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Levi ben Gershon (1288 – 1344), better known by his Graecized name as Gersonides, or by his Latinized name Magister Leo Hebraeus,[1] or in Hebrew by the abbreviation of first letters as RaLBaG,[2] was a medieval French Jewish philosopher, Talmudist, mathematician, physician and astronomer/astrologer. He was born at Bagnols in Languedoc, France. According to Abraham Zacuto and others, he was the son of Gerson ben Solomon Catalan.

Biography

As in the case of the other medieval Jewish philosophers little is known of his life. His family had been distinguished for piety and exegetical skill in Talmud, but though he was known in the Jewish community by commentaries on certain books of the Bible, he never seems to have accepted any rabbinical post. It has been suggested[by whom?] that the uniqueness of his opinions may have put obstacles in the way of his advancement to a higher position or office. He is known to have been at Avignon and Orange during his life, and is believed to have died in 1344, though Zacuto asserts that he died at Perpignan in 1370.

Rabbi Levi is known for his unorthodox views and rigid Aristotelianism which eventually led him to rationalize many of the miracles in the Bible. His commentary on the Bible was sharply criticized by the most prominent scholars, such as Abarbanel, Chisdai Crescas, Rivash, the latter accusing him of heresy and almost banning his works.[3]

Philosophical and religious works

Part of his writings consist of commentaries on the portions of Aristotle then known, or rather of commentaries on the commentaries of Averroes. Some of these are printed in the early Latin editions of Aristotle's works. His most important treatise, that by which he has a place in the history of philosophy, is entitled Sefer Milhamot Ha-Shem, ("The Wars of the Lord"), and occupied twelve years in composition (1317–1329). A portion of it, containing an elaborate survey of astronomy as known to the Arabs, was translated into Latin in 1342 at the request of Pope Clement VI.

The Wars of the Lord is modeled after the plan of the great work of Jewish philosophy, the Guide for the Perplexed of Maimonides. It may be regarded as a criticism of some elements of Maimonides' syncretism of Aristotelianism and rabbinic Jewish thought. Ralbag's treatise strictly adhered to Aristotelian thought.[4] The Wars of the Lord review:

1. the doctrine of the soul, in which Gersonides defends the theory of impersonal reason as mediating between God and man, and explains the formation of the higher reason (or acquired intellect, as it was called) in humanity—his view being thoroughly realist and resembling that of Avicebron;
2. prophecy;
3. and 4. God's knowledge of facts and providence, in which is advanced the theory that God does not decide individual facts. While there is general providence for all, special providence only extends to those whose reason has been enlightened;
5. celestial substances, treating of the strange spiritual hierarchy which the Jewish philosophers of the middle ages accepted from the Neoplatonists and the pseudo-Dionysius, and also giving, along with astronomical details, much of astrological theory; and
6. creation and miracles, in respect to which Gersonides deviates widely from the position of Maimonides.

Gersonides was also the author of commentaries on the Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, I & II Samuel, I & II Kings, Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles. He makes reference to a commentary on Isaiah, but it is not extant.

medieval Jewish philosophers little is known of his life. His family had been distinguished for piety and exegetical skill in Talmud, but though he was known in the Jewish community by commentaries on certain books of the Bible, he never seems to have accepted any rabbinical post. It has been suggested[by whom?] that the uniqueness of his opinions may have put obstacles in the way of his advancement to a higher position or office. He is known to have been at Avignon and Orange during his life, and is believed to have died in 1344, though Zacuto asserts that he died at Perpignan in 1370.

Rabbi Levi is known for his unorthodox views and rigid Aristotelianism which eventually led him to rationalize many of the miracles in the Bible. His commentary on the Bible was sharply criticized by the most prominent scholars, such as Abarbanel, Chisdai Crescas, Rivash, the latter accusing him of heresy and almost banning his works.[3]

Philosophical and religious works

Part of his writings consist of commentaries on the portions of Aristotle then known, or rather of commentaries on the commentaries of Averroes. Some of these are printed in the early Latin editions of Aristotle's works. His most important treatise, that by which he has a place in the history of philosophy, is entitled Sefer Milhamot Ha-Shem, ("The Wars of the Lord"), and occupied twelve years in composition (1317–1329). A portion of it, containing an elaborate survey of astronomy as known to the Arabs, was translated into Latin in 1342 at the request of Pope Clement VI.

The Wars of the Lord is modeled after the plan of the great work of Jewish philosophy, the Guide for the Perplexed of Maimonides. It may be regarded as a criticism of some elements of Maimonides' syncretism of Aristotelianism and rabbinic Jewish thought. Ralbag's treatise strictly adhered to Aristotelian thought.[4] The Wars of the Lord review:

1. the doctrine of the soul, in which Gersonides defends the theory of impersonal reason as mediating between God and man, and explains the formation of

Rabbi Levi is known for his unorthodox views and rigid Aristotelianism which eventually led him to rationalize many of the miracles in the Bible. His commentary on the Bible was sharply criticized by the most prominent scholars, such as Abarbanel, Chisdai Crescas, Rivash, the latter accusing him of heresy and almost banning his works.[3]

Part of his writings consist of commentaries on the portions of Aristotle then known, or rather of commentaries on the commentaries of Averroes. Some of these are printed in the early Latin editions of Aristotle's works. His most important treatise, that by which he has a place in the history of philosophy, is entitled Sefer Milhamot Ha-Shem, ("The Wars of the Lord"), and occupied twelve years in composition (1317–1329). A portion of it, containing an elaborate survey of astronomy as known to the Arabs, was translated into Latin in 1342 at the request of Pope Clement VI.

The Wars of the Lord is modeled after the plan of the great work of Jewish philosophy, the Guide for the Perplexed of Maimonides. It may be regarded as a criticism of some elements of Maimonides' syncretism of Aristotelianism and rabbinic Jewish thought. R

The Wars of the Lord is modeled after the plan of the great work of Jewish philosophy, the Guide for the Perplexed of Maimonides. It may be regarded as a criticism of some elements of Maimonides' syncretism of Aristotelianism and rabbinic Jewish thought. Ralbag's treatise strictly adhered to Aristotelian thought.[4] The Wars of the Lord review:

Gersonides was also the author of commentaries on the Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, I & II Samuel, I & II Kings, Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles. He makes reference to a commentary on Isaiah, but it is not extant.

Views on God and omniscience

In contrast to the theology held by other Jewish thinkers, Jewish theologian Louis Jacobs argues, Gersonides held that God does not have complete foreknowledge of human acts. "Gersonides, bothered by the old question of how God's foreknowledge is compatible with human freedom, holds that what God knows beforehand is all the choices open to each individual. God does not know, however, which choice the individual, in his freedom, will make."[5]

Another neoclassical Jewish proponent of self-limited omniscience was Abraham ibn Daud. "Whereas the earlier Jewish phil

In contrast to the theology held by other Jewish thinkers, Jewish theologian Louis Jacobs argues, Gersonides held that God does not have complete foreknowledge of human acts. "Gersonides, bothered by the old question of how God's foreknowledge is compatible with human freedom, holds that what God knows beforehand is all the choices open to each individual. God does not know, however, which choice the individual, in his freedom, will make."[5]

Another neoclassical Jewish proponent of self-limited omniscience was Abraham ibn Daud. "Whereas the earlier Jewish philosophers extended the omniscience of God to include the free acts of man, and had argued that human freedom of decision was

Another neoclassical Jewish proponent of self-limited omniscience was Abraham ibn Daud. "Whereas the earlier Jewish philosophers extended the omniscience of God to include the free acts of man, and had argued that human freedom of decision was not affected by God's foreknowledge of its results, Ibn Daud, evidently following Alexander of Aphrodisias, excludes human action from divine foreknowledge. God, he holds, limited his omniscience even as He limited His omnipotence in regard to human acts".[6]

Rabbi Yeshayahu Horowitz explained the apparent paradox of his position by citing the old question, "Can God create a rock so heavy that He cannot pick it up?" He said that we cannot accept free choice as a creation of God's, and simultaneously question its logical compatibility with omnipotence.

See further discussion in Free will in Jewish thought.

Views of the afterlife

Gersonides posits that people's souls are composed of two parts: a material, or human, intellect; and an acquired, or agent, intellect. The material intellect is inherent in every person, and gives people the capacity to understand and learn. This material intellect is mortal, and dies with the body. However, he also posits that the soul also has an acquired intellect. This survives death, and can contain the accumulated knowledge that the person acquired during

See further discussion in Free will in Jewish thought.

Gersonides posits that people's souls are composed of two parts: a material, or human, intellect; and an acquired, or agent, intellect. The material intellect is inherent in every person, and gives people the capacity to understand and learn. This material intellect is mortal, and dies with the body. However, he also posits that the soul also has an acquired intellect. This survives death, and can contain the accumulated knowledge that the person acquired during his lifetime. For Gersonides, Seymour Feldman points out, "Man is immortal insofar as he attains the intellectual perfection that is open to him. This means that man becomes immortal only if and to the extent that he acquires knowledge of what he can in principle know, e.g. mathematics and the natural sciences. This knowledge survives his bodily death and constitutes his immortality."[8]

Talmudic works

Gersonides was the au

Gersonides was the author of the following Talmudic and halakhic works:

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