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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Ibn-Aknin, Joseph Ben-Juhudah

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called in Arabic Abulhagag Jussuff ibn-Jahja Ibn-Shimun Alsabti Almaghrebi, a Jewish philosopher and commentator of some note, was born at Ceuta (Arab. Sebta), in Arabia, about 1160. His first religious training was, at least to all outside appearances, in the Mohammedan religion, but he was at a very early age also taught Hebrew, and instructed in the Talmud and Hebrew Scriptures, so that, as soon as he arrived at years of maturity, he might forsake the religion forced upon him by the law of the country that gave him birth, and return to the faith of his forefathers. About 1185, having previously decided in favor of the Jewish religion, he fled to Alexandria, and there became a zealous disciple of the great Moses Maimonides, whose attention had been called to Ibn-Aknin by a scientific work of his, and by his Makamen, which he had sent to Maimonides. Although he remained with this celebrated Jewish savant only a little over a year, then removing to Aleppo to practice medicine, he had nevertheless endeared himself so much to him that Maimonides loved him as his own son, and ever afterwards labored to promote the interests of his beloved disciple, and the philosophical work Moreh-Nebochim (Doctor perplecorum), which Maimonides (q.v.) published in 1190, is often asserted to have had for its principal aim the removal of certain sceptical opinions which Ibn-Aknin cherished at that time. In 1192, notwithstanding the frequent counsels of Maimonides to the contrary, Ibn-Aknin went to Bagdad, and there founded a rabbinic college. After the decease of his great master he figured quite prominently at the court of the sultan Azzahir Ghasi of Damascus, and he delivered lectures at the high schools on medicine and philosophy. He died about 1226. Besides a number of works on medicine and metaphysics, he wrote Commentary on the Song of Songs (in Arabic), now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (Pococke, p. 189). He espouses the notion of the Talmud, that the Song of Songs is the most sacred of all the twenty-four canonical books of the O.T., and accordingly explains it allegorically as representing the relationship of God to his people Israel. "There are," he says, "three different modes of explaining this book:

1. The literal, which is to be found in the philologians or grammarians, e.g. Saadia, Abu Sacharja Jahja ben-Davi el Fasi (Chajug), Abulvalid Ibn Ganach of Saragossa (Ibu - Ganach), the Nagid R. Samuel Ha-Levi ben- Nagdilah, Abn-Ibi-ahim ben-Baran (Isaac ben-Joseph), Jehudah ben- Balaam (Ibn-Balaam), and Moses Ibn-Gikatilla Ita-Cohen (Gikatilla);

2. The allegorical, to be found in the Midrash Chasit, the Talmud, and in some of the ancient interpretations; and,

3. The philosophical interpretation, which regards this book as referring to the active intellect [νοῆς ποιητικός ], here worked out for the first time, and which, though the last in point of time, is the first of all in point of merit. These three different explanations correspond, in reverse order, to the three different natures of man, namely, to his physical, vital, and spiritual natures." Ibn-Aknin always gives the first and second explanations first, and then the philosophical interpretation. The commentary is invaluable to the history of Biblical literature and exegesis, inasmuch as all the interpreters therein enumerated have, with the exception of Saadia, hitherto not been known as commentators of the Song of Songs. These expositors form an important addition to the history of interpretation given by Ginsbrg (Historical and Critical Commentary of the Song of Songs, Longman, 1857). See Gratz, Gesch. der Juden, 6, 354, 362; 7, 7, 43; Jost, Geschichte d. Judenthums u.s. Setesn, 2, 457; 3, 11; Kitto, Cyclop. Biblical Liter. ii, 349 sq.; the ably written monograph of Munk, Notice sur Joseph b.-Jeihsda (Paris, 1842); and the very elaborate article of Steinschneider, in Ersch und Gruber's Allgemeine Encyklopadie, s.v. Joseph Ibn-Aknin.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Ibn-Aknin, Joseph Ben-Juhudah'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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