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Elijah Benamozegh and Evolutionary Theory: A Nineteenth-Century Italian Kabbalist’s Panentheistic Response to Darwin

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The Italian rabbi and philosopher Elijah Benamozegh (1823–1900) engaged widely with non-Jewish European culture, especially with regard to theology, philosophy and science. With respect to evolutionary theory, his views went through three stages. These stages correspond to his engagement with ideas of transmutation in three key works, namely, the Hebrew biblical commentary ʾEm la-miqra⁠ʾ (1862–1865), the Italian theological treatise Teologia dogmatica e apologetica (1877), and his posthumous great work in French, Israël et l’humanité (1914). Over time, Benamozegh came to view Darwin’s account of the common descent of all life as evidence in support of kabbalistic teachings, which he synthesized to offer a majestic vision of cosmic evolution, with radical implications for understanding the development of morality and religion itself. In the context of the creation-evolution debate in Europe, Benamozegh’s significance is as the earliest Orthodox Jewish proponent of a panentheistic account of evolution.


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