What are Hard Times according to Medieval Jewish Philosophers?

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Hardship and oppression figure prominently in medieval Jewish philosophical and Kabbalistic works, particularly in introductions to those works. Yet, while scholars generally understand Kabbalistic accounts of oppression to be allegorical, similar expressions by philosophical thinkers are usually understood to be responses to actual oppression, without relevance for the philosophical undertakings to which they are appended. I suggest that in fact philosophical thinkers, such as Joseph ibn Falaquera, Moses Narboni and Abraham Bibago, employ expressions of hardship and oppression, often stated in Biblical language, as allegories for the poor state of scientific and metaphysical knowledge among medieval Jewry. The relief of such suffering would be achieved through better understanding of Aristotelian science and metaphysics. The allegorization of the oppressiveness of ignorance, further, involves a kind of prayer that such oppression be relieved through the composition of philosophical works and through the study of philosophy. Just as Biblical oppression is relieved through miraculous, divine intercession, so too the study of philosophy somehow involves miraculous, divine intercession. Kabbalistic works, most notably the Zohar, also allegorize Biblical expressions of oppression and exile in intellectual and Kabbalistic terms, most notably in the separation of various aspects of the Godhead. Often such oppression refers to times when the shekhinah is separated from the Divine Wisdom within the Godhead and frequently a parallel separation occurs within the human super-soul. Like the philosophical allegorization of oppression, the remedy for the Kabbalisticly allegorized oppression is intellectual activity, specifically the study and practice of the Kabbalah. Such depictions of hard times, in both Jewish philosophical and kabbalistic works, are placed as reasons for theoretical activity, whether philosophical or kabbalistic. They are in a sense starting points for medieval Jewish thought; hence the preponderance of such descriptions in introductions. If medieval Jewish philosophy is currently falling into hard times, including ignorance of its subject, then the hardship it faces could be a goad for a future thriving of medieval Jewish philosophical thought.
Original languageEnglish
StatePublished - 2012
Event44th Annual Conference of the Association for Jewish Studies - Association for Jewish Studies (AJS), Chicago, Illinois, United States
Duration: 16 Dec 201218 Dec 2012


Conference44th Annual Conference of the Association for Jewish Studies
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityChicago, Illinois


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