Abraham ibn Daud

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Abraham ibn Daud (Hebrew Avraham ben David ha-Levi; Arabic Ibrahim ibn Daud) (1110 – 1180) was a Spanish-Jewish astronomer, historian, and the first philosopher to attempt a systematic integration of Aristotelianism into Jewish thought. In Al-'akidah al-Rafiyah (The Sublime Faith) he set out to demonstrate how philosophical truth could be harmonized with religious faith by supporting an overview of Aristotelian principles with scriptural texts. He based many of his principles on the works of the Muslim Aristotelian philosophers, Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina (Avicenna). He supported the doctrine of free will by explaining that, in order for to grant man liberty to display his own moral energy, God had bestowed certain situations where there were two or more possible outcomes.

His chronicle, Sefer ha-Qabbalah (Book of Tradition), written in 1161, fiercely attacked the contentions of Karaism and justified rabbinical Judaism by the establishment of a chain of traditions stretching from Moses until his own time. Now a Hebrew classic, it is replete with valuable general information, especially relating to the time of the Geonim and to the history of the Jews in Spain.



It is thought that Ibn Daud was born around 1110 in one of the cities of Muslim Spain, possibly Cordoba. He himself reported that he was educated by a maternal uncle who is known to have been a teacher and community leader in Cordova, where he died in 1126. It is apparent from his works that Ibn Daud studied traditional Jewish teachings and classical Greek philosophy and science as translated into Arabic by Muslim scholars. He later moved to Toledo, where he wrote two major works in defense of Judaism; the philosophical treatise Al-'akidah al-Rafiyah (The Sublime Faith) (1168), and the historical chronicle Sefer ha-Qabbalah (Book of Tradition) (1161). According to common report, he died a martyr in Toledo around 1180.

It is possible, but not certain, that Abraham ibn Daud is the same person as the twelfth-century Arabic-Latin translator Avendauth, also known as “Avendeut philosophus israelita,” who collaborated with Dominicus Gundissalinus in Toledo on the translation of Ibn Gabirol’s Fons Vitae. Three of Ibn Daud's major sources relate to the translation activities of Avendauth and Gundissalinus. He is sometimes known by the abbreviation Rabad or Ravad.


Only a few decades after Ibn Daud wrote al-‘Aqîdah al-rafî‘ah (The Sublime Faith), Moses Maimonides, the medieval Jewish philosopher, produced his philosophical work, Moreh Nevukhim (The Guide of the Perplexed), borrowing many suggestions from Ibn Daud's book. This work soon overshadowed al-‘Aqîdah al-rafî‘ah, and Ibn Daud received scant notice from later philosophers. Originally written in Arabic, al-‘Aqîdah al-rafî‘ah has been preserved in two Hebrew translations: one by Solomon ben Labi, with the title Emunah Ramah; the other by Samuel Motot, Ha-Emunah Nissa’ah. Labi's translation was retranslated into German and published by Simshon Weil.

Ibn Daud’s other major work, apparently written at the same time as his philosophical treatise, is a historical chronicle Sefer ha-Qabbalah (Book of Tradition) (1161). It fiercely attacked the contentions of Karaism and justified rabbinical Judaism by the establishment of a chain of traditions stretching from Moses until his own time. Now a Hebrew classic, it is replete with valuable general information, especially relating to the time of the Geonim and to the history of the Jews in Spain.

An astronomical work written by Ibn Daud in 1180, now lost, was favorably noticed by Isaac Israeli the Younger ("Yesod 'Olam," iv. 18).


Ibn Daud was the first to attempt a systematic integration of Aristotelianism into Jewish thought, and introduced that phase of Jewish philosophy which is generally attributed to Maimonides. In his introduction to Emunah Ramah he mentions two earlier Jewish philosophers; Saadia (882-942), who defended the revelatory tradition of rabbinical Judaism against the Karaites; and Solomon Ibn Gabirol (1021-1058) who introduced a Neoplatonic theory of the universality of matter. He dismisses both of them as being inadequate in the application of philosophy to the principles of religion, disagreeing with Saadia’s concept of the freedom of the will and objecting to the restrictions which Gabirol placed on the use of reason. Ibn Daud derived his terminology and philosophical reasoning from the works of the Aristotelian Muslim philosophers Al-Farabi (870-950) and Ibn Sina (Avicenna, 980-1037). He was influenced by Al-Farabi’s work as-Siyâsaât al-madaniyya (The Political Regime), and by Ibn Sina’s psychology and ideas on the secondary causes and the origin of evil.

In his introduction to ha-Emunah ha-Ramah, Ibn Daud states that he has decided to write his book in order to solve the problem of free will, because Scripture does not provide a clear answer. He is confident that philosophy and reason can achieve the correct interpretation of contradictory Biblical texts. Religious people tend to avoid the study of philosophy because they perceive it as a threat. True philosophy, according to Ibn Daud, does not entice us from religion; instead it strengthens and solidifies our faith. Man is endowed with intellect so that he can use reason; it is the duty of every thinking Jew to become acquainted with the harmony existing between the fundamental doctrines of Judaism and those of philosophy, and, wherever they seem to contradict one another, to seek a mode of reconciling them. Ibn Daud insists, however, that although philosophy may be highly valued, the religion of Judaism is preferable. Knowledge, which has been acquired by philosophers through the evolution of several thousands of years, and after overcoming the gravest errors, had been bestowed upon Judaism from the beginning through revelation. It is even probable that the philosophers did not attain to moral truths through independent study, but rather under the influence of the doctrines of Holy Scripture.

ha-Emunah ha-Ramah

ha-Emunah ha-Ramah (al-‘Aqîdah al-rafî‘ah) (The Sublime Faith) is made up of an introduction and three parts of unequal length. In the introduction, Ibn Daud explains that an understanding of basic philosophical issues is necessary in order to solve the problem of free will. His book is a comprehensive overview of philosophical topics, intended to initiate the beginning student and lead him into more sophisticated reasoning. The first section of the book deals with basic Aristotelian principles of physics and metaphysics and includes discussions on logic, substance and categories; matter, form and the elements; motion and infinity; the soul; and the heavenly spheres. The second part deals with principles of religion and includes topics such as the existence and unity of God; divine attributes; cosmology and the heavenly intelligences; prophecy and the Mosaic Law; and free will. The third part is a discussion of ethics.

Throughout ha-Emunah ha-Ramah, Ibn Daud tries to demonstrate that true philosophy does not contradict revelation. Each philosophical topic is followed by a section of relevant biblical passages, and in the second half of the work, scripture is integrated into the philosophical discussion.

Views on Aristotle

The “true philosophy” to which Ibn Daud refers is the form of Aristotelianism which was articulated by the Muslim philosophers in their translations and commentaries. Ibn Daud could not always avoid conflict with the teachings of Aristotle, especially regarding the theory of the Creation and the concept of preexistent matter. According to Aristotle, all coming into being results from the fusion of preexistent, primary matter into certain forms; this primary matter, as the substance common to all things existent, must therefore be without beginning and must be eternal. The concept of preexistent and eternal matter can not be reconciled with the biblical story of creation, which implies a creation ex nihilo (from nothing), subject to time. (This conflict later caused Maimonides to dispute the authority of Aristotle in all matters transcendental.) Ibn Daud tried to glide over this difficulty by representing the course of creation as a series of creative acts; which recalls Gabirol's doctrine concerning the succession of the various substances. Subsequently he admitted that this was only a hypothesis intended to mark that gradual process of things which would result, had creation really gone through all the stages of existence, from primary matter, which is imperceptible to us, to all individual things including those which exist only as abstract notions. However, according to Ibn Daud, the idea of such a gradual process of creation would contradict the traditional conception of God's mode of acting.

Ibn Daud opens his book with an Aristotelian analysis of the nature of being and the first discussion of categories found in the works of Jewish philosophers. He establishes that “substance” is that which constitutes the essence of a thing, and proves the existence of the soul as an incorporeal substance. He introduces other incorporeal substances, such as the celestial intelligences, which are essential to his later explanations of prophecy.


Ibn Daud presents two proofs for the existence of God, proceeding from the Aristotelian principle of motion. Basing his argument upon the proof of the impossibility of a regressus in infinitum, and the theses that there can be no motion without a mover, he arrives at the conception of a First Cause of all motion, or of a Prime Mover who as First Cause cannot have any other cause of motion above Him, and must, therefore, be thought of as motionless. Ibn Daud also uses the proof that every existence is contingent on another; since an infinite regress of contingency is impossible, it must end with an uncaused being who is called the "Necessary Being. This Prime Mover and Necessary Being he identifies with the God of the Bible. The Prime Mover is without motion and is not affected by the motion of change or transformation; He is infinite and therefore incorporeal.

As a being of necessary existence, God must also be absolutely simple (internally one) and unique; any plurality in His essence would nullify the notion of the necessity of His existence. Therefore the divine attributes ascribed to God should be interpreted either as negative attributes, a doctrine already accepted in the earlier Arabic theology of Bahya ibn Paquda ("Hobot ha-Lebabot," i. 10) and by Judah Ha-Levi (Kuzari, ii. 2), or as relations. Negative statements may prevent erroneous ideas, but can never provide positive knowledge of God. Ibn Daud suggests that negations should be interpreted as expressions of incomparability; for example, we cannot compare the unity of God to the unity of anything else we know. The idea of “relations” is illustrated by the example of a man who is regarded by different people as an uncle, a cousin, a father and a son, but is still the same man. Since these relative attributes do not apply to the essence of God, but only to His relation to the world, they produce no modification in the notion of the unity of the Divine Being.

Authority of tradition

Ibn Daud distinguishes between the speculative doctrines of faith, which can be proved true by reason alone; and the historical dogmas whose authenticity is based principally upon the historical tradition of divine revelation. A tradition, concerning an event reported to have taken place publicly before a large audience, without having been disputed by contemporaries, which has descended with an uninterrupted continuity, possesses an authority which can not be overturned even by the professional logician. The trustworthiness of historical tradition supports the legitimacy of prophecy. According to Ibn Daud, there can be only assertion of real prophecy when the divine revelations apply to important public matters; revelations which pertain to less important matters, or to the personal affairs of a single individual, can not be classed in this category. Ibn Daud remarks that the authenticity of the Torah is based on miracles of real historic certainty, such as those of Moses, rather than on miracles of such private character as the resurrections effected by Elijah and Elisha.

The Soul

Ibn Daud devotes approximately one-fifth of his work to a discussion of the nature and faculties of the soul, its relation to the body and its afterlife. He follows Aristotle’s definition of the soul as the perfection of a natural organic body that potentially possesses life, and emphasizes the unity of the soul. His basic ideas are largely drawn from the psychology of Ibn Sina. Ibn Daud suggests a hierarchy of soul-faculties, with the lower serving the higher and the speculative faculty of the human soul occupying the highest position. Through this speculative faculty man can perfect his knowledge and relate to the incorporeal beings called angels in Scripture; it constitutes the connection between man, angels and God. From the Muslim philosophers Ibn Daud borrowed a theory of heavenly intelligences (secondary substances) that serve as intermediaries between God and the world. The highest of these is the Active Intelligence.

During the first stages of acquisition of knowledge, the soul is dependent on the physical body; when it has reached the stage of acquired intellect the soul can exist separately from the physical body and is therefore immortal.

… the ultimate purpose of the creation of bodies in the physical world was that from the world of generation and corruption immaterial immortal substances would be purified. Such a substance is the human soul that is perfected by true knowledge and correct action. (Emunah Ramah W 23-24; S 65b-66b).

Theory of prophecy

A discussion of prophecy was crucial to Ibn Daud’s defense of rabbinical Judaism. He characterized a prophet as the link between the heavenly world and man, someone whose special revelatory knowledge guided man towards intellectual and moral perfection. A person became a prophet when, in certain circumstances, he received the overflow of the "Active Intellect" on his imaginative and intellectual faculties. Ibn Daud explained that the gift of prophecy must not be considered as a phenomenon, but as the final stage of the natural evolution of a pure soul through study and association with good people. Prophecy was capable of progressive development, although it might in exceptional cases all at once reach the highest perfection in particularly gifted individuals. To preserve the special character of biblical prophecy, he added that true prophecy was tied to certain conditions of nation, place and time. Appointed to become an intermediary between God and man, the prophet is elevated almost to the plane of the separated intelligences, or angels.

Free will

Ibn Daud based many aspects of his theory on free will from Ibn Sina. God can not be the author of evil and good at the same time. Evil has no existence in itself, but is only the natural result of the absence of actual good; consequently, evil needs no creator. The evil in nature is due to matter, and the defects and imperfections which appear in this world do not contradict the wisdom and goodness of God. The defects appear only to a finite conception which considers things separately and in themselves, and not in their connection with the whole. Viewed in connection with the whole, the imperfections adhering to things or individuals might even prove to be perfections and advantages. Evil in man is likewise due to certain aspects of his physical qualities and to ignorance. By developing his intellect through acquiring knowledge, man is able to free himself from the evil aspects of his physical body.

In discussing the omniscience of God, Ibn Daud makes use of four causes of events similar to those defined by Halevi: necessary causes that God knows as necessary, natural and incidental causes which are considered secondary, and causes due to choice between good and evil. Ibn Daud proposes that God from the beginning regulated creation, so that for certain cases there should be alternative "possible" events; that the Creator, in order to grant to human liberty the opportunity to display its own energy, left the final issue of certain actions undecided even for His own knowledge. In these cases there is more than one possible action, and the outcome will depend on the choices made by man.


A variety of moral dispositions, partly due to natural causes, which are found both in single individuals and in entire nations, impose certain restrictions on human free will. However, man is able to overcome his natural disposition and appetites, and to lift himself to a higher plane of morality, by purifying and ennobling himself. The study of the Torah, and of the philosophy of ethics, are the means for achieving this purification. According to Ibn Daud, in this regard no scientific presentation of practical philosophy approaches the efficacy of the Scriptures, which clearly express the most sublime moral principles known to philosophers.

Ibn Daud promoted justice as the ultimate cardinal virtue. Wisdom belongs to the intellect, but justice is the virtue by which man is able to attain perfect happiness. Happiness, the highest goal of practical philosophy, is achieved through moral perfection, perfection of the character and the accomplishment of a good family and social life. Justice brings about harmony among the faculties of the individual’s soul and is the basis for man’s social life. Justice is also a divine commandment, and the standard by which man relates to God.

Ibn Daud explains that the Jewish ceremonial laws also serve the purpose of moral education, and should, in view of their ethical tendency, be considered among the moral laws; although they have only a subordinate importance when compared with the doctrines of faith and the ethical laws proper.


Primary sources

  • Cohen, G. D., (editor) A critical edition with a translation and notes of the Book of tradition (Sefer ha-qabbalah) by Abraham Ibn Daud. London: Routledge & Kegan, 1967.
  • Samuelson, N. M., (editor). The Exalted Faith. Abraham Ibn Daud. Translated with commentary by N. M. Samuelson. Translation edited by Gershon Weiss, Rutherford, etc., Fairleigh Dickinson University Press / London: Associated University Press, 1986.

Secondary sources

  • Eran, A. Me-Emunah tamah le-emunah ramah (From Simple Faith to Sublime Faith). Ibn Daud's Pre-Maimonidean Thought. Tel-Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1998.
  • Fontaine, R. In Defence of Judaism: Abraham Ibn Daud. Sources and structure of ha-Emunah ha-Ramah. Assen: Van Gorcum, 1990. ISBN 9023224043
  • Guttmann, J. Philosophies of Judaism. A History of Jewish Philosophy from Biblical Times to Franz Rosenzweig. New York: Schocken, 1976. pp. 143-52.
  • Husik, I. A History of Medieval Jewish Philosophy. Minneola, NY: Dover Publications, (1st ed. [1916], The Macmillan Company), 2002, pp. 197-235.
  • Sirat, C. A History of Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press & Paris: Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l'homme, [1985]; New edition, 1990. ISBN 0521397278

External links

All links retrieved August 14, 2012.

General philosophy sources


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