Alexander Green

Aug 11, 2022

Power and Progress

Joseph Ibn Kaspi and the Meaning of History

SUNY Press 2019

The philosopher and biblical commentator Joseph Ibn Kaspi (1280–1345) was a provocative Jewish thinker of the medieval era whose works have generally been overlooked by modern scholars. 

Power and Progress: Joseph Ibn Kaspi and the Meaning of History (SUNY Press, 2019) by Alexander Green is the first book in English to focus on a central aspect of his work: Ibn Kaspi's philosophy of history. Green argues that Ibn Kaspi understood history as guided by two distinct but interdependent forces: power and progress, both of which he saw manifest in the biblical narrative. Ibn Kaspi discerned that the use of power to shape history is predominantly seen in the political competition between kingdoms. Yet he also believed that there is historical progress in the continuous development and dissemination of knowledge over time. This he derived from the biblical vision of the divine chariot and its varied descriptions across different biblical texts, each revealing more details of a complex, multifaceted picture. Although these two concepts of what drives history are separate, they are also reliant upon one another. National survival is dependent on the progress of knowledge of the order of nature, and the progress of knowledge is reliant on national success. In this way, Green reveals Ibn Kaspi to be more than a mere commentator on texts, but a highly innovative thinker whose insights into the subtleties of the Bible produced a view of history that is both groundbreaking and original.

Alexander Green is Assistant Professor of Jewish Thought at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York and the author of The Virtue Ethics of Levi Gersonides.

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