JOSEPH BEN JUDAH IBN 'AḲNIN (in Arabic, Abu al-Hajjaj Yusuf ibn Yaḥya ibn Sham'un al-Sabti [i.e., "of Ceuta"] al-Maghrabi):

Physician and Poet.

Disciple of Moses Maimonides; born about 1160; died 1226. For the first twenty-five years of his life he lived with his father, who was an artisan at Ceuta in Maghreb. His youth fell in the period of the religious persecution of the Jews by the fanatic 'Abd al-Mu'min; and he had probably, like Maimonides and other Jews, to abstain from publicly practising any Jewish rite. He may have been compelled to learn the Koran; but he certainly was instructed in the Bible and in Hebrew literature. This contradiction between the outward appearance and the inner conviction ceased as soon as circumstances permitted him to leave the country. He must then have been about twenty-five years old, as he was already engaged in the practise of medicine (Munk, "Notice sur Joseph b. Jehudah," in "Jour. Asiatique," 1842, p. 14). When not occupied with professional work he wrote Hebrew poems, which were known to Al-Ḥarizi, and in his "Taḥkemoni" (xviii.) the latter speaks highly of them. Maimonides, to whom Joseph sent his poems together with other compositions from Alexandria, was not so lavish with his praise. He appreciated only the great longing for higher studies which found expression in Joseph's poems.

To satisfy this longing Joseph went from Alexandria to Fusṭaṭ (Cairo) and studied logic, mathematics, and astronomy under Maimonides' direction. Maimonides likewise expounded the writings of the Prophets, because Joseph seemed perplexed as to the possibility of reconciling the teachings of the Prophets with the results of metaphysical research. Maimonides advised patience and systematic study; but the disciple left Fostat before Maimonides had completed his course of lectures on the Prophets (Maimonides, "Moreh Nebukim," Introduction). His stay with Maimonides was short (Munk, l.c. p. 34)—less than two years. He went further east and settled in Aleppo. Here he established himself as a medical practitioner, married, and made a successful commercial journey which enabled him to live henceforth independently and free from care. It was probably in the course of this journey that he witnessed at Bagdad the burning of the works of the philosopher 'Abd al-Salam (1192).

Correspondence with Maimonides.

After the departure of Joseph from Fusṭaṭ the intercourse between master and disciple was continued in writing. Maimonides' "Moreh Nebukim" (Guide for the Perplexed) was written for Joseph and for those like him who found it difficult to harmonize the results of philosophical research with the teachings of the Prophets.

Joseph, however, was not convinced; for he writes allegorically to his master as follows: "Thy daughter Kimah [i.e., Maimonides' method of reconciling theology and philosophy: the most difficult point in his theory seems to have been the explanation of prophecy], whom I loved and married according to law and custom, in the presence of two witnesses, 'Abd Allah and Ibn Rushd, turned her face from me to follow other men. There must be something wrong in her education. Restore the wife to her husband, 'for he is a prophet.'" Maimonides replies in the same style, declaring the innocence of his daughter and the guilt of the husband; and he advises his disciple to have faith in God, and to be more modest and more careful in his utterances lest he bring evil upon himself.

Joseph remained, however, a true disciple of his master. He abandoned his other pursuits and wished to open a school. Maimonides dissuaded him from the undertaking, unless he should do it without seeking material profit from his teaching. When, thirty years later, Al-Ḥarizi visited Aleppo (1217) he found Joseph in the zenith of his glory. He praised him as the "Western light," and applied to him the words of Scripture, "and Joseph was ruler over the whole land; he supplied food for all" ("Taḥkemoni," xlvi., l.). He must indeed have had great authority when he defended his master and silenced the opposition expressed by some rabbis in Bagdad against the works of Maimonides. The latter, true to his character, exhorted Joseph to moderation, begging him, being young in years, not to oppose an old rabbi whose authority was recognized in the congregation (see "Birkat Abraham," Lyck, 1859; "Zikronot," ii.: a letter written by Maimonides in 1192).

Joseph was twice married: by the first wife he had two daughters; by the second, several sons.

His Works.

His poems are all lost except one in praise of Maimonides (see Maimonides, "Ḳobeẓ," ed. A. Lichtenberg, ii. 29, Leipsic, 1859), and the beginning of another preserved by AlḤarizi ("Taḥkemoni," xviii.; Munk, l.c. p. 49). He wrote also a treatise on three problems: (1) the nature of the Absolute; (2) the derivation of all things from the Absolute; and (3) "creatio ex nihilo." Not satisfied with his master's explanation, he submits to the consideration of Maimonides a new solution of his own. The treatise was written in Arabic, but it is known only in the Hebrew translation published by M. Levy, "Drei Abhandlungen," Berlin, 1879. Either this essaymust have been written before Maimonides wrote the "Guide," or the "unsatisfactory explanations" referred to are those given by Maimonides in that work.

Ibn 'Aḳnin wrote also an allegorical commentary on Canticles (Salfeld, "Hohelied," pp. 81-85, Berlin, 1879). Two of his writings on Talmudical subjects are referred to by himself and are probably identical with an introduction (edited by Grätz, Breslau, 1871), and a treatise on Talmudic weights and measures, extant in Hebrew translations. He wrote also an ethical work entitled "Tabb al-Nufus," fragments of which, in Arabic and Hebrew, have been published by Güdemann in his "Das Jüdische Unterrichtswesen," pp. 42 et seq. (Vienna, 1873). The identity of the author of "Tabb al-Nufus" with Ibn 'Aḳnin has been questioned.

  • In addition to Munk, as above, Steinschneider, in Ersch and Gruber, Encyc. section ii., part 31, pp. 45 et seq.;
  • Neubauer, in Monatsschrift, 1870, pp. 348 et seq.;
  • M. Friedländer, Guide of the Perplexed of Maimonides, part i., note 1.
K. M. F.
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