Abraham ibn Ezra
Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra was one of the most distinguished Jewish biblical commentators and philosophers of the Middle Ages. He was born in Tudela in northern Spain.
BiographyAbraham Ibn Ezra was born in Tudela, one of the oldest and most important Jewish communities in the present-day Spanish province of Navarre. At the time, the town was under the Muslim rule of the emirs of Zaragoza. However, when he later moved to Córdoba, he claimed it to be his place of birth. Ultimately, most scholars agree that his place of birth was Tudela.
Little is known of Ibn Ezra's family from outside sources; however, he wrote of a marriage to a wife that produced five children. While it is believed four died early, the last-born, Isaac, became an influential poet and later convert to Islam in 1140. The conversion of his son was deeply troubling for Ibn Ezra, leading him to pen many poems reacting to the event for years afterward.
Ibn Ezra was a close friend of Judah Halevi, who was some 14 years older, and the two became close friends. When Ibn Ezra moved to Córdoba as a young man, Halevi followed him. This trend continued when the two began their lives as wanderers in 1137. Halevi died in 1141, but Ibn Ezra continued travelling for three decades, reaching as far as Baghdad. During his travels, he began to compose secular poetry describing the lands through which he was travelling as well as beginning to pen the deeply rational Torah commentaries he would be best remembered for.
WorksIn Spain, Ibn Ezra had already gained the reputation of a distinguished poet and thinker. However, apart from his poems, the vast majority of his work was composed after 1140. Written in Hebrew, as opposed to earlier thinkers' use of Judeo-Arabic, these works covering Hebrew grammar, Biblical exegesis, and scientific theory were tinged with the work of Arab scholars he had studied in Spain.
Beginning many of his writings in Italy, Ibn Ezra also worked extensively to translate the works of grammarian and biblical exegetist Judah ben David Hayyuj from their original Judeo-Arabic to Hebrew. Published as early as 1140, these translations became some of the first expositions of Hebrew grammar to be written in Hebrew.
During his time of publishing translations, Ibn Ezra also began to publish his own biblical commentaries. Making use of many of the techniques outlined by Hayyuj, Ibn Ezra would publish his first biblical commentary, a commentary over Kohelet in 1140. He would continue to publish such commentaries over mostly works from Ketuvim and Nevi'im throughout his journey, though he would manage to publish a short commentary over the entire Pentateuch while living in Lucca in 1145. This short commentary would be amended into longer portions beginning in 1155 with the publication of his expanded commentary on Genesis.
Aside his commentaries over the Torah, Ibn Ezra would also publish a multitude of works on science in Hebrew. In doing so, he would continue his mission of spreading the knowledge he had gained in Spain to the Jews throughout the areas he visited and lived. This can be seen particularly in the works he published while living in France. Here, many of the works published can be seen as relating to astrology, and use of the astrolabe.
Influence on biblical criticism and philosophy of religionIn his commentary, Ibn Ezra adhered to the literal sense of the texts, avoiding Rabbinic allegory and Kabbalistic interpretation. He exercised an independent criticism that, according to some writers, exhibits a marked tendency toward rationalism.
Indeed, Ibn Ezra is claimed by proponents of the higher biblical criticism of the Torah as one of its earliest pioneers. Baruch Spinoza, in concluding that Moses did not author the Torah, and that the Torah and other protocanonical books were written or redacted by somebody else, cites Ibn Ezra commentary on Deuteronomy. In his commentary, Ibn Ezra looks to Deuteronomy 1:1, and is troubled by the anomalous nature of referring to Moses as being "beyond the Jordan", as though the writer was oriented in the land of Cana'an The final twelve verses of this book , 2) 'Moshe wrote ' ; 3) 'At that time, the Canaanites dwelt in the land' ; 4) '... In the mountain of God, He will appear' ; 5) 'behold, his bed is a bed of iron ' you will understand the truth."Spinoza concluded that Ibn Ezra's reference to "the truth", and other such references scattered throughout Ibn Ezra's commentary in reference to seemingly anachronistic verses, as "a clear indication that it was not Moses who wrote the Pentateuch but someone else who lived long after him, and that it was a different book that Moses wrote". Spinoza and later scholars were thus able to expand on several of Ibn Ezra's references as a means of providing stronger evidence for Non-Mosaic authorship.
However, Orthodox writers have stated that Ibn Ezra's can be interpreted consistent with traditional Jewish tradition stating that the Torah was divinely dictated to Moses.
Ibn Ezra's commentaries, and especially some of the longer excursuses, contain numerous contributions to the philosophy of religion. One work in particular that belongs to this province, Yesod Mora, on the division and the reasons for the Biblical commandments, he wrote in 1158 for a London friend, Joseph ben Jacob. In his philosophical thought neoplatonic ideas prevail; and astrology also had a place in his view of the world. He also wrote various works on mathematical and astronomical subjects.
- Sefer ha-Yashar The complete commentary on the Torah, which was finished shortly before his death.
- Sefer Moznayim "Book of Scales", chiefly an explanation of the terms used in Hebrew grammar; as early as 1148 it was incorporated by Judah Hadassi in his Eshkol ha-Kofer, with no mention of Ibn Ezra.
- Sefer ha-Yesod, or Yesod Diqduq "Book of Language Fundamentals"
- Sefer Haganah 'al R. Sa'adyah Gaon, a defense of Saadyah Gaon against Adonim's criticisms.
- Tzakhot, on linguistic correctness, his best grammatical work, which also contains a brief outline of modern Hebrew meter.
- Sefer Safah Berurah "Book of Purified Language" .
Smaller works – partly grammatical, partly exegetical
- Sefat Yeter, in defense of Saadia Gaon against Dunash ben Labrat, whose criticism of Saadia, Ibn Ezra had brought with him from Egypt.
- Sefer ha-Shem , a work on the names of God.
- Yesod Mispar, a small monograph on numerals.
- Iggeret Shabbat, a responsum on Shabbat
- Yesod Mora Vesod Hatorah, on the division of and reasons for the Biblical commandments.
- Sefer ha-Ekhad, on the peculiarities of the numbers 1–9.
- Sefer ha-Mispar or Yesod Mispar, arithmetic.
- Luchot, astronomical tables.
- Sefer ha-'Ibbur, on the calendar.
- Keli ha-Nechoshet, on the astrolabe.
- Shalosh She'elot, in answer to three chronological questions of David ben Joseph Narboni.
- Mishpetai ha-Mazzelot, on the general principles of astrology
- Reshit Hokhma, an introduction to astrology, perhaps a revision of his earlier book
- Sefer ha-Te'amim, an overview of Arabic astrology, giving explanations for the material in the previous book.
- Sefer ha-Moladot, on astrology based on the time and place of birth.
- Sefer ha-Me'orot, on medical astrology.
- Sefer ha-She'elot, on questions about particular events.
- Sefer ha-Mivharim, on optimum days for particular activities.
- Sefer ha-Olam, on the fates of countries and wars, and other larger-scale issues.
- Translation of two works by the astrologer Mashallah ibn Athari: "She'elot" and "Qadrut".
LegacyThe crater Abenezra on the Moon was named in honor of Ibn Ezra.
Robert Browning's poem "Rabbi Ben Ezra", beginning "Grow old along with me/The best is yet to be", is derived from a meditation on Ibn Ezra's life and work which appeared in Browning's 1864 Dramatis Personae.