Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Samuel ben Judah ibn Tibbon
Samuel ben Judah ibn Tibbon, more commonly known as Samuel ibn Tibbon, was a Jewish philosopher and doctor. He was born about 1150 in Lunel (Languedoc), and died about 1230 in Marseilles. He is best known for his translations of Jewish rabbinic literature from Arabic to Hebrew.
He received from his father and other teachers in Lunel an education in Jewish rabbinic literature, medicine, in Arabic and in the other secular knowledge of his age. Later he lived in several cities of southern France (1199 in Béziers, 1204 in Arles) and traveled to Barcelona, Toledo, and even to Alexandria (1210-1213). Finally he settled in Marseilles. After his death, his body was transported to the Land of Israel, and he is buried in Tiberias.
When finishing his Hebrew translation of the Guide (which was originally in Arabic), he wrote an alphabetical glossary of the foreign words that he had used in his translation. In the introduction to the glossary he divides these words into five classes:
- Words taken mainly from the Arabic;
- Rare words occurring in the Mishnah and in the Gemara;
- Hebrew verbs and adjectives derived from substantives by analogy with the Arabic;
- Homonyms, used with special meanings; and
- Words to which new meanings were given by analogy with the Arabic.
He gives also a list of corrections which he desired to be made in the copies of his translation of the "Guide". The glossary gives not only a short explanation of each word and its origin, but also in many cases a scientific definition with examples.
Samuel wrote a commentary on the whole Bible, but only the following portions are known:
- Ma'amar Yikkawu ha-Mayim, a philosophical treatise in twenty-two chapters on Gen. i. 9. It deals with physical and metaphysical subjects, interpreting in an allegoric-philosophical manner the Bible verses cited by the author. At the end of the treatise the author says that he was led to write it through the propagation of philosophy among Gentiles and the ignorance of his coreligionists in philosophical matters.
- A philosophical commentary on Ecclesiastes, quoted by Samuel in the foregoing work (p. 175), and of which several manuscripts are extant.
- A commentary on the Song of Solomon. Quotations from this work are found in his commentary on Ecclesiastes; in Neubauer, "Cat. Bodl. Hebr. MSS." No. 1649, 2, fol. 21; and in his son's commentary on the Song of Solomon. These make it evident that he really composed this work; but its contents are unknown.
Samuel ibn Tibbon was an enthusiastic adherent of Maimonides and his allegorical interpretation of the Bible; he held that many Bible narratives are to be considered simply as parables ("meshalim") and the religious laws merely as guides ("hanhagot") to a higher, spiritual life. Such statements, not peculiar in his age, aroused the wrath of the adherents of the literal interpretation of the Bible, the anti-Maimonidean party (see Maimonides for more details).
Samuel's reputation is based not on his original writings, however, but on his translations, especially on that of Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed in 1190 (the Hebrew translation is Moreh Nevukhim). His opponents satirically changed the title into "Nevukhat ha-Morim", or "Perplexity of the Guides".
Before finishing this difficult work, Samuel consulted Maimonides several times by letter regarding some difficult passages. Maimonides' answers, some of which were written in Arabic and were later on translated into Hebrew, perhaps by Samuel himself, praise the translator's ability and acknowledge his command of Arabic, a skill very surprising in a country like France. After having given some general rules for translation from the Arabic into Hebrew, Maimonides explains the doubtful passages, which he renders into the latter language.
Samuel ibn Tibbon's translation is preceded by an introduction. As the motive for his undertaking he mentions that the scholars of Lunel asked him for a translation of the "Moreh". As aids in his work he indicates the Hebrew translation by his father (whom he calls "the Father of the Translators"), works on the Arabic language, and the Arabic writings in his own library. Samuel also wrote an index to the Biblical verses quoted in the "Moreh".
Characteristics of his works
The distinction of Samuel's translation is its accuracy and faithfulness to the original. Whether one approves or disapproves his introduction of a number of Arabic words into Hebrew, and the fact that, by analogy with the Arabic, he gives to certain Hebrew words meanings different from the accepted ones, the magnitude of his work can not be questioned.
Especially admirable is the skill with which he reproduces in Hebrew the abstract ideas of Maimonides, which is essentially a language of a people expressing concrete ideas.
When the struggle between the Maimonists and anti-Maimonists arose, Samuel did not escape reproach for having spread the ideas of Maimonides, his chief accuser being Judah al-Fakhkhar.
Samuel also translated the following works of Maimonides:
- A treatise on Resurrection under the Hebrew title "Iggeret" or "Ma'amar Tehhiyath ha-Metim";
- Mishnah commentary on Pirkei Avoth, including the psychological introduction, entitled "Shemonah Perakim" (the Eight Chapters);
- Maimonides' "Thirteen articles of faith" (originally part of his Mishnah commentary on tractate Sanhedrin, 10th chapter)
- A letter to his pupil Joseph ibn 'Aḳnin,
Samuel also translated the following writings of other Arabic authors:
- 'Ali ibn Ridwan's commentary on the "Ars Parva" of Galen (according to Paris MS. 1114), finished in 1199 in Béziers (Steinschneider, "Hebraeische Uebersetzung" p. 734).
- Three smaller treatises of Averroes, under the title "Sheloshah Ma'amarim" (edited by J. Herez, with German translation: "Drei Abhandlungen über die Conjunction des Separaten Intellects mit den Menschen von Averroes, aus dem Arabischen Uebersetzt von Samuel ibn Tibbon," Berlin, 1869). Samuel translated these three treatises both as an appendix to his commentary on Ecclesiastes (see above) and separately (Steinschneider, ibid p. 199).
- Yachya ibn Batrik's Arabic translation of Aristotle's "Meteora," under the title "Otot ha-Shamayim" (also quoted under the title "Otot 'Elyonot"), translated on a voyage from Alexandria, between the two islands Lampedosa and Pantellaria. It is extant in several manuscripts. The preface and the beginning of the text have been printed by Filipowski (c. 1860) as a specimen. Samuel made this translation, at the request of Joseph ben Israel of Toledo, from a single and bad Arabic translation of Batrik (Steinschneider, ibid p. 132.).
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