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Essays on the Writings of Abraham ibn Ezra

For Ibn Ezra, the human soul is the only unchanging, eternal entity inthe universe; it is the only thing that can be said to be similar, insome sense, to God. For example, the opening sentence in SeferTzahut (a grammatical treatise!) states: “Because the humansoul was created in the image of God, her actions are similar tohis” (Levin 1985, 379). At the end of Yesod Mora (Cohen2002, 200–201) he cites the five points of resemblance between thesoul and God noted in the Talmud; and he implies that Shi‘urQoma professes a similar doctrine. Ibn Ezra takes thesesimilarities rather literally, as it seems.

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There is no difference between Jews and non-Jews with regard to astralgovernance. Here again, Ibn Ezra, in his biblical commentaries, wasvague enough to give the impression that Jews alone are exempt fromthe decrees of the stars, thus ingratiating himself to those many ofhis readers who were disposed to thinking that way. However, in hisastrological writings, the Jews are no different from other peoples,in that they too are associated with certain planets and signs; thispoint was not lost upon his super-commentators. Ibn Ezra's astrology,like his philosophy overall, is humanist and universal, not Jewish andparticularist. (See on this point, from a different perspective,Hughes 1999.)

Essays on the writings of Abraham ibn Ezra 4 by Friedländer, M

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Ibn Ezra's literary legacy consists of short and extremely popularhandbooks in a wide variety of fields: grammar and poetics, astrologyand arithmetic, astronomy and religious speculations, as well as bothshort and lengthier biblical commentaries. Most of his astrologicaltracts circulate in at least two versions; their Latin versions playeda pivotal role in the spread of that art throughout ChristianEurope. Manuscripts number in many dozens. The biblical commentariesare also found in very manuscripts, and they are included in themargins of numerous printings. On the other hand, there are relativelyfew critical editions of his writings. This situation has beenlargely rectified for his astrological writings, surely the mostimportant part of his corpus, due to the untiring work of ShlomoSela. Moreover, Sela's highly praised editionsand translations havebrought to light even more texts, in both Hebrew and Latin. (For themost recent inventory of primary sources and secondary studies, seeSela and Freudenthal 2006; newer editions by Sela are listed in thebibliography.) Several long excursuses, for example to Exodus 3:15 orExodus 33:21, recap his statements on the main issues. Yesod Mora, amonograph on the rationale underlying the biblical commandmentswritten very late in his life, also contains a full statement of IbnEzra's teachings.

Indeed, if Ibn Ezra can be located within any of the majorphilosophical traditions, his place is among thePythagoreans. Sefer ha-Ehad is Ibn Ezra's venture inarithmology. Like the writings of Nicomachus of Gerasa and Philo, aswell as a relatively short list of medieval Muslim and Jewishauthors, Sefer ha-Ehad follows the Pythagorean tradition oflisting which natural, mathematical, and other items, come in two's,three's, etc. As we have seen in the preceding paragraph, Ibn Ezrapressed especially the theological implications of these arithmeticproperties.

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The two most “philosophical” of his writings areHayy ben Meqitz, a poetic visionary recital to be discussedin a separate section below, and Arugat ha-Bosem. The latteris also poetic in style. The doctrine it presents, for exampleatomism, is very much part and parcel of the kalam tradition, ratherthan philosophy, strictly speaking. For that reason, Ibn Ezra'sauthorship has been called into question (Greive 1973, 181–189,including German translation of the entire text). However, even such acommitted neoplatonist as Isaac Israeli had no compunction aboutcontributing to the kalam, and there is no reason a priori to thinkthat the situation would have been different for Ibn Ezra. Allegiancesto streams of thought in that period were not necessarilyexclusivist.

Nonetheless, Ibn Ezra achieved the status of the sage whose remarks,curt and enigmatic thought they may be, carry weight and authority. Ina way, his role in philosophy, or, perhaps better put, in spreadingcertain philosophical teachings, is not that different from the one heplayed in mathematics, astronomy, and astrology. His copious writingson those subjects are not distinguished by any depth or originality;yet there can be no doubt that their role was pivotal in the spread ofknowledge throughout Europe, most especially within the Jewishcommunities, though by no means limited to them. While not pretendingto offer a complete and completely satisfying answer, we suggest acombination of factors that facilitated his success: industriousness,wide travels, the very popular vehicle of bible commentary, rationalthought that gives a prominent place to astrology, and a soteriologythat focuses upon the individual rather than the collective.

Essays on the Writings of Abraham Ibn Ezra Volume 4 (M
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Essays on the Writings of ibn Ezra

In one of his best-known poems ("Nedod Hesir Oni") Ibn Ezra has characterized the second period of his life in the words: "I resided in that place as a stranger, wrote books, and revealed the secrets of knowledge." He is the only example of a wandering scholar who developed an unusually rich literary activity in his roaming existence under the stress of circumstances, and who wrote works of lasting importance. Ibn Ezra himself regarded his life as that of an exile. He always called himself a Spaniard ("Sefardi"), and gives a touching expression of his love for his fatherland in an elegy on the persecution by the Almohades which began in 1142. In this poem ("Diwan," No. 169) he enumerates the Spanish and the North-African towns in which the communities fell victims to the persecution. His remark on the commandment concerning the festal bunch of greens (Lev. xxiii. 40) gives a glimpse into his longing for his beautiful native land: "Whoever is exiled from Arabian lands to the lands of Edom [Christian Europe] will understand, if he has eyes, the deep meaning of this commandment."

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All histories of Jewish philosophy include an entry on Abraham IbnEzra, and, judging from his impact on the field, he certainly deservesthe recognition that he has received. Just how he earned it, however,poses a difficult historical problem. Ibn Ezra contributed virtuallynothing to any of the branches of philosophy; he authored little inthe way of strictly philosophical tracts and, indeed, there is noreason for us to suppose that he enjoyed any rigorous training inphilosophy. Yet he certainly left his mark on Jewish thought, and hispronouncements are recorded and treated with respect by those who cameafter him.

Essays on the writings of abraham ibn ezra

Ibn Ezra's philosophical legacy consists in the main of the following,rather short list of doctrines. The deity governs the terrestrialworld by means of the heavenly bodies. Humans toil under astraldestiny; though the stars are subservient, formally at least, to God,their domination over the material universe is for all practicalpurposes complete. Neither the precise structure of the human soul,nor the mode of its bonding with the body, may be known withcertainty. However, one component or aspect of the human soul is ofthe same fiber as the supernal realm that is above the stars; nothingin existence is more similar to God. Nurturing this spiritualcomponent offers the one hope of refuge from this world. Ibn Ezra'spoetry in particular gives very powerful expression to the themes ofthe soul's alienation and longing to return to its heavenly abode. Tobe sure, weighty questions are involved in all of these teachings, butIbn Ezra does not take any of them up in depth.

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