DELMEDIGO, ELIJAH CRETENSIS BEN MOSES ABBA:
Cretan philosopher and physician; born in Candia in 1460; died there March, 1497 (Grätz, "Geschichte," 3d ed., viii. 244, note). Elijah was instructed by his father in Bible and Talmud, and when scarcely more than a child he addressed halakic questions to Joseph Colon, who highly praised his erudition and clear mind (Responsa, No. 54).
The high opinion of such a Talmudical authority probably led to the call, which Delmedigo received a little later, to preside over the Talmudical school of Padua. There he devoted himself to the study of philosophy, chiefly that of Aristotle, Maimonides, and Averroes, whose systems he afterward inculcated among Christian students by lectures and by translations and commentaries written in an elegant literary Latin.As Professor of Philosophy.
Delmedigo's reputation as philosopher soon stood so high that he was chosen by the University of Padua, with the approval of the Venetian Senate, as umpire in a dispute on some philosophical subject between the professors and students of that university; and as a result of his decision he, at the age of twenty-three, was appointed professor of philosophy, teaching successively at Padua, Florence, Venice, Perugia, and Bassano. Among his students was the eminent scholar Count Giovanni Pico di Mirandola, who became his lifelong friend and protector.
This happy period in Delmedigo's life did not last long. The members of the party against whom he had decided the above-mentioned dispute had not forgiven him for their defeat, and they commenced to persecute him. Moreover, a quarrel arose between Delmedigo and Judah Minz, rabbi of Padua, who, being strongly opposed to scientific progress and freedom in religious matters, could not agree with the theories propounded by Delmedigo in his work "Beḥinat ha-Dat" (see below). This quarrel soon developed fierce persecutions, obliging Delmedigo to leave Italy; and he returned to his native place, where he was received with much sympathy by his countrymen, both Jews and Christians. There he taught philosophy for two or three years, at the expiration of which he underwent an operation on the cheek, which caused his death. Joseph Solomon Delmedigo, who in his "Maẓref le-Ḥokmah" gives some biographical notes on Elijah, relates that crowds of learned Christians, clad in mourning, attended Elijah's funeral.His Works.
Elijah's scientific activity lay chiefly in translating from Hebrew into Latin and in commenting upon some of Averroes' commentaries on Aristotle. He did this mostly at the request of Pico di Mirandola. His translations and independent works are: "Quæstiones Tres: I. De Primo Motore; II. De Mundi Efficientia; III. De Esse Essentia et Uno," Venice, 1501; "Adnotationes in Plurima Dicta," or "Anno. Quædam in Lib. de Physico Auditu Super Quibusdam Dictis Commentatoris [Averrois] et Aliis Rebus," etc., published as an appendix to the preceding work; two questions on the hylic intellect, in Latin and in Hebrew, under the title "She'elah 'Amuḳḳah 'al Aḥdut Ṣekel ha-Hayulani" (the first question being whether the hylic intellect is one; the second, whether it conceives substances separated from matter [Paris MS. No. 968; at the end of this work, Delmedigo promises to publish a book on the number of the precepts according to the Talmud]); "Averrois Quæstio in Librum Priorum (Analyticarum)," Venice, 1497; Averroes' commentary on Plato's "Republic," "De Regimine Civitatis" (no longer extant, and known only from quotations); "Averrois Commentatio [Summa] in Meteora Aristotelis," with an introduction as well as fragments from Averroes' "Middle Commentary," ib. 1488; "Averrois Commentatio [Media] in Metaph. Aristotelis," i.-vii. ib. 1560; Averroes' proem to the large commentary to Aristotle's "Metaphysics," xii., translated once for Pico di Mirandola, and a second time for Cardinal Grimani (Paris MS. No. 6508); a small treatise on metaphysics (ib.); "[Averrois] De Substantia Orbis," in Latin and in Hebrew, under the title "Biur ha-Ma'amar be-'Eẓem ha-Galgal" (ib.); "Sperma" (ib.); "Beḥinat ha-Dat" (Investigation of Religion), written at the request of his disciple Saul Cohen Ashkenazi, and published by Delmedigo's great-grandson, Basel, 1519; also, with a commentary, by Isaac Reggio, Vienna, 1833."Beḥinat ha-Dat"
In the last-named work Delmedigo endeavored to separate religion from philosophy. In his opinion religion consists in actions leading to a moral life, and is not a matter of syllogisms requiring demonstration. Philosophical speculations leading to a better understanding of the religious principles are indeed permitted, if not prescribed, by the Law; but these speculations are applicable only for the small minority possessing a philosophical training. As for the majority, they must take the Biblical and Talmudical prescriptions in their literal sense. Still, he admits that Judaism, besides religious prescription, contains certain dogmas, such as the unity and incorporeality of God, divine retribution, belief in the miracles related in the Law and resurrection; but these are by no means illogical—as is, for instance, the Trinity—and no true philosopher will declare them untenable. Delmedigo ascribes a divine origin to the halakic part of the Talmud, which is the traditional interpretation of the laws. The haggadic part, on the contrary, being the work of men, has no higher authority than the dicta of the philosophers. The Cabala, he claims, is rooted in an intellectual swamp; no trace of it is to be found in the Talmud, and its basal work, the Zohar, is the production of a forger.
The "Beḥinat ha-Dat" can hardly be called an original work. All that Delmedigo says in it respecting philosophy and religion is borrowed from Averroes' "Faṣl al-Maḳal," as has been pointed out by A. Hübsch ("Monatsschrift," 1882, pp. 555-563; 1883, pp. 28-46). Delmedigo's merit in connection with this work lies chiefly in the courageous expression of his opinions, heedless of consequences, which, as the result showed, were disastrous for him. His assertion concerning the haggadic part of the Talmud was probably the cause of his quarrel with Judah Minz, who regarded it as a veritable heresy. On the other hand, the cabalists, who were at that time powerful, could not forgive Delmedigo for his severe attacks upon the Cabala; and even his friend Pico di Mirandola, who was a warm supporter of the Cabala and caused many cabalistic writings to be translated into Latin, was probably offended by his attacks.
Samuel Algazi, in his "Toledot Adam," attributes to Delmedigo a commentary to the Song of Songs; but this is no longer extant. According to Joseph Solomon Delmedigo ("Maẓref le-Ḥokmah," p. 5), Elijah wrote several works in which he defended Maimonides against the criticisms of Levi b. Gershom.
- Munk, Mélanges, p. 510;
- Jules Dukas, Recherches sur l'Histoire Littéraire du XVe siècle, Paris, 1876:
- Geiger, Melo Chafnajim, p. xxii.;
- Carmoly, in Revue Orientale, ii. 126;
- Brüll, Jahrb. iii. 193 et seq.;
- Rippner, in Monatsschrift, 1873, pp. 481-494;
- Steinschneider, Hebr. Bibl. xxi. 60-71;
- idem, Hebr. Uebers. passim;
- idem, Cat. Bodl. col. 944.