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December 10: Averroes and the Jews

Lawrence Bush
December 10, 2016
Medieval Spanish Muslim philosopher Averroes (Abul Walid Muhammed Ibn Ahmad Ibn Rushd), whose writings were generally condemned by the Moors and preserved for the ages only in Hebrew translation (or transliteration) by Jewish scholars, died in Marrakesh on this date in 1198. Averroes was a key figure in the transitional period in which science and philosophy was beginning to wane in the Islamic world and beginning to awaken in Christendom. He was an empiricist, the leading interpreter of Aristotle (it was Latin translations of Averroes’ writing that led to the popularization of Aristotelian thought), an astronomer, and a writer on music theory, mathematics, Islamic philosophy and jurisprudence, and more, creating over eighty works in the course of some forty years of writing. He was perhaps most influential as the writer of “Generalities on Medicine,” which explicated organ anatomy, promoted hygiene in the prevention of disease, and attempted to codify existing medical knowledge. Among the theologians strongly influenced by Averroes’ work were Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas. Dante named him in The Divine Comedy as dwelling with the ancient pagan thinkers of Greece and Rome in limbo, “the place that favor owes to fame” for non-Christians, and Salman Rushdie’s family name was adopted in Ibn Rushd’s honor. “Ignorance leads to fear, fear leads to hate, and hate leads to violence. This is the equation.” —Averroes

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.