Prophecy in the Image of Philosophy: The Case of Abraham Bibago

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In the last decade of Jewish life in Spain, the 1480s, a small number of thinkers in Aragon sought to re-conceptualize the relationship between philosophy and prophecy in light of Aristotle's METAPHYSICS. The METAPHYSICS had by then become the central source for works of theology by Christian thinkers in Aragon, Spain and indeed throughout Christendom. Christian thinkers like Thomas Aquinas, William of Occam, and Duns Scotus strove to develop a theology that could not only accommodate what they saw as settled Aristotelian science, but even contribute to its further development. Similarly, some Jewish Aragonian thinkers of the 1480s, most importantly Abraham Bibago, Eli Habillio, and Moses Arondi, turned to Aristotle and his Christian interpreters to develop a Jewish theology. These thinker thus explicitly draw on Latin texts and ideas for understanding God, being, Intellect, etc. Yet, for Abraham Bibago at least, the metaphysical inquiry (found in his philosophical commentaries) was separate from the interpretation of prophecy (found in his treatise, WAY OF FAITH). In the WAY OF FAITH, Bibago goes to some lengths to depict prophecy and the works of prophecy in Aristotelian terms. Thus, he discusses not only the four causes of prophecy and prophetic works (material, formal, efficient, and final), but more importantly the four principles of the activity of prophecy: its subject, its specific accidents, its questions, and its sources in other activities. These four principles are explicitly taken from Aristotle's account of science, which appears in the METAPHYSICS and which was the source of great speculation and development among Christian Scholastics. Nevertheless, they are found in scholastic sources only as definitions of scientific activity along Aristotelian lines. Bibago's unique application of these principles to prophecy suggests that prophecy has the structure of science. However, since prophecy or at any rate our knowledge of it is based entirely on received tradition, it is not actually science. Prophecy thus imitates the form of Aristotelian science, without actually being fully scientific. In fact, though Bibago grounds his interpretation of science and prophecy in Scholastic thought, his notion of prophecy imitating philosophy is actually derived more directly from Alfarabi.
Original languageEnglish
StatePublished - 2017
Event49th Annual Conference of the Association for Jewish Studies - Association for Jewish Studies, Washington, DC, United States
Duration: 17 Dec 201719 Dec 2019 (Website)


Conference49th Annual Conference of the Association for Jewish Studies
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityWashington, DC
Internet address


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