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Out of Cordoba

November 20, 2011

Out of Cordoba is a film by Jacob Bender featuring Maimonides and Averroës. Both these philosophers lived in the 12th century Spain,

Out of Cordoba is a documentary film, directed by Jacob Bender and produced by Mr. Bender and MLK Producciones of Malaga, Spain, that explores some of the most vexing questions of our time: Is there a “clash of civilizations” between the West and the Islamic world? Are Jews and Muslims eternal enemies, incapable of peaceful coexistence? Does religious faith lead inevitably to xenophobia and violence?

Out of Cordoba confronts these issues through an exploration of the lives and writings of the two most important thinkers to emerge from medieval Muslim Spain: Averroes the Muslim, and his Jewish counterpart, Rabbi Moses Maimonides. The 82-minute film explores the legacy of these two philosophers, as well as their contemporary importance for interfaith relations, and especially for Muslims, Jews, and Christians struggling against religious extremism. Out of Cordoba is a timely and powerful plea for greater interfaith understanding in our troubled and often violent times.

Maimonide and Averroës were on the curriculum for Thomas Aquinas, when he studied in Naples. Bender has written an essay about this connection here,

Abž al-Wal”d Muhammad Ibn Rushd, known in the West by as Averro‘s, was born in Cordoba in southern Spain in the year 1126 and died in 1198. He is without question the greatest mind produced by Islamic civilization in Al-Andalus. As a young man, Ibn Rushd already excelled in theology, religious law, astronomy, literature, mathematics, music, zoology, medicine and philosophy.

It is in the field of philosophy, however, that Ibn Rushd left an indelible mark upon the intellectual history of Western civilization. In the year 1169, Ibn Rushd was asked by the Caliph to undertake new and up-to-date Arabic translations and commentaries of the works of Aristotle. Ibn Rushd’s commentaries on Aristotle have had an immense impact upon both Christian and Jewish philosophy for hundreds of years.

Rabbi Moses Maimonides was born 12 years after Ibn Rushd. His name in his mother tongue of Arabic was Musa ibn Maymun al-Qurtubi, and he is universally considered the most important Jewish thinker in the last 2,000 years. Please note the similarities between Ibn Rushd and Rabbi Musa: both were born in Cordoba in Al-Andalus; both became “philosopher/theologians” and the foremost interpreters of Aristotle within Islam and Judaism, with both attempting to harmonize the truths of reason with the revelations of the Holy Qur’an and the Torah; both became jurists and authorities in religious law (the sharia in Islam, the halakhah in Judaism) that is still central to Muslim and Jewish observance; both lived part of their lives in Fez in Morocco; and both became court physicians to their local rulers, Ibn Rushd to the Caliph of Cordoba, Rabbi Musa to the great Salah-ah-Din in Egypt.

Thomas Aquinas was born near Naples, Italy in the year 1225. He is the most important and influential Christian philosopher of the Middle Ages. His masterpiece, the Summa Theologiae, is widely considered the most comprehensive exploration of philosophy and theology in the entire history of Christianity. And like Ibn Rushd and Rabbi Musa before him, Thomas was primarily concerned with finding a way of incorporating Aristotle’s rationalism into Christian theology.

It is also abundantly clear in his writings how indebted Thomas is to Ibn Rushd and Rabbi Musa, both of whom he quotes on numerous occasions. Even the present Pope, John Paul II, has recognized this, when he specifically mentions that one of the influences on Thomas Aquinas, the greatest theologian in Catholic history, was, “the dialogue that Thomas carried on with the writings of the Arab and Jewish thinkers of his time.”

and Velveteen Rabbit, Rachel Barenblat, has a post about Maimonides (Rambam) and Averroës (Ibn Rashid) On religion and philosophy: Ibn Rushd and Rambam. Further commentary here.

I was profoundly touched by Bender’s article on several levels. First, it challenged me to be open to other cultures independent of my reaction to their religion. Second, it creates a paradigm shift in how we define the traditions of western science and philosophy. Third, it helps me to think of the history of ideas as a continuous thread. moving from one culture to another, encorporationg different traditions and literatures, rather than as isolated bursts of inspiration and individual brilliance. Fourth, it points back to the great translation movement of 9th century Baghdad, when Greek texts were translated from Greek, Syriac and Persian originals into Arabic.

Although Thomas Aquinas, who never learned to read Greek, did have access later to translations of Aristotle’s texts into Latin, it was through commentaries by Averroës and Maimonides that Aquinas learned about Aristotle, and was trained in philosophy.

38 Comments leave one →
  1. November 20, 2011 9:38 pm

    Thomas’s first mentions of Maimonides and Averroes are in his “Commentary on the Sentences” [of Peter Lombard]; the commentary famously was a requirement for the master of theology degree; Thomas’s studies for his master of theology degree were at Paris.

    I know that the Wikipedia page claims that Thomas studied Maimonides and Averroes at Naples, citing to a book by Brian Davies, and Davies does indeed say it was likely Thomas encountered them “around that period,” but Davies does not give evidence for this claim. It seems to me likely that Thomas encountered translations of the writings of those philosophers at Paris, or perhaps, Cologne.

    Maimonides was born in 1135, not 12 years after 1126.

    It is likely the case that Thomas did not read Greek, but few Western theologians did in the 12th and 13th century. Doubtlessly most readers remember the scene in Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose on the controversy over Aristotle’s Poetics: Jorge of Burgos denounces it as being from “infidel Moors,” although protagonist (and “detective”) William of Baskerville knows it was translated by William of Moerbeke.

  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 21, 2011 2:04 am

    1) I cannot find any one reference that will explain the process by which Naples became the centre of translation for Averroes but you can verify each detail. Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, living in Sicily, spoke Arabic and dressed as an Arab, hired Jewish and other translators for the purpose of having Arab works translated into Latin. He founded the university in Naples in 1224.

    In the decade preceding Thomas Aquinas attending the university of Naples, there was significant translation of Averroes’ works. Jacob Anatoli translated some into Hebrew and William of Luna, Michael Scot and others translated from Hebrew into Latin.

    Since Thomas Aquinas was at the university of Naples for approx. 6 years, dates vary, it would be very surprising if he did not read Averroes and Maimonides in Naples. My understanding is that Anatoli also translated Maimonides and lectured on Maimonides in Naples.

    Toledo, Spain and Naples were the two earliest and most active centres for the translation of Averroes. It was from these centres that the texts spread to Paris and Oxford. It is well known that Frederick of Sicily was the originator of the translation school from Arabic into Latin, so perhaps a footnote was not considered necessary.

    2)I have found that dates for everyone concerned, at least dates of birth and early years, vary from source to source.

    3) In Paris Aquinas was able to interact with translations of Aristotle made directly from Greek into Latin by William of Moerbeke and others. However, an interesting point is that Aquinas’ thought was shaped as a teenager by Averroes’ commentaries on Aristotle. As a mature writer he took on Averroes and disagreed with him. But that does not change the fact that his formative education was shaped by Averroes representations of Aristotle.

  3. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 21, 2011 2:13 am

    Greco-Arab and Islamic Herbal Medicine: Traditional System, Ethics, Safety …
    By Bashar Saad, Omar Said

    section 4.5.1 Arabic to Latin translations provides as good an overview as I have seen.

  4. November 21, 2011 2:49 am

    Frederick II was king of Sicily.

    It is true that Sicily was a center of translation as were Toledo and Paris. Not Naples, however. See this reference. In any case, the first writings we have from Thomas quoting Maimonides was from his Paris years; it is of course possible that Thomas chose not to quote Maimonides for 14 years and then write about him almost every year of his life after then, but it seems unlikely.

    The book you cite, which is by herbal medicine supporters and not historians, does not mention any translations of Maimonides.

  5. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 21, 2011 3:18 am

    Frederick styled himself Holy Roman Emperor, and had a wide range of territory under his rule at different times but was based in Sicily. He founded the university in Naples, and certain of the translators lived in Naples, although some of these same translators also lived in Toledo and Sicily first.

    This may help.

    Anatoli lived in Naples and was a translator of Maimonides.

    I have to disagree with you on your points, but I am not well and will not be providing an bibliography at this time. You may choose to be a sceptic, but I am representing the commonly understood facts.

  6. November 21, 2011 3:50 am

    I’m sorry to disagree with you, but the dates do not work out at all.

    There is no evidence that Anatoli translated Maimonides major work, Guide (which is the only work cited by Thomas). See the last paragraph here.

    In fact, while there is little doubt that Aquinas relied on a Latin translation, it could hardly be a complete translation since the first Latin translation did not appear until 1520.

    Anatoli’s production of the Malmud, which included excerpts of Maimonides that Thomas theoretically might have used appeared 4 years after Thomas left Naples (when Thomas was 16).

    So, absent a time machine, the account you give is not possible.

  7. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 21, 2011 4:09 am

    Anatoli’s father in law, Tibbons, was the translator of Maimonides. It was available to Aquinas since Anatoli was in Naples,

    “His son Samuel (1160-1230) and his grandson Moses continued the line of faithful but inelegant translators. Judah had turned into Hebrew the works of Bachya, Ibn Gebirol, Jehuda Halevi, Ibn Janach, and Saadiah. Samuel was the translator of Maimonides, and bore a brave part in the defence of his master in the bitter controversies which arose as to the lawfulness and profit of studying philosophy. The translations of the Tibbon family were in the first instance intended for Jewish readers only, but later on the Tibbonite versions were turned into Latin by Buxtorf and others. Another Latin translation of Maimonides existed as early as the thirteenth century.

    Of the successors of the Tibbons, Jacob Anatoli (1238) was the first to translate any portion of Averroes into any language. Averroes was an Arab thinker of supreme importance in the Middle Ages, for through his writings Europe was acquainted with Aristotle. Renan asserts that all the early students of Averroes were Jews. Anatoli, a son-in-law of Samuel Ibn Tibbon, was invited by Emperor Frederick II to leave Provence and settle in Naples. To allow Anatoli full leisure for making translations, Frederick granted him an annual income. Anatoli was a friend of the Christian Michael Scot, and the latter made Latin renderings from the former’s Hebrew translations. In this way Christian Europe was made familiar with Aristotle as interpreted by Averroes (Ibn Roshd).”

    I fail to perceive your point that a man who died in 1230 could not have produced a translation of Maimonides to be available to Aquinas from 1239 to 1244. Perhaps the clouds will clear for me at some future time.

  8. November 21, 2011 9:28 am

    I am having trouble following your logic. The celebrated Samuel ibn Tibbons translation was into Hebrew, and was completed in Arles.

    The Buxtorf translation appeared appeared in 1629 (and Buxtorf was in Basel).

    How does this help your theory that Thomas encountered Maimonides in Naples?

  9. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 21, 2011 11:41 am

    I have difficuulty knowing what Buxdorf has to do with this.

    Click to access 12._Dunne_-_Peter_of_Ireland.pdf

    “The source for this information on Peter of Ireland is from the
    edition of A Hebrew-Italian Philosophical Glossary of the Thirteenth Century by
    Giuseppe Sermoneta in 1969.9 He notes that Moses Maimonides’ Guide
    for the Perplexed, written between 1185 and 1290 was translated into
    Hebrew by Samuel Ibn Thibbon at Arles in 1204. His son-in-law Jacob
    ben Abba Mari Anatoli moved from Marseilles to Naples in 1230,
    probably at the invitation of Frederick II and became a collaborator with
    Michael Scotus. The Latin translation was completed by 1240 and
    Frederick II is recorded by Anatoli as interpreting scripture according to
    the teaching of Maimonides, comparing him with Aristotle and Averroes.
    Thus, we have the foundation of a Maimonidean tradition in Southern
    Italy and one not limited to Jewish circles.”

    Thomas Aquinas was in Naples from 1239 to 1244, so there was ample time for him to be exposed to Anatoli, and the translation of Maimonides into Latin, which was completed in 1240. Anatoli also collaborated with Michael Scot to translated Averroes into Latin.

    Although this falls short of absolute proof that Thomas Aquinas was exposed to Maimonides and Averroes at the university of Naples, I give credit to the literature that says he was exposed to M and A in Naples.

    You may call this only a theory. I invite you to blog about your theory that Thomas Aquinas spent 5 or 6 years studying in Naples without being influenced by Maimonides or Averroes.

  10. November 21, 2011 11:44 pm

    As noted above, the theory that Anatoli translated Maimonides is largely dismissed by scholars.

    However, even if a translation were completed, how would it have reached average students? The printing press had not yet been invented.

  11. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 22, 2011 12:01 am

    I don’t think we know who translated Maimonides from Hebrew into Latin first. His father-in-law translated M from Arabic into Hebrew. Possibly Michael Scot translated M from hebrew into Latin.

    We do know that there are Latin citations from Maimonides dating from 1220 on. For example, Alexander of Hale and William of Auvergne. Anatoli was very familiar with Maimonides, and he was at the university of Naples at this time.

    Thomas Aquinas was at this univeristy from age 10 – 16 approx. He was exposed to Dominican teaching at that time. Maimonides was also popular among Dominicans. Why would a teenager not be exposed to the major philosophers?

    Frederick, the founder of the univeristy favoured Maimonides. Why wouldn’t Maimonides be taught in Naples. Just because we do not know the name of the person who translated him into Latin at that time we still know that the translation was available.

  12. November 22, 2011 12:12 am

    Suzanne — I’m not sure the chronology works out (for example, there is a dispute about the years Thomas studied at Naples). I’m also not aware of a complete translation of Maimonides that early. To be sure, there are brief quotes, but that’s quite different from a sustained argument. Brian Davies agrees with you, but for all the reasons mentioned above, I doubt a translation was even available then.

    Let’s suppose it was though. Guide for the Perplexed is a tough, tough work. I don’t think it is the range of most 16 year olds — now Thomas was exceptional, so maybe he got it, but I doubt that typical Naples students really learned it.

    Think about 16 year olds today. How many 16 year students can really understand Wittgenstein or Sartre or Heidegger or Hegel? Actually, how many college-educated 22 year old people can understand these contemporary philosophers (even if they know a few odd quotes from them)? Now imagine the situation when you are also mastering a foreign tongue (Latin), and where books are scarce since each one needs to be copied by hand? Do we really think that Maimonides — who even under the best scenario had only “just” been translated into Latin and whose work demands a fairly deep understanding of Jewish law — would really be accessible to 10-16 year olds? After all, even with the major annotated editions in English today, I still know several college professors who have tried to understand Maimonides and failed.

    As an adult philosophy student working towards his master of theology (equivalent to today’s Ph.D.) I find it much more plausible that Thomas would have studied Maimonides. And that’s why he started to write about him.

  13. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 22, 2011 12:54 am

    Here is my statement from the blog post,

    “it was through commentaries by Averroës and Maimonides that Aquinas learned about Aristotle, and was trained in philosophy.”

    So I don’t think you disagree with this in any way. Whenever Thomas did learn concepts from Aristotle, and to the extent that he did, he learned through teachers influenced by and texts by Averorroes and Maimonides.

    It was only later that he had available to him texts translated from Greek into Latin. But the first exposure to Aristotle was through texts and commentaries translated from Greek into Arabic then Hebrew and Latin. This was the primary path of trasmission.

    But more than that, Naples at the time that Thomas was there, was the source of translations for Averroes and Maimonides for the rest of Europe.

  14. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 22, 2011 1:13 am

    From it was through commentaries by Averroës and Maimonides that Aquinas learned about Aristotle, and was trained in philosophy page 225,

    Before 1240 there were several citations, but by 1240 Moneta and Roland of Cremona has access to the full Guide. They were Dominicans and Thomas became a Dominican at the age of 16. He may only have been influenced by a small piece of either philosopher, but I maintain that he was exposed to Aristotelian concepts first through Averroes and Maimonides.

  15. November 22, 2011 2:25 am

    Hi Suzanne, sorry to disagree with you but the scholarly opinion is the Moneta and Roland of Cremona never had access to the Guide. As the standard biography of Roland of Cremona (see Filthaut, pl. 72) states, although Roland was the first Latin writer to mention Maimonides, his references are so erroneous and distorted that it is clear that he derived his information by oral communication and not by reading.

    Kluxen’s 1954 and 1960 surveys of Moneta display a similar unbelieving reaction, and Kluxen cannot account for Moneta’s knowledge, particularly, since Moneta was in Northern Italy and not in Southern France at the time. This is the only mention of Maimonides among Italians at the time, and once again, the evidence strongly suggests oral communication (although Moneta is not nearly as incorrect about Maimonides and Roland of Cremona.)

    Roland’s career, of course, was at Paris, which is consistent with my theories. Moneta’s Summa was not written until 1241 (not 1240), and is unlikely that it reached Naples so quickly. (Remember — all manuscripts had to be copied by hand.)

    Finally, it makes no sense to teach Aristotle through Maimonides; unlike Averroes, who actually wrote commentaries on Aristotle.

  16. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 22, 2011 2:41 am

    Everything I have read says that the texts of Averroes and Maimonides entered Europe through Naples (or Sicily, the court of Frederick II) or Spain. I have not read that the translations were produced in Paris. I suggest that since Anatoli, known to teach Maimonides, and living in Naples, and recording that Frederick favoured Maimonides, would have taught Maimonides in Naples.

  17. November 22, 2011 3:29 am

    Yes, but I’m not sure you read my earlier links — to repeat for the third time: most scholars believe Anatoli never translated Maimonides. There is definitely a legend to that effect, but the evidence is lacking. Even Wikipedia, prone to exaggeration, no longer makes the claim that Anatoli translated beyond Averroes. (His translations of Averroes have survived, and yet his “claimed” translation of Maimonides is not to be found.)

    As to Frederick II “favoring” Maimonides, I have not seen evidence of that. David Abufalia’s Oxford biography of Frederick claims that:

    Frederick was well educated, but not by a centaur, nor by learned rabbis and imans of Palermo. When he was in his prime, a century had elapsed since Roger II had entertained at court the ambassadors of the Fatimid caliph and had patronized the scholarship of Idrisi and Doxopatorios. The court of Sicily had already become heavily Latinized by the reign of William the Good, and Muslim scholars were rarely to be seen in the royal entourage. Nor was Sicily in any way as great a center of Jewish learning as was Castile or Egypt during this period: Sicily contained neither the vociferous enemies nor the enthusiastic followers of the controversial Maimonides. The question is, therefore, whether Frederick II revived and enlarged upon the cultural interests of his forebears. And the answer has to be no.

    So, I am unconvinced by broad claims, unsupported by actual evidence, that Frederick was somehow a master of foreign philosophies during his period. I realize that as part of a type of royal hagiography; extravagant claims are often made for rulers. But without hard evidence, I doubt them. Thus, for example, when Thomas North writes to his monarch Elizabeth in the preface to his celebrated translation of Plutarch’s lives that

    who is fitter to authorise such a work of so great learning and wisedom, than she whom all do honour as the Muse of the World? … For most gracious Sovereign, this book be no book for your Majesty’s self, whom are meeter to be the chief stone, than a student therein, and can better understand it in Greek, than any man can make it in English….

    there is reason not to take North at face value. Flattery of the scholarship of monarchs is an ancient tradition, and yet scholarly monarchs are rare.

    So what seems more plausible to me? That 16 year old students studied a work that was not even correctly quoted in contemporary books of the period? That Thomas (who was considered somewhat backward in his youth; thus the monicker “dumb ox”) studied Maimonides but did not write of him until more than a decade later? That a mysterious translation appeared, even though we have no quotes from it; while other translations by the same author survived? That a monarch who contemporary scholarship regards as unfamiliar with foreign thought somehow mastered this difficult philosopher? That sans commentaries, a book that challenges even sophisticated 21st century readers was obvious to young adolescents? Or that a myth developed, based on the later fame of Maimonides, that the young Thomas encountered him as a child? I would suggest that there is good reason to be skeptical here.

    What we do know is that in Thomas’s Sentences written as part of the requirements for his masters in theology (again, equivalent to a doctorate today) that he quoted Maimonides. Any earlier claims are merely speculation without proof.

  18. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 22, 2011 3:54 am

    The ornament of the world: how Muslims, Jews, and Christians created a …
    By María Rosa Menocal

    Maimonides and the sciences
    By Robert Sonné Cohen, Hillel Levine pages 41 and following provide full argumentation, and a full rebuttal of Kluxen. Moses Ben Solomon of Salerno was a student of Anaatoli and cites the Guide in Latin 5 times in 1240.

  19. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 22, 2011 4:01 am

    I defer to Coehn and Levine who write a full chapter on this issue. I belive this is the scholarly consensus today and I dont find any of your citations about Frederick relevant.

    There is documentation that Michael Scot sent his translations of Averroes from Naples to Paris, this was the established route of transmission. There is evidence that Frederick has other translations sent to Bologna. He was propagating translations and sending them out.

    I had made a much longer comment on this but it has been lost.

  20. November 22, 2011 4:36 am

    Actually, I am not sure you are familiar with Cohen and Levine. First, the chapter you attribute to them was written by Gad Freudenthal, not Cohen and Levine. Second, the chapter you claim is devoted to an early translation of Maimonides is actually about a different topic altogether — it is entitled “The Transmission of ‘Two Lines'” and is about a minor “probably anonymous” mathematical work.

    Freudenthal’s “evidence” consists of the rather implausible assumption that “Two Lines” was motivated by an interest in Maimonides, although it must be said that there is mere speculation here.

    Freudenthal then recites the old theory by Steinschneider (1863-4) and Perles (1875) that Maimonides was translated at Frederick’s court. There is no actual hard evidence for this, merely speculation. Contrary to your claim that Moses Ben Solomon of Salerno quoted the Guide five times in 1240, Freudenthal actually claims it was translated five times in the 1240s. (Please note the s.)

    Kluxen rejects the hypothesis, noting flaws in your arguments (thus, the translation which surfaced in the mid 1240s of the Guide was not from Samuel Ibn Thibbon, as you imply above, but from al-Chaziri.) Thus, under your theory, Anatoli translated his father-in-law’s rival’s translation instead of his father-in-law. Maybe he had bad in-law relations. Kluxen’s theory is that the translation of the Guide appeared in France; and Freudenthal’s dispute is rather that it appeared in Naples. Amazingly, after Freudenthal’s “full rebuttal” of Kluxen, he then relies on Kluxen for his (unsupported) claim that “The Guide, so much is clear, was translated during the mid or later 1230s.”

    However, despite the complete lack of hard evidence for Freudenthal’s theory, let us suppose it was true, and that a copy of the Guide was available in Naples during Thomas’s study. You would still need to show that Thomas actually studied it. Now, perhaps there is a certain book in the Vancouver public library. That hardly is evidence that you have studied it, particularly if it were a difficult book that required substantial prerequisites. I must ask: where is your evidence that Aquinas studied Maimonides when he was 10-16 years old. (Just as a point of comparison, in traditional Jewish study, Maimonides is not normally taught to such young readers, because it is considered too difficult and too heretical — a point of view that the papal authorities shared: they required the burning of the Guide. Freudenthal argues that Frederick would have wanted to translate the Guide to tweak the papal authorities, but even if that is the case, it hardly supports the claim that difficult, heretical works would be taught to mere children.)

    Further, I must admit some confusion at your sudden reliance on Freudenthal. You mention a Dominican connection above, but Freudenthal’s theory (only three pages after the page 41 that you cite) is that Frederick was in a long battle with the Dominicans (his evidence is the 1238 disputation of Frederick’s Master Theodore with the Dominicans at Brescia.) So, it seems you hardly have a consistent point of view on the matter.

    Finally, a single contentious article hardly makes a scholarly consensus; and the article you cite makes no claims about Thomas at all.

  21. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 22, 2011 8:50 am

    My theory is not that Anatoli translated the Guide into Latin, and I have made that clear. He was a translator who worked from Arabic into Hebrew But rather, that someone in Naples, among the Hebrew into Latin translators translated it.

    We do know that Anatoli wrote the “Student’s Goad” referring to Maimonides. I am not suggesting that Thomas sat and studied the Guide but that his instructors were influenced by the Guide, that it was known among the staff of the university, and that this shaped the intellectual environment.

    My point is that Thomas Aquinas was introduced to Aristotle through Arabic and Hebrew philosophers and their commentaries, and deriative commentaries and oral communication, lectures whatever, long before he had access to Greek into Latin translations, which he certainly had later.

    The Arabic and Hebrew literature were not just commentaries but creative works, with arguments for and against different views of creation and other matters.

    I am trying to establish the case that Aquinas built on Arabic and Hebrew literature not directly on Aristotle. That by the time he read Aristotle in translation, he had already been exposed to the thought of the Arabic and Hebrew commentaries or derivative literature.

    I realise that there are certain incongruencies, for example, why was AlHarizi’s translationon used and not Anatoli’s father-in-laws. but suppose that the translation from AlHarizi had already been started by Scot before Anatoli arrived. Suppose that Anatoli had no control over Freiderick’s decision to use the Al Harizi text.

    I just don’t think you can compare this with a modern day library. There were only so many major philosophers at that time. This is more comparable to saying that I was influenced by certain schools of thought because I was in Toronto. I did not read McLuhan when I was an undergrad in Toronto but certainly my thinking is sharply shaped by the Toronto School of communication, and I can recognize that influence when I go back nd read his work today. I can see where other professors were arguing for and against his ideas without mentioning him, but their thinking is related back to his, in some way. Not all of them but some.

    You can’t disregard the awareness of Maimonides in the court of Frederick and in the university of Naples.

  22. November 22, 2011 11:47 am

    Well, here is what we can definitely say:

    (1) As an adult, and beginning with his Sentences, Thomas regularly quoted Maimonides, Avicenna, Averroes, Alfarabi and other major Arabic philosophers.

    (2) Averroes wrote the most rationalist commentary and introduction to Aristotle of the Middle Ages.

    (3) Maimonides did not write a commentary on Aristotle or introduce Aristotle to readers. Rather Maimonides used Aristotelian principles.

    (4) Mature Thomas was most interested in Maimonides for his philosophical proofs of the existence of God and his critique of the kalam.

    (5) Latin copies of Maimonides were certainly available in the mid 1240s. Some believe that copies were available in the late 1230s.

    (6) There was awareness of Maimonides throughout the 1230s and 1240s because of the extreme controversy both among the French rabbis of his work and because the pope had ordered his works to be burned. However, Latin claims about Maimonides before 1241 are inevitably full of errors and distortions, suggesting that knowledge about Maimonides during 1230s was primarily base on oral descriptions of his philosophy.

    I’ll let you put the pieces together the way you want. However, we are firm ground asserting that Thomas knew Maimonides when was at University de Paris; there he actually quote and wrote intelligently about him. Anything before then and we get into speculation.

  23. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 23, 2011 1:21 am

    (1) As an adult, and beginning with his Sentences, Thomas regularly quoted Maimonides, Avicenna, Averroes, Alfarabi and other major Arabic philosophers.


    (2) Averroes wrote the most rationalist commentary and introduction to Aristotle of the Middle Ages.

    (3) Maimonides did not write a commentary on Aristotle or introduce Aristotle to readers. Rather Maimonides used Aristotelian principles.


    (4) Mature Thomas was most interested in Maimonides for his philosophical proofs of the existence of God and his critique of the kalam.


    (5) Latin copies of Maimonides were certainly available in the mid 1240s. Some believe that copies were available in the late 1230s.

    I would like to add here that Ben Solomon of Salerno, Anatoli’s student, cited from a Latin translation of Maimonides in the early 1240’s.

    (6) There was awareness of Maimonides throughout the 1230s and 1240s because of the extreme controversy both among the French rabbis of his work and because the pope had ordered his works to be burned. However, Latin claims about Maimonides before 1241 are inevitably full of errors and distortions, suggesting that knowledge about Maimonides during 1230s was primarily base on oral descriptions of his philosophy.

    I would definitely expect a period of oral transmission to precede the translations themselves.

    I would like to add a final point that Frederick sent translations of Averroes to Paris and Bologna. This transmission can be traced. However other details are murky.

    To sum it up, Thomas Aquinas was exposed to the general principles of Aristotelian logic and some of his texts, first through Averroes and Maimonides. It was only in the 1260’s that he had access to texts translated directly from Greek into Latin.

  24. November 23, 2011 3:43 am

    Suzanne, I think you have found some misinformation about Moses ben Solomon of Salerno. I saw the claim about Moses ben Solomon quoting Maimonides in Latin in Gad Freudenthal’s essay (but there he only said 1240s — not “early 1240s”), but as I explain in detail below, I believe Freudenthal is confused.

    Moses ben Solomon wrote a commentary in 1240-1250 period — in Hebrew — on the Guide. His work partially survived in the Cairo Genizah, and you can find a portion of it described here — together with images of his commentary. Since he read and wrote Hebrew, it makes more sense that he studied from one of the two major Hebrew translations (one of them by Anatoli’s father-in-law) at the time.

    Moses ben Solomon did know Latin, and in fact uses both Italian and Latin vocabulary (written in Aramaic script) in his commentary on the Guide. In fact, in the fragment we have, there are five Latin terms in his commentary. (You can see part of this for yourself — just click on the above link and see the original manuscript).

    Now I have to wonder if Freudenthal didn’t get his facts wrong when he wrote his chapter. The overlap in dates (his “quotes” appeared exactly during the same period as his Hebrew commentary with the same number of Latin words) just appears to be too close. Further I am unable to find any Latin works by Freudenthal at all (although apparently he spoke Latin and advised Nicolo Paglia.)


    As to your other comments: You are very perceptive to mention the possibility of oral transmission. There is no doubt that there was buzz about Maimonides in the 1230s, after all he was famously banned and controversial both in Jewish and Catholic circles. So it is certainly possible that the youth Thomas heard some mention of Maimonides; but even this is speculation.

    Finally, Thomas was apparently using Latin translations of the Greek much earlier than 1260. In 1256, he completed Scriptum super Sententiis (Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard); and as you can see for yourself, he extensively quotes from Aristotle in that work.

  25. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 23, 2011 8:20 am

    I am not able to ascertain how you can tell which translation of Aristotle Aquinas used in 1256. My understanding is that this is unknown to scholars since early printed versions of Aquinas works supplied their own Latin translations from contemporary translators. This may be what you are referring to above.

    The original manuscripts contained only cue words, and this has not been adequate for scholars to identify which translations Aquinas used. If you have additional information that Aquinas used a pre-Moerbeke translation from the Greek I would like to know the translator. I think there were a few works like the Physics that already had a Greek to Latin translation, but it seems that the repertoire was quite limited.

    On the topic of oral transmission of Maimonides, many texts are derived from the lecture notes of students and assembled into text form later. I studied Saussure from his Cours de linguistique Generale which was assembled posthumously from student notes.

    Considering Anatoli’s works on Maimonides, and the use of equivalent Latin terms, it seems there was at least an oral Latin use of Maimonides in Italy at the time of Thomas early education. Naples is still more probable than Paris for the early Latin translations of Maimonides. We know that Frederick, founder of the university of Naples was interested in Maimonides, and corresponded on this topic.

  26. November 23, 2011 1:31 pm

    Suzanne — I was not making any claim above about any particular translation. I was simply saying Thomas had a translation (unless he was able to read Greek).


    The Guide is a long letter, written to a specific recipient. There is a dispute over whether this was a literary device or a real letter meant for a specific recipient. Sure, it is possible that students took notes on lectures, but we have no evidence that Maimonides was taught or that notes were taken. In any case, since the students were still mastering Latin at the time, those notes would have been pretty awful.

    You are right that Saussure’s work is assembled from notes; chiefly because Saussure didn’t write his material down. But this is really something quite different — we are talking about the periods before and after printing.


    If Anatoli wrote anything about Maimonides, we do not have it. Above, I am referring to Moses ben Solomon of Salerno. Sure, I suppose Moses ben Solomon could have used a Latin copy of the Guide if one had existed; but since ben Solomon read Hebrew and his teacher owned a Hebrew translation of the Guide, doesn’t it seem more likely it would have read the Hebrew copy? In particular, as you will have noted from your reading of his commentary (recall I gave the links above), he deals with Maimonides in a systematic way and gives a paraphrase of Maimonides. It seems unlikely that an oral transmission would have been so exact. Rather, especially with a work as difficult as the Guide, one would expect to see serious errors in the text. (See the discussion of Roland of Cremona above).

    As long as we are engaging in wild speculation, we could also say that Maimonides himself appeared in a vision to the young Thomas and taught him. That’s absurd, but so are some of the speculations made by Gad Freudenthal.

  27. November 23, 2011 4:58 pm

    You wrote,

    “Finally, Thomas was apparently using Latin translations of the Greek much earlier than 1260.”

    Then you wrote,

    “I was not making any claim above about any particular translation. I was simply saying Thomas had a translation (unless he was able to read Greek).”

    These two statements are contradictory. There were two major sources of translations, of Arabic or of Greek. Please be more specific in your comments.

  28. November 23, 2011 5:28 pm

    Suzanne — Excuse me, I was perhaps unclear. I meant that Thomas was using Latin translations of Aristotle much earlier than 1260. I did not mean to imply that the Latin was “directly” translated from the Greek.

  29. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 23, 2011 9:24 pm

    I wrote,

    “t was only in the 1260′s that he had access to texts translated directly from Greek into Latin.”

    You wrote,

    “Finally, Thomas was apparently using Latin translations of the Greek much earlier than 1260. In 1256, he completed Scriptum super Sententiis (Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard); and as you can see for yourself, he extensively quotes from Aristotle in that work.”

    Can you interpret this exchange for me?

  30. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 23, 2011 9:47 pm

    It is true that there were some parts of the Physics in translation from the Greek before 1260. But this is limited The problem is that we can not ascertain as far as I can see what translation he used before 1260 but we do know that after that he had the translations of Moerbeke and others.

  31. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 23, 2011 10:41 pm

    “If Anatoli wrote anything about Maimonides, we do not have it.”

    I had the impression that we do have the Malmad ha Talmidim (The Student’s Goad) completed in Naples by 1240.

  32. November 24, 2011 9:34 am

    Suzanne: In fact, I’ve read the Malmad. It is not about Maimonides.

    It would be nice if all literature were written in 1240, but the Malmad was written in 1250.

    As you will note from the title, it is written in Hebrew. (By the way, you will note that the title is pun; your translation of the title omits the pun.)

  33. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 24, 2011 11:13 am

    I believe I read that it was written between 1240 and 1250 but I can’t support that. It was a series of sermons for students (his sons) produced during his time in Naples. I understand that it presents an “excellent articulation” of Maimonides position. (Robert Eisen.)

    And elsewhere,

    “Here Anatoli uses the exact rationale and phraseology of the Guide II:40.”

    (The philosopher-king in medieval and Renaissance Jewish thought. Abraham Melamed, Lenn Evan Goodman)

    I will be leaving the thread now. Thank you so much for this vigourous dialogue. It has been a pleasure.

    We seem to be in agreement that Thomas learned Aristotelian philosophy from Averroes and through Arabic translations and commentary. But Maimonides remains unresolved.

  34. November 24, 2011 12:14 pm

    Suzanne — I don’t know where you read that the work was written in 1240. The It is formally addressed to his sons (but obviously intended for posterity), in the author’s 55th year (1250).

    You badly, badly misrepresent Robert Eisen by your out-of-context quote. Here is some more context:

    A positive attitude towards non-Jews is particularly evident among a number of Jewish philosophers who lived in the two centuries after Maimonides and were influenced by him…. Anatoli tells us in the introduction to his work that his Jewish readers should not be concerned that he sought counsel from a non-Jew regarding philosophical matters because ideas should be judged by their validity, not by the person with whom they originate. Here we have an excellent articulation of the nonessentialist position of Maimonides.

    In other words, Anatoli is not commenting on Maimonides, he is rather (like Maimonides) quoting gentile philosophers.

    And while it is true that Anatoli uses a phrase also found in one of the Hebrew translations of Maimonides, you’ll note that in Melamed-Goodman book he quoted he does not mention Maimonides.

    Rather than quote secondary sources, you can easily find Anatoli’s book on the Internet so you can check for yourself.

  35. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 24, 2011 12:34 pm

    “you’ll note that in Melamed-Goodman book he quoted he does not mention Maimonides.

    That is consistent with my earlier comments that Thomas was exposed to Aristotelian principles through Averroes and Maimonides. I would clarify that my perception continues to be that Maimonides contributed to the transmission of an Aristotelian framework among those in Naples at the time that Thomas was there

    As I mentioned we will have to agree to disagree.

  36. November 24, 2011 2:39 pm

    I’m not sure how Malmad bears on Thomas: (1) it is in Hebrew, which Thomas probably did not read; (2) it is a standard Jewish literary form; a commentary on the weekly parsha (there are thousands and thousands of these); and (3) it was written in 1250.

    If your point is to say that Anatoli was familiar with Maimonides, he most certainly was. It is harder to find out how he would have transmitted this knowledge to the child Thomas.

    My understanding is that there were Aristotelian translations (from Arabic) available at the time; why would 10-year old Thomas have studied a more difficult work like Maimonides (that only touches on small points of Aristotle) rather than Aristotle himself?

    By Thomas’s young adulthood, Maimonides’s Guide was translated into Latin and Thomas certainly studied it.

  37. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 24, 2011 2:59 pm

    Thank you for the exchange. I appreciate your contributions on Maimonides, and will enjoy any future reference to his work.

  38. December 5, 2011 11:38 pm

    Here is a review by Menachem Kellner of Micah Goodman’s bestselling (Hebrew) book on Maimonides.

    Kellner makes several points that are relevant here: Maimonides is exceptionally difficult, Maimonides occupies a protean position in Judaism (both of the medieval period and modern period), and commentary on Maimonides tend to tell more about the commentator than about Maimonides:

    There is something amazing about Maimonides: few have read him, fewer have understood him, and yet everyone wants him in his or her camp, from the Rebbe of Lubavitch to the Rebbe of (Yeshayahu) Leibowitz. Why is that? Maimonides is one of those rare Jewish figures whose stature is such that if he can be shown to have held a position, then that position is considered Jewishly legitimate. He is also one of those rare figures without whom Judaism as we know it would be different. Aside from R. Judah the Prince, editor of the Mishnah, it is indeed hard to think of any figure from the time of Moses of Egypt to the time of Moses ben Maimon, who lived in Egypt, about whom this could be said. Indeed: “From Moses to Moses, there arose none like Moses!”

    Had Maimonides not created the first systematic and only comprehensive code of Jewish law (Mishneh Torah) it is not likely that his successors in that project, R. Jacob ben Asher, author of the Arba’ah Turim, and R. Joseph Karo, author of the Shulhan Arukh, would have had the vision and courage to embark on what would have been, if not for Maimonides, a revolutionary innovation. Had Maimonides not placed Judaism on a firm dogmatic footing (with his “Thirteen Principles”), it would not be possible to speak of Jewish orthodoxy (orthos + doxos = straight beliefs) in any technical sense of the term. Had not Maimonides thrown the massive weight of his considerable authority behind the project of integrating science and Judaism there would have been little room in the medieval Jewish world and in the Orthodox world today for rationally oriented Jews–without Maimonides’ authority it would be next to impossible to carve out a normative Jewish niche for those convinced that God gave human beings brains to use in an independent and rational fashion. Had Maimonides not sought to lower messianic fervor by treating messianism in the most naturalistic way possible, as a process which takes place in this world, without overt divine intervention, and with no violations of natural law, religious Zionism of the Rabbi Kook version would be impossible–for good or for ill, depending on your perspective. It takes a Maimonidean understanding of messianism to see draining swamps, building a secular state, establishing an army, etc., as stages in the athalta de-ge’ulah (beginning of redemption). Finally, had Maimonides not enunciated a universalist vision of Judaism it is likely that almost all Jews today would be even more particularist than they are.

    My wife once pointed out to me that Maimonides’ writings are like a Rorschach test: the way a person interprets Maimonides tells us a lot about that person. The late Rabbi Joseph Kafih, perhaps the twentieth century’s preeminent Maimonidean, said much the same thing: Maimonides is like a mirror–people look into his writings and see themselves. Micah Goodman’s new book, Secrets of the Guide of the Perplexed, adds a new dimension: the popularity of books about Maimonides tells us much about the societies in which they are popular.

    Goodman’s new book may be the most hyped book ever published on Maimonides; it is also probably the most successful, remaining week after week on Israeli best-seller lists, no mean accomplishment for a book which makes considerable demands upon its readers. There are many reasons for this success: Goodman himself is well known in intellectual circles in Israel; he appears often on television; a charismatic teacher, he founded and runs the Israel Academy for Leadership (a pre-army institute for both observant and secular youths in a settlement between Jerusalem and Jericho). The book itself in extraordinarily well-written: clear, full of the arresting plays on words and vivid contrasts to which Hebrew lends itself so well, dramatic, and plotted like a novel–Goodman builds up expectations, only to smash them. He is also willing to take risks, presenting Maimonides in ways guaranteed both to delight his readers and at the same time raise the eyebrows of his colleagues in academia.

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