The Aim and Structure of Gershom ben Solomon’s Shaʿar ha-shamayim

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Abstract

Gershom ben Solomon’s very popular Shaʿar ha-shamayim (The Gate of Heaven), written in the Midi in the last quarter of the 13th century, differs from the two earlier 13th-century Hebrew encyclopedias in that it lays very strong emphasis on the empirical sublunar world (beginning with the elements and especially with the two Aristotelian exhalations), nearly ignoring the theory of the soul and metaphysics. This article argues that the clue to Gershom’s distinctive approach to the study of the world is to be found in Samuel ibn Tibbon’s Maʾamar yiqqawu ha-mayim (A Treatise on ‘Let the Water Gather’) of 1231. With this insight, we also realize that Gershom’s is an ‘encyclopedia’ of a new genre, really a personal philosophical work, whose numerous building blocks are arranged in accordance with a philosophical principle. In this respect, the work is that of a true philosopher-scientist, not of a mere compiler.

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