BIBAGO, ABRAHAM BEN SHEM-ṬOB (Bibaz and Bibas-Vivas are corruptions of the name):


Spanish religious philosopher and preacher; born at Saragossa; resided in 1446 at Huesca, and was still living in 1489. At the court of John II. of Aragon, he was, as he himself relates, engaged in controversy when only a young man with "a renowned Christian sage" on the dogma of the Trinity. Like Joseph ben Shem-Ṭob, his older countryman, he was familiar not merely with the entire Arabo-Judean philosophy, but also with Christian theology as presented in Latin. He studied the latter so as to be able to defend the Jewish faith in a scholarly manner. Bibago was not "a mere preacher who wrote philosophical homilies," as Grätz says ("Gesch. der Juden," viii. 227), nor "an opponent of philosophy," as Renan represents himto be in his "Averroès et l'Averroïsme" (3d ed., p. 198), but a rational believer censuring in unsparing language those zealots that "cling only to the shell but reject the kernel, and pose as pious while vilifying a thinker such as Maimonides."

His Defense of Judaism.

The writings of Bibago include: (1) "Derek Emunah" (The Path of Faith), his chief work, written toward the close of his life, and printed in 1521 at Constantinople. Like all his writings, it has, according to Steinschneider, not received the full recognition it deserves. It is, as the title suggests, a presentation and, at the same time, a defense of the Jewish religion as leading man to the highest knowledge of God and to eternal happiness. It is divided into three treatises, which are subdivided into divisions or parts (called "gates") and chapters. The first treatise deals with: (gate 1) the doings of God; (gate 2) His knowledge; and (gate 3) His providence. The second treatise deals with: (gate 1) the intellect; (gate 2) its nature and object; (gate 3) man's highest object; (gate 4) the blending of faith and knowledge—which topic is but slightly touched; (gate 5) the problem of matter and sin; (gate 6) the question whether Moses sinned; and (gate 7) the true faith. The third treatise deals with: (gate 1) the fundamentals of faith; (gate 2) miracles; (gate 3) creation of the world; (gate 4) ethics; and (gate 5) the special articles of faith. In the fifth part he warmly defends the creed of Maimonides against his antagonists; and his arguments were subsequently literally reproduced by Abravanel in his "Rosh Amanah." In this work, in which many Biblical and rabbinical passages are explained, he takes cognizance of Christian and Mohammedan theology. He quotes Greek philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras; also Euclid and Ptolemeus, Galen and Themistius, as well as Arabic thinkers like Averroes, Avicenna, Alfarabi, and Gazzali, and even the fable-book "Kalila we-Dimna." Of Christian writers he quotes Eusebius; and of Jewish writers often not only Maimonides, Naḥmanides, and other philosophers, but also cabalistic works like the "Bahir," the "Zohar," "Sefer Yeẓirah," and the "Hekalot." He indorses a saying of a sage that "Reason and Religion are the world's two luminaries"; and he strongly opposes prayers "addressed to angels or to the departed, a practise customary among the Christians."

Isaac Arama, Bibago's contemporary, used the book freely. Joseph Solomon del Medigo, the well-known physician and writer, speaks with warm praise of the work, though be complains that the Cabala had crept into it. But the fact must be taken into consideration that, as Steinschneider says, "the cabalists at the close of the thirteenth century had made philosophy the handmaid of the Cabala, and this caused the philosophers on their part to take into consideration the writings and the ideas of the Cabala that had grown into prominence." It is true that Jacob ibn Ḥabib, in his "'En Ya'aḳob" at the close of Berakot, censures Bibago for putting constructions upon the Biblical texts that they could not bear; nevertheless he praises "the beauty of these interpretations, which insinuate themselves into our hearts."

Other Works.

(2) "Eẓ Ḥayyim" (Tree of Life) deals with creation, and has for its object the refutation of the arguments advanced by Aristotle, Averroes, and others in favor of the eternity of the world. The author quotes this treatise three times in the "Derek Emunah" and gives a fair insight into it. (3) A homily on Gen. v. 29, "Zeh Yenaḥamenu," published at Salonica in 1522, treats also of creation and the Sabbath; but is not, as is stated by Michael ("Or ha-Ḥayyim"), part of "Eẓ Ḥayyim" (see Steinschneider, "Monatsschrift," 1883, p. 95). (4) From quotations in the "Derek Emunah" it appears that Bibago wrote a work under the title of "Maḥazeh Shaddai," treating of the belief in resurrection. (5) A work on sacrifice as means of communion with God. (6) A refutation of the objections raised by Naḥmanides against Maimonides. (7) "Ma'amar 'al Ribbui ha-Ẓurot," a treatise on "The Plurality of Forms, Particularly in Man"—Paris manuscript 1004, though without his name. (8) Two philosophical letters to Moses Arondi. (9) A compendium of therapeutics after Galen; besides a number of philosophical works in the form of commentaries to Averroes. (10) A commentary on Averroes' work on logic, "Demonstration" (), written at Huesca in 1446, exists in manuscript, Vatican and Paris. In this work Bibago defends Averroes against Levi ben Gerson. (11) A commentary on Averroes' "Physics," referred to in (12) a commentary on Averroes' "Metaphysics"—still extant in manuscript at Munich.

Encourages Philosophical Study.

In the introduction he deplores the lack of philosophical research among his coreligionists, who are unable to defend their faith against Christian scholars that study philosophy and science in their schools; and in view of this deficiency he undertook the explanation of Aristotelian metaphysics, however much opposed it was to the pure and sacred ancestral faith. This work shows familiarity not only with all Arabic philosophers, but also with Boethius, with the works of Duns Scotus and Occam, known to him probably through the translation of Elijah Habillo, and with Nicholas Bonettus, a Spanish monk who lived in 1486. Without originality of thought, Bibago nevertheless represents, says Steinschneider, "that class of learned and productive writers which Spanish Judaism produced at the close of a brilliant epoch."

  • Steinschneider, in Monatsschrift, 1883, pp. 79-96, 125-144;
  • idem, Hebr. Uebers. 1893, pp. 89 et seq., 168 et seq.;
  • Michael, Or ha-Ḥayyim, No. 255;
  • Munk, Philosophie und Philosophische Schriftsteller der Juden (German transl. by Beer), 1852, pp. 36, 83, 117;
  • Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, viii. 219-227.
K. S. B. K.
Images of pages