Thursday, September 01, 2011

Was Ibn Ezra killed by demons?

Summary: So goes the story, showing how Ibn Ezra got his comeuppance, after claiming that demons did not exist. Though whether he actually claimed this is uncertain. I don't really believe the story, though.

As discussed in a previous post on Shofetim, there is a good probability that Ibn Ezra dismissed the existence of sheidim, demons. This based on his use of the word האומרים, such that it is only their claim that they consult demons. And earlier, in a post about a pasuk in Acharei Mot, because Ibn Ezra describes them as thinking demons have power (rather than it being something that is true) and because those who see them are crazy people. Note that there is a possibly good counter-argument in terms of Ibn Ezra's belief. It is often difficult to determine Ibn Ezra's beliefs.

Rabbi Moshe Taku, though, thought that Ibn Ezra clearly asserted that demons do not exist. But he asserts something else as well. To cite from Jewish Magic and Superstition, by Joshua Trachtenberg,

If we are to believe Moses of Tachau,3 Ibn Ezra paid dearly for
p. 27
his hardihood in denying the existence of demons. "Ibn Ezra wrote in his book," he says, "'Of a surety there are no demons in the world!' .Verily he erred in this matter, for they were ever at his side . . . and indeed they proved their existence to at him. I have heard from the people of Iglant [England?], where he died, that once when he was travelling through a forest he came upon a large band of black dogs who glared at him balefully; undoubtedly these were demons. When he had finally passed through their midst he fell seriously ill, and eventually he died of that illness." This incident was apparently evidence enough for R. Moses, though we may question whether, if it occurred, it sufficed to convince the doughty Ibn Ezra.

So too in the book Prophetic inspiration after the prophets:

As well as in the JQR, volume 6.

The different citations give different flavors. Did he deny their existence? Did he willfully make use of them? Was it accidental.

It is just so difficult for rationalists! After their death, when they can no longer defend themselves, people can deliberately or accidentally make up personal stories that prove the opposite of their positions. If Ibn Ezra knowingly consulted with demons, he makes no mention of this in his commentary which denies their existence. And I suppose that if he was killed after an encounter with hell-hounds, he would not have lived long enough to print a retraction of his views.

For me, this has the flavor of an urban legend, or else a story with some basis but embellished to prove a point. And it is specifically the non-rationalists who would take that story and accept it, uncritically, as truth.


S. said...

Of course it's an urban legend. Taku is saying that this is something he heard from English Jews. Since he lived 100 years after Ibn Ezra this is as good a source as any that you first here of 100 years after the fact (fully apart for the information contained therein, black dogs, etc.)

By the way, this is an interesting source because it also unintentionally adds an angle that we otherwise would not have heard: that Ibn Ezra died in England. At least according to some English Jews a hundred years after he died. There are two other candidates for places he died, in Spain or EY. So this is a third.

Black dogs seem to have been associated with demons in medieval Europe.

In any case, your point is pretty much spot on. Many "things" come to us via such arbitrary pronouncements. I mean, what if someone says that the Baal Shem Tov was chozer and became a rationalist at the end of his life? That's the mesorah from tzadikim. How do I know? I found a document which says so. I can't show it to you though.

Anonymous said...


Blog Widget by LinkWithin