Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Book of Abraham: Online Resources for Chapter Two

This is another guest post in a series by Rabbi Dr. Avi (Seth) Kadish. Part One can be found at http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2011/05/book-of-abraham.html.

Chapter Two of The Book of Abraham is now available. It unfortunately took me a great deal longer to complete than I had anticipated. Not only was my general estimate of one chapter per month overly optimistic, but I also didn't realize how many other projects I would have competing for my time during the interval. The files are here (pdf) and here (odt). As always, the full index of chapters and blogposts is here.

The current chapter deals with The Book of Abraham as a title, and why it is appropriate to describe Rabbi Shimon ben Ẓemaḥ Duran's Magen Avot by using that name. It studies the image of the patriarch Abraham in medieval Jewish philosophy as either an intellectual revolutionary who offered an Aristotelian monotheism to the entire world, or alternatively as a man who lived a prototype of the Torah of Israel and whose talent was a particularistic kind of prophecy. Duran's eclectic combination of these two seemingly exclusive alternatives is what led him to compose Magen Avot as an encyclopedic compendium on a myriad of scientific topics, combining the results of rational investigation with the positions of the Torah that are known through prophecy and tradition. Duran viewed this project as a realization of the approach of Avraham Avinu.

Unlike the previous chapter, which was a general introduction to the topic, this one is largely based on primary texts (and future chapters will be as well). Therefore, I want to use this blog post to provide direct links to a wealth of materials that have become available online in recent years (and which were not available to me in that form in the early part of the previous decade when I did most of my research), in order to allow readers to study the primary sources directly along with the chapter that analyzes them. Most of these resources have been provided to the public through Chaim Rosenberg's extraordinary website, Hebrewbooks.org, and I am very grateful to him.

To begin with, Magen Avot by Rabbi Shimon ben Ẓemaḥ Duran (this chapter is devoted to its introduction) is currently available online in more than one format. The first and only edition of Magen Avot for well over two centuries (Livorno, 1785) is available here. This edition is the one I used for my research (occasionally complemented by manuscripts), even though it is aesthetically very poor and difficult to read. All current references to Magen Avot in my book are to the folios and line numbers in this edition. During my research I also prepared a typed, formatted and proofread text of the introduction to Magen Avot in editable form, which may be found here and may be useful to those who read the current chapter.

About four years ago a new edition of Magen Avot was published in Jerusalem (5767), and was shortly afterward made available for free download here. This is not a critical edition, but it is very well done and extremely useful. The text is printed clearly and divided neatly into paragraphs and sections, and textual errors have generally been corrected. If anyone is interested in providing references to the pages in this edition, I would be happy to incorporate them into the text of The Book of Abraham.

Magen Avot's unique and eclectic organization can make it a difficult book to read. For that reason I have also uploaded the Appendices to The Book of Abraham, which are explanatory outlines of Magen Avot, and the links to which may be found here. The references to the appendices are currently to the Livorno edition (but that too can be changed). I hope this will make it easier for people to go back to the primary source and check my work.

Besides Magen Avot, nearly all of Rabbi Shimon ben Ẓemaḥ Duran's massive literary output is available online today, most of it searchable as well. Most relevant to readers of The Book of Abraham will be Magen Avot Part IV on tractate Avot here, and Ohev Mishpat which is available in two scans here and here.

Besides Duran's own writings, many important texts by other authors for reading this chapter and future ones are also available online. For this chapter it will be enough to note that Or Hashem by Rabbi asdai Crescas is available in Rav Shlomo Fisher's excellent edition here and here, as well as in its first edition here. The world still awaits Professor Warren Zeev Harvey's expected critical edition and English translation of this precious little book.

In just a few short years, it has already become hard to remember what it was like when such a wealth of materials and tools for studying Torah was not yet immediately available to all via the internet. Today there is ever less need to make special trips to specialized libraries and to search by hand for books and articles (although that is still needed sometimes), or to do tedious work photocopying, filing and marking up the copies, or cutting and pasting by hand. We've been given extraordinary tools today to advance both general knowledge and Torah wisdom, and to empower people to investigate things firsthand based on the primary sources. Let's be grateful for what we have and use it well.

God willing, the next chapter of The Book of Abraham will be about books by the late rishonim that deal in a significant way with the idea of “Principles of the Torah.” It is striking that after Maimonides himself, all such books were written by Rabbenu Nissim Gerondi and members of his school, including Gerondi's own Derashot ha-Ran, Abraham bar Judah's Arba'ah Turim, Crescas' Or Hashem, Duran's Ohev Mishpat and Magen Avot, and most famously Joseph Albo's Sefer ha-Ikkarim.

As I publish this chapter on T”u be-Av 5771, my wife and I mark the 14th anniversary of our move to the beautiful city of Karmiel in the center of the Galilee. We thank God for enabling us to build our home and raise our children in this wonderful place, as well as to live, study and teach Torah in the north of Israel.


  1. Thank you for this, a lot of content to digest, so it's hard to comment.

  2. the links are no longer working.
    is there a way to access the full pdf?


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