Solomon ibn Gabirol

Solomon ben Yehuda ibn Gabirol

Possible depiction of Ibn Gabirol
Born 1021/1022
Málaga, Caliphate of Cordoba
Died 1050 (1070?)
Valencia, Taifa of Valencia/Toledo
Other names Avicebron
Notable work Fons Vitæ
Era Medieval philosophy
School Jewish philosophy

Solomon ibn Gabirol (alt. Solomon ben Judah) (Hebrew: שלמה בן יהודה אבן גבירול Shlomo Ben Yehuda ibn Gabirol, pronounced [ʃlɵ.mɵ bɛn jɛ.ˈhuː.də ˈɪ.bn ˌgə.bi.ˈrɒːl]; Arabic: أبوأيوب سليمان بن يحيى بن جبيرول Abu Ayyub Sulayman bin Yahya bin Jabrirul, pronounced [æ.ˈbuː æj.juːb ˌsu.læj.ˈmæːnɪ bnɪ ˌjæ'ħjæː bnɪ dʒæ.biː.'ruːl]) was an 11th-century Andalusian poet and Jewish philosopher with a Neo-Platonic bent. He published over a hundred poems, as well as works of biblical exegesis, philosophy, ethics.[1]:xxvii and satire.[1]:xxv One source credits Ibn Gabirol with creating a golem,[2] possibly female, for household chores.[3]

In the 19th century it was discovered that medieval translators had Latinised Gabirol's name to Avicebron and had translated his work on Jewish Neo-Platonic philosophy into a Latin form that had in the intervening centuries been highly regarded as a work of Islamic or Christian scholarship.[1]:xxxii[4] As such, Ibn Gabirol is well known in the history of philosophy for the doctrine that all things, including soul and intellect, are composed of matter and form (“Universal Hylomorphism”), and for his emphasis on Divine Will.[3]


Little is known of Gabirol's life, and some sources give contradictory information.[1]:xvi Sources agree that he was born in Málaga, but are unclear whether in late 1021 or early 1022 CE.[1]:xvii The year of his death is a matter of dispute, with conflicting accounts having him dying either before age 30 or by age 48.[3]

Gabirol lived a life of material comfort, never having to work to sustain himself, but he lived a difficult and love-less life, suffering ill-health, misfortunes, fickle friendships, and powerful enemies.[1]:xvii—xxvi From his teenage years, he suffered from some disease, possibly lupus vulgaris,[5] that would leave him embittered and in constant pain.[6] He indicates in his poems that he considered himself short and ugly.[6] Of his personality, Moses ibn Ezra wrote: "his irascible temperament dominated his intellect, nor could he rein the demon that was within himself. It came easily to him to lampoon the great, with salvo upon salvo of mockery and sarcasm"[5]:17–18 He has been described summarily as "a social misfit"[7]:12

Gabirol's writings indicate that his father was a prominent figure in Córdoba, but was forced to relocate to Málaga during a political crisis in 1013 CE.[1]:xvii Gabirol's parents died while he was a child, leaving him an orphan with no siblings or close relatives.[1]:xviii He was befriended, supported and protected by a prominent political figure of the time, Yekutiel Ibn Hassan al-Mutawakkil Ibn Qabrun,[6] and moved to Zaragoza, then an important center of Jewish culture.[1]:xviii Gabirol's anti-social[3] temperament, occasionally boastful poetry, and sharp wit earned him powerful enemies, but as long as Jekuthiel lived, Gabirol remained safe from them[1]:xxiv and he was able to freely immerse himself in study of the Talmud, grammar, geometry, astronomy, and philosophy.[8] However, when Gabirol was seventeen years old, his benefactor was assassinated as the result of a political conspiracy, and by 1045 Gabirol found himself compelled to leave Saragossa.[1]:xxiv[8] He was then sponsored by no less than the grand vizier and top general to the kings of Granada, Samuel ibn Naghrillah.[1]:xxv Gabirol made Shmuel HaNaggid an object of praise in his poetry until an estrangement arose between them and he became the butt of Gabirol's bitterest irony. It seems Gabirol never married,[1]:xxvi and that he spent the remainder of his life wandering.[9]

Gabirol had become an accomplished poet and philosopher at an early age:

As mentioned above, the conflicting accounts of Gabirol's death have him dying either before age 30 or by age 48.[3] The opinion of earliest death, that he died before age 30, is believed to be based upon a misreading of medieval sources.[9] The remaining two opinions are that he died either in 1069 or 1070,[1]:xxvii or around 1058 in Valencia.[9][10] As to the circumstances of his death, one legend claims that he was trampled to death by an Arab horseman.[8] A second legend[11] relates that he was murdered by a Muslim poet who was jealous of Gabirol's poetic gifts, and who secretly buried him beneath the roots of a fig tree. The tree bore fruit in abundant quantity and of extraordinary sweetness. Its uniqueness excited attention and provoked an investigation. The resulting inspection of the tree uncovered Gabirol's remains, and led to the identification and execution of the murderer.

Historical identity

Though Gabirol's legacy was esteemed throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods, it was historically minimized by two errors of scholarship that mis-attributed his works.

False ascription as King Solomon

Gabirol seems to have often been called "the Málagan", after his place of birth, and would occasionally so refer to himself when encrypting his signature in his poems (e.g. in "שטר עלי בעדים" he embeds his signature as an acrostic, in the form "אני שלמה הקטן ברבי יהודה גבירול מאלקי חזק"). While in Modern Hebrew it is also called Málaga (Hebrew: מאלגה), that is in deference to its current Spanish pronunciation. In Gabirol's day, when the city was ruled by Arabic-speakers, it was called Mālaqa (Arabic: مالقة), as it is to this day by Arabic-speakers. The 12th-century Arab philosopher Jabir ibn Aflah misinterpreted manuscript signatures of the form "שלמה ... יהודה ... אלמלאק" to mean "Solomon ... the Jew .. the king", and so ascribed to Solomon some seventeen philosophical essays of Gabirol. The 15th-century Jewish philosopher Yohanan Alemanno imported that error back into the Hebrew canon, and added another four works to the list of false ascriptions.[1]:xxx

Identification as Avicebron

In 1846, Solomon Munk discovered among the Hebrew manuscripts in the French National Liberary in Paris a work by Shem-Tov ibn Falaquera. Comparing it with a Latin work by Avicebron entitled Fons Vitæ, Munk proved them to both excerpt an Arabic original of which the Fons Vitæ was evidently the translation. Munk concluded that Avicebron or Avencebrol, who had for centuries been believed to be an Christian[6] or Arabic Muslim philosopher,[4] was instead identical with the Jewish Solomon ibn Gabirol.[1]:xxxi-xxxii[6][12] The centuries-long confusion was in part due to a content-feature atypical in Jewish writings: Fons Vitæ exhibits an independence of Jewish religious dogma, and does not cite Biblical verses or Rabbinic sources[9]

The progression in the Latinization of Gabirol's name seems to have been Ibn Gabirol, Ibngebirol, Avengebirol. Avengebrol, Avencebrol, Avicebrol, and finally Avicebron.[9] Some sources still refer to him as Avicembron, Avicenbrol, or Avencebrol.[3]


Gabirol, in his poem "כשרש עץ" (line 24), claims to have written twenty philosophical works. Through scholarly deduction (see above), we know their titles, but we only have the texts of two.[1]:xxxi

Gabirol made his mark on the history of philosophy under his alias as Avicebron, one of the first teachers of Neoplatonism in Europe, and author of Fons Vitæ .[9][13] As such, he is best known for the doctrine that all things, including soul and intellect, are composed of matter and form (“Universal Hylomorphism”), and for his emphasis on Divine Will.[3]

His role has been compared to that of Philo:[9] Both were ignored by their fellow Jews, but exercised considerable influence upon Gentiles (Philo, upon primitive Christianity. Gabirol upon medieval Christian scholasticism); and both served as cultural intermediaries (Philo, between Hellenistic philosophy and the Oriental world, and Gabirol between Greco-Arabic philosophy and the Occident).

Fons Vitæ

Fons Vitæ (Hebrew: מקור חיים, pronounced [mɛ.ˈkor xay.ˈyim], lit. "Source of Life", cf. psalms 36:10) is a Neo-Platonic philosophical dialogue between master and disciple on the nature of Creation and how understanding what we are (our nature) can help us know how to live (our purpose).[3] "His goal is to understand the nature of being and human being so that he might better understand and better inspire the pursuit of knowledge and the doing of good deeds."[3] The work stands out in the history of philosophy for introducing the doctrine that all things, including soul and intellect, are composed of matter and form (“Universal Hylomorphism”), and for its emphasis on Divine Will.[3]

Student: What is the purpose of man?
Teacher: The inclination of his soul to the higher world in order that everyone might return to his like.
(Fons Vitae 1.2, p. 4, lines 23–25)[3]

"In the closing sentences of the Fons Vitae, Ibn Gabirol further describes this state of “return” as a liberation from death and a cleaving to the source of life (Fons Vitae 5.43, p. 338, line 21)"[3]

The work was originally composed in Arabic, of which no copies are extant. It was preserved for the ages by a translation into Latin in the year 1150 by Abraham ibn Daud and Dominicus Gundissalinus, who was the first official director of the Toledo School of Translators, a scholastic philosopher, and the archdeacon of Segovia, Spain.[1]:xxx In the 13th century, Shem Tov ibn Falaquera wrote a summary of Fons Vitæ in Hebrew,[3] and only in 1926 was the full Latin text was translated into Hebrew.[8]

Fons Vitæ consists of five sections:[9]

  1. matter and form in general and their relation in physical substances (Latin: substantiæ corporeæ sive compositæ);
  2. the substance which underlies the corporeality of the world (Latin: de substantia quæ sustinet corporeitatem mundi);
  3. proofs of the existence of intermediaries between God and the physical world (Latin: substantiæ simplices, lit. "intelligibiles");
  4. proofs that these "intelligibiles", are likewise constituted of matter and form;
  5. universal matter and universal form.

Fons Vitæ posits that the basis of existence and the source of life in every created thing is a combination of "matter" (Latin: materia universalis) and "form". The doctrine of matter and form informed the work's sub-title: "De Materia et Forma."[14] Its chief doctrines are:[9]

  1. everything that exists may be reduced to three categories:
    1. God;
    2. matter and form (i.e. Creation);
    3. will (an intermediary).
  2. All created beings are constituted of form and matter.
  3. This holds true for both the physical world (Latin: substantiis corporeis sive compositis) and the spiritual world (Latin: substantiis spiritualibus sive simplicibus), which latter are the connecting link between the first substance (i.e. the Godhead, Latin: essentia prima) and the physical world (Latin: substantia, quæ sustinet novem prædicamenta, lit. "substance divided into nine categories").
  4. Matter and form are always and everywhere in the relation of "sustinens" and "sustentatum", "propriatum" and "proprietas", substratum and property or attribute.

Influence within Judaism

Though Gabirol, as a philosopher, was ignored by the Jewish community, Gabirol, as a poet, was not, and through his poetry, introduced his philosophical ideas.[4] His best-known poem, Keter Malkut ("Royal Crown"), is a philosophical treatise in poetical form, the "double" of the Fons Vitæ. For example, the eighty-third line of the poem points to one of the teachings of the Fons Vitæ; viz., that all the attributes predicated of God exist apart in thought alone and not in reality.[9]

Moses ibn Ezra is the first to mention Gabirol as a philosopher, praising his intellectual achievements, and quoting several passages from the Fons Vitæ in his own work, Aruggat ha-Bosem.[9] Abraham ibn Ezra, who cites Gabirol's philosophico-allegorical Bible interpretation, borrows from the Fons Vitæ both in his prose and in his poetry without giving due credit.[9]

The 12th-century philosopher Joseph ibn Tzaddik borrows very largely from the "Fons Vitæ" at every point of his work, "Microcosmos"[9]

The 12th-century philosopher Abraham ibn Daud of Toledo was the first to take exception to Gabirol's teachings. In Sefer ha-Kabbalah he refers to Gabirol as a poet in complimentary phrase. But in order to counteract the influence of Ibn Gabirol the philosopher, he wrote an Arabic book, translated into Hebrew under the title Emunah Ramah, in which he reproaches Gabirol with having philosophized without any regard to the requirements of the Jewish religious position, and bitterly accuses him of mistaking a number of poor reasons for one good one.[9] He criticizes Gabirol for being repetitive, wrong-headed and unconvincing.[3]

Occasional traces of Ibn Gabriol's thought are found in some of the Kabbalistic literature of the 13th century. Later references to Ibn Gabirol, such as those of Elijah Chabillo, Isaac Abarbanel, Judah Abarbanel, Moses Almosnino, and Joseph Solomon Delmedigo, are based upon an acquaintance with the scholastic philosophy, especially the works of Aquinas.[9]

The 13th-century a Jewish philosopher Berechiah ha-Nakdan drew upon Gabirol's works in his encyclopedic philosophical text Sefer Hahibbur (Hebrew: ספר החיבור, pronounced [ˈse.fer ha.xi.ˈbur], lit. "The Book of Compilation").

Influence on Scholasticism

For over six centuries, the Christian world regarded Fons Vitae as the work of a Christian philosopher[6] or Arabic Muslim philosopher,[1]:xxxi-xxxii[4][6][12] and it became a cornerstone and bone of contention in many theologically charged debates between Franciscans and Dominicans.[3][9] The Aristotelian Dominicans led by St. Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas Aquinas opposed the teachings of Fons Vitae; the Platonist Franciscans led by Duns Scotus, supported its teachings, and led to its acceptance in Christian philosophy, influencing later philosophers such as the 16th-century Dominican friar, Giordano Bruno.[9] Other early supporters of Gabirol's philosophy include:[9]

The main points at issue between Gabirol and Aquinas were:[9]

  1. the universality of matter, Aquinas holding that spiritual substances are immaterial;
  2. the plurality of forms in a physical entity, which Aquinas denied;
  3. the power of activity of physical beings, which Gabirol affirmed. Aquinas held that Gabirol made the mistake of transferring to real existence the theoretical combination of genus and species, and that he thus came to the erroneous conclusion that in reality all things are constituted of matter and form as genus and species respectively.


The Improvement of the Moral Qualities

Sight hearing


Hard-heartedness (cruelty)

Smell Taste

Good-will (suavity)

Joy (cheerfulness)
Grief (apprehensiveness)
Penitence (remorse)



The Improvement of the Moral Qualities (Hebrew: "תקון מדות הנפש", pronounced [ti.'kun mi.ˈdot ha.ˈne.feʃ]) is an ethical treatise which has been called by Munk "a popular manual of morals." It was composed by Gabirol at Saragossa in 1045, at the request of some friends who wished to possess a book treating of the qualities of man and the methods of effecting their improvement.[9]

The innovations in the work are that it presents the principles of ethics independently of religious dogma, and that it proposes that the five physical senses are emblems and instruments of virtue and vice, but not their agents; thus, a person's inclination to vice is subject to a person's will to change.[9] Gabirol presents a tabular diagram of the relationship of twenty qualities to the five senses, reconstructed at right,[9] and urges his readers to train the qualities of their souls unto good through self-understanding and habituation. He regards man's ability to do so as an example of divine benevolence.[9]

While this work of Gabirol is not widely studied in Judaism, it has many points in common with Bahya ibn Paquda's very popular work Chovot HaLevavot,[9] written in 1040, also in Saragossa.

Mivchar HaPeninim

Mivhar ha-Peninim, traditionally thought to have been written by Solomon ibn Gabirol,[3] 1899 edition with corrected text and a facing English translation.[15]

Mivchar HaPeninim (Hebrew: "מבחר הפנינים". lit. "The Choice of Pearls"), an ethical work of sixty-four chapters, has been attributed to Gabirol since the 19th century, but this is doubtful.[16] It was originally published, along with a short commentary, in Soncino, Italy, in 1484, and has since been re-worked and re-published in many forms and abridged editions (e.g. Joseph Ḳimcḥi versified the work under the title "Sheḳel ha-Ḳodesh").[9]

The work is a collection of maxims, proverbs, and moral reflections, many of them of Arabic origin, and bears a strong similarity to the Florilegium of Hunayn ibn Ishaq and other Arabic and Hebrew collections of ethical sayings, which were highly prized by both Arabs and Jews.[9]


Gabirol wrote both sacred and secular poems, in Hebrew, and was recognized even by his critics (e.g. Moses Ibn Ezra and Yehuda Alharizi) as the greatest poet of his age.[1]:xxii His secular poems express disillusionment with social mores and worldliness, but are written with a sophistication and artistry that reveals him to have been socially influenced by his worldly Arabic contemporaries.[7]

Gabirol's lasting poetic legacy, however, was his sacred works. Today, "his religious lyrics are considered by many to be the most powerful of their kind in the medieval Hebrew tradition, and his long cosmological masterpiece, Keter Malchut, is acknowledged today as one of the greatest poems in all of Hebrew literature."[6] His verses are distinctive for tackling complex metaphysical concepts, expressing scathing satire, and declaring his religious devotion unabashedly.[6]

Gabirol wrote with a pure Biblical Hebrew diction that would become the signature style of the Spanish school of Hebrew poets,[9] and he popularized in Hebrew poetry the strict Arabic meter introduced by Dunash ben Labrat. Abraham Ibn Ezra[17] calls Gabirol, not ben Labrat, "the writer of metric songs," and in 'Sefer Ẓaḥot uses Gabirol's poems to illustrate various poetic meters.[9]

He wrote also more than 100 piyyuṭim and selichot for the Sabbath, festivals, and fast-days, most of which have been included in the Holy Day prayer books of Sephardim, Ashkenazim, and even Karaites.[9] Some of his most famous in liturgical use are:[8]

Gabirol's most famous poem is Keter Malchut (lit. Royal Crown) which, in 900 lines, describes the cosmos as testifying to its own creation by God, based upon the then current (11th-century) scientific understanding of the cosmos.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 Davidson, Israel (1924). Selected Religious Poems of Solomon ibn Gabirol. Schiff Library of Jewish Classics. Translated by Zangwill, Israel. Philadelphia: JPS. p. 247. ISBN 0-8276-0060-7. LCCN 73-2210.
  2. Bokser, Ben Zion (2006). From the World of the Cabbalah. Kessinger. p. 57.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Pessin, Sarah (April 18, 2014). "Solomon Ibn Gabirol [Avicebron]". In Zalta, Edward N. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2014 ed.). Retrieved October 13, 2015.
  4. 1 2 3 4  Baynes, T.S., ed. (1878). "Avicebron". Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 (9th ed.). p. 152.
  5. 1 2 Raphael, Loewe (1989). Ibn Gabirol. London: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 "Shelomo Ibn Gabirol (1021/22 - c. 1057/58)". Pen America. Retrieved October 14, 2015.
  7. 1 2 Scheindlin, Raymond P. (1986). Wine, Women, & Death: Medieval Hebrew Poems on the Good Life. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society. p. 204. ISBN 978-0195129878.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 "Solomon Ibn Gabirol". Retrieved October 14, 2015.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29  Singer, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "IBN GABIROL, SOLOMON BEN JUDAH (ABU AYYUB SULAIMAN IBN YAḤYA IBN JABIRUL), known also as Avicebron". IBN GABIROL, SOLOMON BEN JUDAH (ABU AYYUB SULAIMAN IBN YAḤYA IBN JABIRUL), known also as Avicebron. Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company. Retrieved October 15, 2015.
  10. Sirat, Colette (1985). A History of Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages. cambridge: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  11. ibn Yahya, Gedaliah (1587). Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah (in Hebrew). Venice.
  12. 1 2 Munk, Solomon (1846). "??". Literaturblatt des Orients. 46. Also, see Munk, Salomon (1859). Mélanges de philosophie juive et arabe (in French). Paris: A. Franck.
  13. Oesterley, W. O. E.; Box, G. H. (1920). A Short Survey of the Literature of Rabbinical and Mediæval Judaism. New York: Burt Franklin.
  14. The manuscript in the Mazarine Library is entitled "De Materia Universali"
  15. Ibn Gabirol, Shelomo (1899). Mivchar HaPninim (in Hebrew). London. p. 208. Retrieved October 11, 2015.
  16. Singer, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Ibn Gabirol, Solomon ben Judah". Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.
  17. Commentary on Gen. 3: 1

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