Gersonides (1288-1344), known also as Ralbag, was a philosopher of the first rank as well as an astronomer and biblical exegete, yet this is the first English-language study of the significance of his work for Jewish thought. Seymour Feldman, the acclaimed translator of Gersonides' most important work, The Wars of the Lord - a complete philosophical system and astronomical encyclopedia - has written a comprehensive picture of Gersonides' philosophy that is both descriptive and evaluative. Unusually for a Jewish scholar, Gersonides had contacts with several Christian notables and scholars. It is known that these related to mathematical and astronomical matters; the extent to which these contacts also influenced his philosophical thought is a matter of some controversy. Unquestionably, however, he wrote a veritable library of philosophical, scientific, and exegetical works that testify not only to the range of his intellectual concerns but also to his attempt to forge a philosophical-scientific synthesis between these secular sciences and Judaism.
Unlike many modern scientists or philosophers, who either scorn religion or compartmentalize it, he did not see any fundamental discrepancy between the pursuit of truth via reason and its attainment through divine revelation: there is only one truth, with which both reason and revelation must agree. As a philosopher-scientist and biblical exegete Gersonides sought to make this agreement robustly evident. While philosophical and scientific ideas have progressed since Gersonides' time, his work is still relevant today because his attempt to make prophecy and miracles understandable in terms of some commonly held philosophical or scientific theory is paradigmatic of a religion that is not afraid of reason. His general principle that reason should function as a 'control' of what we believe has interesting and important implications for the modern reader. Indeed, some of his basic arguments are favoured by many contemporary thinkers who attempt to incorporate modern science into their religious belief system.
He was not afraid to make religious beliefs philosophically and scientifically credible; one could say that he pursued an 'ethics of belief' in that he held that there are constraints to what is believable, especially in religion. In this respect he was a precursor of Kant and Hermann Cohen: Judaism is or should be a religion of reason.
'An extremely welcome, important, and long-overdue addition to the literature ... the first monograph in English to look at a broad range of Gersonides' philosophical ideas [...] Feldman does a terrific job of exposition and philosophical examination. His analyses are clear and accessible without being over-simplified. He does great justice to Gersonides' thought, as well as to its historico-philosophical contexts. The book is also a pleasure to read. This is just the kind of study on Gersonides that we have long needed, and one can only hope'Without question Feldman presents a superb summary of the totality of Gersonides' Jewish philosophy in a single volume that is carefully reasoned and clearly written. Certainly no philosophers or intellectual historians of medieval thought can consider themselves academically literate without at least some familiarity with the writings of Gersonides, and Feldman does a better job than anyone else in providing a reliable foundation for that minimal philosophical knowledge. His book should become a standard text.'
Norbert Samuelson, H-Judaic
'An impressive achievement [...] a useful book for anyone interested in medieval Jewish philosophy, either specialist or novice.'
Jewish Book World
'A succinct conspectus of Gersonides' positions on the pivotal issues of medieval Jewish philosophy and the arguments he offers in their favour [...] Feldman's style is lucid and engaging. In the course of contrasting Gersonides with Maimonides, who, Gersonides felt, begged some important questions, Feldman offers some valuable insights from which the myriad of Maimonidean specialists may yet profit.'
Y. Tzvi Langermann, Journal of the History of Philosophy
'A comprehensive survey [...] reflects a deep and thorough acquaintance with the philosophical, as well as with the Jewish tradition. The book therefore is both an inviting introduction for students and an important contribution to research that should be read by historians of Jewish philosophy.'
Ruth Glasner, Shofar
‘A comprehensive look at one of the most formidable Jewish philosophers.’
Ben Rothke, Times of Israel
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