebrew-reading scholars to identify Avicennian ideas when coming across them became available. These works fall into at least three categories. The first consists of Hebrew commentaries on Maimonides’ Guide, written by Arabophone scholars—notably Shem Tov Ibn Falaquera and Moses Narboni—which mark many ideas as derived from Avicenna. Then there are Hebrew works by Arabophone scholars that discuss Avicennian theories with full acknowledgement of their authorship. Undoubtedly, these writers are the committed Avicennians named above. Their explicit references to Avicenna are not due to moral considerations of intellectual property, but to their endorsement of Avicenna. The third category comprises Hebrew translations of writings by Muslim scholars: al-Ghazālī gave a general account of Avicennian ideas without referring to Avicenna, but Averroes explicitly referred to Avicenna and discussed some of his ideas at length, especially those with which he disagreed. Thanks to these works, Hebrew-reading scholars of later generations could often recognize an Avicennian notion when they saw it. Taken together, all these writings provided readers of Hebrew philosophical literature with a considerable amount of information about Avicenna, although how well they understood it needs to be investigated. This is how Avicenna became a household name in Jewish Hebrew philosophy, even though almost none of his writings were available in Hebrew. It is also how Jewish philosophers writing in Hebrew occasionally integrated Avicennian thought into their works.

These general considerations are a useful prologue to the three authors who should be regarded as “committed Jewish Avicennians.”

 The three main authors of Jewish Avicennism

It was probably around the middle of the thirteenth century that Moses ben Joseph ha-Levi of Seville wrote a number of works that follow Avicenna. The only one that survives is the short Maqāla ilāhīyya (Metaphysical Treatise), preserved in both the original Arabic and two Hebrew translations, each extant in a unique manuscript. Moritz Steinschneider, followed by Georges Vajda, showed that Moses ha-Levi defends Avicenna’s metaphysical ideas about the difference between God and the First Mover against Averroes (for whom the two are one and the same). In particular, one passage in the Maqāla ilāhiyya is a close paraphrase of Avicenna’s treatment of the Necessary Existent in the metaphysical section of his Najāt. This is the first (and destined to remain rare) use of Avicenna by a Jewish author in a direct criticism of Averroes, a circumstance that justifies viewing Moses ha-Levi as a committed Avicennian. It is also noteworthy that whereas Judah ha-Levi and Abraham Ibn Daud never refer to Avicenna by name (even in passages that directly depend on him), Moses ha-Levi explicitly refers to Abū ʿAlī Ibn Sīnā on several occasions.

Moses ha-Levi was a philosopher in Judeo-Arabic active in al-Andalus (Seville); the other two committed Jewish Avicennians lived and worked in Provence, where they wrote in Hebrew. Not only were they familiar with Avicenna, they explicitly refer to him as their main source. The first and more famous Jewish Avicennian was Samuel Ibn Tibbon (ca. 1160–1232), the translator of Maimonides’ Guide, which also helped in bringing Avicenna into Hebrew thought. To his meticulous Arabic-into-Hebrew version of Aristotle’s Meteorology, completed in 1210, Ibn Tibbon added glosses giving information selected from various sources, among them Avicenna. More consequential is the use of Avicenna in his most important original composition, Maʾamar Yiqqavu ha-Mayim (Treatise on “Let the Waters be Gathered,” completed ca. 1231), which asks why the element of water does not entirely cover the surface of the terrestrial globe, as it should according to the four-element theory. Ibn Tibbon recounts that he had mulled over this problem for twenty years without finding a satisfactory solution. The breakthrough came, he says, when he finally discovered a satisfactory naturalistic solution in Avicenna’s Shifāʾ. Ibn Tibbon proceeds to insert his Hebrew translation of a lengthy passage from the section on meteorology in the Shifāʾ and then shows that Avicenna’s theory, in which an infinite succession of sublunary “worlds” naturally emerge from under the water and are covered by it again, is wonderfully compatible with biblical texts. An essential premise of Avicenna’s theory is that human beings can be generated “not from man”; i.e., they can arise through spontaneous generation, like all other animal species. This bold statement is included in the passage quoted from Avicenna; Ibn Tibbon was audacious enough to endorse it explicitly. Ibn Tibbon incorporated another passage from the Shifāʾ into Yiqqavu ha-Mayim—from the section on generation and corruption—but without acknowledging the source. It concisely presents the theory of the mutual transmutation of the four elements, albeit with an original and consequential twist that provides the basis for the theory of the infinite succession of sublunary worlds. Hence it is likely that he had an access to the entire work, or at least to substantial parts of it. Unlike most of the other authors who integrated Avicennian ideas into their writings without credit, here Samuel Ibn Tibbon proclaims his indebtedness to the Shifāʾ loudly and explicitly. This is not at odds with the fact, pointed out elsewhere, that Ibn Tibbon had previously held different ideas: in his commentary on Ecclesiastes, for example, written twenty years earlier (ca. 1210), Ibn Tibbon defended Averroes against Avicenna on some points. This shows once more that Jewish Avicennism, that is, the acceptance of Avicenna and rejection of other philosophers, was very rare in Jewish philosophy but was not totally absent.

Ḥayyim Israeli (fl. 1320), a member of a well-known family from Toledo that produced a number of distinguished scientists, wrote at least three scientific treatises, of which only one survived. There, discussing the physical location of the Garden of Eden, Ḥayyim Israeli explicitly draws on Avicenna’s Shifāʾ. He says that the philosophers identify the deity with the ninth sphere and explains the proof from motion of God’s existence. Some Muslim philosophers, however, “first and foremost among them the wonderful sage, Abū Alī Ibn Sīnā,” hold that “the Creator, blessed be he, is the cause of the First Mover, not the First Mover itself.” (G. Freudenthal and M. Zonta, Avicenna among Medieval Jews, p. 264) Referring to the meteorological section of the Shifāʾ, he paraphrases Avicenna’s account of the equator as the most balanced region on earth, so that its inhabitants’ temperament is the best balanced, and adds that Avicenna reiterated this view in “his medical work.” He observes that Avicenna refers to a work that proves this point, but it “has not reached us.” Noting that Averroes held the opposite view, he comments: “Abū-l-Wālid Ibn Rushd is a great scientist in the eyes of the wise men of our generation, especially among the Christian philosophers. In his epitomes of Aristotle’s books he wrote that he wished to take exception to Avicenna’s view, [affirming] that the zone under the [celestial] equator is not balanced. I wish to probe into the claims of this scientist [Averroes]—who is wise in his own eyes—that are directed against Avicenna. […] I wish to show to truly wise men that the matter is not as Averroes holds. It is the same thing wherever Averroes diverges from Avicenna in other philosophical matters, where [too] his claims are false.” Ḥayyim Israeli emphasizes that only scholars trained in both natural philosophy and astronomy are qualified to investigate this issue appropriately and that Averroes lacked Avicenna’s astronomical competence and therefore failed to understand his position. “It is extraordinary,” he comments, “that a man [Avicenna] would arrive through his own intellect at the foundations of the Torah as transmitted by Tradition. […] I embraced the opinion of the sage Avicenna,” he adds, “because I found that his belief[s] on any philosophical subject, which he reached by the power of his intellect, are close to the belief of the tradition of our perfect Torah.” (G. Freudenthal and M. Zonta, Avicenna among Medieval Jews, p. 265) Unfortunately, Ḥayyim Israeli was neither prolific nor influential: two of his three treatises are lost, and the third is extant in three manuscripts only. He is interesting as an instance of a dedicated Avicennian who does not hesitate to go against what he knows to be the Averroist consensus of the day. Together with Samuel Ibn Tibbon and Moses ha-Levi, he is one of the few Jewish scholars who consistently side with Avicenna against Averroes.

Todros Todrosi of Arles, who translated Avicenna’s Najāt, represents a different approach to that author. His Hebrew philosophical anthology (Liqquṭim), dates to 1334, also includes a number of passages from Avicenna. Todrosi begins with logic: this section includes a nearly complete translation of the first four chapters of the logic of the Shifāʾ (recapitulating Porphyry’s Eisagoge) and some passages from the section on the Prior Analytics, including Avicenna’s own classification of Aristotelian syllogisms. Todrosi complements these long quotations with a few short passages from the logical section of Avicenna’s Remarks and Admonitions, and from al-Ghazālī’s and Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī’s expositions of Avicennian ideas on Aristotelian logic. The inclusion of quotations from Muslim authors with Avicennian tendencies suggests that Todros was guided by an interest in Avicennian ideas when he compiled his anthology, against the dominant Averroist consensus. But this work, which survived in a unique and probably incomplete manuscript, clearly had a very limited circulation. It bespeaks the interests of an individual, not a widespread intellectual tendency.

Todros Todrosi was not unique in this regard. His friend Judah Nathan translated al-Ghazālī’s Maqāṣid into Hebrew and complemented unclear passages by drawing on Avicenna. He explains his motives for introducing Avicennian knowledge into Hebrew (which he may have shared with Todrosi): al-Ghazālī’s work, whose affinity with Avicenna is recognized, refutes “the philosophers” and thereby buttresses the Torah. He observes that al-Ghazālī “deviates” from Aristotle—meaning from Averroes—whose philosophy was the focus of the Jewish controversy in the early fourteenth century about the legitimacy of studying philosophy. Judah Nathan meant for his translation to support the opponents of the contested “philosophy” identified with “Aristotle.” Put differently, Judah Nathan—and presumably Todros Todrosi as well—wanted to promote Avicenna and al-Ghazālī as a philosophical alternative to radical Averroism. But this does not mean that Todros Todrosi and Judah Nathan were committed Avicennians, on a par with Samuel Ibn Tibbon and Moses ha-Levi. The works they chose to translate (assuming that the selection reflects their own preferences, not those of patrons) were eclectic: Todros translated not only a work by Avicenna, but also works by Averroes; Judah Nathan translated medical works, too. Since neither of them composed an original work that would shed light on their own thought, it seems preferable not to describe them as Avicennians in the sense used in this article.

 Some tentative conclusions

In order to gain a historical and philosophical view of Jewish Avicennism beyond the mere enumeration of Avicenna’s texts available to Jewish scholars, some first, tentative conclusions about the Avicennism of some Jewish philosophers in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries can be offered; a comprehensive account exceeds what can be provided here, of course.

Let us ask why none of Avicenna’s major writings were translated into Hebrew, with the exception of part of the Najāt. In particular, why was the Shifāʾ ignored by translators? This problem is amplified by two considerations. First, other Avicennian works were translated into Hebrew (the Najāt and the Canon). One would expect their availability to have stimulated curiosity and generated a demand for a Hebrew translation of Avicenna’s magnum opus, whose existence Jewish scholars were well aware of. Second, the Latin philosophical culture in al-Andalus evinced an early and intense interest in Avicenna. As early as 1150–1175, substantial parts of the Shifāʾ were translated in Toledo (with the likely participation of Abraham Ibn Daud) and much of it survived in a considerable number of manuscripts. What stimulated the Christians’ interest, but not the Jews’?

First of all, the Jewish reception of Avicenna was quite problematic, even among Arabophone scholars: there are almost no manuscripts in Hebrew script of his philosophical works and his treatises are not found on Jewish book lists. By the same token, when Judeo-Arabic works of religious philosophy drew on Avicenna—and some of the more important ones did so quite substantially—they did not mention him by name; even quotations or paraphrases remained unattributed. Maimonides is a special case, inasmuch as he presents Avicennian ideas that he apparently drew from al-Ghazālī’s Maqāṣid al-falāsifa but ascribes them to Aristotle. Committed Avicennians (Samuel Ibn Tibbon at the end of his life, and then, more demonstratively, Ḥayyim Israeli and Moses ha-Levi) discuss Avicenna’s ideas with full attribution, as do, in an eclectic manner, Arabophone commentators on Maimonides (Ibn Falaquera in the second half of the thirteenth century and Moses Narboni in the first half of the fourteenth century).

Second, beginning in the third decade of the thirteenth century, the great majority of Averroes’s commentaries on Aristotle were systematically translated into Hebrew, a trend that began with Jacob Anatoli and became a flood with Moses Ibn Tibbon. This choice reflected the prevalent cultural preferences in al-Andalus from the twelfth century on. The study of philosophy became largely coextensive with the study of the works of the “Philosopher,” namely Aristotle as presented by Averroes; moreover, Averroes’s Aristotle was identified as Maimonides’ main philosophical authority in the Guide. This trend is epitomized by the work of Levi ben Gerson (1288–1344), who wrote supercommentaries on most of Averroes’s commentaries and taught them to his students. In this general trend, Avicenna’s interpretation of Aristotle was almost totally superseded by Averroes’s.

Third, some of Avicenna’s views—notably the eternity of the world and the related doctrine that human beings can be produced by spontaneous generation without a human parent—were seen as running contrary to certain aspects of the Jewish religion. These are precisely the ideas embraced by two of the committed Avicennians (Samuel Ibn Tibbon and Ḥayyim Israeli), who emphatically ascribed them to Avicenna. Although, taken in the aggregate, Avicenna’s philosophy and theology may be more “spiritual” and “religious” than Averroes’s, the few early Arabophone Jewish scholars who read Avicenna seem to have focused on his science; their reception of Avicenna’s thought may have informed the negative image that later Hebrew-reading scholars had of him.

Bringing together these threads, we may conclude as follows. Jewish scholars always displayed some reticence about Avicenna. Some Arabophone scholars (like Maimonides) knew him only indirectly; those with direct knowledge of his works (at least in part) borrowed from them piecemeal and often without direct and explicit attribution (Judah ha-Levi, Abraham Ibn Daud). The reasons for this reserve, whose emblematic representative is Maimonides, would seem to be an offshoot of the anti-Avicennist and pro-Aristotelian tendencies in al-Andalus, in itself part of the more global construction of an alternative to the philosophical syntheses produced in the East at the same time. This reticence with respect to Avicenna presumably reverberated in the attitude of Arabic-into-Hebrew cultural transmitters, most of whom were active in regions with a strong Andalusian influence (northern Spain and Provence). Be this as it may, as far as the Hebrew culture is concerned a new crucial factor comes into play at this juncture. By the time the first Arabic-into-Hebrew translations of philosophical works by Muslim authors began to be produced (second third of the thirteenth century), Avicenna had become old-fashioned and supplanted by Averroes, notably in the West. The Cordovan had disproved Avicenna’s positions systematically in many of his writings, which were widely translated into Hebrew. Potential Arabic-into-Hebrew translators and patrons had good reasons to think that Averroes had refuted much of Avicenna’s philosophy. When Latin scholars (aided by Jewish ones) translated the Shifāʾ in the second half of the twelfth century, their goal was to provide Western scholars with a commentary on Aristotle’s works. It is precisely this function that the Shifāʾ could no longer fulfill in the post-Averroes Hebrew philosophical culture a century later. In addition, as already noted, the fact that Maimonides had identified central Avicennian positions as those of “Aristotle” may have weakened interest in them.

As Averroes’s star rose, manuscripts of Avicenna’s works must have become increasingly difficult to obtain, especially since there seem to have been no manuscripts of Avicenna’s works in Hebrew script. Contacts with Islamic culture had loosened in the fourteenth century, so that access to manuscripts owned by Muslim scholars became more difficult. Furthermore, Hebrew-reading scholars presumably believed that any Avicennian ideas were already available in various works in Hebrew, making translations of entire works by Avicenna himself superfluous. Thus, the belief that, grosso modo, Avicenna’s thought had been refuted and superseded, together with the awareness that key Avicennian ideas had already been appropriated second-hand (the Freudenthal and Zonta hypothesis) decreased translators’ and patrons’ motivation to render works by Avicenna into Hebrew.



Freudenthal, Gad and Zonta, Mauro, “Avicenna Among Medieval Jews. The Reception of Avicenna’s Philosophical, Scientific and Medical Writings in Jewish Cultures, East and West”, in Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 22, 2012, p. 217–287.
– “The Reception of Avicenna in Jewish Cultures, East and West”, in Peter Adamson, ed., Interpreting Avicenna. Critical Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013, p. 214-241 (a shorter version of the previous article).
Gutas, Dimitri, “The Heritage of Avicenna: The Golden Age of Arabic Philosophy, 1000–ca. 1350”, in Jules Janssens and Daniel De Smet, eds., Avicenna and His Heritage. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2002, p. 81–98.
Harvey, Steven, “Some Notes on ‘Avicenna among Medieval Jews’”, in Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 25, 2015, p. 249–277.
Steinschneider, Moritz. Die hebraeischen Übersetzungen des Mittelalters und die Juden als Dolmetscher, 2 vols. Berlin: Kommissionsverlag des Bibliographisches Bureaus, 1893 (p. 279–283 and most of 285 are about Arabic-to-Hebrew translations of Avicenna’s philosophical works.)
Vajda, Georges, “Un champion de l’avicennisme. Le problème de l’identité de Dieu et du Premier Moteur d’après un opuscule judéo-arabe inédit du XIIIe siècle,” Revue thomiste 48, 1948, p. 480–508.
Zonta, Mauro, “Linee del pensiero islamico nella storia della filosofia ebraica medievale,” Annali dell’Istituto Universitario Orientale di Napoli 57, 1997, p. 101–144, 450–483 (p. 450–462 include a general survey of Avicenna in Jewish philosophy.)
– “The Role of Avicenna and of Islamic ‘Avicennism’ in the Fourteenth-Century Jewish Debate Around Philosophy and Religion,” Oriente moderno 80, 19, 2000, p. 647–660.
– “Avicenna in Medieval Jewish Philosophy”, in Jules Janssens and Daniel De Smet, eds., Avicenna and His Heritage. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2002, p. 267–279 .
– “Maimonides’ Knowledge of Avicenna. Some Tentative Conclusions About a Debated Question”, in Georges Tamer, ed., The Trias of Maimonides / Die Trias des Maimonides. Jewish, Arabic, and Ancient Culture of Knowledge / Jüdische, arabische und antike Wissenskultur. Berlin and New York: Walter De Gruyter, 2005, p. 211-222.
– “Structure and Sources of the Hebrew Commentary on Petrus Hispanus’s Summulae Logicales by Hezekiah bar Halafta, alias Bonenfant de Millau.” Pp. 77–116 in Andrew Schumann, ed., Judaic Logic, Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2010, p. 77-116. (On p. 112 there is a short list of some previously unknown explicit passages of Avicenna’s Shifāʾ on logic, psychology and metaphysics in the work of this fourteenth-century Provençal Jewish philosophy).
– “Avicenna’s Metaphysics in the Medieval Hebrew Philosophical Tradition”, in Dag N. Hasse and Amos Bertolacci, eds., The Arabic, Hebrew and Latin Reception of Avicenna’s «Metaphysics». Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2012, p. 153-158.
– “Possible Hebrew Quotations of the Metaphysical Section of Avicenna’s Oriental Philosophy and Their Historical Meaning.” in Hasse and Bertolacci, eds., The Arabic, Hebrew and Latin Reception of Avicenna’s «Metaphysics», p. 177-196.
– “Medieval Hebrew Translations of Philosophical and Scientific Texts: A Chronological Table.” Pp. 17–73 in Gad Freudenthal, ed., Science in Medieval Jewish Cultures. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
– “Jüdische Autoren in der islamischen Welt”, in Ulrich Rudolph and Renate Würsch, eds., Die Philosophie in der islamischen Welt, vol. II. Basel: Schwabe, 2017 (This includes a discussion of mostly implicit references to Avicenna as a philosopher by various Judeo-Arabic authors.)

How to cite:
Mauro Zonta, ’Jewish Avicennism’, in Houari Touati (ed.), Encyclopedia of Mediterranean Humanism, February 2016, URL =