Attention! has pledged to build one church a year in Uganda. Help us double that pledge and support pastors in the heart of Africa.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Saadia B. Joseph (Sa'id al-Fayyumi)

Gaon of Sura and the founder of scientific activity in Judaism born in Dilaẓ, Upper Egypt, 892 died at Sura 942. The name "Saadia," which, so far as is known, he was the first to bear, is apparently an artificial Hebrew equivalent of his Arabic name, "Sa'id." In an acrostic of the Hebrew introduction to his first work, the "Agron," he calls himself but later he wrote his name , or in its fuller and punctuated form , as in the "Sefer ha-Galui," while the form is given by Moses ibn Ezra. Saadia's enemies spread malicious stories, which probably had no basis in fact, regarding his origin and both Ben Meïr and the pamphlets referring to the controversy of Saadia with the exilarch allude to the low calling followed by his father, and speak of his parent as a non-Jew. On the other hand, Saadia in his polemic "Sefer ha-Galui" lays stress upon his ancient Jewish lineage, claiming that he belonged to the noble family of Shelah, the son of Judah (1Chronicles 4:21 ), and counting among his ancestors Ḥanina b. Dosa, the famous ascetic of the first century. Expression was given to this claim by Saadia in calling his son Dosa. Nothing is known, however, of the latter except his name. Regarding Joseph, Saadia's father, a statement of Ben Meïr has been preserved to the effect that he was compelled to leave Egypt and that he died in Joppa, probably during Saadia's lengthy residence in the Holy Land. The usual epithet of "Al-Fayyumi," represented in Hebrew by the similar geographical name "Pitomi" (comp. Exodus 1:11 ), refers to Saadia's native place, the Fayum in Upper Egypt and it is known, through his opponents mentioned above, that he was born at Dilaẓ(), a village there.

Early Works.
Nothing whatever is known of the youth and education of Saadia nor are his teachers named, except that Mas'udi, a Mohammedan author who died in 957, states that Saadia was a pupil of Abu Kathir, with whom Mas'udi himself carried on a disputation in Palestine. At all events he must have acquired very extensive knowledge in early life, as is shown by his writings. It was in his twentieth year (913) that Saadia completed his first great work, the Hebrew dictionary which he entitled "Agron." In his twenty-third year, according to a verse contained in Abraham ibn Ezra's "Yesod Mispar," he composed a polemical work against Anan, thus apparently beginning the activity which was to prove so important in opposition to Karaism and other heresies and in defense of traditional Judaism. In the same year he left Egypt and went to settle permanently in Palestine, as he states in a Hebrew letter (Schechter, "Saadyana," vii.) addressed at the beginning of his controversy with Ben Meïr to three of his pupils who had remained in Egypt. It was this discussion—a remarkable dispute between the authorities of Palestine and Babylonia concerning the calendar—which first revealed to public notice the full force of the energy which characterized Saadia's nature and the full depth of his knowledge, although he must even before this time have become generally known and been highly esteemed, not only on account of these qualities, but also on account of his literary activity. He was in Aleppo and on his way from the East when he learned of Ben Meïr's regulation of the calendar, which was imperiling the unity of Judaism. Thereupon he immediately addressed a warning to him, and in Babylon he placed his knowledge and pen at the disposal of the exilarch David b. Zakkai and of the scholars of the academy, adding his own letters to those sent by them to the communities of the Diaspora (922). In Babylonia, furthermore, he wrote his "Sefer ha-Mo'adim," or "Book of Festivals," in which he refuted the assertions of Ben Meïr regarding the calendar, and probably helped much to avert from the Jewish community the perils of schism.

Dispute with Ben Meïr.
This activity of Saadia's was likewise doubtless an important factor in the call to Sura which he received in 928. He was made gaon by the exilarch David b. Zakkai and the ancient academy, which had been founded by Rab, then entered upon a new period of brilliancy. This first gaon called from abroad, however, was not allowed undisturbed activity. There were doubtless many who viewed unwillingly a foreigner as the head of the academy and even the mighty exilarch himself, whom the aged Nissim Naharwani had vainly attempted to dissuade from appointing Saadia, found, after two brief years, that the personality of his appointee was far different from that of the insignificant and servile geonim whom he had succeeded, and who had officiated at the exilarch's bidding. In a probate case Saadia refused to sign a verdict of the exilarch which he thought unjust, although Kohen Ẓedeḳ, gaon of Pumbedita, had subscribed to it. When the son of the exilarch threatened Saadia with violence to secure his compliance, and was roughly handled by Saadia's servant, open war broke out between the exilarch and the gaon. Each-excommunicated the other, declaring that he deposed his opponent from office and David b. Zakkai appointed the utterly unimportant Joseph b. Jacob as gaon of Sura, while Saadia conferred the exilarchate on David's brother Ḥasan (Josiah 930). Ḥasan was forced to flee, and died in exile in Khorasan but the strife which divided Babylonian Judaism continued. Saadia was attacked by the exilarch and by his chief adherent, the young but learned Aaron ibn Sargado, in Hebrew pamphlets, fragments of which show a degree of hatred on the part of the exilarch and his partizans that did not shrink from scandal. Saadia did not fail to reply.

The "Sefer ha-Galui."
He wrote both in Hebrew and in Arabic a work, now known only from a few fragments, entitled "Sefer ha-Galui" (Arabic title, "Kitab al-Ṭarid"), in which he emphasized with great but justifiable pride the services which he had rendered, especially in his opposition to heresy (see also Abraham ibn Daud in Neubauer, "M. J. C." 1:166).

The seven years which Saadia spent in Bagdad, far from the gaonate, did not interrupt his literary activity. His principal philosophical work was completed in 933 and four years later, through Ibn Sargado's father-in-law, Bishr (, Neubauer, l.c. 2:84, line 2 not , which Grätz transliterates as "Kasser," and Steinschneider, "Die Arabische Litteratur der Juden," p. 47, by "Kasher") ben Aaron, the two enemies were reconciled. Saadia was reinstated in his office but he held it for only five years. David b. Zakkai died before him (c. 940), being followed a few months later by the exilarch's son Judah, while David's young grandson was nobly protected by Saadia as by a father. According to a statement made by Abraham ibn Daud and doubtless derived from Saadia's son Dosa, Saadia himself died, as noted above, in 942, at the age of fifty, of "black gall" (melancholia), repeated illnesses having undermined his health.

His Works.
After Philo, Saadia was the first great writer in post-Biblical Judaism. Like Philo, he called Egypt his fatherland and as Philo had united the Hellenic language and culture with the Jewish spirit, so the language and civilization of the Mohammedan Arabs gained a similar but far more lasting influence over the history of Judaism through the writings of Saadia. He was, moreover, almost entirely a creator and an innovator in the scientific fields in which he labored, although much of his work, even that which was written in Hebrew, is now known only from citations. A complete edition of those of his writings which have been preserved either in their entirety or in fragments was begun by Joseph Derenbourg in 1892 in honor of the millenary of Saadia's birth. Of this work, which is expected to fill ten volumes, only five have thus far appeared (1893-99).

The following is a survey of Saadia's works arranged according to subject-matter:

Saadia translated into Arabic most, if not all, of the Bible, adding an Arabic commentary, although there is no citation from the books of Chronicles. The translation of the Pentateuch is contained in the Polyglot Bibles of Constantinople (1546), Paris (1645), and London (1657), and in an edition for the Jews of Yemen ( or , Jerusalem, 1894-1901), as well as in the first volume of Derenbourg's edition of Saadia's complete works. A large fragment of the commentary on Exodus exists also in manuscript (see Berliner's "Magazin," 7:133). The translation of Isaiah was edited by Paulus (1790-91), and with portions of the commentary, by Derenbourg in his third volume. A translation of and commentary on the Psalms have been edited in the dissertation of Margulies (Breslau, 1884), and by others selections were published by Ewald in his "Beiträge zur Aeltesten Auslegung und Spracherklärung des Alten Testaments" (i., Stuttgart, 1844) and the introduction was translated into German by J. Cohn (Berliner's "Magazin," 8:1-19,61-91). A translation or Proverbs, together with a commentary and an introduction thereto, was edited by Derenbourg and extracts have been published by Bondi (1888), a detailed characterization being given by Heller ("R. E. J." xxxvii.). Cohn likewise edited the translation of and commentary on Job, a complete edition of which was published by Bacher (in Derenbourg, "Œuvres Complètes," v.) and extracts were published by Ewald (l.c. ). The translations of the Five Megillot found in various manuscripts, and ascribed therein to Saadia, are not genuine, though they are probably based on his translation, the version of Esther contained in them and printed in a siddur of Yemen (Vienna, 1896) being, at all events, very close to Saadia's rendering (see Poznanski in "Monatsschrift," 46:364). His translation of and a portion of his commentary on Daniel are preserved in manuscript but the Hebrew commentary on Daniel which bears Saadia's name in the rabbinical Bible was written by another Saadia, who lived in the twelfth century (see Porges, ib. 34:63-73) and the same statement holds true with regard to the commentary on Ezra edited under Saadia's name by Mathews (1882 see "Ha-Goren," 2:72 et seq. ). Here likewise may be mentioned the Arabic midrash on the Decalogue ascribed to Saadia and frequently reprinted (see Steinsehneider, l.c. p. 285 idem , "Hebr. Bibl." 7:114 "J. Q. R." 12:484). For the commentary on Canticles of which a Hebrew translation was edited at Constantinople (c. 1577) and which was attributed to Saadia see Ewald and Dukes, "Beiträge," 2:104-109 and for a similar commentary on Ecclesiastes (Hasiatyn, 1903) see Bacher in "Hebr. Bibl." ix. (1905).

(1) "Agron," so far as is known, Saadia's first production. It is a double dictionary, the two parts being arranged according to the alphabetic order of initials and of final letters respectively, and was intended to be used in versification, in which acrostics and rime were the chief requisites. In a later edition Saadia added the Arabic translation of each word, and also included passages concerning various "memorable subjects of the poets," naming the work in its new form "Kitab al-Shi'r." The Arabic introduction to the second edition and the Hebrew preface of the first have been in great part preserved (see Harkavy, "Studien," 5:39-59). (2) "Kutub al-Lughah," twelve "Books on Language," which are also designated as the twelve parts of a work entitled "The Book on Language," in which, as the author himself states in his "Sefer ha-Galui," he sought to explain the "i'rab," or the grammatical formation of the Hebrew language. Of this Hebrew grammar, which is the oldest one known, fragments of greater or less extent have been preserved, especially in Saadia's commentary on the "Sefer Yeẓirah" and by Dunash ben Labraṭ. (3) "Tafsir al-Sab'ina Lafẓah," a list of seventy (properly ninety) Hebrew (and Aramaic) words which occur in the Bible only once or very rarely, and which may be explained from traditional literature, especially from the Neo-Hebraisms of the Mishnah. This small work has been frequently reprinted.

(1) Short monographs, in which individual problems of the Halakah are systematically presented. Of these Arabic treatises of Saadia's little but the titles and extracts is known (see Steinschneider, l.c. pp. 48 et seq. Poznanski, "Orientalistische Literaturzeitung," 1904, Colossians 306 ), and it is only in the "Kitab al-Mawarith" that fragments of any length have survived these were edited by Müller in the "Œuvres Complètes," 9:1-53. A book of rules for the sheḥiṭah is extant in manuscript (ib. p. xxxvii.). (2) A commentary on the thirteen rules of Rabbi Ishmael, preserved only in a Hebrew translation ( ib. pp. 73-83). An Arabic methodology of the Talmud is also mentioned, by Azulai, as a work of Saadia under the title "Kelale ha-Talmud" ("Shem ha-Gedolim," 2:16). (3) Responsa. With few exceptions these exist only in Hebrew, some of them having been probably written in that language. About fifty have been collected from the mass of geonic responsa by J. Müller ( l.c. 9:87-142), who has also compiled numerous citations from Saadia which bear on the Halakah ( ib. pp. 145-173). On the "Book of Feasts" see below. Saadia's interpretation, or more correctly translation, of the Mishnah into Arabic was used in the twelfth century in Bagdad, according to the traveler Pethahiah of Regensburg but no further data are known concerning it.

(1) The "Siddur." Saadia's prayer-book, hitherto known in detail only from the analysis of Steinschneider ("Cat. Bodl." cols. 2203-2211, supplemented by Neubauer in "Ben Chananja," 1863-65), is called by its author ("Cat. Bodl." Colossians 1096 ) "Kitab Jawami' al-Ṣalawat wal-Tasabiḥ," or "Book of Collections of Prayers and Songs of Praise." It contains the entire ritual for week-days, Sabbaths, and festivals, with explanations in Arabic and Saadia's own synagogal poetry (comp. Bondi, "Der Siddur Saadia's," Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1904). (2) Of this synagogal poetry (comp. Steinschneider, l.c. cols. 2211-2217 Zunz, "S.P." pp. 93-98,668 Schechter, l.c. xvii-xxv.) the most noteworthy portions are the "Azharot" on the 613 commandments, which give the author's name as "Sa'id b. Joseph" (see above), followed by the expression "Alluf," thus showing that the poems were written before he became gaon. They have been collected by Rosenberg ("Kobeẓ," pp. 26,54, Berlin, 1876 see also" Œuvres Complètes," 9:59-69 "J. Q. R." 6:704 Schechter, l.c. xv.) and there are in addition the "'Abodah" (Rosenberg, l.c. pp. 10-17), and the "Hosha'not" (designated in Saadia's "Siddur" as the "Alfabatat"), a portion of the prayer-book of Yemen (see "J. Q. R." 14:592), edited by Kohut (in "Monatsschrift," xxxvii.). (3) In connection with Saadia's liturgical poetry may be mentioned his poem on the number of the letters in the Bible (see Derenbourg, "Manuel du Lecteur," pp. 139,235), which has been incorrectly claimed for another author (see Steinschneider, "Hebr. Bibl." 7:143. note 2).

The "Emunot we-De'ot."

  1. The "Kitab al-Amanat wal-l'tiḳadat," or "Book of the Articles of Faith and Doctrines of Dogma," the first systematic presentation and philosophic foundation of the dogmas of Judaism, completed in 933. This work is better known under its Hebrew title, "Sefer Emunot we-De'ot," as translated by Judah ibn Tibbon, his version having been first printed in Constantinople in 1562 and frequently republished, while the original was edited by S. Landauer (Leyden, 1880). Another translation, or rather paraphrase, of the "Kitab al-Amanat," of uncertain authorship, is contained in several manuscripts large portions of this rendering were edited by Gollancz ("The Ethical Treatises of Berachyah," London, 1902 comp. "Monatsschrift," 46:536). Of the ten sections or "maḳalat" of the work, the seventh, treating of the resurrection, is contained in two versions, the first of which, the basis of the translation of Ibn Tibbon, has been edited by Bacher in the "Steinschneider Festschrift," pp. 98-112, and the second by Landauer.

  2. "Tafsir Kitab al-Mabadi," an Arabic translation of and commentary on the "Sefer Yeẓirah," written while its author was still residing in Egypt (or Palestine). The Arabic original was edited with a French translation by Lambert (Paris, 1891). A Hebrew translation exists in manuscript but the Hebrew commentary on the "Sefer Yeẓirah" printed under Saadia's name in 1562 is incorrectly ascribed to him.

(1-3) Refutations of Karaite authors, always designated by the name "Kitab al-Rudd," or "Book of Refutation." These are directed respectively against Anan, the founder of Karaism (written in 915) against Ibn Saḳawaih or Saḳuyah, an author of whom nothing more is known and "against a bitter assailant" ("'ala mutaḥamil hayyum") who had criticized the anthropomorphism of the Talmudic Haggadah. These three works are known only from scanty references to them in other works that the third was written after 933, is proved by one of the citations. (4) "Kitab al-Tamyiz" (in Hebrew, "Sefer ha-Hakkarah" or "Sefer ha-Mibḥan"), or "Book of Distinction," composed in 926, and Saadia's most extensive polemical work. It was still cited in the twelfth century and a number of passages from it are given in a Biblical commentary of Japheth ha-Levi ("J. Q. R." 10:245-252, 13:656 et seq. ). (5) There was perhaps a special polemic of Saadia against Ben Zuṭa, though the data regarding this controversy between that Karaite scholar (who is otherwise unknown) and Saadia, which is mentioned in Ibn Ezra's commentary on the Pentateuch (comp. Jew. Encyc. 5:105), are known only from the gaon's gloss on the Torah. (6) A refutation directed against the rationalistic Biblical critic Ḥiwi al-Balkhi, whose views were rejected by the Karaites themselves mentioned by Saadia in the first section, p. 37, of his "Kitab al-Amanat wal-I'tiḳadat." This work was written probably in Hebrew the third section of the "Kitab al-Amanat wal-I'tiḳadat" doubtless contained the refutation which Saadia directed against Ḥiwi (comp. Jew. Encyc. 6:429b). (7) "Kitab al-Shara'i'," or "Book of the Commandments of Religion," probably also polemical in content (see Steinschneider, "Die Arabische Litteratur der Juden," pp. 50 et seq. ). (8) "Kitab al-'Ibbur," or "Book of the Calendar," likewise apparently containing polemics against Karaite Jews (see Posnanski in "J. Q. R." 10:260). (9) "Sefer ha-Mo'adim," or "Book of Festivals," the Hebrew polemic against Ben Meïr which has been mentioned above. It has, as the author himself states, the external appearance of the Biblical text, being divided into verses and pointed for vocalization and accent. Several large fragments of it have been found in recent times (Schechter, l.c. ii., iii., xlvii. Harkavy, "Studien," 5:220 "R. E. J." 41:225). (10) "Sefer ha-Galui," also in Hebrew and in the same Biblical style as the "Sefer ha-Mo'adim," being an apologetic work directed against David b. Zakkai and his followers. The author himself added an Arabic translation, commentary, and preface to his work. The introduction has been preserved in great part, and contains information regarding the work itself, of which only a few fragments are now extant (Schechter, l.c. i. Harkavy, l.c. p. 186 "R. E. J." xl. 88). The book consisted of seven sections, in the fourth of which Saadia spoke of his providential position as the leader of Israel, while in the sixth and seventh he described the opposition which he had to encounter, and enumerated those who had been victorious over him. The second section contained a chronology (Arabic, "ta'rikh") of the Biblical and Talmudic periods this is plausibly identified with the "Kitab al-Ta'rikh" from which Judah ibn Balaam, in his commentary on 1 Kings 6:1 , cites a chronological statement regarding the date of the Judges (Neubauer, "M. J. C." 2:85 see also "R. E. J." 49:298). (11) Dunash ben Labraṭ cites a sentence of three Hebrew words in which Saadia polemizes against the famous Masorite Aaron ben Asher, although it is not certain that this was from a special work in which Saadia assailed his contemporary, whom he probably knew personally.

If the fulness and versatility of Saadia's literary labor, which represents the activity of thirty years, many of which were full of unrest, are astonishing, they are still more astonishing when one recalls that he was a pioneer in the fields in which he toiled, being, to employ a tannaitic phrase used by Abraham ibn Ezra, "the first head of words in every place" ("rosh ha-medabberim be-kol maḳom"). The foremost object of his unwearied mental activity was the Bible indeed, his importance in history is due primarily to his establishment of a new school of Biblical exegesis characterized by a rational investigation of the contents of the Bible and a scientific knowledge of the language of the holy text. The services of Saadia as a representative of the "peshaṭ" and as the creator of Hebrew philology have been emphasized elsewhere (see Jew. Encyc. 3:166, s.v. Bible Exegesis ib. 4:579, s.v. Dictionaries ib. 6:69, s.v. Grammar ). Here, therefore, only a general summary of his exegetical and philological activities is necessary.

Saadia's Arabic translation of the Bible is of importance for the history of civilization itself a product of the Arabization of a large portion of Judaism, it served for centuries as a potent factor in the impregnation of the Jewish spirit with Arabic culture, so that, in this respect, it may take its place beside the Greek Bible-translation of antiquity and the German translation of the Pentateuch by Moses Mendelssohn. As a means of popular religious enlightenment, Saadia's translation presented the Scriptures even to the unlearned in a rational form which aimed at the greatest possible degree of clearness and consistency. His system of hermeneutics, furthermore, was not limited to the exegesis of individual passages, but treated also each book of the Bible as a whole, and showed the connection of its various portions with one another. As specimens may be cited the introduction to his translation of the Pentateuch and his prefaces to the Psalms, to Proverbs (which he called "The Book of the Search after Wisdom"), and to Job (which he termed the "Book of the Theodicy"), as well as his concluding remarks on the Psalms and on the speeches of Job and his friends. The minuteness which, in the judgment of Ibn Ezra, characterized the geonic commentaries on the Bible must have been especially marked in Saadia's Pentateuch commentary, to which, according to a citation by Judah ben Barzillai, a whole volume served as introduction. The commentary contained, as is stated in the author's own introduction to his translation of the Pentateuch, not only an exact interpretation of the text, but also a refutation of the cavils which the heretics raised against it. Further, it set forth the bases of the commandments of reason and the characterization of the commandments of revelation in the case of the former the author appealed to philosophical speculation of the latter, naturally, to tradition. His exegetic application of the most diverse passages of Holy Writ is conspicuously shown in that portion of his commentary which treats of Exodus 30:11-16 , and which has been translated by Bacher in Winter and Wünsche's "Jüdische Litteratur" (ii:251). It must be noted, however, that in many of his commentaries, as on the Psalms and Job, Saadia restricted himself to a very limited number of indispensable elucidations, since in general the translation itself properly served as a commentary, so that it was called "Tafsir."

The position assigned to Saadia in the oldest list of Hebrew grammarians, which is contained in the introduction to Ibn Ezra's "Moznayim," has not been challenged even by the latest historical investigations. Here, too, he was the first his grammatical work, now lost, gave an inspiration to further studies, which attained their most brilliant and lasting results in Spain, and he created in part the categories and rules along whose lines was developed the grammatical study of the Hebrew language. His dictionary, primitive and merely practical as it was, became the foundation of Hebrew lexicography and the name "Agron" (literally, "collection"), which he chose and doubtless created, was long used as a designation for Hebrew lexicons, especially by the Karaites. The very categories of rhetoric, as they were found among the Arabs, were first applied by Saadia to the style of the Bible. He was likewise one of the founders of comparative philology, not only through his brief "Book of Seventy Words, "already mentioned, but especially through his explanation of the Hebrew vocabulary by the Arabic, particularly in the case of the favorite translation of Biblical words by Arabic terms having the same sound.

Hebrew Style.
The influence of the spirit and language of the Bible on Saadia is shown by his Hebrew writings. In his introduction to the "Agron" and in his polemics against Ben Meïr and David b. Zakkai he employs the method of presentation found in Biblical narrative, as well as the external form of division into verses. His models for this imitation of Biblical form were, as he himself says, the Book of Ben Sira, which he had in the Hebrew original, and the Aramaic scroll of Antiochus. Even in his choice of words Saadia endeavored to attain to Biblical simplicity and purity of vocabulary but the stylistic artificiality, especially in the formation of words, which long since had been set up as a divergent ideal for the Hebraists of Saadia's time through the influence of the synagogal poetry of Jose, Yannai, and Ḳalir, impressed itself upon him, so that his Hebrew writings form a curious mixture of Biblical simplicity and payyeṭanic affectation. The same statement holds good of his liturgical poetry, of which Zunz ("S. P." p. 93) says that "he employs in his religious poems both the most lucid style and the most obscure being in the one a worshiper, in the other a payyeṭan." Saadia himself declares, in his introduction to the "Sefer ha-Galui," that he intended to make his style the model for that of a school. To the seven chapters of polemics in this work he planned to add three of a general nature and referring to the entire book he declares his intention, which he then proceeds to carry out, of analyzing, in these to a certain extent "latent" chapters, the three stylistic merits of his book, correctness of language, unity of composition, and logical sequence of thought. The first of these, a thorough mastery of Hebrew, was extremely important for the nation, since the predominant use of Arabic and Aramaic had caused the people to forget its use. It is true that the renaissance of Hebrew as a literary language approaching as much as possible to the language of the Bible first attained full potency in Spain a century after Saadia but this most noteworthy sign of progress in the spiritual life of medieval Judaism owes its first great inspiration to the powerful example of the gaon. The important innovation of the use of Arabic meters in Hebrew poetry was due to Saadia in the sense that it was introduced by his pupil Dunash ben Labraṭ, who showed his metrical compositions to his teacher and received praise for them, although Saadia himself did not adopt this new form of verse.

His Responsa.
Of the halakic writings of Saadia only one has been preserved in any degree of entirety but this is sufficient to show that even here he blazed a new path by arranging his material systematically and by presenting his subject methodically. Herein Saadia was the first precursor of Maimonides, whose masterpiece was his systematic presentation of the entire Halakah. In his division of the commandments of the Bible according to their subject-matter, Saadia like-wise anticipated Maimonides, although in the other division (introduced as early as Philo), that according to the fundamental commandments of the Decalogue, he apparently followed Karaite models. In regard to Saadia's responsa and the specimens of his halakic decisions and interpretations which have been preserved, Müller, their collector, says: "As in his other writings, Saadia is fond of stating the number of possibilities which may arise in connection with a given subject. He draws his proof first from the Bible, then from the Talmud, and finally from reason his arguments are always cogent and his conclusions proceed from sound judgment and sober spirit. . . . He often concludes his responsa with words of warning and with quotations from the Bible."

His Philosophy of Religion.
In his "Kitab al-Amanat wal-I'tiḳadat." (see above) Saadia became the creator of the Jewish philosophy of religion. His detailed introduction to the work speaks of the reasons which led him to compose it. His heart was grieved when he saw the confusion concerning matters of religion which prevailed among his contemporaries, finding an unintelligent belief and unenlightened views current among those who professed Judaism, while those who denied the faith triumphantly vaunted their errors. Men were sunken in the sea of doubt and overwhelmed by the waves of spiritual error, and there was none to help them so that Saadia felt himself called and in duty bound to save them from their peril by strengthening the faithful in their belief and by removing the fears of those who were in doubt. After a general presentation of the causes of infidelity and the essence of belief, Saadia describes the three natural sources of knowledge namely, the perceptions of the senses, the light of reason, and logical necessity, as well as the fourth source of knowledge possessed by those that fear God, the "veritable revelation" contained in the Scriptures. He shows that a belief in the teachings of revelation does not exclude an independent search for knowledge, but that speculation on religious subjects rather endeavors to prove the truth of the teachings received from the Prophets and to refute attacks upon revealed doctrine, which must be raised by philosophic investigation to the plane of actual knowledge.

In the scheme of his work Saadia closely followed the rules of the Motazilites (the rationalistic dogmatists of Islam, to whom he owed in part also his thesis and arguments), adhering most frequently, as Guttmann has shown, to the Motazilite school of Al-Jubbai. He followed the Motazilite Kalam, especially in this respect, that in the first two sections he discussed the metaphysical problems of the creation of the world (i.) and the unity of the Creator(ii.), while in the following sections he treated of the Jewish theory of revelation (iii.) and of the doctrines of belief based upon divine justice, including obedience and disobedience (iv.), as well as merit and demerit (v.). Closely connected with these sections are those which treat of the soul and of death (vi.), and of the resurrection of the dead (vii.), which, according to the author, forms part of the theory of the Messianic redemption (viii.). The work concludes with a section on the rewards and punishments of the future life (ix.). The tenth section, on the best mode of life for mankind in this world, must be regarded as an appendix, since its admonitions to moral conduct supplement the exhortations to right thought and right belief contained in the main body of the book.

The most important points contained in the individual sections are as follows:

Special Views.

    (i.) For the doctrine of the creation of the world Saadia offers four proofs three of these show the influence of Aristotelian philosophy, which may be traced also elsewhere in this author's writings. After his speculation has led him to the conclusion that the world was created ex nihilo, he proceeds to state and refute the twelve theories of the origin of the world. This part of the first section gives a most interesting insight into Saadia's knowledge of the Greek philosophers, which he probably derived from reading Aristotle. At the end of the section Saadia refutes certain objections to the Jewish doctrine of Creation, especially those which proceed from the concepts of time and space.
    (ii.) The theory of God is prefaced by a development of the view that human knowledge arises by degrees from the merest sensuous impressions to the most subtle concepts so that the idea of the divine, which transcends all other knowledge in subtlety, is itself a proof of its verity. The concept of God as a creator necessarily implies the attributes of life, power, and knowledge. In like manner the concept of the Creator demonstrates the unity of God. For this view three direct and three indirect proofs are offered by Saadia, the latter consisting in demonstrating that dualism is absurd. The thesis of the absolute unity of God is established by a refutation of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which arises, in Saadia's opinion, from a misinterpretation of the three attributes of God already named—life, power, and knowledge. Connected with the refutation of the dogma of the Trinity is an outline of the various theories respecting the person of Jesus which reveals an accurate knowledge of Christian controversies. To render possible an understanding of the monotheistic concept of God in all its purity, and to free the statements of the Scriptures from their apparent contradictions of the spirituality of the absolute idea of God, Saadia interprets all the difficulties of the Bible which bear upon this problem, using the scheme of the ten Aristotelian categories, none of which, he shows, may be applied to God. At the conclusion of this section the author pictures with deep religious feeling the relation to the Deity sustained by the human soul when permeated by the true knowledge of God.
    (iii.) The divine commandments revealed in the Holy Scriptures have been given to man by the grace of God as a means to attain the highest blessedness. According to a classification borrowed by Saadia from the Motazilites but based upon an essentially Jewish view, the commandments are divided into those of reason and of revelation, although even the latter may be explained rationally, as is shown by numerous examples. An excursus, in which Saadia attacks the view of the Hindu sect of the "Barahima" (Brahmans) to the effect that man needs no prophets, introduces his account of prophecy and his apology for the Prophets. This is followed by theses on the essential content of the Bible and the credibility of Biblical tradition, by a detailed refutation of the Christian and Mohammedan view that the Law revealed in Israel has been abrogated, and by a polemic against a series of Ḥiwi's objections to the authority of the Scriptures.
    (iv.) The foundation of this section is the theory of the freedom of the will and its reconciliation with the omnipotence and omniscience of God. In its opening portion Saadia postulates the anthropocentric doctrine which regards man as the object of all creation and at its close he explains under eight headings those passages of the Bible which might cause doubt regarding the freedom of the acts of man.

Contents of the "Emunot."

    (v.) Men fall into ten classes with regard to merit and demerit, and their religious and moral bearings. In his description of the first two, the pious and the impious, Saadia devotes himself in the main to the problem of the sufferings of the pious and the good fortune of the impious, while the description of the last class, that of the contrite, leads him to detailed considerations, based upon the Bible, of repentance, prayer, and other evidences of human piety.
    (vi.) His view on the soul is prefaced by a survey of six other theories. He states the relation of the soul to the body, the basis of their union, their cooperation in human activity, their coexistence or the appointed term of life, their separation or death, and the state of the soul after death. The section concludes with a refutation of the doctrine of metempsychosis.
    (vii.) Here Saadia refutes the objections made, on the basis of nature, reason, and the Bible, to the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, and presents the proof for it contained in tradition. He then discusses ten questions bearing on this doctrine, which are of interest as "affording an insight into popular views which then prevailed, and which, despite their singularity, could not be ignored even by such a man as Saadia" (Guttmann).
    (viii.) The teachings regarding Messianic redemption are based almost entirely on statements of the Bible and the Talmud, the definite year of salvation being fixed by an interpretation of well-known passages in the Book of Daniel. In the concluding portion the author refutes those who assume that the Messianic prophecies refer to the time of the Second Temple and he argues also against the Christian doctrine of the Messiah.
    (ix.) Saadia demonstrates that the recompenses of the world to come are proved by reason, the Bible, and tradition, and answers various questions bearing upon this subject.
    (x.) The system of ethics contained in the appendix is based for the most part on a description and criticism of thirteen different objects of life, to which Saadia adds his own counsels for rational and moral living. He adds also that in the case of each of the five senses only the concordant union of sensuous impressions is beneficial, thus showing how great is the need of a harmonious combination of the qualities and the impulses of the soul of man. He concludes with the statement that he intends his book only to purify and ennoble the hearts of his readers.

Relations to Mysticism.
In his commentary on the "Sefer Yeẓirah" Saadia sought to render lucid and intelligible the content of this mystical work by the light of philosophy and other knowledge, especially by a system of Hebrew phonology which he himself had founded. He did not permit himself in this commentary to be influenced by the theological speculations of the Kalam, which are so important in his main works and in his presentation of the theory of creation he made a distinction between the Bible and the book on which he commented, even omitting the theory of the "Sefer Yeẓirah" regarding the creation of the world when he discussed the various views on this subject in the first section of his "Kitab al-Amanat wal-I'tiḳadat." From this it may be concluded that he did not regard the "Sefer Yeẓirah"—which he traces ultimately to the patriarch Abraham—as a real source for a knowledge of the theory of Judaism, although he evidently considered the work worthy of deep study.

Relations to Karaism.
Of all Saadia's works his polemical writings, especially those against the Karaites, exercised the greatest immediate influence. As he himself declared, Karaism had within a century and a half become deeply rooted, while rabbinical Judaism, whose official heads, the academies of Babylonia, had begun to lose their importance, was in peril of being overwhelmed by the propaganda of the Karaites and even of suffering losses of increasing magnitude in its material welfare through the extension of Karaite doctrines. It was Saadia who, equipped with comprehensive knowledge, a thorough secular training, and an extraordinary literary activity, waged the battle against the foes of Jewish tradition, and not only averted the perils which threatened it, but also, by establishing the scientific study of the Bible and of the Hebrew language, gave rabbinical Judaism the supremacy even in this special province of Karaism. If the Karaites made remarkable contributions on these subjects during the tenth and in the first half of the eleventh century, their inspiration was due to Saadia's influence and to the necessity of defending themselves against his attacks so that his activity was epochal likewise even for Karaism.

Nor was Saadia without influence outside Jewish circles. Abraham ibn Ezra, writing on Genesis 2:11 , states, probably on good authority, that Saadia planned his translation of the Bible for Mohammedans as well as for Jews, and that he used Arabic script for this reason and Ibn Ezra accordingly explains the fact that Saadia translated even those expressions whose meaning was not known through tradition, as being due to a desire that the Mohammedan reader might not think the Bible contains words which are unintelligible. Not only does a noted Mohammedan author, Saadia's younger contemporary, Mas'udi, give data of the gaon's life, but another Arabic author of the second half of the tenth century, Mohammed ibn Iṣḥaḳ al-Nadim, gives, in his "Fihrist al-'Ulum," a list of eleven of Saadia's writings. This list includes, according to the editions, which are sometimes vague and partly corrupt, the translations of Isaiah, the Psalms, Proverbs, and Job, the translation of the Pentateuch, and the commentary on the second half of Leviticus, besides the commentary on the "Sefer Yeẓirah," the "Siddur," the "Kitab ha-'Ibbur," the "Kitab al-Shara'i," and probably his great work on philosophy ("Kitab al-Amanat" the list has instead of see Hegenkamper, p. 27). It is, however, improbable that that author had seen all the writings of Saadia himself for he seems to owe his knowledge of them to a Hebrew source or to the oral communication of some Jew. No manuscript of any of Saadia's works written in Arabic script exists. The Florentine codex (dating from 1256), containing a translation of the Pentateuch in Arabic characters (see Kahle, "Die Arabischen Bibelübersetzungen," p. viii., Leipsic, 1904), is not the original work of Saadia, but a revision thereof approaching more closely to the Hebrew text.

Bibliography : Rapoport, Toledot R. Sa'adyah Gaon , in Bikkure ha-'Ittim , 1828, 9:20-37 S. Munk, Notice sur R. Saadia Gaon , Paris, 1838 Geiger, in his Wiss. Zeit. Jüd. Theol. 5:267-316 Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. cols. 2156-2224 idem, Die Arabische Litteratur der Juden , pp. 46-69 (comp. Kaufmann Gedenkbuch , pp. 144-168) Grätz, Gesch. v. Weiss, Dor , iv. David Kohn, , Cracow, 1891 M. Friedländer, Life and Works of Saadia , in J. Q. R. 5:177-199 A. Harkavy, Leben und Werke Saadia's Gaon , i. (in Studien und Mittheilungen , v.), Berlin, 1891 W. Engelkemper, De Saadiœ Gaonis Vita, Bibliorum Versione, Hermeneutica , Münster, 1897. On linguistics and exegesis: Dukes, in Ewald and Dukes, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Aellesten Auslegung , 2:5-115 Bacher, Abraham ibn Esra's Einleitung zu Seinem Pentateuchcommentar , Vienna, 1876 idem, Die Anfänge der Hebräischen Grammatik , pp. 38-62, Leipsic, 1895 idem, Die Bibelexegese der Jüdischen Religionsphilosophen des Mittelalters vor Maimuni , 1892, pp. 1-44 idem, Leben und Werke des Abulwalid , 1885, pp. 93-97 idem , in Winter and Wünsche, Die Jüdische Litteratur , 2:138-141,243-246 M. Wolff, Zur Charakteristik der Bibelexegese Saadia's , in Stade's Zeitschrift , 4:225, 5:15 L. Bodenheimer, Das Paraphrastische der Arabischen Uebersetzung des Saadia , in Monatsschrift , 4:23-33 Schmidl, Randbemerkungen zu Saadia's Pentateuchübersetzung , ib. xlv.-xlvii. A. Merx, Die Saadjanische Uebersetzung des Hohenlieds , 1882 (comp. Loevy in Berliner's Magazin , 10:39-44 Bacher in Stade's Zeitschrift , 3:202-211) also the introductions and notes to the editions of Saadia's works mentioned in the body of this article. On the Halakah: the introduction to the ninth volume of the Œuvres Complètes . On the philosophy of religion: in addition to the general works on this subject and its special branches, J. Guttmann, Die Religionsphilosophie des Saadia , Göttingen, 1882 M. Schreiner, Der Kalam in der Jüdischen Litteratur , pp. 5-22, Berlin, 1895 (Thirteenth Report of the Lehranstalt für die Wissenschaft des Judenthums) D. Kaufmann, Gesch. der Attributenlehre , pp. 1-90. On polemics: H. J. Bornstein, , pp. 19-189, Warsaw, 1904 A. Epstein, La Querelle au Sujet du Calendrier , in R. E. J. 42:179-210, 44:220-236 S. Poznanski, The Anti-Karaite Writings of Saadiah Gaon , in J. Q. R. 10:238-276 idem, Saadiah and Salomon b. Jeroḥam , ib. 8:684-691 A. Harkavy, Fragments of Anti-Karaite Writings of Saadiah , ib. 13:655-668. On the Sefer ha-Galui : in addition to Harkavy, Studien und Mittheilungen , v., Margoliouth, Harkavy, and Bacher, in J. Q. R. 12:502-554,703-705 Bacher, in Expository Times , 11:563. Various genizah fragments referring to Saadia have been edited by Schechter, under the title Saadyana , in J. Q. R. xv.-xvi., and also separately, Cambridge, 1903 (comp. Poznanski in Steinschneider, Hebr. Bibl. vii.). Miscellaneous: Poznanski, in Monatsschrift , xxxix., xli., xliv., xlvi. Harkavy, in Ha-Goren , 1:89 et seq. W. B.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Saadia B. Joseph (Sa'id al-Fayyumi)'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

Search for…
Enter query in the box below:
Choose a letter to browse: