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  2. Samuel Ibn Tibbon (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
  3. Samuel Ibn Tibbon

This translation also includes Ibn Tibbon's own often critical remarks on Maimonides' suggested renderings of difficult Arabic terms. Aristotle, Meteorology Ibn Tibbon's translation of the Meteorology was completed, according to a manuscript colophon, in , while returning by boat from Alexandria.

In the preface, he discusses the problems of translating this work: Thus he consulted manuscripts in Barcelona and Toledo in order to help reconstruct the original. He also examined the commentaries on it by Alexander of Aphrodisias, Avicenna, and Averroes—for textual witnesses and to help understand the text. In some cases, he incorporated translations from the commentators into the translation itself. Ibn Tibbon's preface to the translation includes the beginnings of a lexicon, perhaps part of a larger project, which was never completed or was incorporated into his larger glossary to be discussed below.

Why did Ibn Tibbon translate the Meteorology before any other work by Aristotle? It seems that he did this in response to a remark made by Maimonides in Guide 2: They were the first works of Averroes rendered into Hebrew, before any of the commentaries on Aristotle. Ibn Tibbon translated them and attached them to his commentary on Ecclesiastes. He did this, he maintained, because Averroes and Solomon were aiming to do precisely the same thing: These translations, therefore, like the Meteorology , had strong exegetical significance. But they were read in their own right as well.

They circulated independently of the commentary on Ecclesiastes, and became standard textbooks in the discussion of immortality. Thus, for example, they were included in Gershom b. Solomon al-Konstantini's Marot Elohim. A composite Latin version, based on the Hebrew, circulated under the title De animae beatitudine. Why he translated this text is not known. But it seems that it did not circulate widely. Thus already in the s Abraham ibn Hasdai found it necessary to produce a fresh translation of the work, since he could not find a copy of the rendering by his predecessor.

Other translations Ibn Tibbon incorporated translations and summaries of Arabic texts into his original writings as well.

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Three of the most important examples are the following:. Most of the text presented there is a word-for-word translation from al-Farabi. In the following generation, the entire text of al-Bitruji was translated by Samuel's son Moses. The theory of Avicenna—that erosion is prevented by the mixture of mud with fatty oils—contributed to Ibn Tibbon's discussion there of eternity of the world and the possibility of spontaneous generation. Spurious and doubtful translations Many other translations are attributed to Ibn Tibbon in manuscripts, manuscript catalogues, and later sources.

Sirach, Entire Book - 00 - 51 (Ecclesiasticus; Ben Sira; Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach)

Most are clearly spurious; but two are worth mentioning. An anonymous translation of the text, published by Kupfer, is clearly not his work. Ridwan's commentary on Galen's Ars parva. If this attribution were correct, it would contribute important information to Ibn Tibbon's biography.

It would also establish the very early existence of an Arabic medical text in Hebrew. The translation itself, however, uses terms such as nirdaf for synonym that were not part of Ibn Tibbon's translation lexicon. Ibn Tibbon's translations are generally literal. Unlike Judah al-Harizi, his rival translator, he was not concerned with felicity of style or purity of language but accuracy in meaning.

Samuel Ibn Tibbon (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Thus he uses rabbinic as well as biblical expressions, follows the syntax of the Arabic, and coins new terms, based on the model of the Arabic. He was criticized for this method—by al-Harizi and others—but it was his method and terminology that ultimately won out and became authoritative throughout the later middle ages. Ibn Tibbon discusses the problems and difficulties of translation in several texts: What I would like to do here is present a brief synthetic characterization of Ibn Tibbon's method of translation based on these sources. This subject is important for understanding the work of Ibn Tibbon and the process of creating a philosophical culture in Hebrew.

Translating philosophy, moreover, is a philosophical subject in its own right. The first order of business in translating a text is the preparation of a reliable edition. Thus Ibn Tibbon, as critical scholar, made every effort to collect and compare manuscripts of the texts on which he worked. In the preface to the Meteorology , similarly, he indicates that he had consulted manuscripts of Aristotle's work in Toledo and Barcelona, and had studied the commentaries by Alexander, Avicenna, and Averroes, in order to help construct a more reliable text closer to the original.

In the preface to the translation of the Guide , Ibn Tibbon explains that, when confronted with difficult terms, he would consult Arabic dictionaries. Goldenthal, Leipzig, , p. Todrosi's report reads as follows:. In the preface to the translation of the Guide , Ibn Tibbon explains that, in his translation of Maimonides, he had consulted previous translations, rendered by his father and by others. Moreover, he explains that, when a term already exists, he will follow established convention, even when he disagrees. The text from Perush ha-Millot ha-Zarot , ed.

This presented a ready lexicon of sorts for the translator: When all else failed—after consulting dictionaries and previous translations—Ibn Tibbon addressed his queries to the author himself. In fact, there is evidence that Ibn Tibbon wrote at least three letters to Maimonides regarding translation and interpretation, and that he received at least two letters in response.

Notable about the latter is that, despite Ibn Tibbon's efforts to consult with Maimonides, he generally ignored the latter's advice, and continued to follow the translation terminology and traditions of his father. One of Ibn Tibbon's most interesting discussions of translation is found in his preface to the glossary. In the preface to the commentary on Ecclesiastes, he then provides a rare description of how he actually coined a new term through calque.

This description reads as follows:. After completing the first version of the Guide , Judah al-Harizi produced a rival translation, apparently at the request of some sages from southern France.

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Ibn Tibbon issued his revised translation, with glossary, in response to this challenge. Thus in the preface to the glossary he focuses on defending his own work and undermining the work of his rival. He exposes al-Harizi's ignorance of philosophy and highlights his own mastery of the subject matter of the Guide and sensitivity to the difficulties of translation.

In the preface to the commentary on Ecclesiastes, Ibn Tibbon also seems to provide explanation why the literal translation of philosophical texts is superior. There he emphasizes the importance of word order in the construction of meaning. Ibn Tibbon proceeds to discuss the ways to do this in a written text, using rhetorical and poetic devices.

The implication for translation is as follows: Al-Harizi was right about one thing: But even if they were elegant and accessible, reading the Guide , and other translated texts, would require background in philosophy. This Ibn Tibbon recognized. Thus he did far more than simply producing literal translations; he also initiated the creation of a cognate literature in Hebrew: He produced the first major lexicon of philosophical Hebrew; and he included explanatory glosses in the margins of his translation of the Guide , which established the foundation for a proper commentary tradition.

A brief discussion of the glossary will be given here. The philosophical glossary or lexicon is, in fact, a very old genre. The tradition of defining key terms was developed already in late antiquity, and continued into the Middle Ages. For example, al-Kindi, Avicenna, and Isaac Israeli all wrote books of definitions. It was written not as a general introduction to philosophy, like the work of his predecessors, but as a glossary to one translated text: Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed. In fact, however, it is much more. It includes extended discussions of key terms, and works as both glossary and lexicon, introduction and primer.

Many philosophical ideas appear in Hebrew for the first time in the glossary; and there is evidence that the text itself was studied independently, as a general reference work or study aid. In order to illustrate its character, I'll present here four entries from the glossary: With these four entries, Ibn Tibbon introduced his Hebrew reader to the entire Aristotelian curriculum as it had developed in the Arabic world including pseudo-Aristotelian works.

Ibn Tibbon wrote two main original works: A commentary on Ecclesiastes and a philosophical-exegetical monograph entitled Ma'amar Yiqqawu ha-Mayim. A commentary on the internal meanings of Proverbs and an esoteric commentary on Genesis, entitled Ner ha-Hofes see Prov What is the character of these writings? Although they are diverse in form and content, they all share two main characteristics: Any discussion of Ibn Tibbon, therefore, needs to work through a complex philosophical-exegetical process: Why did Ibn Tibbon write his philosophy in this way?

Why didn't he write straightforward philosophical or theological summas or commentaries on philosophical works by Aristotle or Averroes? In the thirteenth century, much of the philosophical activity in the Jewish communities was focused not on general synthesis but on translation, transmission, defense, and propagation; and teaching philosophy within the framework of traditional literature was a very effective way of spreading the ideas of philosophy.

In particular, teaching philosophy through Bible or rabbinic literature helped make foreign ideas more familiar and helped justify the study of philosophy by connecting it with authoritative exemplars. Most important, it created a safe place for the doing of philosophy itself; for through a peculiar process of canonization, beginning with Maimonides and continuing with his disciples, specific biblical verses or stories became the standard loci for the discussion of philosophical ideas or problems.

The biblical texts would stay the same, but the philosophical ideas would change, in light of the novel ideas of a particular exegete or school of thought. In order to give a sense of Ibn Tibbon's philosophical exegesis, I'll briefly describe his original writings, then single out a few specific examples relating to a single problem: The Preface to the translation of Maimonides, Commentary on Avot In the preface to this translation, Ibn Tibbon presents a full and detailed explication of Jeremiah 9: He explains and criticizes Maimonides' explanation of these verses in Guide 3: The Commentary on Ecclesiastes It seems that this was Ibn Tibbon's first major exegetical work; it was likely completed sometime between and The commentary is a large and digressive work, including a long preface, a verse-by-verse commentary, and several digressions, in which Ibn Tibbon introduces a philosophical subject or explains a related verse in Genesis, Jeremiah, Psalms, Proverbs, or the Song of Songs.

The philosophical digressions are mainly related to logic, astronomy, meteorology, generation and corruption, celestial influence on the sublunar world, and the soul and its faculties. Ibn Tibbon's understanding of Ecclesiastes as a whole is as follows: Let the waters be gathered Gen 1: It was completed after the commentary on Ecclesiastes, possibly in or Like the commentary on Ecclesiastes, it is digressive and exegetical, although in general it follows the order of Guide of the Perplexed , part III.

Ibn Tibbon begins this work with a cosmological question—why is the earth not covered entirely by water—and then proceeds to answer this and related questions in relation to verses from Genesis, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Job, and especially the Book of Psalms. There Maimonides says that, although he can explain most aspects of the sacrificial cult, he cannot explain the reason for the table and shewbread. Ibn Tibbon thus takes up this challenge from the Master. He explains that the table and shewbread, and the very sensuous sacrificial cult in general, serves as a lesson in theology.

In particular, the gross anthropomorphic representations, in Ibn Tibbon's opinion, expose the absurdity of conceiving God as a body, with all the body's concomitant needs and relations. In other words, the temple and tabernacle, working as a reductio ad absurdum of sorts, helped to spread the true belief in monotheism.

Commentary on the Internal Meanings of Proverbs In the commentary on Ecclesiastes, Ibn Tibbon says that he planned a commentary on the internal meanings of Proverbs. Although this commentary was never written, it is possible that preliminary discussions were incorporated into his other writings. Thus in the commentary on Ecclesiastes, Ibn Tibbon presents a full and detailed verse-by-verse explication of Prov 1: The former he explains as a prooemium, following the philosophical tradition of writing prefaces: Solomon introduces the title of the work, the name of the author, the method of presentation, etc.

Samuel Ibn Tibbon

The latter verses he explains in relation to the possibility of repentance: It was never completed, but as with the commentary on Proverbs, it is possible that preliminary notes and explanations can be found in his other writings. Thus, for example, the commentary on Ecclesiastes includes several detailed explications of verses from Genesis, including 1: Throughout Ibn Tibbon's writings, he returns time and again to a few key problems: These subjects were particularly vexing: Maimonides had discussed them, but did not provide a consistent doctrine; al-Farabi had famously denied that conjunction is possible; while Averroes took up the question of immortality in several works with differing results.

Ibn Tibbon, for his part, worked with the biblical texts singled out by Maimonides, but developed ideas drawn from al-Farabi and Averroes.

His discussion of three biblical texts, all relating to the final aim of human existence, are especially important. His interpretations will be presented here in relation to those of Maimonides. In the preface to the Guide of the Perplexed , Maimonides singles out Jacob's vision of the ladder in Gen 28 as a paradigmatic example of the biblical allegory; he isolates seven key terms in the story, which he decodes, in two different ways, in later chapters of the Guide. Thus the angels ascending and descending the ladder are explained in Guide 1: The ladder is set up on the earth and extends into the celestial realm, the rungs on the ladder are the four elements or seven celestial bodies, and the angels ascending and descending are the celestial intelligences.

The Lord, standing firmly at the top of the ladder, is God as first cause or prime mover. Ibn Tibbon was the first philosopher-exegete to build upon Maimonides' approach and to move it in new directions, which were more consistent with his own particular interests. According to his interpretation, the angels ascending are the philosophers, who ascend the ladder of wisdom toward metaphysics, the final subject of the curriculum.

Who then are the angels that descend? They are not the prophets, descending with wisdom to rule the people, but separate intelligences, which descend to help the human intellect reach its final perfection: Building upon Aristotelian treatments of this problem, he presents four possible human ends: He then introduces a biblical text, Jeremiah 9: In the preface to the translation of Maimonides on Avot, as well as in the commentary on Ecclesiastes, Ibn Tibbon discusses these same verses from Jeremiah in detail, explains and criticizes Maimonides' interpretation of them, then presents his own novel explication.

According to Ibn Tibbon, the final human perfection is knowledge and understanding of God, without qualification. Thus the verse should be understood differently, with the final clause relating to God rather than man; man should understand and know God, full stop.

These figures, he says, reached the highest level of human perfection, for they were in constant communion with God and also fully involved in the creation and governance of a religious community. They were like the protagonist of Song of Songs, with heart awake even while asleep.

What was Ibn Tibbon's understanding of the same subject? How did he build on and respond to Maimonides' use of the verse? As in the previous two examples, Ibn Tibbon cites and discusses Guide 3: As he explains in the commentary on Ecclesiastes, the patriarchs and Moses did achieve this state of philosophy and politics, precisely as Maimonides had described it; they were asleep in the world of matter with heart awake toward the world of God.

He died in Egypt on December 12, , whence his body was taken to the lower Galilee and buried in Tiberias. During his lifetime, most Jews greeted Maimonides' writings on Jewish law and ethics with acclaim and gratitude, even as far away as Iraq and Yemen, and although Maimonides rose to become the revered head of the Jewish community in Egypt , there were also vociferous critics of some of his writings, particularly in Spain. Nonetheless, he was posthumously acknowledged as among the foremost rabbinical arbiters and philosophers in Jewish history , and his copious work comprises a cornerstone of Jewish scholarship.

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His fourteen-volume Mishneh Torah still carries significant canonical authority as a codification of Talmudic law. He is sometimes known as "ha Nesher ha Gadol" the great eagle in recognition of his outstanding status as a bona fide exponent of the Oral Torah. Aside from being revered by Jewish historians, Maimonides also figures very prominently in the history of Islamic and Arab sciences and is mentioned extensively in studies.

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