September 17, 2013


Poet, grammarian, traveller, Neoplatonic philosopher, astronomer, best known as a biblical exegete whose commentaries contributed to the Golden Age of Spanish Judaism.

As a young man he lived in Muslim Spain but there is no detailed information about this period of his life.

He was on friendly terms with the eminent poet and philosopher Judah ha-Levi and he travelled to North Africa and possibly to Egypt. Up to that point Ibn Ezra was primarily known as a scholar and poet. Later critics such as the 19th-century philologist Leopold Zunz judged his poems to be superior in form and thought but deficient in imagination.

In about 1140 Ibn Ezra began a lifelong series of wanderings in the course of which he produced distinguished works of biblical exegesis and disseminated biblical lore throughout Europe. In 1140 he was in Rome, in 1144 in Lucca and in 1145 in Mantua. In 1155 he travelled to southern France from which he embarked to LOndon in 1158. In n1160 he returned to France and probably died on a final trip to Spain.

His biblical commentaries include expositions of the Book of Job, the Book of Daniel, Psalms and most importantly a work produced in his old age, a commentary on the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses.

Although his exegeses are basically philological, he inserted enough philosophical remarks to reveal himself to be a Neoplatonic pantheist. With the Neoplatonists he believed that God was the ruling principle of the universe and the cause of it; all sublunary bodies were grosser emanations of him. At the same time he believed that God gave form to uncreated, eternal matter, a concept somewhat at odds with his Neoplatonic emanations doctrine.

Ibn Ezra, in his departure from orthodox biblical interpretation (although he extolled such orthodoxy) is sometimes held to be a precursor of the great 17th-century philosopher Spinoza. His commentary on the Pentateuch is sometimes ranked with the classic 11th-century commentaries by Rashi on the Talmud.

Ibn Ezra also translated the Hispano-Hebrew grammarians who had written in Arabic, such as Judah Hayyuj and he himself wrote grammatical treatises. He also had a good knowledge of astronomy and cast horoscopes and he believed in numerological mysticism as well.

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