Hebrew Literature in Middle Ages

By | October 14, 2021

Tradition Literature: Given the displacement of close to extinct Hebrew related Aramaic by the Arab of “holy” Biblical text by the Masoretes (was Masora) vocalized (the Hebrew alphabet is like most Semitic alphabets only of consonants) and finally fixed pronunciation and saved from oblivion; the text could also serve as the basis for the emerging Hebrew grammar and lexicography. The midrash literature of antiquity and the Aramaic translation of the Bible continued to influence the interpretation of the Bible. In the Central European (“Ashkenazi”) area, Rashi (Solomon ben Isaak) represents with new verbal and factual explanations a weighty commentary tradition. In the Mediterranean area there were partly philological and partly philosophical commentaries, partly in homily form.

Talmud and Law: Commentaries on the Talmud, including parts of the Talmud, were numerous; here too, Rashi is of particular importance. Often the new legal findings were arranged as “novellas” in the sequence of the Talmudic treatises. Non-legal components of the Talmud (the “Haggada”) were commented on, like Midrashim, for edifying or theological purposes. Legal practice required clear representations of the law in force (the »Halacha«). This gave rise to thematic units (»halachoth«), which were gradually combined into larger works. Isaak Alfassi (* 1013, † 1103) followed the Talmudic order; Jakob ben Ascher (* 1270, † 1340) chose an order according to subject areasin the »Arbaa Turim« (Four Pillars). Only the “Mishneh Torash” by M. Maimonides was roughly codex form. These i.a. For their part, works were again commented on and thus updated. Responses collections, reports by well-known legal scholars, are also an important source of law.

Liturgy and poetry: The order of prayer in the various regions took shape up to the 14th century, after the existence of v. a. varied in synagogal poetry. However, poetry itself had in part broken away from its purely synagogue purpose at an early stage, and there was a rich religious, in the Islamic (especially Moorish-Spanish) area also profane poetry, the latter with almost all genres of Arabic poetry (including rhyme and meter). The “Ashkenazi” poetry, on the other hand, retained more of a “classical” line and otherwise shows v. a. Qinot (lamentations) and Selichot (penitential poems). The most famous Hebrew poets include Shmuel ha-Nagid (* 993, † 1056), Salomon Ibn Gabirol, and Mose Ibn Esra, Jehuda (Juda) Ben Shmuel Haleviand Abraham Ben Meir Ibn Esra, all representatives of the “Spanish School”.

Philosophy and science: In the Arabic-speaking area, educated Jews played a major role in the rediscovery of ancient philosophy and science. Your own contributions to it, v. a. Commentaries on ancient and Islamic authors, however, only remained of significance for Judaism in terms of the history of their effects if they were translated into Hebrew. This happened v. a. in Spanish-southern French and Italian Judaism, at the intersection of languages ​​and cultures. Original Hebrew works were rare in these areas.

Theological Literature: The emphasis on the individual and the emergence of author’s literature made the new genre of the systematic treatise possible. In addition, the form of dialogue remained popular, especially in works that were created as a result of the confrontation with philosophy as well as Islamic and Christian theology and were primarily intended to prepare educated Jews for such confrontations. Here, too, an Arabic-language literature preceded that only continued to have an effect in Hebrew translations, for example by Saadja Gaon the “Book of Doctrines and Beliefs”, by Abraham Ben David Ibn Daud “The sublime faith” and by M. Maimonides “The Leader of the Confused”. Original Hebrew already wrote Abraham Ibn Esra and Abraham bar Chijja († around 1136), later v. a. D. C. Crescas with his “Light of the Lord” and Josef Albo (* around 1360, † 1444) with the “Book of the Principles of Faith”. It is always about the attempt to harmonize knowledge and the content of revelation (belief). The Kabbalah, on the other hand, the most important example of a rich mystical literature, shows almost only original Hebrew and Aramaic works, in Aramaic v. a. the “Book of Zohar”, the subject of numerous commentaries.

Historical literature: In this area the interest was largely concentrated on two concerns: on the demonstration of the continuous rabbinical tradition (directed against the Karaites) and on the representation of the exile sufferings of Israel. Occasionally, there was also an outlook on the future, i.e. apocalyptic literature. Narrative and historical material was only included in such works incidentally.

Devotional literature: According to itypeauto, the edifying literature (musar literature) took up a large extent, depending on the traditional, philosophical (Bachja ben Joseph Ibn Pakuda, end of the 11th century) or Kabbalistic orientation quite differently. She aimed v. a. on internalization, on giving meaning to religious practice. Homilies came more and more to the fore.

Entertainment literature: In addition to the edifying literature and profane poetry, there was a certain demand for entertaining texts in the Hebrew language. Jehuda Al-Charizi (Juda Al-Charizi; * 1170, † 1235) already Hebrew Arabic macaques and also composed original Hebrew ones; others collected and formed proverbs. The Alexander novel, but also knight romances, were common in Hebrew versions. The numerous Maaseh texts, small stories in the style of Exempla, also served in religious (commentaries, homilies) and legal contexts to illustrate certain facts.

Hebrew Literature in Middle Ages