You can download HERE my review of Sarah Pessin’s Ibn Gabirol’s Theology of Desire. Matter and Method in Jewish Medieval Neoplatonism (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2013 ISBN: 9781107032217), published on Theology and Sexuality 21/2 (2015), 163-165.
The book “Ibn Gabirol’s Theology of Desire: Matter and Method in Jewish Medieval Neoplatonism” (Cambridge 2013) offers some important reflections by Sarah Pessin regarding the text and the philosophical contents of Solomon Ibn Gabirol’s Font of Life. The study provides an in-depth analysis of Ibn Gabirol’s metaphysics and a new interpretation of his theology.
The fundamental problem that Pessin deals with is the absence of the original Arabic text by Gabirol: the only sources of Gabirol’s Font of Life are a twelfth-century Latin translation and a thirteenth-century Hebrew epitome. To these two texts one can add a few Arabic excerpts of the Gabirolian work, which constitute the core of Pessin’s reading of Gabirol’s metaphysics. The common interpretation of the philosophical features presented in the Font of Life, based on the Latin translation, incurs some fundamental problems of coherence, especially regarding his position concerning divine will and his ontology, based on universal hylomorphism. Pessin aims to clarify those problematic aspects, showing how this supposed inconsistency is to be ascribed to the Latin translators’ misinterpretation and “Aristotelization” of Gabirol’s thought and text, which in themselves are strongly tied to Greek and Arabic Neoplatonism.
Pessin’s argument is based on the textual comparison of the Latin text with the Arabic fragments of the original work. Pessin demonstrates that the Latin term voluntas is an approximate translation of the Arabic al-irada, whose meaning is both “will” and “desire.” Gundissalinus’ translation of al-irada as voluntas implies an overinterpretation, due to the significance of this term for the Augustinian philosophical tradition. This semantic slippage is seen as the origin of the medieval discussion of Ibn Gabirol’s doctrine of divine will, and it is accompanied by a further crucial misunderstanding: that of the Gabirolian concept of matter. Pessin’s analysis shows how the original text by Gabirol uses two terms in reference to matter: the Arabic al-hayula and al-‘unsur. Especially regarding the latter, Pessin underlines the Latin translator’s Aristotelization of the text, translating al-‘unsur al-awwal as materia prima, while the proper meaning would be “grounding element.” This second overinterpretation leads Latin philosophers to read Gabirol’s ontology as a universal hylomorphism. […]