Ralbag so called by Jews from the initial letters of his name, ר לוי בן גרשין = R. Levi ben-Gesshon, and known by Christian writers by the name Magisetr Leo de Bannolis or Gersonides, was born in 1288 at Bafiolas, not far from Gerona, and died about 1345. Little is knomwn about the personal history of this remarkable Hebrew beyond the fact that, by virtue of his residence in Orange and Anignon, he was providentially exempted from the fearful sufferings inflicted upon his brethren in 1306, by the cruel government of Philip the Fair and his successors, and that he was thus enabled quietly to consecrate his extraordinary powers to the elucidation of the Scriptures, as well as to the advancement of science. His principal work, and perhaps the greatest on religious philosophy, is his ס מלחמות השם, The Wars of God (Riva di Trento, 1560; Leipsic, 1866). In this work Gersonides had the audacity to confess the eternity of matter, so that it was ironically called "The Wars with (against) God." But as free as God's sun, he uttered his convictions, careless of consequences, and without fear of offending this or that man, sect, or established opinions. He believed in the progressive nature of thoughts, and added his to those of his predecessors, leaving the consequence in the hand of God, and believing that "time develops truth." "Truth," he says, "must be brought to light even if it contradicts the revealed law most emphatically; as the Bible is no tyrannical law which intends to impose untruth for truth, but its design is to lead us to true knowledge" (introd. p. 2 b, sect. 6 p. 69 a). This great philosophical work treats:
1. Of the immortality of the soul (on which there are fourteen chapters);
2. On dreams and prophecy (eight chapters);
3. On the omniscience of God and the conflict between philosophy and religion (six chapters);
4. On Providence; viewed from the philosophical and religious standpoints (seven chapters).
The remaining portion of the worl is a cosmogony designed to show the harmony between the statements of the Bible and the phenomena of the universe. That part of his work which treats on astronomy, and which describes an astronomical instrument invented by Gersonides to facilitate observations, was so much appreciated that pope Clement VI, in 1342, had it translated into Latin; and Kepler, as he says in a letter to John Remus, took much trouble to get the book of rabbi Levi, as he calls him (utinam apud Rabbinos invenire posses tractatum R. Levi quintum defensionum Dei). The same was done by Pico de Mirandola and the great Reuchlin, who quotes largely from Gersonides. Though he began his authorship with philosophical and scientific productions when about thirty (1318), yet he published no exegetical work till he was thirty-seven years of age, from which time he unremittingly devoted himself to the exposition of the Bible. His first commentary is on the book of Job, and was finished in 1325. Twelve months later (1326) he published a commentary on the Song of Songs, and in 1328 a commentary on Coheleth, or Ecclesiastes. About the same time Ralbag finished his commentary on the first chapters of Genesis, treating on the hexahemeron, and shortly after issued an exposition of Esther (1329). The Pentateuch now engaged his attention, and after laboring on it eight years (1329-1337), he completed the interpretation of this difficult part of the Old Test. In 1338 he finished a commentary on the earlier prophets — i.e. Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings — together with his comments on Proverbs, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles. The following are the editions of his exegetical works: פירוש על התורה, Commentary on the Pentateuch (first printed at Mantua before 1480, then by Corn. Adelkind, Venice, 1547, and then again in Frankfurter's Rabbinic Bible, Amst. 1724-1727): — ראשונים פירוש על נביאים , Commentary on the Earlier Prophets (Leira, and in all the Rabbinic Bibles; latest edition, Kinigsberg, 1860: — excerpts of the commentaries on the Pentateuch and the earlier prophets, entitled תועליות, Utility, were published in 1550, and a Jewish-German version of them is given in Jekutiel's German translation of the Bible [Amst. 1676-78]): — — פירוש על משלי, Commentary on Proverbs (Leira, 1492, and in all the Rabbinic Bibles); a Latin translation was published by Ghiggheo (Milan, 1620): — —' פירוש על איוב, Commentary on Job (Ferrara, 1477, and in all the Rabbinic Bibles); a Latin translation of ch. i-v was published by L. H. d'Aquine (Paris, 1623), and of ch. iv-viii by Chr. Ludovicus (Leipsic, 1700): — השירים אסתר קהלת ורות פירוש על שיר , Commentary on Song of Songs, Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Ruth, with an introduction by Jacob Morkaria (Riva, 1560): — — דניאל פירוש על, Commentary on Daniel, published in Italy before 1480, in Pratensis's Rabbinic Bible, and in Frankfurter's. The commentaries on Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles, which he finished in 1338, are still in MS., Cod. MSS. Opp. 288 Q. and Mich. 623. "As to his mode of interpretation, Ralbag first gives an explanation of the words (ביאור המלות) in each section, then propounds the meaning according to the context (ביאור הפירוש), and finally gives the utility or application of the passage (תועליות)." See Furst, Bibliotheca Judacica, i, 82-84; Steinschneider, Cataloqus Libr. Hebr. in Bibl. Bodl. col. 1607-1615; Wolf, Bibliotheca lfebr. i, 726, etc.; 4:892; Ginsburg. in Kitto, s.v.; Joel, in Frankel's Monatsschrift, 9:223, etc. (Leips. 1860), 10:41-60, 93-111, 137-14~ 297-312, 333-344, 11:20-31, 65-75, 101-114; (riitz, Geschichte d. Juden, 7:345-352 (Leips. 1873); Jost, Gesch. d. Judenth. u. s. Secten, iii, 83; Etheridge, Introduction to Hebrew Literature,.p. 261 sq.; De Rossi, Dizionario Storico degli Autori Ebrei, p. 114 sq. (Germ. transl.); Basnage, Histoire des Juifs (Taylor's transl.), p. 673: Ueberweg, History of Philosophy, i, 421; Prantl, Gesch. d. Logik, ii, 394-396; Margoliouth, Modern Judaism Investigated, p. 253 (LondoL, 1843); Levy, Die Exegese bei den franzus. Israeliten, etc., p. 34 sq. (Leips. 1873). (B. P.)