Don Isaac Abravanel

An Intellectual Biography

Cedric Cohen-Skalli

Don Isaac Abravanel

Cedric Cohen-Skalli

Distributed for Brandeis University Press

256 pages | 6 x 9
Cloth $45.00 ISBN: 9781684580231 Will Publish November 2020

Don Isaac Abravanel (1437–1508) was one of the great inventors of Jewish modernity. A merchant, banker, and court financier, a scholar versed in both Jewish and Christian writings, a preacher and exegete, a prominent political actor in royal entourages and Jewish communities, Abravanel was one of the greatest leaders and thinkers of Iberian Jewry in the aftermath of the expulsion of 1492. This book, the first new intellectual biography of Abravanel in twenty years, depicts his life in three cultural milieus—Portugal, Castile, and post-expulsion Italy—and analyzes his major literary accomplishments in each period. Abravanel was a traditionalist with innovative ideas, a man with one foot in the Middle Ages and the other in the Renaissance. An erudite scholar, author of a monumental exegetical opus that is still studied today, and an avid book collector, he was a transitional figure, defined by an age of contradictions. Yet, it is these very contradictions that make him such an important personality for understanding the dawn of Jewish modernity.

Contents
Preface, Part 1: Don Isaac Abravanel in Portugal (1437–1483), 1. The Kingdom of Portugal and the Abravanel Family, a. The Rise of the Avis Dynasty and its Conception of Rule, b. The Jewish Community in Portugal, c. The Immigration of the Abravanel Family to Portugal, d. Abravanel’s Integration into the Royal Court and International Trade, 2. Isaac Abravanel and Iberian Court Culture, a. Literary Context, b. Abravanel’s Use of Consolatory Rhetoric, c. Attitude Toward Death, d. Isaac Abravanel’s Literary and Humanistic Learning, e. The Moral and Political Lesson of Death, f. The Ideal of Active Life, 3. Isaac Abravanel as a Jewish Leader in His Hebrew Epistles, a. Consolation for Yehiel’s Troubles in Florence, b. The Liberation of Arzilan Jewry, c. Don Isaac’s Politics of Friendship: A Royal Delegation to the Pope, d. The Deal, e. Exchange of Manuscripts and Gifts, f. The Black Slave, g. Leadership and Rhetoric, 4. Isaac Abravanel: Philosopher and Theologian, a. The Philosophical Model of Maimonides and the Negative Portrayal of the Elders, b. Two Ideas of Jewish Elitism, c. The Central Philosophical Issue of ‘Ateret Zeqenim, d. The Astral Influence Upon the Nations, e. God’s Special Providence over the Jewish People, f. The Angel Michael, g. Isaac Abravanel’s Historiosophy, 5. Don Isaac’s Fall from Grace in Portugal, a. The End of King Afonso V’s Reign, b. The Death of Afonso V and the Rise of João II, Part 2: Don Isaac Abravanel in Castile (1483–1492), 6. Don Isaac Abravanel Immigrates to Castile, a. The Turn to Writing, b. Commentary or Homiletics?, c. The Self-Portrait of a Court-Jew, d. Don Isaac’s Description of His Patron’s Conspiracy, e. Flight as Victory, f. Why Abravanel Wrote, 7. Isaac Abravanel’s Historical-Literary Approach to the Books of the Former Prophets, a. A New Approach to the Bible, b. Influences and Historical Background, c. Exegetical Method: Between Sephardic Iyyun and Christian Scholasticism, 8. The Figure of the Leader in Abravanel’s Commentary on the Former Prophets, a. Joshua Mourns the Death of Moses, b. The Miracle at Gibeon and the Dispute with Gersonides, c. Samuel, Saul, and David, 9. Don Isaac’s Republicanism, a. Traditionalist or Innovator?, b. The Request to Appoint a King in Medieval Exegesis, c. Don Isaac Against the Monarchy, d. The Historical and Intellectual Backdrop for the Revival of the Republican Model, e. Historical Comparison of Systems of Governance, f. Theocracy, g. Monarchy as a Sin, 10. Success at the Courts of the Catholic Monarchs, a. Don Isaac and the Mendoza family, b. The Causes of the Spanish Expulsion, c. Was Don Isaac Blind to the Danger on the Horizon?, d. The Expulsion Decree and Exile, Part 3: Don Isaac Abravanel in Italy (1492–1508), 11. Abravanel’s Arrival in Naples, a. Integration of the Sephardic Exiles into the Jewish Communities of the Italian Peninsula – Challenges and Issues, b. Naples, A Jewish and Political-Cultural Center for the Abravanel Family, c. Rabbi Meir Arama’s Letter about Abravanel’s Plagiarism, 12. Commentary on Kings as a Response to the Expulsion, a. Two Narratives: The Wanderings of the Author and the Spanish Expulsion, b. Courtier or Exegete, c. The Publication of the Expulsion Edict and Don Isaac’s Confrontation with the Catholic Kings, d. Farewell to Spain, Exile, and the Work of Memory, 13. Solomon: The Ideal King, a. The Primary Theme of Kings, b. The Anointment of King Solomon and the Measures Taken to Secure His Reign, c. The Wisdom of Solomon and Philosophy, d. The Practical Character of King Solomon’s Wisdom, e. King Solomon: Between Prophet and Philosopher, 14. The Temple: Construction, Glory, Destruction, a. The Court of King Solomon and his Administration, b. Jewish Temple and Christian Cathedrals, c. The Significance of the Date of the Temple’s Construction, d. Allegorical Exegesis or Religious Exegesis?, e. The Historical Cycle: Rise and Fall, f. Spanish Jewry: Fall and Rise, 15. The Military Crisis in Italy at the End of the Fifteenth Century, a. The Collapse of the Italian Equilibrium, b. The French Invasion and Its Consequences, c. Don Isaac in Corfu and Monopoli, 16. An Apology of Judaism in the Midst of the Storm, a. The Printing of Rosh Amana, Zevah Pesah, and Nahalat Avot, b. Rosh Amana, c. Zevah Pesah, d. Disrupting the Astrological Order, e. Nahalat avot, f. The Length of Exile and the Chain of Tradition, g. Isaac Abravanel and Pico della Mirandola on Human Dignity, h. Abravanel’s opposition to the Maimonidean Understanding of “The Image of God”, i. Children of the Omnipresent, j. Freedom and Foreknowledge, 17. Messianism, a. Abravanel’s Messianic Writings: A Scholarly Dilemma, b. The Choice of Daniel, c. Commentary as Refuge, d. Don Isaac and the Prohibition of Calculating the End, e. The Visions and Dreams of Daniel, f. The Secret of Daniel’s Visions, g. Historical Exegesis or Anti-Christian Polemic?, h. Calculating the Date of the Redemption, i. Historical Revolution, Messianic Revolution, j. The Messianic Trilogy and Other Aspects of Abravanel’s Life and Works, 18. The Last Years in Venice (1503–1508), a. Don Isaac’s Settlement in Venice and His Return to Political and Commercial Life, b. The Captive Grandson in Portugal, c. Don Isaac Completes His Literary Oeuvre, d. The Commentary on Genesis and the Technological-Political Development of Mankind, e. Influences: Seneca, the Cynics, Josephus and Augustine, f. Theory and Practice, g. The Commentary on the Guide of the Perplexed and the Question of Don Isaac’s Conservatism, h. The Death of Don Isaac Abravanel, Afterword, a. From Traditional Praise to Critical Examination, b. Negative Image, c. Late Adoption, d. A Complex Figure? A Modern Figure?, Bibliography
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