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Philosopher , statesman , Bible commentator

Don Isaac Abravanel, Jewish statesmen, philosopher and Bible commentator, played an important part in European history.


Isaac Abravanel was descended from a family that had long lived in Seville, Spain, but that emigrated to Portugal after the 1391 massacres. His father was financial adviser to King Alfonso of Portugal, a position also attained by Isaac.


Abravanel received a broad education not only in Jewish studies but also in classical and Christian literature.


When King Alfonso of Portugal died in 1481 Abravanel was succeeded by John II, who broke the power of the nobles. After an unsuccessful revolt, in which Abravanel participated, he found refuge in Castile and was sentenced to death in absentia in Portugal. In Castile, Isaac Abravanel became a financial agent for Queen Isabella and even lent her a large sum of money to carry on her war against the last Spanish Muslim territory in Granada. After the victory in 1492, Isabella and her husband, Ferdinand of Aragon, signed the decree expelling the Jews from Spain.

At this great crisis, Abravanel was the spokesman of the Spanish Jewish community, pleading for the revocation of the edict and diplomatically interceding with leading courtiers for their support. The plea was backed by the offer of a large sum of money. Abravanel appealed to the queen, stressing the eternity of the Jewish people, who had outlived and would continue to outlive all its persecutors. Moreover, he pointed out that those who sought to destroy the Jews ended by destroying themselves. All arguments and inducements proved useless and the edict was enforced. Abravanel had to leave with his family, although he was allowed to take part of his fortune with him.

He sailed to Naples where again he became a courtier, this time at the court of King Ferdinand I of Naples. However, in 1495 he was on the move again, accompanying the king, who took refuge from the conquering French in Sicily. Abravanel’s home was despoiled and his library destroyed.

At the beginning of 1496 he moved to Monopoli, a port in southern Italy, where he devoted himself to his literary work. He stayed there for seven years before making his final move to Venice, where once again he was a diplomatic adviser to the ruler.

Abravanel was the author of lengthy commentaries on the Bible (except for the Hagiographa), which were largely philosophical. Instead of writing a verse-by-verse commentary as his predecessors had done, he divided the Bible into sections, providing each section with an introduction opening with six questions, which he proceeded to answerat length.

His messianic views were influential, even after the Messiah failed to arrive in 1503 as he had predicted, and strengthened the faith of his despairing fellow exiles. His own political experience served him well in his explanations of political events in the historical books of the Bible. His philosophy is not particularly original and he wanted to eradicate any opinions that could be harmful to faith. Nevertheless, he was respected as the last of the Jewish medieval philosophers and, in Latin translation, his Bible commentaries were extensively used by Christian scholars in the following centuries.


Leone Ebreo - Jewish - Philosopher

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  • Don Isaac Abravanel, Statesman and Philosopher Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a major historical figure during the waning of the Middle Ages. Statesman, diplomat, courtier, and financier, he was, at the same time, a scholar of encyclopedic learning, a philosopher, an exegete, a prolific author, a mystic, and an apocalyptist.