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Saadiah Gaon (fl. early 10th century)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-J004-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

Saadiah Gaon al-Fayyumi was the first systematic philosopher of Judaism and a pioneering exegete, grammarian, lexicographer, liturgist and chronologist. His Kitab al-mukhtar fi ’l-amanat wa-’l-’i‘tiqadat (Book of Critically Chosen Beliefs and Convictions) uses reason, experience and tradition to elaborate a monotheistic theology and pluralistic ethics.

Organized in ten thematic treatises, the work, familiarly known by the title of its Hebrew translation, Sefer Emunot ve-De‘ot (The Book of Beliefs and Convictions), opens with a striking epistemological prelude laying out the sources of knowledge in sense experience, reason and (for the recipients of Scripture) tradition. Saadiah defends sense experience on the grounds that scepticism is self-undermining. He defends reason as the basis of critical and scientific knowledge; and he defends the Jewish sources of traditional learning on the grounds of the continuity and trustworthiness of their transmission. He treats tradition not as an independent source of knowledge but as a means of preserving primary knowledge acquired in the past.

The ten treatises of the work defend creation against alternative cosmological theories, argue for God’s unity and incorporeality, explain the human situation as a trial designed to test and reward human goodness, defend God’s justice and the substantiality and immortality of the soul, affirm the national restoration promised by the prophets of Israel, and lay out the constituents of the good life, which Saadiah argues is undermined by excessive attention to any one of the varied goods available to us. Committed to reason, science, free will and God’s ultimate justice, Saadiah champions the veracity of Scripture using his formidable philological skills and learning to find appropriable interpretations of biblical language whenever the apparent textual sense to be ruled out by reason, science, another text, or a sound tradition. In keeping with the Rabbinical and Biblical outlook, he upholds the value of this life on the grounds that only here are authentic choices possible. Saadiah’s philosophy profoundly influenced Maimonides and later Jewish thinkers; his biblical commentaries are still consulted for their philosophical and philological insights.

Citing this article:
Goodman, L.E.. Saadiah Gaon (fl. early 10th century), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-J004-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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