In This Article Abraham Ibn Ezra

  • Introduction
  • Biography
  • Overviews of Ibn Ezra’s Literary Work
  • Astronomy, Mathematics, and the Jewish Calendar
  • Philosophy
  • Hebrew Grammar, Poetry, and Approach to the Hebrew Language
  • Ibn Ezra’s Impact on Medieval Jewish and Latin Culture

Jewish Studies Abraham Ibn Ezra
by
Shlomo Sela
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 June 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0042

Introduction

The writings of Abraham Ibn Ezra (b. c. 1089–d. c. 1161) were not produced in Muslim Spain, where he was born and raised. His earliest works date from the time he left al-Andalus for Latin Europe, around 1140, at the age of fifty. From then on he led the life of the vagabond scholar, roaming through Italy, France, and England, where he taught and wrote prolifically on an extremely wide variety of subjects, and almost exclusively in Hebrew. On top of a large corpus of biblical exegesis, religious and secular poetry, and grammatical and theological monographs, Ibn Ezra’s intellectual interests extended to include science as well. On the one hand, Ibn Ezra’s oeuvre may be understood as the very embodiment of a process in which Jewish scholars gradually abandoned the Arabic language and adopted the “sacred tongue” (Hebrew) as a vehicle not only appropriate to religious content but also for the expression of secular and scientific ideas. On a broader European stage, Ibn Ezra’s scientific output may be understood as one of the manifestations of the “twelfth-century philosophical and scientific renaissance.” It was a cultural process in which the Greek philosophical and scientific worldview was transferred to scholars in western Europe, after having been adopted, refined, and expanded by Islamic culture and the Arabic language. In this context, Ibn Ezra represented an exceptional case: whereas there was a general trend for Christian scholars in the rest of Europe to come to the Iberian Peninsula to take on the task of translating the Greco-Arabic treasury of philosophy and science from Arabic to Latin, we have in Ibn Ezra the opposite case of an intellectual imbued with Arabic culture, who abandons al-Andalus, roams the Christian countries, and delivers in his wandering through Italy, France, and England the cultural luggage he had amassed during his youth in al-Andalus.

Biography

Ibn Ezra rarely referred to his personal life, and the little we know of his biography is chiefly concerned with his literary career or may be culled from incidental remarks in his works. Since he executed the bulk of his writing only after he arrived in Rome, it comes as no surprise that we know very little from the first period of his life, in Muslim Spain (Schirmann 1997, Roth 2012). After leaving Spain, Ibn Ezra was a wandering scholar in Italy (Fleischer 1932, Fleischer 1934), France (Fleischer 1970, Golb 1998) and England (Friedlander 1894–1895, Fleischer 1931). Simon 2009 attempts to find out why Ibn Ezra opted to leave his homeland in favor of Italy, and to become an itinerant writer in Latin Europe. Some works offer comprehensive accounts of Ibn Ezra’s whole biography and literary career (Levin 1969, Schirmann 1997, Roth 2012).

  • Fleischer, Yehudah Leib. “Rabbenu Abraham Ibn Ezra we-avodato ha-sifrutit be-‘eretz Anglia.” Otzar ha-hayyim 7 [5691] (1931): 69–76, 107–111, 129–133, 160–168, 189–203.

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    Examines the last stage of Ibn Ezra’s literary work, in England, where he composed some of his most brilliant religious and scientific monographs: Sefer Yesod mora’ (The foundation of piety) and ’Iggeret ha-shabbat (Epistle on the Sabbath).

  • Fleischer, Yehudah Leib. “Rabbenu Avraham ibn Ezra va-Avodato ha-Sifrutit ba-ir-Roma.” Otzar ha-hayyim 8 [5692] (1932): 97–100, 129–131, 148–150, 169–171.

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    This series of articles (continued in OÒar ha-Îayyim 9 (1933): 134–136, 152–155) studies Ibn Ezra’s sojourn and literary work in Rome, the first stage of Ibn Ezra’s wanderings in Latin Europe after he abandoned Muslim Spain in 1140. The emphasis is on Ibn Ezra’s exegetical and grammatical work.

  • Fleischer, Yehudah Leib. “Rabbenu Abraham Ibn Ezra we-avodato ha-sifrutit be-Lucca she-be-Italia.” Ha-soqer 2 [5694] (1934): 77–85.

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    This series of articles (continued in Ha-soqer (1936–1937): 186–94; reprinted in R. Abraham Ibn Ezra: A Collection of Articles on his Life and Works, Tel Aviv, 1970, pp. 107–124) is devoted to Ibn Ezra’s literary work in Lucca, Italy, one of the most fruitful phases of his time in Latin Europe. Emphasis on Ibn Ezra’s works relating to Hebrew grammar, as well as on his biblical commentaries composed in Lucca, such as the first commentary on the Pentateuch, the commentary on Isaiah, and the first commentary on Minor Prophets.

  • Fleischer, Yehudah Leib. “Rabbenu Abraham Ibn Ezra be-Tzarfat.” In R. Abraham Ibn Ezra: A Collection of Articles on his Life and Works, 69–106. Tel Aviv, [5730] 1970.

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    This collection of studies addresses the transition from the Italian to the French period of Ibn Ezra’s life and the period in both southern (Narbonne, Béziers) and northern France (Rouen). It offers an account of his literary work there, particularly of his biblical commentaries written in Rouen. Originally published in 1932.

  • Friedlander, Michael. “Ibn Ezra in England.” Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England 2 (1894–1895): 47–60.

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    In addition to an account of Ibn Ezra’s time in England, this article focuses on Sefer Yesod mora’ (The foundation of piety) and ’Iggeret ha-shabbat (Epistle on the Sabbath), two works composed by Abraham Ibn Ezra in England, in the last stage of his literary career. The article also includes a critical edition, on the basis of five manuscripts, of the Hebrew text of ’Iggeret ha-shabbat.

  • Golb, Norman. The Jews in Medieval Normandy: A Social and Intellectual History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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    Golb persuasively identifies the toponym RDWM, RDWA, or DRWS, repeatedly mentioned by Ibn Ezra, as Rouen, the capital of Normandy, and describes Ibn Ezra’s literary output there.

  • Levin, Israel. Abraham Ibn Ezra, hayaw we-shirato. Tel Aviv: Ha-Kibbutz Ha-Meuchad, 1969.

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    An account of all the stages of Ibn Ezra’s life and literary career in the framework of an analysis of his poetry.

  • Roth, Normann. “Abraham Ibn Ezra: Highlights of his Life.” Iberia Judaica 4 (2012): 25–39.

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    A survey of Ibn Ezra’s life, based on a critical and sometimes controversial appraisal of previous accounts of Ibn Ezra’s biography. The article is accompanied by a useful bibliography.

  • Schirmann, Jefim. Toldot ha-shirah ha-ivrit bi-Sefarad ha-notsrit uvi-darom Tsarfat. Jerusalem: Magnes, 1997.

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    A comprehensive overview of the history and development of Hebrew poetry in Christian Spain and southern France. The first chapter of this monumental work offers one of the best accounts of Ibn Ezra’s life both in Muslim Spain and Latin Europe, together with a survey of his poetry. Edited, annotated, and published posthumously by Ezra Fleischer. See pp. 13–92 in particular.

  • Simon, Uriel. “Transplanting the Wisdom of Spain to Christian Lands: The Failed Efforts of R. Abraham Ibn Ezra.” Simon Dubnow Institute Yearbook 8 (2009): 138–189.

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    An attempt to explain intriguing questions related to Ibn Ezra’s biography and literary career: Why did Ibn Ezra not join Judah Halevi in his journey to the Holy Land and instead turn to Latin Europe? Why did he leave Spain and go to Italy? How is one to explain the peculiar phenomenon of Abraham Ibn Ezra, the wandering poet, becoming a wandering writer in Latin Europe?

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