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Jewish Commentators — Their Lives and Works

 

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Solomon ben Yehudah Ibn Gabirol
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Hebrew Name(s): שלמה בן יהודה אבן גבירול‎
Other Names: Solomon ibn Gabirol, Shelomo ben Yehuda ibn Gevirol, Abu Ayyub Sulaiman Ibn Yaḥya Ibn Jabirul, HaMalahi (The Malagan), Avicebron
Period: Rishonim — 11th Century
Location: Spain
Dates: b. 1021–d.c. 1058

Biography:
Solomon ibn Gabirol  was a Spanish poet remembered for his great spiritual poetry. He has been described as a student of philosophy and logic, one with a keen mind, and a moralist. From Moses ibn Ezra (1060–1139) we learn that he was born in Malaga. Gabirol refers to himself in his work as HaMalahi (The Malagan.) Gabirol died in Valencia in c. 1058.
 
Grätz called Solomon ibn Gabirol, "the Jewish Plato" and Steinschneider described him as "the most original philosophical writer among the Jews and Arabs." Little is known of Gabirol's life. Gabirol first lived in Saragossa but became a wanderer. He became the friend and protégé of Jekuthiel Hassan at seventeen years of age. Upon the death of Hassan (an assassination, the result of a political conspiracy) Gabirol composed an elegy of more than 200 verses. When barely twenty Gabirol wrote 'Anaḳ, a versified Hebrew grammar, alphabetical and acrostic, consisting of 400 verses divided into ten parts—a grammar which Ibn Ezra characterizes as of incalculable value [ninety-five lines have been preserved by Solomon Parḥon.]
 
Gabirol has been acclaimed as a restorer of Neoplatonism in Europe. The parallels between his philosophy and that of Philo are also noted. As Philo was an intermediary between Hellenic and Platonic philosophy and the Oriental world, so too Solomon ibn Gabirol was an intermediary in restoring Greco-Arabic philosophy to Europe. While, like Philo, Gabirol's work was not taken up by his Jewish contemporaries, it did influence Christian philosophy, especially Scholasticism.
 
Solomon ibn Gabirol's most famous philosophical work is Fons Vitae in which he deals with Matter and Form—all that exists is matter and form. It is the same matter that runs through the whole universe. However, the further it is removed from its source, the less spiritual it becomes. Gabirol taught that everything that exists may be reduced to three categories:
1. Substance, God
2. Matter and form, the world
3. The will as intermediary
 
Fons Vitae is characterized by a total independence from Jewish dogma and does not quote from Scripture or the Rabbis. The work, however, is quoted by Moses ibn Ezra (in Aruggat ha-Bosem), Abraham ibn Ezra, who offers specimens of Gabirol's philosophical/allegorical interpretive method (without giving credit,) and by Joseph ibn Zaddik (Mikrokosmos) who quotes excessively from Fons Vitae. Gabirol's work Fons Vitae was known in Medieval circles as being authored by Avicebron (perhaps a Latinized corruption of ibn Gabirol.)
  
Gabirol's Fons Vitae, however, had its Jewish critics. Abraham ibn Daud of Toledo, in the Sefer ha-Kabbalah refers to Gabirol as a poet in complimentary phrases. But, to counteract the influence of Gabirol the philosopher, he wrote an Arabic book, translated into Hebrew under the title Emunah Ramah, in which he charges Gabirol with having philosophized without any regard to the requirements of the Jewish religious position—a criticism that served to make him more widely known. After Maimonides the influence of Gabirol was lessened, although some traces of it are to be detected in later works particularly after Palquera (d. c. 1290) compiled extracts from Fons Vitae, and also due to the influence of scholastic philosophy, especially the works of Aquinas (d. 1274.) Fons Vitae, believed by the Scholastics to be the work of a Christian scholars, caused much debate between the Platonist, Duns Scotus, and the Aristotelian philosophers, Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas.
 
Although Gabirol the philosopher was forgotten, Gabirol the poet kept alive the remembrance of the ideas of Gabirol the philosopher—his best-known poem, The Kingly Crown, is a religio-philosophical treatise in poetical form, a poetic repeat of Fons Vitae.
 
Gabirol's other works include: The Improvement of the Moral Qualities (The Ethics) an ethical treatise on the qualities of man and the methods of effecting their improvement, and Mibḥar ha-Peninim (Choice of Pearls,) a collection, in sixty-four chapters, of maxims, proverbs, and moral reflections, many of Arabic origin often cited by philosophers, exegetes, Talmudists, and moralists. Judah ibn Tibbon of Seville translated the original Choice of Pearls into Hebrew and Joseph Kimḥi versified the work under the title Shekel ha-Kodesh. Only two of the five manuscripts in this versification give Gabirol as the name of the author of the original, leading some to suggest that not all the work is that of Gabirol but is rather a compilation made by him.
 
In the short period of his life (he died in Valencia  aged 37 years) Solomon ibn Gabirol wrote over 400 poems. This count refers only to those poems known and published. His most famous poem is The Kingly Crown (Keter Malkut.)
 
You are the supreme light, and the eyes of the pure of soul shall see you,
and clouds of sin shall hide you from the eyes of sinners.
You are the light hidden in this world and revealed in the world of beauty,
'In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.'
You are the eternal light, and the inward eye yearns for You
and is astonished - she shall see but the utmost part of them,
and shall not see them all.
(from, The Praises of God, in The Kingly Crown)

Works:
Poetry; Fons Vitae; The Improvement of the Moral Qualities (The Ethics); Keter Malkut (The Kingly Crown); Mibḥar ha-Peninim (Choice of Pearls)

Comments:
Fons Vitae is a philosophical work which concentrates on Matter and Form. It's neoplatonistic approach influenced later philosophers, both Jewish and Christian.
The Improvement of the Moral Qualities (The Ethics) an ethical treatise on the qualities of man and the methods of effecting their improvement.
Mibḥar ha-Peninim is a collection, in sixty-four chapters, of maxims, proverbs, and moral reflections, many of Arabic origin often cited by philosophers, exegetes, Talmudists, and moralists.
Keter Malkut is one of Gabirol's most famous poetical works which echoes the philosophy of Fons Vitae.

 

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