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David Ibn Shoshan on Spirit and Soul

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David Ibn Shoshan, a Jewish savant and a victim of the Spanish Expulsion of 1492, addresses the question of the status of the human spirit (rūah, rūh, pneuma) in the course of his commentary to Ecclesiastes. Spirit is the substrate of the soul; but as such, is it divine like the soul, so that it too ascends after death? Or is it rather purely material and hence perishable? After reviewing a number of medieval Islamic sources, Ibn Shoshan decides in favor of the view of Ibny Tufayl who, in his "philosophical romance" Hayy Ibn Yaqzān, declares the spirit to be divine. Among the interpretations that Ibn Shoshan rejects is that of "the authors of the Zohar." However, his critique is conducted entirely in a scientific idiom, without any polemical overtones. This is instructive insofar as it illustrates that kabbalists and natural philosophers of the period engaged on the whole in a constructive discourse based upon shared concepts. The texts studied here testifies to the endurance of Andalusian Jewish learning even after the expulsion of 1492. Indeed, perhaps Giordano Bruno mined some of the same sources utilized by Ibn Shoshan.


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