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IBN EZRA, MOSES BEN JACOB HA-SALLAḤ (ABU HARUN MUSA):

Spanish philosopher, linguist, and poet; born at Granada about 1070; (died after 1138; relative of Abraham ibn Ezra and pupil of Isaacibn Ghayyat. The surname "ha-Sallaḥ" is generally believed to have been given him on account of the numerous "seliḥot" written by him. Ibn Ezra belonged to one of the most prominent families of Spain. According to Isaac Israeli ("Yesod 'Olam," part iv., ch. xviii., end), he had three brothers, Isaac, Joseph, and Zerahiah, all of whom were distinguished scholars. From his correspondence with his junior and friend Judah ha-Levi, who dedicated to him many poems, it is known that Ibn Ezra suffered a great disappointment in the rejection of his addresses by a niece, who died shortly after her marriage to one of his brothers. To this affair of the heart, doubtless the cause of his leaving his native city, is probably due the note of melancholy and resignation which distinguishes his poetry.

Many-Sided Activity.

Ibn Ezra's activity was extensive and many-sided. He was a distinguished philosopher, an able linguist, and, above all, a powerful poet, of whom Judah al-Ḥarizi said: "Moses ibn Ezra draws pearls from the well of thought" ("Taḥkemoni," ch. iii.). To the domain of philosophy belongs Ibn Ezra's "Al-Ḥadiḳah fi Ma'ani al-Mujaz wal-Ḥaḳiḳah," anonymously translated into Hebrew under the title "'Arugat ha-Bosem." The Arabic original and a fragment of the translation are still extant in manuscript, the former in the Imperial Library of St. Petersburg, the latter in the libraries of Hamburg and Oxford (Steinschneider, "Hamburg Cat." No. 256; Neubauer, "Cat. Bodl. Hebr. MSS." No. 1180, 20). The "'Arugat ha-Bosem" is divided into seven chapters: (i.) general remarks on God, man, and philosophy; (ii.) the unity of God; (iii.) the inadmissibility of applying attributes to God; (iv.) the impropriety of giving names to God; (v.) motion; (vi.) nature; (vii.) the intellect. The authorities quoted in this work are Hermes (identified by Ibn Ezra with Enoch), Pythagoras, Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, (pseudo-) Empedocles, Alfarabi, Saadia Gaon, and Solomon ibn Gabirol. However, the brilliancy of Ibn Ezra's achievements in other directions was Prejudicial to his philosophical reputation, and although his "'Arugat ha-Bosem" betrays profound knowledge of the Greco-Arabic philosophy, it was somewhat neglected; the only known instance of its quotation is in a letter of Jedaiah Bedersi to Solomon ben Adret.

His Rhetoric.

Far more successful was the "Kitab al-Muḥaḍarah wal-Mudhakarah," a treatise on rhetoric and poetry, which was composed on the lines of the "Adab" writings of the Arabs, and is the only work of its kind in Hebrew literature. It was written at the request of a friend who had addressed to him eight questions on Hebrew poetry, and is divided into a corresponding number of chapters. In the first four the author treats generally of prose and prose-writers, of poetry and poets, and of the natural poetic gift of the Arabs, which he attributes to the climate of Arabia. He concludes the fourth chapter with the statement that, with very rare exceptions, the poetical parts of the Bible have neither meter nor rime. The fifth chapter is the most important. It begins with the history of the settlement of the Jews in Spain, which, according to the author, began during the Exile, the word "Sepharad" used by the prophet Obadiah (verse 20) meaning "Spain." Then, comes a full description of the literary activity of the Spanish Jews, giving the most important authors and their works. In the sixth chapter the author quotes various maxims and describes the general intellectual condition of his time, which seems not to have been very brilliant. He deplores the indifference shown by the public to scholars. This indifference, he declares, does not affect him personally; for he can not count himself among those who have been ill-treated by fate; he has experienced both good and bad fortune. Moreover, he possesses a virtue which permits him to renounce any pretension to public recognition—the virtue of contentment and moderation. In the seventh chapter the author discusses the question whether it is possible to compose poetry in dreams, as some trustworthy writers claim to have done. The eighth chapter is divided into two parts, the first dealing with poetry and poems, and the second (in twenty paragraphs) with tropes, figures, and other poetic forms.

The "Kitab al-Muḥaḍarah" is still extant in manuscript in the libraries of Berlin, Oxford, and St. Petersburg. A part of the work, including the first four chapters, was published by Paul Kokowzow, St. Petersburg, 1895; the second chapter was published by H. Hirschfeld in his Judæo-Arabic chrestomathy. An estimate and analysis of the work have been given by Schreiner ("R. E. J." xxi., xxii.); an index of the authors and works referred to therein was made by Steinschneider ("Berlin Cat." ii. 30 et seq.). A fragment of a Hebrew translation (entitled "Eshkol ha-Kofer") of the "Kitab al-Muḥaḍarah" is cited by Zacuto ("Yuḥasin," p. 220, ed. London). In this work Ibn Ezra mentions another work of his, "Fi Faḍa'il Ahl al-Adab," which is no longer in existence.

His Poetry.

Ibn Ezra was an unrivaled master of the Hebrew language. His poetical productions, both sacred and secular, are distinguished by their beauty of form and style, and were, according to Al-Ḥarizi ("Taḥkemoni," iii.), preferred by poets even to those of Judah ha-Levi and Abraham ibn Ezra. Ibn Ezra's secular poems are contained in two works: in the "Tarshish" (so called on account of the 1,210 lines it comprised), or "'Anaḳ." (Arabic title "Zahr al-Riyaḍ"),and in the first part of his "Diwan." The "Tarshish" is divided into ten chapters, each of which contains in order the twenty-two letters of the alphabet. It is written in the Arabic style of poetry termed "tajnis," which consists in the repetition of words in every stanza, but with a different meaning in each repetition. The first chapter is dedicated to a certain Abraham (certainly not Abraham ibn Ezra), whose merits he exalts in Oriental fashion. In the nine remaining chapters are discussed: (ch. ii.) wine, love, and song; (iii.) the beauty of country life; (iv., v.) love-sickness and the separation of lovers; (vi.) unfaithful friends; (vii.) old age; (viii.) vicissitudes of fortune, and death; (ix.) confidence in God; (x.) the glory of poetry.

Ibn Ezra's earnestness is reflected even in the most frivolous parts of the "Tarshish." It would seem that even when he sings of love and wine and of kindred subjects his mind is still occupied with the grave problems of life. He is a great lover of nature, and interprets it in vivid language. Especially striking is the seventh chapter, in which he bewails the loss of youth. His gray hair renders him sad and morose;" O that the night [blackness] still crowned my hair instead of the day!" he exclaims. His only consolation is that old age will free him from passions and enable him to lead a decorous life. The "Tarshish" was published by David Günzburg, Berlin, 1886. In the manuscript copies found in various European libraries (Munich, Oxford, Paris, etc.) the "Tarshish" is accompanied by a commentary explaining the signification of the homonyms used. It is possible that the elements of this commentary come from the author himself.

The "Diwan," still extant in manuscript (Neubauer, "Cat. Bodl. Hebr. MSS." No. 1792), contains three hundred secular poems, consisting in part of praises of friends and elegies on the death of scholars.

Sacred Poems.

The greater part of Ibn Ezra's 220 sacred compositions, which are scattered in nearly all the Maḥzorim (that of the Ashkenazim excepted) and in the "Diwan," are penitential poems ("seliḥot") for the New-Year and the Day of Atonement. Their aim is to invite man to look within himself; they depict the emptiness of life, the vanity of worldly glory, the bitter disillusion which must be experienced at last by the pleasure-seeker, and the inevitableness of divine judgment. A skilfully elaborated piece of work is the "'Abodah," the introduction to which is a part of the Portuguese Maḥzor. Unlike his predecessors, Ibn Ezra begins his review of Biblical history not with Adam, but with the giving of the Law. The piyyuṭim which follow the mishnaic text of the Temple service, especially the piyyuṭ "Happy is the eye that beheld it," are of remarkable beauty.

Bibliography:
  • Luzzatto, in Kerem Ḥemed, iv. 85 et seq.;
  • Dukes, in Ẓiyyon, ii. 117;
  • idem, Moses ibn Ezra aus Granada, Hamburg, 1839;
  • Edelmann and Dukes, Treasures of Oxford. pp. 63 et seq., London, 1851;
  • Sachs, Die Religiöse Poesie, pp. 276 et seq.;
  • Zunz, Literaturgesch. p. 202, and Index;
  • Landshuth, 'Ammude ha-'Abodah, pp. 239 et seq.;
  • Steinschneider. Cat. Bodl. col. 1801;
  • idem, Verzeichniss der Königlichen Bibliothek zu Berlin, ii. 30, 128;
  • idem, Die Arabische Literatur der Juden, p. 101;
  • Grätz, Gesch. vi. 392;
  • Schreiner, in R. E. J. xxi., xxii.;
  • Brody, in Monatsschrift, xi.
J. I. Br.
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