Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Al-Farabi, Creation Ex Nihilo, and the Cosmological Doctrine of K. Al-Jam' and Jawabat

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Al-Farabi, Creation Ex Nihilo, and the Cosmological Doctrine of K. Al-Jam' and Jawabat

Article excerpt

The two works Kitab al-Jam' bayna ra'yay al-hakimayn (henceforth Jam') and Jawabat 'an masa' it su'ila 'anha (henceforth Jawabat) are attributed to al-Farabi (d. 338/950) in the Arabic tradition. (1) Among the bio-bibliographers, Ibn al-Qifti refers to the former work under the slightly different title Kitab fi ittifaq ara' Aristutalis wa-Aflatun, although he says nothing about the latter work. Ibn Abi Usaybi'a may be referring to Jam' when he lists a Kalam fi ittifaq ara Abuqrat [sic] wa-Aflatun, and he explicitly mentions Jawabat. (2)

Modern scholars, however, have questioned the authorship of these works on stylistic and especially doctrinal grounds. In his book entitles Al-Farabi and Aristotelian Syllogistics, published in 1994, Joep Lameer rejects the authenticity of Jam' and Jawabat and presents an array of arguments to defend his claim. He concludes that Jam' is completely spurious, but that Jawabat, although not composed by al-Farabi himself, may preserve some original doctrinal material from his works, especially in the field of logic. Surprisingly, he does not discuss the cosmological content of these two treatises. In the appendix to an article on al-Farabi published in 2008, Marwan Rashed endorses Lameer's criticisms and furthermore argues that Jam' and Jawabat develop a cosmology that is irreconcilable with the one found in al-Farabi's other works. Rashed develops these arguments at length with regard to Jam' in a recent article. Elaborating on Lamcer's comments, Rashed holds that these two treatises should not be attributed to al-Farabi, although Jam' may have been composed by one of his students, perhaps Yahya ibn 'Adi or more likely Ibrahim ibn 'Adi. (3)

The status of these two texts is thus presently uncertain. Although they deal with numerous themes dear to al-Farabi, such as ethics, cosmology, and logic, they also diverge in many ways from his other works. Nowhere is this tension more explicit than in the cosmology they defend, which contrasts starkly with the eternalist model developed in al-Farabi's so-called emanationist treatises, Political Regime and Principles of the Opinions of the Inhabitants of the Virtuous City.

My aim in this article is threefold. First, I provide an overview of the main features of the cosmology developed in Jam' and in question nine of Jawabat, with an emphasis on the issue of creation. It is certainly odd that to this day, and except for Rashed's recent article, no systematic analysis of these texts has been conducted. This is unfortunate, because on the one hand they contain interesting cosmological theories, while on the other it is clear that the problem of their authorship cannot be solved unless their content is closely examined. Second, I identify the Greek and Arabic sources that underlie these accounts, a necessary step if one wants to understand their synthetic nature and contextualize them accurately within the philosophical and theological traditions to which they belong. Third, I return to the question of authorship at the end of the paper and propose two different hypotheses.

The cosmology of Jam' (sections 53-63) is organized and informed by the same intention that runs through the entire work, namely, to reconcile and harmonize the views of Aristotle and Plato. It is therefore not surprising that Jam' follows many ancient and medieval interpretations of Aristotle's philosophy in defining the Aristotelian Prime Mover as an efficient cause. (4) But Jam' goes further: it attributes to Aristotle a theory of the world's creation similar to the one that can be found in Timaeus and develops the concept of a Demiurge or Creator-God. God is described as the "originator" (mubdi'), the "artisan" (sani'), and the "creator" (bari') of the world. The author states on behalf of Aristotle that the heavens were created through "absolute creation" (ibda'), "all at once" (daf'atan wahidatan), and "not over a period of time" (bi-la zaman), (5) and he defines time as the number of celestial motion. …

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