Abraham ben Meir Ibn
Ezra (Hebrew: אַבְרָהָם אִבְּן
עֶזְרָא or ראב"ע; Arabic: ابن عزرا; also
known as Abenezra or Aben Ezra, 1089 Tudela, Navarre–c.1167) was
one of the most distinguished Jewish biblical commentators and
philosophers of the Middle Ages. For long it had been assumed that he
died at Calahorra.
3 Influence on biblical criticism and philosophy of religion
3.1 Biblical commentaries
3.2 Hebrew grammar
3.3 Smaller works – partly grammatical, partly exegetical
3.4 Religious philosophy
3.5 Mathematics and astronomy
5 See also
7 Further reading
8 External links
Ezra was born in Tudela, in the present-day Spanish
province of Navarre, when the town was under the
Muslim rule of the
emirs of Zaragoza. Later he lived in Córdoba. In Granada, it is
said, he met his future friend (and perhaps his father-in-law) Yehuda
Halevi. He left
Spain before 1140 to escape persecution of the
the new fanatical regime of the Almohads. He led a life of restless
wandering, which took him to North Africa,
Egypt (in 1109, maybe in
the company of Yehuda Halevi), the Land of Israel,
1140–1143, Lucca, Mantua, Verona),
Southern France (Narbonne,
Béziers), Northern France (Rouen), England (London, and
1158), and back again to
Narbonne in 1161, until his death on January
23 or 28, 1164, the exact location unknown: maybe at
Calahorra at the
Navarre and Aragon, or maybe in
Rome or in the Holy Land.
There is a legend that he died in England from a fever and a sickness
that came upon him after an encounter with a pack of wild black dogs.
This legend is attached to the belief that he denied the existence of
The crater Abenezra on the
Moon was named in his honor.
The Book Exodus with the commentary of Abraham ibn Ezra, Naples 1488
At several of the above-named places, Ibn
Ezra remained for some time
and developed a rich literary activity. In his native land, he had
already gained the reputation of a distinguished poet and thinker but
apart from his poems, his works, which were all in the Hebrew
language, were written in the second period of his life. With these
works, covering the first instance the field of Hebrew philology and
Biblical exegesis, he fulfilled the great mission of making accessible
Jews of Christian
Europe the treasures of knowledge enshrined
in the works written in Arabic that he had brought with him from
His grammatical writings, among which Moznayim ("Scales", 1140) and
Zahot (Tzahot = "Dazzlings", 1141) are the most valuable, were the
first expositions of Hebrew grammar in the Hebrew language, in which
the system of Judah
Hayyuj and his school prevailed. He also
translated into Hebrew the two writings of
Hayyuj in which the
foundations of the system were laid down.
Of greater original value than the grammatical works of Ibn
his commentaries on most of the books of the Bible, of which, however,
Books of Chronicles
Books of Chronicles have been lost. His reputation as an
intelligent and acute expounder of the Bible was founded on his
commentary on the Torah, of which the great popularity is evidenced by
the numerous commentaries that were written upon it. In the editions
of this commentary (editio princeps Naples 1488. See image at right),
the commentary on the
Book of Exodus
Book of Exodus is replaced by a second, more
complete commentary of Ibn Ezra, while the first and shorter
commentary on Exodus was not printed until 1840. The great editions of
Hebrew Bible with rabbinical commentaries contained also
commentaries of Ibn Ezra's on the following books of the Bible:
Isaiah, Minor Prophets, Psalms, Job, Torah, Daniel; the commentaries
on Proverbs and
Ezra–Nehemiah bearing his name are really those of
Moses Kimhi. Ibn
Ezra wrote a second commentary on Genesis as he had
done on Exodus, but this was never finished. There are second
commentaries also by him on the Song of Songs, Esther and Daniel.
Ezra also wrote a commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes.
Uncharacteristically of either Ibn Ezra's other commentaries on
biblical works, or of Jewish exegesis of the time, the commentary on
Ecclesiastes begins with an autobiographical poem (written in the
third person) relating his life experience to the material in
Ecclesiastes. Although the poem states that he fled "from [my] home in
Spain/Going down to
Rome with heavy spirit", this does not resolve the
question of what intermediate journeys Ibn
Ezra may have made before
settling in Rome, possibly in the company of R' Yehudah HaLevi.
The importance of the exegesis of Ibn
Ezra consists in the fact that
it aims at arriving at the simple sense of the text, the Peshat, on
grammatical principles. It is in this that, although he takes a great
part of his exegetical material from his predecessors, the originality
of his mind is everywhere apparent, an originality that displays
itself also in the witty and lively language of his commentaries.
Influence on biblical criticism and philosophy of religion
Ezra occupies a unique role among medieval commentators in that,
on the one hand, his commentary has historically been cited by
mainstream Orthodoxy, but on the other hand, his reluctance to
reconcile problematic Biblical passages through midrashic exegesis,
even at the expense of traditional dogma, put him in opposition to his
contemporaries such as
Rashi and provided early support for the type
of textual criticism that is now accepted by Reform and Conservative
Judaism. For example, in his commentary, Ibn
Ezra adheres to the
literal sense of the texts, avoiding
Rabbinic allegories and
Cabbalistic interpretations, though he remains faithful to the Jewish
traditions. This does not prevent him from exercising an independent
criticism that, according to some writers, exhibits a marked
tendency toward rationalism, to the extent that he judged other
biblical commentary "against his twin standards of accuracy,
grammatical precision and reliability", and in that regard "Ibn Ezra
determined that, aim notwithstanding,
Rashi had successfully grasped
and imparted the contextual sense 'but one time in a thousand.'"
Ezra is claimed by the proponents of the higher biblical
criticism of the
Torah as one of its earliest pioneers. Baruch
Spinoza, in concluding that Moses did not author the Torah, and that
Torah and other protocanonical books were written or redacted by
somebody else, supposedly Ezra, and others centuries later, found
precedent for these "heretical" views (which resulted in his cherem or
excommunication from the Amsterdam Jewish community) in Ibn Ezra's
commentary on Deuteronomy. Specifically, in discussing Deuteronomy
1:1 ("These are the words which Moshe addressed to all Israel beyond
the Jordan River"), Ibn
Ezra was troubled by the anomalous nature of
referring to Moses as being "beyond [i.e., on the other side] of the
Jordan", as though the writer was oriented in the land of Cana'an
(west of the Jordan River), although Moses and the Children of Israel
had not yet crossed the Jordan at that point in the Biblical
narrative. Relating this inconsistency to others in the Torah, Ibn
Ezra famously stated, "If you can grasp the mystery behind the
following problematic passages: 1) The final twelve verses of this
book [i.e., Deuteronomy 34:1–12, describing the death of Moses], 2)
'Moshe wrote [this song on the same day, and taught it to the children
of Israel]' [Deuteronomy 31:22]; 3) 'At that time, the Canaanites
dwelt in the land' [Genesis 12:6]; 4) '... In the mountain of God, He
will appear' [Genesis 22:14]; 5) 'behold, his [Og king of Bashan] bed
is a bed of iron [is it not in Rabbah of the children of Ammon?]' you
will understand the truth."
Spinoza concluded that Ibn Ezra's hints about "the truth", and other
such hints scattered through Ibn Ezra's commentary in reference to
seemingly anachronistic verses, as "a clear indication that it was
not Moses who wrote the Pentateuch but someone else who lived long
after him, and that it was a different book that Moses wrote".
Spinoza and later scholars were thus able to expand on several of Ibn
Ezra's hints and provide much stronger evidence for Non-Mosaic
Nevertheless, some Orthodox writers have recently addressed one of Ibn
Ezra's hints as being interpreted to be consistent with the Orthodox
Jewish creed that the entire
Torah was divinely dictated in a
word-perfect manner to Moses.
Ibn Ezra's commentaries, and especially some of the longer excursuses,
contain numerous contributions to the philosophy of religion. One work
in particular that belongs to this province, Yesod Mora ("Foundation
of Awe"), on the division and the reasons for the Biblical
commandments, he wrote in 1158 for a
London friend, Joseph ben Jacob.
In his philosophical thought neo-platonic ideas prevail; and astrology
also had a place in his view of the world. He also wrote various works
on mathematical and astronomical subjects, among which "three
treatises on numbers which helped to bring the Indian symbols and
ideas of decimal fractions to the attention of some of the learned
people in Europe"
In contrast his other works, the most important of which include The
Book of the Secrets of the Law, The Mystery of the Form of the
Letters, The Enigma of the Quiescent Letters, The Book of the Name,
The Book of the Balance of the Sacred Language and The Book of Purity
of the Language, demonstrate a more Cabbalistic viewpoint[citation
needed]. They were written during his life of travel, and they reflect
the unsteadiness of his outward circumstances.
His chief work is the commentary on the Torah, which, like that of
Rashi, has called forth a host of super-commentaries, and which has
done more than any other work to establish his reputation. It is
extant both in numerous manuscripts and in printed editions. The
commentary on Exodus published in the printed editions is a work by
itself, which he finished in 1153 in southern France.
The complete commentary on the Torah, which, as has already been
mentioned, was finished by Ibn
Ezra shortly before his death, was
called Sefer ha-Yashar ("Book of the Straight").
In the rabbinical editions of the Bible the following commentaries of
Ezra on Biblical books are likewise printed: Isaiah; the Twelve
Minor Prophets; Psalms; Job; the Megillot; Daniel. The commentaries on
Ezra-Nehemiah bearing Ibn Ezra's name are by Moses Kimhi.
Another commentary on Proverbs, published in 1881 by Driver and in
1884 by Horowitz, is also erroneously ascribed to Ibn Ezra. Additional
commentaries by Ibn
Ezra to the following books are extant: Song of
Solomon; Esther; Daniel. He also probably wrote commentaries to a part
of the remaining books, as may be concluded from his own references..
Moznayim (1140), chiefly an explanation of the terms used in Hebrew
grammar; as early as 1148 it was incorporated by
Judah Hadassi in his
Eshkol ha-Kofer, with no mention of Ibn
Ezra (see Monatsschrift, xl.
74), first ed. in 1546. The most recent edition is Sefer Moznayim.
Introducción (en castellano e inglés). Edición crítica del texto
hebreo y versión castellana de Lorenzo Jiménez Patón, revisada,
completada y reelaborada por Angel Sáenz-Badillos. Córdoba:
Ediciones el Almendro, 2002.
Translation of the work of
Hayyuj into Hebrew (ed. Onken, 1844).
Sefer ha-Yesod, or Yesod Diqduq, (see Bacher, Abraham ibn
Grammatiker, pp. 8–17). It has been published by N. Allony:
Yesod Diqduq. Jerusalem: Mossad Ha-rav Kook, 1984.
Tzakhot (1145), on linguistic correctness, his best grammatical work,
which also contains a brief outline of modern Hebrew meter; first ed.
1546. There is a critical edition by C. del Valle: Sefer Sahot.
Salamanca: Univ. Pontificia de Salamanca, 1977.
Safah Berurah (see above), first ed. 1830. A critical edition has been
recently published: Śafah bĕrurah. La lengua escogida. Introducción
(en castellano e inglés). Edición crítica del texto hebreo y
versión castellana de Enrique Ruiz González, revisada, completada y
reelaborada por Angel Sáenz-Badillos. Córdoba: Ediciones el
A short outline of grammar at the beginning of the unfinished
commentary on Genesis. The importance of Ibn Ezra's grammatical
writings has already been treated in Grammar, Hebrew.
A defence of Saadyah Gaon against Adonim's criticisms: Sefer Haganah
'al R. Sa'adyah Gaon. Ed. I. Osri, Bar-Ilan University, 1988.
Smaller works – partly grammatical, partly exegetical
Sefat Yeter, in defense of
Saadia Gaon against Dunash ben Labrat,
whose criticism of Saadia, Ibn
Ezra had brought with him from Egypt;
published by Bislichs 1838 and Lippmann 1843.
Sefer ha-Shem, ed. Lippmann, 1834.
Yesod Mispar, a small monograph on numerals, ed. Pinsker, 1863, at the
end of his book on the Babylonian-Hebrew system of punctuation.
Iggeret Shabbat, a responsum on the Sabbath, dated 1158, ed. Luzzatto,
in "Kerem Hemed", iv. 158 et seq.
Yesod Mora Vesod Hatorah (1158), on the division of and reasons for
the Biblical commandments; 1st ed. 1529.
Mathematics and astronomy
Sefer ha-Ekhad, on the peculiarities of the numbers 1–9.
Sefer ha-Mispar or Yesod Mispar, arithmetic.
Luchot, astronomical tables.
Sefer ha-'Ibbur, on the calendar (ed. Halberstam, 1874).
Keli ha-Nechoshet, on the astrolabe (ed. Edelmann, 1845).
Shalosh She'elot, in answer to three chronological questions of David
Ezra composed his first book on astrology in Italy, before his
move to France:
Mishpetai ha-Mazzelot ("Judgments of the Zodiacal Signs"), on the
general principles of astrology
In seven books written in
Béziers in 1147–1148 Ibn
composed a systematic presentation of astrology, starting with an
introduction and a book on general principles, and then five books on
particular branches of the subject. The presentation appears to have
been planned as an integrated whole, with cross-references throughout,
including references to subsequent books in the future tense. Each of
the books is known in two versions, so it seems that at some point Ibn
Ezra also created a revised edition of the series.
Reshit Hokhma ("The Beginning of Wisdom"), an introduction to
astrology, perhaps a revision of his earlier book (tr. 1998, M.
Sefer ha-Te'amim ("Book of Reasons"), an overview of Arabic astrology,
giving explanations for the material in the previous book. (tr. 1994,
Sefer ha-Moladot ("Book of Nativities"), on astrology based on the
time and place of birth
Sefer ha-Me'orot ("Book of Luminaries" or "Book of Lights"), on
Sefer ha-She'elot ("Book of Interrogations"), on questions about
Sefer ha-Mivharim ("Book of Elections", also known as "Critical
Days"), on optimum days for particular activities
Sefer ha-Olam ("Book of the World"), on the fates of countries and
wars, and other larger-scale issues
Translation of two works by the astrologer Mashallah ibn Athari:
"She'elot" and "Qadrut" (Steinschneider, "Hebr. Uebers."
Sela, Shlomo, ed./trans. Abraham Ibn Ezra: The Book of Reasons. A
Parallel Hebrew-English Critical Edition of the Two Versions of the
Text. Leiden: Brill, 2007.
There are a great many other poems by Ibn Ezra, some of them religious
(the editor of the "Diwan" in an appended list mentions nearly 200
numbers) and some secular – about love, friendship, wine, didactic
or satirical. Like his friend Yehuda Halevi, he used the Arabic poetic
form of Muwashshah. His relative Moses ibn
Ezra was also a famous
Robert Browning's poem Rabbi Ben Ezra, beginning "Grow old along with
me/The best is yet to be", a meditation on ibn Ezra's life and work,
appeared in Browning's Dramatis Personae, in 1864. In turn, Rabbi
Ezra has been used in various ways:
Isaac Asimov's short novel "Grow Old with Me" was expanded into
the novel Pebble in the Sky, which quotes Rabbi Ben Ezra.
The second line of Rabbi Ben Ezra, "The Best Is Yet to Be", is the
Motto of the Anglo-Chinese Schools in
Singapore and Jakarta.
John Lennon adapts part of Rabbi Ben
Ezra in "Grow Old with Me".
Browning's poem "Rabbi Ben Ezra" is also cited in The Twilight Zone
episode "The Trade-Ins"
List of rabbis
Jewish views of astrology
Jewish commentaries on the Bible
Astrology in Judaism
^ Encyclopaedia Judaica, pages 1163–1164
Jewish Encyclopedia (online);
Chambers Biographical Dictionary gives
the dates 1092/93 – 1167
^ It has been a common error to publish that he was born in Toledo,
Spain; however this is due to an incorrect reading of Hebrew written
^ "Has Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra's grave been discovered? - Israel
National News". www.israelnationalnews.com.
^ Joshua Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition
www.sacred-texts.com chapter 3, pp. 26–27
^ BDB Lexicon, page 850
^ Jewishencyclopedia.com, entry for Ibn Ezra, Abraham Ben Meir
^ Ben Elton, Revelation, Tradition, and Scholarship: A Response
^ see introduction to Yam Shel Shlomo by Rabbi Shlomo Luria
^ Eric Lawee, "Words Unfitly Spoken: Late Medieval Criticism of the
Role of Midrash in Rashi's Commentary on the Torah", in Between Rashi
and Maimonides: Themes in Medieval Jewish Law, Thought and Culture
(ed. Ephraim Kanarfogel) (see excerpt at
^ a b http://www.sacred-texts.com/phi/spinoza/treat/tpt12.htm
^ a b Jay F. Schachter, The Commentary of Abraham Ibn
Ezra on the
Pentateuch: Volume 5, Deuteronomy (KTAV Publishing House 2003)
^ For example, Spinoza understood Ibn Ezra's commentary on Genesis
12:6 ("And the Canaanite was then in the land"), wherein Ibn Ezra
esoterically stated that "some mystery lies here, and let him who
understands it keep silent," as proof that Ibn
Ezra recognized that at
least certain Biblical passages had been inserted long after the time
^ See for example, "Who wrote the Bible" and the "Bible with Sources
Revealed" both by Richard Elliott Friedman
^ postings from November 24–25, 2009
^ J. J. O'Connor; E. F. Robertson. "Abraham ben Meir ibn Ezra".
^ Shlomo Sela (2000), "Encyclopedic aspects of Ibn Ezra's scientific
corpus", in Steven Harvey (ed), The Medieval Hebrew Encyclopedias of
Science and Philosophy: Proceedings of the Bar-Ilan University
Conference, Springer. ISBN 0-7923-6242-X. See pp. 158 et seq.
Robert Browning (1864/1969), Dramatis Personae, reprint, London:
^ "Grow Old with Me" (1947), in
Isaac Asimov (1986), The Alternate
Asimovs, Garden City, New York: Doubleday.
Isaac Asimov (1950), Pebble in the Sky, Garden City, New York:
^ "Grow Old with Me", on
John Lennon (1980/1984) Milk and Honey,
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The Song of Chess
Poems in Hebrew at Ben Yehuda Project
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