Hebrew Language #12 Hebrew Literature #9 Medieval scholarship

Medieval scholarship

To return to the period of the Geōnīm. While the schools of Babylonia were flourishing as the religious head of Judaism, the West, and especially Spain under Moorish rule, was becoming the home of Jewish scholarship.

On the breaking up of the schools many of the fugitives fled to the West and helped to promote rabbinical learning there. The communities of Fez, Kairawan and N. Africa were in close relation with those of Spain, and as early as the beginning of the 9th century Judah ben Quraish of Tahort had composed his Risālah (letter) to the Jews of Fez on grammatical subjects from a comparative point of view, and a dictionary now lost. His work was used in the 10th century by Menahem ben Sarūq, of Cordova, in his Mahbereth (dictionary). Menahem’s system of bi-literal and uni-literal roots was violently attacked by Dūnash ibn Labrāṭ, and as violently defended by the author’s pupils. Among these was Judah Ḥayyūj of Cordova, the father of modern Hebrew grammar, who first established the principle of tri-literal roots. His treatises on the verbs, written in Arabic, were translated into Hebrew by Moses Giqatilla (11th century), himself a considerable grammarian and commentator, and by Ibn Ezra. His system was adopted by Abū’l-walīd ibn Jannāḥ, of Saragossa (died early in the 11th century), in his lexicon (Kitāb al-uṣūl, in Arabic) and other works.

In Italy appeared the invaluable Talmud-lexicon (ʽArūkh) by Nathan b. Yehiel, of Rome (d. 1106), who was indirectly indebted to Babylonian teaching. He does not strictly follow the system of Ḥayyūj. Other works of a different kind also originated in Italy about this time: the very popular history of the Jews, called Josippon (probably of the 10th or even 9th century), ascribed to Joseph ben Gōriōn (Gorionides)[Two different texts of it exist: (1) in the ed. pr. (Mantua, 1476); (2) ed. by Seb. Münster (Basel, 1541). There is also an early Arabic recension, but its relation to the Hebrew and to the Arabic 2 Maccabees is still obscure. See J. Q. R., xi. 355 sqq. The Hebrew text was edited with a Latin translation by Breithaupt (Gotha, 1707).]; the medical treatises of Shabbethai Donnolo (10th century) and his commentary on the Sepher Yeẓīrah, the anonymous and earliest Hebrew kabbalistic work ascribed to the patriarch Abraham. In North Africa, probably in the 9th century, appeared the book known under the name of Eldad ha-Danī, giving an account of the ten tribes, from which much medieval legend was derived;[On the various recensions of the text see D. H. Müller in the Denkschriften of the Vienna Academy (Phil.-hist. Cl., xli. 1, p. 41) and Epstein’s ed. (Pressburg, 1891).] and in Kairawan the medical and philosophical treatises of Isaac Israeli, who died in 932.


Hebrew Literature by Arthur Ernest Cowley


The Jews, harassed by the legal ordinances of Toledo, were particularly hostile toward the Christian government. Moreover, the Muslim conquest brought advantages to many elements of society: the burden of taxes was generally less onerous than it had been in the last years of the Visigoth epoch; serfs who converted to Islam (mawālī; singular: mawlā) advanced into the category of freedmen and enrolled among the dependents of some conquering noble; and Jews, who were no longer persecuted, were placed on an equal footing with the Hispano-Romans and Goths who still remained within the Christian fold.

Menahem ben Sarūq of Cordova = Menahem ben Jacob ibn Saruq: 10th Century Spanish Jewish philologist,  poet and polyglot, born in Tortosa, but went at an early age, to Cordova, where he found a patron in Isaac, the father of the subsequent statesman Ḥasdai ibn Shaprut. At Isaac’s death Menahem eulogized his protector’s virtues in an inscription placed in the synagogue which had been built by Isaac at Cordova. He wrote also elegies on him, which were universally recited during the period of mourning. Menahem then returned to his native city, where he engaged in business until, on request of Ḥasdai ibn Shaprut, he returned to Cordova where he complete his life-work, the first Hebrew-language dictionary, a lexicon of the Bible. The Moroccan Jewish linguist Judah ben David Hayyuj (Abu Zakariyya Yahya ibn Dawūd Hayyūj) who is regarded as the father of scientific grammar of the Hebrew language, was one of his students. Another student was Isaac ibn Gikatilla who was subsequently, as one of the most learned men of Lucena, the teacher of the physician and Hebrew grammarian Abu al-Walid Merwan ibn Janaḥ. Thus the most flourishing period of Hebrew philology, whose chief representatives were Ḥayyuj and Ibn Janaḥ, began with Menahem ben Saruḳ.

Dūnash ibn Labrāṭ = Dunash ha-Levi ben Labrat = Menahem ben Jacob ibn Saruq = Saruk = Adonijah Dunash: Jewish medieval commentator, philologist, poet, lexicographer and grammarian of the Golden age of Jewish culture in Spain. Dunash himself employed the Biblical name “Adonijah,” which is a mnemonic device containing the servile letters (“Criticism of Saadia,” No. 6).
Dunash was of Levitical descent (Moses ibn Ezra calls him “Al-Levi”) born in Fez, and to this origin also his pupil Jehudi b. Sheshet dedicated a few panegyric verses (Polemic Treatise, verses 10-16). Dunash’s family came originally from Bagdad, whereto he also went to study with Saadia Gaon.
After Hasdai ibn Shaprut, who lived in Córdoba, had invited him to Spain, Dunash went to that centre of culture and poetry in the Islamic world.
Traditional Arabic poetry was built on patterns of long and short syllables. Dunash introduced Arabic meter into Hebrew poetry and became the founder of Andalusian Hebrew poetry.
One of his poems is still included in the Sabbath songs of the prayer-books.

Ḥayyūj of Cordova = Judah ben David Hayyuj = Abu Zakariyya Yahya ibn Dawūd Hayyūj: medieval Moroccan Jewish linguist and Spanish-Hebrew grammarian. Born in Fez, Morocco, at an early age he went to Córdoba, Spain, where he seems to have remained till his death. He was a pupil of Menahem ben Saruḳ, whom he later helped to defend against the attacks of Dunash ben Labraṭ and his followers.
Hayyui had so what his own theories about Hebrew grammar and was himself obliged to step forward as an opponent of the grammatical theories of his teacher. He took over some of the theories elaborated by Arabic grammarians and presented some keys concerning regular, or so-called “strong,” verbs and the “weak” verbs, as well as stems in Hebrew containing three letters, two letters, and one letter. Ḥayyuj announced that all Hebrew stems consist of three letters, and maintained that when one of those letters was a “vowel letter,” such a letter could be regarded as “concealed” in diverse ways in the various verbal forms. To substantiate his theory he wrote a three part treatise upon which his reputation chiefly rests, the “Kitab al-Af’al Dhawat Ḥuruf al-Lin” (The Book of Verbs Containing Weak Letters).

Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra = Aḇrāhām ben Mēʾīr ʾībən ʾĒzrā = Ibrāhim al-Mājid ibn Ezra = Abenezra = Ibn Ezra: one of the most distinguished Jewish biblical commentators, scholars and philosophers of the Middle Ages. He probably belonged to a branch of the Ibn Ezra family to which Moses ibn Ezra belonged and was born in Tudela in northern Spain.
The Jewish, Spanish philosopher, linguist, and poet Moshe ben Ya’aqov ha-Sallaḥ ibn ‘Ezra = Moses ibn Ezra Moses ben Jacob ibn Ezra = Abu Harun Musa bin Ya’qub ibn ‘Azra=  Ha-Sallaḥ (writer of penitential prayers), who was an intimate friend of his, extols Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra as a religious philosopher (“mutakallim”) and as a man of great eloquence; and a younger contemporary, Abraham ibn Daud, at the end of his history (“Sefer ha-Ḳabbalah,” ed. Neubauer, p. 81), calls him the last of the great men who formed the pride of Spanish Judaism and who “strengthened the hands of Israel with songs and with words of comfort.”

A page from a copy of ibn Janah’s magnum opus Kitab al-Tanqih, translated to Hebrew by Judah ibn Tibbon.

Abū’l-walīd ibn Jannāḥ of Saragossa = Abu al-Walid Merwan ibn Janaḥ = Jonah ibn Janach = Jonah ibn Janah = Marwan ibn Ganaḥ = R. Marinus: perhaps the most important medieval Hebrew grammarian and lexicographer. This Hebrew philologist studied at Lucena, Isaac ibn Saul and the accomplished Arabic scholar Isaac ibn Gikatilla being his principal teachers.
Trained as a physician, Ibn Janāh became a skilful physician and got the title “the physician” often added to his name. Out of profound religious conviction, he also devoted much time to the scientific investigation of Hebrew so as to place biblical exegesis on a firm linguistic basis. He became known as the founder of the study of Hebrew syntax, establishing the rules of biblical exegesis and clarifying many difficult passages.
His first work, al-Mustalha (“The Complement”), like his other works, was written in Arabic. It was a criticism of and a supplement to the verb studies of Judah ben David Ḥayyuj, the founder of scientific Hebrew grammar.
The Talmudic scholars of Saragossa were hostile to Ibn Janaḥ and opposed his scientific studies , which made him severely criticize their ignorance, which, he says, they hid under a mantle of piety. He defended his own efforts by appealing to the example of the Geonim and of the teachers of the Talmud. He knew and quoted the Vulgate.
His chief work was the “Kitabal-Tanḳiḥ” (Book of Minute Research or Book of Exact Investigation) where he, in the first part, Kitāb al-luma (“Book of the Many-Coloured Flower Beds”) in large measure dealt with grammar proper and included discussions of parts of speech and prefixes and provided a detailed outline of noun declensions. The Arabic original of the “Luma'” was published by Joseph Derenbourg in association with W. Bacher (Paris, 1886). The Hebrew translation by Judah ibn Tibbon (who translated “Luma'” by “Riḳmah”) was edited in 1855 (Frankfort-on-the-Main) by B. Goldberg and R. Kirchheim.
The second part of the Tanqiḥ, Kiṭāb al-uṣūl (“Book of the Roots”), is a Hebrew lexicon in which Ibn Janāḥ showed the nuances of word roots and illustrated them with examples. He made extensive comparisons of Hebrew and Arabic and thereby managed to clarify the meaning of many words.
The Arabic original of the Kitab al-Uṣu, a rich mine of information on Biblical syntax, rhetoric, hermeneutics, and exegesis, was edited by Neubauer (Oxford, 1875); the Hebrew translation by Judah ibn Tibbon (“Sefer ha-Shorashim”) was edited by W. Bacher (Berlin, 1897). A French translation of the “Luma'” was made by Metzger, with the title “Le Livre des Parterres Fleuris” (Paris, 1889).
His comments facilitated the exegesis of many abstruse biblical passages, and the origin of various corrections by modern textual critics can be found in his work.
Ibn Janah and many other Jews when the city of Córdoba in al-Andalus, under the rule of Umayyad Caliph Hisham II al-Hakam, was besieged, pillaged, and attacked by Berbers, [Sacks of Córdoba (1009–1013)] were forced to leave the capital. He moved to the Upper March region of the Muslim kingdom Al-Andalus. After a period of wandering there he settled in in the center of both Aragon and the Ebro basin, in the prospering Zaragoza,of the the Islamic taifa of Zaragoza, under rulership of the Banu Hud family who ruled the Islamic taifa of Zaragoza. There he joined other scholars, including Solomon ibn Gabirol.

Joseph ben Gōriōn = Josephus Gorionides = Yosippon = Joseppon = Pseudo-Josephus = Hebrew Josephus = Yusibus: Author of the by the Jews of the Middle Ages much read and highly respected historical source “Sefer Yosippon” a history of the Jews from the time of the destruction of Babylon (539 B.C.E.) to the downfall of the Jewish state (70 C.E.), with historical accounts of Babylonia, Greece, Rome, and other countries. [Zunz and Delitzsch have branded the author as an impostor. In fact, both the manuscripts and printed editions are full of historical errors, misconceptions of its sources, and extravagant outbursts of vanity on the part of the author. But there is scarcely any book in Jewish literature that has undergone more changes at the hands of copyists and compilers; Judah Mosconiknew of no less than four different compilations or abridgments. The later printed editions are one-third larger than the editio princeps of Mantua.] It was perhaps due to the Jewish historian Yerachmi’el (Jerahmeel) ben Solomon that the work received its traditional title “Yosippon.” He supplemented his copy from Josephus, whom he designates as “the great Joseph,” or, according to a gloss, “the Gentile Joseph” ( ; Wolf, “Bibl. Hebr.” i. 521; Neubauer, “M. J. C.” i. 20); a copyist, however, considered the Hebrew work () from which he copied to be an abridged Josephus (). The original title of the work, according to Trieber, was probably “History of Jerusalem” (as in ed. Mantua, p. 133a), or, as a manuscript suggests, “History and Wars of the Jews.” It is quoted in the Hebrew-Persian dictionary of Solomon ben Samuel (14th cent.), under the title “History of the Second Temple” ( ; see Bacher in Stade’s “Zeitschrift,” xvi. 242; idem in “R. E. J.” xxxvii. 143 et seq.; Fränkel in “Monatsschrift,” xliii. 523).

Flavius Josephus = Joseph Ben Matthias: 1° Century Jewish priest, scholar, historian, general, born of an aristocratic priestly family in Jerusalem. He belonged to the Hasmonean race on his mother’s side and was the great-grandson of Simon “the Stammerer.”
He passed through the schools of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes in turn, and then spent three years in the desert with the hermit Bannus, a member of one of the ascetic Jewish sects that flourished in Judaea around the time of Jeshua ben Josef (Jesus Christ). After his sojourn in the wilderness, he returned to Jerusalem and joined the Pharisees who had no sympathy for the intense Jewish nationalism of such sects as the military-patriotic Zealots and were willing to submit to Roman rule if only the Jews could maintain their religious independence. when he was 26 he was sent to Rome to secure the release of a number of Jewish priests of his acquaintance who were held prisoners by the procurator Felix, in the capital. There, he was introduced to Poppaea Sabina, Emperor Nero’s second wife, whose generous favour enabled him to complete his mission successfully. He fully defected to the Roman side and was granted Roman citizenship.
Josephus attached himself to the Roman cause and adopted the name Flavius of his friend, the eldest son of Titus Flavius Vespasianus (commonly known as Vespasian) Titus, whose Roman forces he joined. Serving as Titus translator when the military commander Titus led the siege of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., he attempted to act as a mediator between the Romans and the Jewish rebels, but, hated by the Jews for his apostasy and distrusted by the Romans as a Jew, he was able to accomplish little. Some of the zealous patriots, especially the Jewish revolutionary John of Giscala and Jeshua ben Zappha (Jesus b. Zappha) accused him of treachery and incited the people against him. When John of Giscala went to Tiberias with the intention of murdering Josephus, the latter fled to Tarichæa, which city was so devoted to him that war would have ensued between it and Tiberias had he not restrained the inhabitants.
Following the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, Josephus took up residence in Rome, where he devoted the remainder of his life to literary pursuits under imperial patronage.
Josephus recorded the Jewish revolt known as the First Jewish–Roman War (66–70 C.E.), including the siege of Masada. His most important works were The Jewish War (c. 75) and Antiquities of the Jews (c. 94) which recounts the history of the world from a Jewish perspective for an ostensibly Greek and Roman audience.

Shabbethai Donnolo: 10° Century GraecoItalian Jewish physician, the earliest Jewish writer on medicine in Italy, and one of the few Jewish scholars and writers on astrology, of South Italy at this early time.
When twelve years of age he and his parents were made prisoners by the Arabs under the leadership of the Fatimite Abu Ahmad Ja’far ibn ‘Ubaid; but were ransomed by his relatives at Otranto, while the rest of his family were carried as captive Jews from Syracuse to Palermo and North Africa .
Under the dominion of the Arabs, the Jews were treated justly, though the synagogue of Palermo was not restored because it had already been dedicated as a church by the Bishop of Palermo whose supremacy ended in 831, and had it forcibly taken in possession. Shabbethai Donnolo (who died in 982) studied the sciences of “the Greeks, Arabs, Babylonians, and Indians.” As no Jews busied themselves with these subjects, he travelled in Italy in search of learned non-Jews. His special teacher was an Arab from Bagdad. According to the biography of Nilus, abbot of Rossano, he practised medicine for some time in that city. Donnolo’s medical science is based upon Greco-Latin sources; only one Arabic plant-name occurs in his medical work,” Sefer ha-Yaḳar” (Precious Book), which was published by Steinschneider in 1867, from MS. 37, Plut. 88, in the Medicean Library at Florence, and contains an “antidotarium,” or book of practical directions for preparing medicinal roots.
Donnolo wrote a commentary to the “Sefer Yeẓirah,” dealing almost wholly with astrology, and called “Ḥakemani” (in one manuscript, “Taḥkemoni”; see II Sam. xxiii. 8; I Chron. xi. 11). At the end of the preface is a table giving the position of the heavenly bodies in Elul. 946. The treatise published by Neubauer (“Rev. Et. Juives,” xxii. 214) is part of a religio-astrological commentary on Gen. i. 26 (written in 982), which probably formed a sort of introduction to the “Ḥakemani,” in which the idea that man is a microcosm is worked out. Parts of this introduction are found word for word in the anonymous “Orḥot Ẓaddiḳim” (or “Sefer Middot”) and the “Shebeṭ Musar” of Elijah Kohen. It was published separately by Jellinek (“Der Mensch als Ebenbild Gottes,” Leipsic, 1845).
The style of Donnolo is worthy of note; many Hebrew forms and words are here found for the first time. He uses the acrostic freely, giving his own name not only in the poetic mosaic of passages from the Book of Proverbs in the Bodleian fragment, but also in the rimed prose introduction to the “Ḥakemani.” He is also the first to cite the aggadic midrash to the Psalms, Midrash Tillim, also known as Midrash Shocher Tov or the Midrash to Psalms.
In the Pseudo-Saadia commentary to “Yeẓirah” there are many citations from Donnolo, notably from a lost commentary of his on the Baraita of Samuel. The Russo-Austrian rabbinical scholar Abraham Epstein has shown that extensive extracts from Donnolo are also to be found in the Jewish rabbi, mystic, Talmudist, and codifier Eleazar Roḳeaḥ or Eleazar ben Judah Of Worms or Eleazar ben Judah ben Kalonymus, also sometimes known today as Eleazar Rokeach (“Eleazar the Perfumer”) his  “Yeẓirah” commentary (ed. Przemysl, 1889), even to the extent of the tables and illustrations. He is also mentioned by Rashi (to ‘Er. 56a), by Samuel of Accho (who calls the “Ḥakemani” the “Sefer ha-Mazzalot”), and by Solomon b. Judah (1424) in his “Ḥesheḳ Sheiomoh” to Ha-Levi’s” “Cuzari.”
(Eleazar was a member of the eminent Kalonymos family, which gave medieval Germany many of its spiritual leaders and mystics; another member of that family, the semilegendary pietist and leader of the Chassidei Ashkenaz Judah ben Samuel of Regensburg = Yehuda HeHasidor ‘Judah the Pious’ the Ḥasid of Regensburg, was his teacher and spiritual master.)
The alleged gravestone of Donnolo, found by Firkovich in the Crimea, is evidently spurious.

De febribus.jpg

Isaac Israeli ben Solomon Yitzhak ben Shlomo ha-Yisraeli, one of the foremost Jewish physicians and philosophers living in the Arab world of his time. – De febribus –

Yitzhak ben Shlomo ha-Yisraeli = Isaac ben Solomon Israeli = Isaac Israeli ben Solomon = Abu Ya’qub Ishaq ibn Suleiman al-Isra’ili = Isaac Israeli the Elder = Isaac Judaeus = Isaac the Jew: African Jewish physician, oculist, and philosopher living in the Arab world, widely reputed in the European Middle Ages for his scientific writings and regarded as the father of medieval Jewish Neoplatonism.
Israeli first gained a reputation as a skilful oculist; but after he went to Kairwan he studied general medicine under Isḥaḳ ibn ‘Amran al-Baghdadi, with whom he is sometimes confounded (“Sefer ha-Yashar,” p. 10a). At Kairwan his fame became widely extended, the works which he wrote in Arabic being considered by the Mohammedan physician as “more valuable than gems.” His lectures attracted a large number of pupils, of whom the two most prominent were Abu Ya’far ibn al-Yazzar, a Mohammedan, and the Jewish tenth-century scholar, pioneer of scientific study among Arabic-speaking Jews Dunash ibn Tamim.
Isaac Israelihis works, all written in Arabic and subsequently translated into Hebrew, Latin and Spanish, entered the medical curriculum of the early thirteenth-century universities in Medieval Europe and remained popular throughout the Middle Ages. The medieval medical scholar Constantine Africanus (Constantine the African), professor at the prestigious Salerno school of medicine (Europe’s first organised medical school), translated some of Andalusian caliphate’s greatest physician, Israeli his works into Latin. Many medieval Arabic biographical chronicles of physicians list him and his works.
Israeli’s philosophical works exercised a considerable influence on Christian and Jewish thinkers, and a lesser degree of influence among Muslim intellectuals. In the twelfth century, a group of scholars in Toledo transmitted many Arabic works of science and philosophy into Latin. One of the translators, Gerard of Cremona, rendered Israeli’s Book of Definitions (Liber de Definicionibus/Definitionibus) and Book on the Elements (Liber Elementorum) into Latin. Israeli’s work was quoted and paraphrased by a number of Christian thinkers including Gundissalinus, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Vincent de Beauvais, Bonaventura, Roger Bacon and Nicholas of Cusa.



Hebrew Language #2 The name “Hebrew” and Speech of Canaan

Hebrew Language #3 Among Christian scholars

Hebrew Language #4 Hebrew Literature #1 Old Testament

Hebrew Language #5 Hebrew Literature #2 Torah, Apocryphal literature and Targum

Hebrew Language #6 Hebrew Literature #3 Halakhah

Hebrew Language #7 Hebrew Literature #4 Mishnah and Midrash

Hebrew Language #8 Hebrew Literature #5 Talmud and Masorah

Hebrew Language #9 Hebrew Literature #6 Hebrew Liturgy

Hebrew Language #10 Hebrew Literature #7 The Geōnīm

Hebrew Language #11 Hebrew Literature #8 The Qaraites or Karaites



Book Review: Biblical Aramaic for Biblical Interpreters: A Parallel Hebrew-Aramaic Handbook

The Best Beginning Biblical Hebrew Grammars

Book Review: A Graded Reader of Biblical Hebrew

Book Review: The Hebrew Old Testament, Reader’s Edition

Book Review – Ruth: A Guide to Reading Biblical Hebrew

Differences in Parallel Texts: Isaiah 2 and Micah 4

9 thoughts on “Hebrew Language #12 Hebrew Literature #9 Medieval scholarship

  1. Pingback: Hebrew Language #13 Hebrew Literature #10 Exegesis | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  2. Pingback: Hebrew Language #14 Hebrew Literature #11 French school of the 11th century | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  3. Pingback: Hebrew Language #15 Hebrew Literature #12 High level of literature in Spain in the 12th and 13th century | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  4. Pingback: Hebrew Language #16 Hebrew Literature #13 Maimonides, Maimonists and anti-Maimonists | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  5. Pingback: Hebrew Language #17 Hebrew Literature #14 Families, works from France, Germany and the Levant | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  6. Pingback: Hebrew Language #18 Hebrew Literature #15 Limit of Hebrew literature its development | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  7. Pingback: Hebrew Language #19 Hebrew Literature #16 Later writers – From the Renaissance to 18th Century, going into a new religious movement within Judaism | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  8. Pingback: Hebrew Language #20 Hebrew Literature #17 Later writers – From the 18th Century into 19th century and Modernizing tendencies | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  9. Pingback: Hebrew Language #20 Hebrew Literature #18 The re-creation of Hebrew as a literary language | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.