Isaac Israeli ben Solomon (in Hebrew Yitzhak ben Shlomo ha-Yisraeli; in Arabic Abu Yaqub Ishak ibn Suleiman al-Yisra'ili; also known as Isaac Israeli the Elder) (c. 832 -932, or 845-940) was an Egyptian-Jewish physician and philosopher. He was one of the earliest medieval Jewish philosophers to incorporate Greek philosophy into Jewish metaphysics. He was the first to synthesize the Neoplatonic idea of emanation with the traditional Jewish doctrine of creation ex nihilo by proposing that God, as a voluntary agent, created the first level of matter through His power and will, and that all lower levels of beings emanated from it. He was also the first Jewish philosopher to give a psychological explanation of prophecy.
He was renowned as a physician in the Arab world and served as court physician to the Fatimid caliph 'Ubaid Allah al-Mahdi. Several of his medical works were translated into Latin in 1087 by the Christian monk Constantine of Carthage and used as textbooks in Europe for several centuries. Their real authorship was obscured until their publication as Opera Omnia Isaac in Lyon, France, in 1515.
According to most of the Arabic authorities, Isaac Israeli ben Solomon was born in Egypt before 832 and died at Kairouan, Tunisia, in 932. Crescas Abraham ben Hasdai, quoting the biographer Sanah ibn Sa'id al-Kurtubi ("Orient, Lit." iv., col. 230), says that Isaac Israeli died in 942. Heinrich Grätz ("Gesch." v. 236), while stating that Isaac Israeli lived more than one hundred years, gives the dates 845-940; and Steinschneider ("Hebr. Uebers." pp. 388, 755) places his death in 950. Little is known about his antecedents or his personal life, except that he never married or had children.
Israeli wrote on philosophy, natural history, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, and other scientific topics; he was reputed to be one who knew all the "seven sciences." He first gained a reputation as a skillful oculist; after he went to Kairwan he studied general medicine under Ishak ibn Amran al-Baghdadi, with whom he is sometimes confounded ("Sefer ha-Yashar," p. 10a). Around 904 Israeli was appointed court physician to the last Aghlabid prince, Ziyadat Allah III. Five years later, when the Fatimid caliph Ubaid Allah al-Mahdi became master of northern Africa, of which Kairouan was the capital, Israeli entered his service. The caliph enjoyed Israeli’s company because of his wit and of the repartees with which he succeeded in confounding the Greek al-Hubaish. At the request of al-Mahdi, Israeli composed eight medical works in Arabic.
Isaac Israeli ben Solomon was among the earliest medieval Jewish philosophers to incorporate Greek thought into Jewish metaphysics. Though he does not appear to have had a decisive impact on later Jewish thinkers, the ideas pioneered by Israeli were employed and developed by those who sought to establish a rational, philosophical basis for the Jewish faith. These ideas also found their way into the thought of Christian Scholastics.
Israeli was the first to synthesize the Neoplatonic idea of emanation with the traditional Jewish doctrine of creation ex nihilo. He proposed that God, as a voluntary agent, created a first level of substance, or matter, through His power and will, from which emanated all successive levels of the universe. This concept was vital to the cosmologies of later Jewish philosophers. Israeli elaborated a Neoplatonic explanation of the soul, teaching that it could ascend through all the levels of emanation to achieve ultimate communion with God. He was also the first Jewish philosopher to give a psychological explanation of prophecy.
Carmoly (Ẓiyyon, i. 46) concludes that the Isaac who was so violently attacked by Abraham ibn Ezra in the introduction to his commentary on the Pentateuch, and whom he calls in other places Isaac the Prattler, and Ha-Yizhak, was Isaac Israeli ben Solomon. Israeli received praise from other Biblical commentators, such as Jacob b. Ruben, a contemporary of Maimonides, and Hasdai ben Abraham Crescas.
A commentary on the Sefer Yezirah ascribed to Israeli has given rise to controversy among later scholars. Steinschneider (in his Al-Farabi, p. 248) and Carmoly (in Jost's Annalon, ii. 321) attribute the authorship to Israeli, because Abraham ibn Hasdai Crescas, and Jedaiah Bedersi, in his apologetical letter to Solomon ben Adret (Orient, Lit. xi. cols. 166-169), speak of a commentary by Israeli on the Sefer Yeẓirah. Some scholars, however, believe the words Sefer Yezirah simply denote the Book of Genesis. David Kaufmann (R. E. J. viii. 126), Sachs (Orient, Lit. l.c.), and especially Grätz (Gesch. v. 237, note 2) are inclined to attribute the authorship of this commentary to Israeli's pupil Dunash ibn Tamim.
Israeli produced a number of philosophical works and exegetic commentaries, including a commentary on Genesis and a Book of Definitions, which discusses Aristotle's "theory of four causes" and provides definitions of wisdom, intellect, soul, nature, love, and time. His lectures attracted a large number of pupils, among whom the two most prominent were Abu Ya'far ibn al-Yazzar, a Muslim, and Dunash ibn Tamim.
Israeli was known in Latin Europe primarily as a physician. At the request of caliph 'Ubaid Allah al-Mahdi, Israeli composed eight medical works in Arabic, which were considered by Muslim physicians as "more valuable than gems." The Christian monk Constantine of Carthage translated several of Israeli's medical treatises into Latin in 1087, and they were used as textbooks at the University of Salerno, the earliest university in Western Europe. Constantine of Carthage omitted the author’s name, and Israeli’s authorship was not discovered until they were published in 1515 in Lyon, France, France, as "Opera Omnia Isaci" (in that collection, works of other physicians were erroneously attributed to Israeli). Part of his medical works were also translated into Spanish.
"Kitab al-Istihat," in Hebrew, "Sefer ha-Yesodot," a medical and philosophical work on the elements, which the author treats according to the ideas of Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Galen. The Hebrew translation was made by Abraham ben Hasdai at the request of the grammarian David Kimhi.
All links retrieved March 6, 2018.
New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:
The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia: