Is Silence Praise to Thee? On the Remarkable Near-Absence of Hebrew Averroist Metaphysical Speculation about God in the 15th-16th Centuries

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The primary medium for purely philosophical and scientific, i.e., not-Biblical or Rabbinic based, speculation in Hebrew writings of the 14th-16th centuries was commentary on Averroes' commentaries on Aristotle's writings. While in the 14th century such commentaries focused exclusively on logical and physical writings, by the 15th and 16th centuries “super-commentaries” were written also on other works of Aristotle, including Ethics, Economics, Rhetoric, and Metaphysics. Scholars have noticed that the Hebrew commentaries of the 15th and 16th centuries were inspired and greatly influenced by Latin scholastic works. Yet, while similarities to scholastic works and themes abound, the Hebrew commentaries are significantly different in their treatment of the Metaphysics. For one, there were many fewer commentaries on the Metaphysics in Hebrew than on nearly any other book of Aristotle. Further, the commentaries that survive entirely neglect the sections of Metaphysics concerned with God or the Divine Intellect (especially Book Λ). This paper will examine the extant Hebrew commentaries on Averroes' Middle and Long commentaries on Aristotle's Metaphysics with a view to explaining why they neglected philosophical/scientific speculation about the divine. These “super-commentaries” are still in manuscript form and accordingly our observations will be somewhat preliminary. There are three such free-standing commentaries: (1) Abraham Bibago's Commentary extant in two manuscripts in Munich, (2) fragments of a commentary on Books I, II and IX of Averroes' Middle Commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics found in the Bodleian Library, and (3) a previously unidentified commentary preserved in a single manuscript on the island of Patmos. In Bibago's religious works, he presents a theory of the divine and, I claim, preserves a kind of Averroist double truth by not speaking about God in his Metaphysics commentaries. The other two commentaries, which are still anonymous, also present Averroist reasons for not speaking scientifically about God, leaving such speculation to the “other source of truth.” This suggests that Hebrew-writing philosophers avoided explicit scientific/philosophic speculation about the divine in order to preserve a kind of Averroist double truth.
Original languageEnglish
StatePublished - 2016
EventAverroism between the 15th and 17th century - Palacky University, Olomouc, Czech Republic
Duration: 9 Nov 201610 Nov 2016 (Website)


ConferenceAverroism between the 15th and 17th century
Country/TerritoryCzech Republic
Internet address


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