A poet’s biblical exegesis.
Cohen, Mordechai Z.
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The Jewish Quarterly Review, XCIII, Nos. 3-4 (January-April, 2003) 533-556 Review Essay A POET'S BIBLICAL EXEGESIS1 Mordechai Z. Cohen, Yeshiva University Paul Fenton. Philosophie et exégèse dans le Jardin de la métaphore de Moïse Ibn 'Ezra. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1997. Pp. xiii + 459. After a successful career as a Hebrew poet, Moses Ibn Ezra (c. 10551138 ) devoted two expository works written in Judeo-Arabic to his other interests, including literary criticism, philosophy, and biblical exegesis. The more unique of the two works, Kitâb al-Muhädara wal-Mudhäkara (The Book ofDiscussion and Conversation), a Hebrew poetics based on the Arabic model, has received a good deal of scholarly attention, including two critical editions with modern Hebrew and Spanish translations.2 The less fortunate Maqâlat al-Hadiqafî Ma'na l-majâz wal-Haqiqa (The Treatise of the Garden on Figurative and Literal Language), a philosophical-exegetical treatise, remains available only in manuscript and has not been translated into a modern language, compelling many modern readers to rely on fragments of the medieval Hebrew translation (entitled Sefer 'Arugat ha-Bosem) published in the 19th century.3 Paul Fenton first addressed this imbalance 1 This essay was completed while I was a Research Fellow at the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, which provided a stimulating and congenial atmosphere for my research. I would like to thank Wolfliart Heinrichs, Meir Havazelet, Meira Polliack, Naomi Grunhaus, and Shifra Schapiro for their insightful comments on an earlier draft of this essay. The following abbreviations are employed in the text and notes below: BDB Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon BHBiblical Hebrew ElEncyclopedia ofIslam, 2d edition HBOT Hebrew Bible / Old Testament: History ofits Interpretation, ed. M. Sa:b0 (Göttingen, 2000), vol. 1/2 PEPP Princeton Encyclopedia ofPoetry and Poetics, eds. A. Preminger, F. Warnke, and O. B. Hardison (Princeton, 1974). 2 Kitäb al-Muhädara wal-Mudhäkara (Sefer ha-'Iyyunim we-ha-Diyyunim), ed. and trans, into Hebrew A. S. Halkin (Jerusalem, 1975); Kitäb al-Muhädara wa-'l-Mudhäkara , ed. and trans, into Spanish M. Abumalham Mas (Madrid, 1985). 3MS Sassoon 412, now in the Hebrew University National library (MS 8°570). My references to Maqälat al-Hadiqa are to the pagination in this manuscript. Recently, 534THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW in his doctoral dissertation, which he has now published in an expanded and updated version as Philosophie et exégèse dans le Jardin de la métaphore de Moïse Ibn 'Ezra.4 As well as describing Ibn Ezra's work in detail and translating excerpts into French, Fenton illuminates its intellectual context, drawing upon a wide range of Arabic and Hebrew sources in such diverse fields as medicine, poetics, linguistics, and qur'anic exegesis. Since Fenton has demonstrated his mastery of Moses Ibn Ezra's heretofore neglected philosophical -exegetical work in his own impressively wide-ranging study, we eagerly await his forthcoming edition of Maqâlat al-Hadiqa with a modern Hebrew translation.5 In his introduction (pp. 3-61), Fenton describes Ibn Ezra's writings, his cultural milieu, and the extant manuscripts of Maqâlat al-Hadiqa (including fragments from the Cairo genizah he has discovered). The introduction concludes with a valuable table of the contents of Maqâlat al-Hadiqa's two sections. The first section, on philosophy, defines the interpretive concepts majäz and haqiqa, and analyzes such topics as God's unity, incorporeality, and unknowability, and creation, man's nature, and the commandments. The second section, devoted to exegesis, is arranged like a dictionary in which Ibn Ezra catalogues the literal and figurative meanings of biblical words associated with the human body, and reinterprets anthropomorphic depictions of God so that they do not contradict the philosophical tenets established in the first section of the Maqâla. Fenton (pp. 240-242) composes a detailed outline of this dictionary and shows that it follows an Arabic Aristotelian medical categorization. The two parts of Fenton's book correspond roughly to the primary division of the Maqâla: in part one he discusses Ibn Ezra's philosophy (pp. 65...
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