1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Abenezra

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ABENEZRA (Ibn Ezra), or, to give him his full name, Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra (1092 or 1093-1167), one of the most distinguished Jewish men of letters and writers of the Middle Ages. He was born at Toledo, left his native land of Spain before 1140 and led until his death a life of restless wandering, which took him to North Africa, Egypt, Italy (Rome, Lucca, Mantua, Verona), Southern France (Narbonne, Beziers), Northern France (Dreux), England (London), and back again to the South of France. At several of the above-named places he remained for some time and developed a rich literary activity. In his native land he had already gained the reputation of a distinguished poet and thinker; but, apart from his poems, his works, which were all in the Hebrew language, were written in the second period of his life. With these works, which cover in the first instance the field of Hebrew philology and Biblical exegesis, he fulfilled the great mission of making accessible to the Jews of Christian Europe the treasures of knowledge enshrined in the works written in Arabic which he had brought with him from Spain. His grammatical writings, among which Moznayim ("the Scales," written in 1140) and Zahot ("Correctness," written in 1141) are the most valuable, were the first expositions of Hebrew grammar in the Hebrew language, in which the system of Hayyūj and his school prevailed. He also translated into Hebrew the two writings of Hayyūj in which the foundations of the system were laid down. Of greater original value than the grammatical works of Ibn Ezra are his commentaries on most of the books of the Bible, of which, however, a part has been lost. His reputation as an intelligent and acute expounder of the Bible was founded on his commentary on the Pentateuch, of which the great popularity is evidenced by the numerous commentaries which were written upon it. In the editions of this commentary (ed. princ. Naples 1488) the commentary on the book of Exodus is replaced by a second, more complete commentary of Ibn Ezra, while the first and shorter commentary on Exodus was not printed until 1840. The great editions of the Hebrew Bible with rabbinical commentaries contained also commentaries of Ibn Ezra's on the following books of the Bible: Isaiah, Minor Prophets, Psalms, Job, Pentateuch, Daniel; the commentaries on Proverbs, Ezra and Nehemiah which bear his name are really those of Moses Kimhi. Ibn Ezra wrote a second commentary on Genesis as he had done on Exodus, but this was never finished. There are second commentaries also by him on the Song of Songs, Esther and Daniel. The importance of the exegesis of Ibn Ezra consists in the fact that it aims at arriving at the simple sense of the text, the so-called "Pesohat," on solid grammatical principles. It is in this that, although he takes a great part of his exegetical material from his predecessors, the originality of his mind is everywhere apparent, an originality which displays itself also in the witty and lively language of his commentaries. To judge by certain signs, of which Spinoza in his Tractatus Theologico Politicus makes use, Ibn Ezra belongs to the earliest pioneers of the criticism of the Pentateuch. His commentaries, and especially some of the longer excursuses, contain numerous contributions to the philosophy of religion. One writing in particular, which belongs to this province (Yōsōd Mēra), on the division and the reasons for the Biblical commandments, he wrote in 1158 for a London friend, Joseph b. Jacob. In his philosophical thought neo-platonic ideas prevail; and astrology also had a place in his view of the world. He also wrote various works on mathematical and astronomical subjects. Ibn Ezra died on the 28th of January 1167, the place of his death being unknown.

Among the literature on Ibn Ezra may be especially mentioned: M. Friedländer, Essays on the Writings of Ibn Ezra (London, 1877); W. Bacher, Abraham Ibn Ezra als Grammatiker (Strasburg, 1882); M. Steinschneider, Abraham Ibn Ezra, in the Zeitschrift für Mathematik und Physik, Band xxv., Supplement; D. Rosin, Die Religionsphilosophie Abraham Ibn Ezra's in vols. xlii. and xliii. of the Monatschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judenthums; his Diwan was edited by T. Egers (Berlin, 1886); a collection of his poems, Reime und Gedichte, with translation and commentary, were published by D. Rosin in several annual reports of the Jewish theological Seminary at Breslau (1885–1894).
(W. Ba.)