ABRAHAM IBN EZRA Abraham ben Meir ibn 'Ezra, also called Avenare, Abenesra, Avenezra) — a bibical commentator, philosopher, poet, grammatician, mathematician and astronomer, b. around 1000 in Toledo, d. around 1167 in Calahorra or Rome.
In Abrahama's life we can distinguish two periods. In the first period we was under the influence of the Jewish poet and philosopher Jehuda ha-Levi. He followed him in attributing to the reason only a relative ability to know reality. Thereby he proposed extra-rational sources and criteria of knowledge. His frequent trips in North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunis, and probably Egypt) were important in his intellectual biography. During those trips he become acquainted with Arab philosophy. In his second period he took a definitely rationalistic position. At that time he led the life of a wandering teacher as he travelled the lands of western and southern Europe (he spent time in most of the large cities of England, Italy and France). During his journeys he was chiefly occupied with biblical exegesis done from a position of neo-Platonic rationalism. He wrote many commentaries (mostly philological). These commentaries for the most part were on the Pentateuch of Moses, but he also commented upon the Book of Job, Daniel and the Psalms.
Abraham ibn Ezra did not practice philosophy in a systematic way, but philosophical problems were always present in his works. Two of his works are directly dedicated to philosophy: Yessod Mora (On the meanng of the commandments, Kpol 1530, H 18334) and Sefer ha-Shem (On the names of God). The philosophical views contained his biblical commentaries are expressed in esoteric and enigmatic style, chiefly because Abraham did not want to reveal his own radical and unorthodox views, but also because he regarded this style as the most proper for expressing esoteric contents. In his views he drew upon the Arab commentators of Aristotle, chiefly Avicebron. In cosmology he followed Avicebron and developed a neo-Platonic version of Aristotelianism in which he came close to a naturalistic-monistic conception of the world. In particular, he accepted the doctrine that a substance, whether spiritual or material, is composed of matter and form. He also conceived of the relation of the world to God in the spirit of Arab neo-Platonism (which was emanationist and pantheistic). He described the emanation of the world from God using the neo-Platonic metaphors of the multiplication of unity, but at the same time he linked the neo-Platonic theory of emanation with the Platonic theory of creation. At the same time he removed the apparent contradiction between the theories by distinguishing three levels of reality: 1) the higher (intelligible) world, 2) the middle world (the heavenly spheres), 3) the lower world (the sublunary world). According to Abraham ibn Ezra, the intelligible world is eternal, while the earthly (sensual) world was created in time from eternal matter by the mediation of the intelligible world. The biblical account of the creation of the world refers only to the earthly world (the sublunary world). In accordance with his distinction, he presupposed that only the form and matter of the intelligible world emanated from God, while the matter from which the earthly world was created was itself uncreated (it pre-existed).
In his theory of the soul he developed the Arab versions of neo-Platonic interpretations of Aristotelianism. In particular, he rejected the immortality of the individual human soul. In his biblical commentaries he made far-reaching modifications to the conception of Divine Providence that was held as orthodox within Judaism. He put limits upon God's omniscience and limited God's providence only to subjects that had achieved intellectual perfection.
Because of his multifaceted interests and works, Abraham ibn Ezra was not only a unique pioneer of the intellectual life among the Jews who dwelt in western and southern Europe, but his works had a wider influence. His primary contribution was to preserve and then spread through western civilization not only various forms of Arab rationalism, but also neo-Pythagorean numeric mysticism. Pico della Mirandola in the fifteenth century was among those who discovered and developed Abraham bin Ezra's version of neo-Pythagorean mysticism. Abraham bin Ezra's biblical commentaries, especially his theological doctrines, also had a profound influence upon Spinoza. He also wrote many works on linguistics, chiefly on Hebrew grammar, including Sefer Moznaim, Sahot, Tsahuth. He also wrote mathematical works, mostly on arithmetic, including Sefer ha-Ehad (The Book of Unity), Sefer ha-Mispar (Book of Numbers), Yesod Mispar (The Foundations of Numbers). He was also an outstanding poet and left behind many collections of poetry, including Diwan (ed. J. Egers, Diwan des Abraham ibn Ezra mit seiner Allegorie Hai ben Meqiz, B 1886, rep.: Tel-Aviv 1969). Abraham ibn Ezra was also well known as a philosopher and astrologer. He compiled astronomical tables for Pisa (Tabulae pisanae) and probably for London. He wrote over 50 astrological works that were very popular in the middle ages and translated into many languages including Old French and Latin. He was also known and esteemed as a translator of many scientific treatises from Arabic into Hebrew. These were primarily astronomical treatises, including al-Biruni's treatise, Commentary on the tables of al-Khwarizmi which contained interesting remarks on the reception of Hindu mathematics and astronomy in Arab science. This work is now lost. He also translated Hebrew grammatical treatises.
G. Orschansky, Abraham ibn Ezra als Philosoph, Bre 1900; S. Ochs, Ibn Ezras Leben und Werke, Monatschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums 60 (1916), 41-58. 118-134, 193-212; R.G. Levy, The Astrological Works of Abraham ibn Ezra. A Literary and Linguistic Study with Special References to the Old French Translation of Hagin Bal 1927; repr. 1973; idem, La philosophie d'Abraham ibn Ezra, Revue des études juives 86 (1930), 169-179; J. Guttman, Philosophies of Judaism, NY 1964, 118-120; H. Greive, Studien zum jüdischen Neuplatonismus. Die Religionsphilosophie des Abraham ibn Ezra B-BY 1973; A. Lipschitz, On the Doctrine of Creation in R. Abraham ibn Ezra, Sibai 84 (1979), 105-125; idem, Ibn Ezra Studies, J 1982; Abraham Ben Ezra Sefer hanisyonot: the Book of Medical Experiences Attributed to Abraham ibn Ezra. Medical Theory, Rational, and Magical Therapy: a Study in Medievalism, J 1984; C. Sirat, A History of Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages, C 1985, 93-112; F.D. Esteban, Abraham ibn Ezra and His Age: Proceedings of the International Symposium, Ma 1990; E. Wolfson, God, the Demiurge and the Intellect: on the Usage of the Word "koi" in Abraham ibn Ezra, Revue des études juives 149 (1990), 77-11.
Zenon E. Roskal