Elia del Medigo
Elias del Medigo, born under the name Elijah Mi-Qandia or Elijah mi-Qandia ben Moise del Medigo, also called in manuscripts as Elijah Delmedigo or Elias ben Moise del Medigo.
He was known to his contemporaries in Latin as Helias Hebreus Cretensis or in Italian Elias de Candia Del Medigo) (c. 1458 – c. 1493). Non-Jewish students of Delmedigo classified him as an “Averroist”, however, he saw himself as a follower of Maimonides. Scholastic association of Maimonides and Ibn Rushd would have been a natural one; Maimonides, towards the end of his life, was impressed with the Ibn Rushd commentaries and recommended them to his students. The followers of Maimonides (Maimonideans) had therefore been, for several generations before Delmedigo, the leading users, translators and disseminators of the works of Ibn Rushd in Jewish circles, and advocates for Ibn Rushd even after Islamic rejection of his radical views. Maimonideans regarded Maimonides and Ibn Rushd as following the same general line. In his book, Delmedigo portrays himself as defender of Maimonidean Judaism, and — like many Maimonideans — he emphasized the rationality of Jewish tradition.
Born in Candia, on the island of Crete, (at that time was under the control of the Venetian Republic), whither his family had emigrated from Germany, he spent ten years in Rome and in Padua in northern Italy, returning to Candia at the end of his life.
He is remembered for a number of translations, commentaries on Averroes (Ibn Rushd in Arabic) (notably a commentary on Averroes' Substantia Orbis in 1485), for his influence on many Italian Platonists of the early Renaissance (especially Giovanni Pico della Mirandola), and for his treatise on Jewish philosophy, Sefer Bechinat Ha-dath (Investigation of Religion), published many years after his death, in 1629.
Del Medigo had a traditional religious upbringing in Candia, demonstrating considerable breadth. In addition to rabbinic learning, he studied philosophy, and had a good knowledge of Arabic and of Greek, as well as Latin and Hebrew. It is likely that he also studied medicine, and it may have been with that intention that he originally went to Padua, where the University was the most important center for traditional Aristotelian philosophy in Italy. By 1480, he was in Venice, where he wrote Quaestio utrum mundus sit effectus, and supported himself by giving classes in Aristotelian philosophy attended by the sons of wealthy and important families.
He moved to Perugia and taught classes in "radical Aristotelianism," that is, heavily interpreted with the ideas of Averroes and other Islamic commentators. Del Medigo became quite well known as a major Averroist in Italy. While in Perugia, he met Pico, and wrote two pamphlets for him.
Another important student of del Medigo's at that time was Domenico Grimani, a Venetian, who eventually became the Cardinal of San Marco. Grimani proved to be a consistent patron, and with his encouragement, del Medigo wrote several manuscripts which received wide distribution among Italian philosophers.
In the end, however, Del Medigo was no Kabbalist, and he became disenchanted with the syncretic direction Pico and his colleagues were moving in, a tendency to combine concepts of magic, Hermeticism and Kabbalah with Plato and Neoplatonism.
In addition to his increasing disappointment with Pico, he was somewhat discredited himself by the backlash from Pico's imprisonment and the interdiction by the Vatican of his 900 Theses. Furthermore, tension arose between del Medigo and the Italian Jewish community over his secular intellectual interests and his associations with gentile scholars. As a consequence of the financial difficulties he experienced in the wake of Pico's disfavor, del Medigo decided to leave Italy for good. He went back to Crete, where he spent the last years of his life. During this period, del Medigo returned to Jewish thought, writing the Sefer Bechinat Ha-dath for his students, in which he clarified his disagreement with the magical and Kabbalistic theories that inspired Pico's Oration on the Dignity of Man, and expounded his belief that a human being cannot aspire to become a god, and that Judaism requires that a man must "fight for rationality, sobriety and the realization of [his] human limitations."
Delmedigo argued against the antiquity of the Kabbalah, noting that it was not known to the sages of the Talmud, or to the geonim, or to Rashi. He also denies that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was the author of the Zohar, since that work mentions people who lived after the death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. In addition, he attacks the esoteric allegorists among Jewish philosophers. In another section of his work Delmedigo discusses the intellectual reasoning underlying the commandments of Torah (ta'amei ha-mitzvot).
Elia del Medigo is likely the inspiration for the fictional character Judah del Medigo, in "The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi" by Jacqueline Park.
- ^ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on del Medigo -- http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/delmedigo/ downloaded 1/17/2006.
- The Jewish Encyclopedia, article on Averroeism -- 
- Italian Ashkenazi website -- 
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on del Medigo -- 
- Paul Oskar Kristeller, Eight Philosophers of the Italian Renaissance. Stanford University Press (Stanford California, 1964.)
- Sefer Behinat Hadat of Elijah Del-Medigo, critical edition with introduction, notes and commentary by Jacob Joshua Ross, Tel-Aviv: Chaim Rosenberg School of Jewish Studies, 1984
- The Medieval World - Europe 1100-1350 by Friedrich Heer.