Jonah ibn Janah
Jonah ibn Janah or ibn Janach, also known as Abu al-Walīd Marwān
ibn Janāḥ (Arabic: أبو الوليد مروان بن
جناح), (c. 990 – c. 1055), was a Jewish rabbi, physician and
Hebrew grammarian active in
Al-Andalus or Islamic Spain. Born in
Córdoba, ibn Janah was mentored there by Isaac ibn Gikatilla and
Isaac ibn Mar Saul, before he moved around 1012, due to the sacking of
the city. He then settled in Zaragoza, where he wrote Kitab
al-Mustalhaq, which expanded on the research of Judah ben David Hayyuj
and led to a series of controversial exchanges with Samuel ibn
Naghrillah that remained unresolved during their lifetimes.
His magnum opus, Kitab al-Anqih, contained both the first complete
grammar for Hebrew and a dictionary of Classical Hebrew, and is
considered "the most influential Hebrew grammar for centuries" and
a foundational text in Hebrew scholarship. Ibn Janah is considered a
very influential scholar in the field of Hebrew grammar; his works and
theories were popular and cited by Hebrew scholars in Europe and the
2 Early life
3 Career in Zaragoza
3.1 Kitab al-Mustalhaq
3.2 Dispute with Hayyuj's supporters
3.3 Kitab al-Anqih
3.3.1 Kitab al-Luma
3.3.2 Kitab al-Usul
The name in which he is known in Hebrew, Jonah ("dove", also spelled
Yonah) was based on his
Arabic patronymic ibn Janah ("the winged",
also spelled ibn Janach). His
Arabic personal name was Marwan
with the kunyah Abu al-Walid. Latin sources, including Avraham ibn
Ezra referred to him as "
Rabbi Marinus", a Latinization of his
Arabic name Marwan.
There is little information on his family or early life, mostly known
from biographical details found in his writings. He was born in
Córdoba, in modern-day Spain and then-capital of the Umayyad
Caliphate of Córdoba
Caliphate of Córdoba between 985 and 990. He studied in the nearby
Lucena; his teachers there included Isaac ibn Gikatilla and Isaac ibn
Mar Saul. His education included the languages of Arabic,
Hebrew, and Aramaic, the exegesis of the Bible and the Quran, as well
as rabbinic literature. Ibn Mar Saul was a master of poetry and ibn
Janah attempted to write some Hebrew poetry himself, but was not very
successful at it. Ibn Gikatilla was an expert in both Hebrew and
Arabic grammar, and under his tutelage ibn Janah became fluent in
Arabic, familiar with
Arabic literature and "acquired an easy and
Arabic writing style.
Arabic became his language of
choice for most of his writings. Ibn Janah also mentioned Judah
ben David Hayyuj as one of his major influences, but he was unlikely
to have met him because Hayyuj was active in Córdoba and died before
ibn Janah returned there.
Around 1012, he returned to Córdoba, where he studied and practiced
medicine. By this time,
Al-Andalus or the Islamic Iberia was in a
period of instability and civil war, known as the Fitna of
al-Andalus. Córdoba was besieged and sacked by Berber rebels, who
committed atrocities on its citizens including the Jews. The
caliphate of Córdoba soon disintegrated into small states known as
the taifas. Ibn Janah as well as many other Jews were forced to
leave the capital. He moved to the
Upper March region of
Al-Andalus, and after a period of wandering there settled in
Zaragoza. He had at least one son.
Career in Zaragoza
He remained in
Zaragoza until the end of his life, where he practiced
medicine and wrote books. He wrote at least one medical book,
Kitab al-Takhlis (
Arabic for "Book of the Extract"), on formulae and
measures of medical remedies, which is now lost. He became known as
a successful physician, often called by the epithet "the physician",
and was mentioned by the 13th century Syrian physician Ibn Abi Usaibia
in his collection of biographies, Lives of the Physicians.
Aside from his work in medicine, he also worked on the field of Hebrew
grammar and philology, joining other scholars in
Solomon ibn Gabirol.
Ibn Janah was deeply influenced by the works of Judah ben David
Hayyuj. Earlier Hebrew grammarians, such as
Menahem ben Saruq and
the Saadia Gaon, had believed that Hebrew words could have letter
roots of any length. Hayyuj argued that this was not the case, and
Hebrew words are consistently triliteral. In his work, Kitab
al-Mustalhaq ("Book of Criticism", also known as Sefer HaHasagh in
Hebrew), Ibn Janah strongly supported Hayyuj's work, but proposed some
improvements. Among others, he added 54 roots to Hayyuj's 467,
filled some gaps and clarified some ambiguities in his theories.
Dispute with Hayyuj's supporters
In Kitab al-Mustalbag, ibn Janah praised Hayyuj's works and
acknowledged them as the source for most of his knowledge on Hebrew
grammar. He intended for this work to be uncontroversial, and to be
an extension to the works of Hayyuj whom he deeply admired.
However, the work caused offense among Hayyuj's supporters. They
considered Hayyuj the greatest authority of all times, worthy of
taqlid or unquestioning conformity. They were offended when ibn
Janah, a relatively junior scholar at the time, leveled a criticism on
their master and found his works incomplete. One of the disciples
of Hayyuj was Samuel ibn Naghrillah, the vizier of the
Granada, a Muslim state which emerged in the city after the fall of
Córdoba. Ibn Janah subsequently wrote the brief Risalat al-Tanbih
("Letter of Admonition") which defended his views, as well as Risalat
al-Taqrib wa l-Tashil ("Letter of Approximation and Facilitation"),
which sought to clarify Hayyuj's work for beginners.
While visiting his friend, Abu Sulaiman ibn Taraka, he met a stranger
from Granada who enumerated various attacks on ibn Janah's views. Ibn
Janah wrote Kitab al-Taswi'a ("Book of Reprobation") to counter the
arguments.[a] Ibn Naghrilla then wrote Rasail al-rifaq ("Letters
from Friends"), attacking ibn Janah, who then responded by writing
Kitab al-Tashwir ("Book of Confusion"). Further pamphlets were
exchanged between the two, which were later of great benefit to Hebrew
grammarians. The pamphlets were in
Arabic and were never
translated into Hebrew. The debates were unresolved during their
lifetimes. Many were lost but some were reprinted and translated
A page from a copy of ibn Janah's magnum opus Kitab al-Tanqih,
translated to Hebrew by Judah ibn Tibbon.
Towards the end of his life, ibn Janah wrote what is considered his
magnum opus, the Kitab al-Anqih ("Book of Minute Research"), known
in Hebrew as Sefer HaDikduk. The book is divided into two
sections: Kitab al-Luma ("Book of Many-Colored Flower-Beds"), or
Sefer HaRikmah, which covered Hebrew grammar, and Kitab al-Usul ("Book
of Roots"), or Sefer HaShorashim, a dictionary of Classical Hebrew
words arranged by root.
Kitab al-Luma was the first complete Hebrew grammar ever produced.
During his time, works of
Arabic grammar and Quranic exegesis had a
large influence among Hebrew grammarians. In this work, Ibn Janah
drew from the
Arabic grammatical works of Sibawayh,
others, both referencing them and directly copying from them. The
book consisted of 54 chapters, inspired by how
Arabic grammars were
organized. By using similarities between the two Semitic
languages, he adapted existing rules and theories of the Arabic
language and used them for Hebrew. These introductions allowed the
Bible to be analyzed by criteria similar to those used by Quranic
scholars of the time.
Ibn Janah also introduced the concept of lexical substitution in
interpreting Classical Hebrew. This concept, in which the meaning
of a word in the Bible was substituted by a closely associated word,
proved to be controversial. Twelfth-century biblical commentator
Abraham ibn Ezra
Abraham ibn Ezra strongly opposed it and called it "madness" close to
Kitab al-Usul, the dictionary, was arranged into 22 chapters—one for
each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The dictionary included more
than 2,000 roots, nearly all of them triliteral. Less than
five percent of the roots have more than three letters and they were
added as appendix in each chapter. Definitions for the words were
derived from the Talmud,
Tanakh or other classical Jewish works, as
well as similar
Arabic and Aramaic words. This approach was
controversial and new in Hebrew scholarship. Ibn Janah defended
his method by pointing to precedents in the
Talmud as well as previous
works by Jewish writers in Babylonia and North Africa, which all used
examples from other languages to define Hebrew words.
Ibn Janah died in approximately 1055, his works quickly became
popular among Hebrew scholars in Spain. They were initially
inaccessible in other parts of Europe, which did not read Arabic.
However, in late twelfth century Spanish-Jewish scholars in Italy and
Southern France spread Ibn Janah's work there and to the rest of
Europe. Ibn Janah's main work, Kitab al-Anqih, was translated into
Judah ben Saul ibn Tibbon in 1214. This translation as
well as others spread ibn Janah's methods and fame outside the
Arabic-speaking Jews. He was subsequently cited by Hebrew scholars
and exegetes in the Iberian peninsula, the
Middle East and Southern
In 1875 Kitab al-Usul was published in English as "The Book of Hebrew
Roots", and a second printing with some corrections occurred in 1968.
It was republished in Hebrew in 1876.
His work, research and methodology are considered deeply important.
The Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World (EJIW) describes him as
"one of the best-known, most influential, closely followed, and highly
praised scholars" of Hebrew. Professor of Judaic Studies Michael L.
Satlow writes that Kitab al-Anqih is "fundamental to the study of
Hebrew grammar"; Sephardic Studies Professor Zion Zohar calls it
"the most influential Hebrew grammar for centuries", and an example of
where "medieval Judeo-
Arabic literary culture reached its apogee".
Writer David Tene "rhapsodizes" on Kitab al-Luna, calling it "the
first complete description of Biblical Hebrew, and no similar work -
comparable in scope, depth and precision - was written until modern
times...[it was] the high point of linguistic thought in all [medieval
grammatical] history". The EJIW described Kitab al-Usul as "the
basis of all other medieval Hebrew dictionaries". The Jewish
Encyclopedia, however, notes "serious gaps" in Kitab al-Tankih because
it does not discuss vowels and accents, and because it omits
explaining Hayyuj's works on which it is based on. The
Encyclopædia Britannica calls him "perhaps the most important
medieval Hebrew grammarian and lexicographer" and says that his works
"clarif[ied] the meaning of many words" and contained the "origin of
various corrections by modern textual critics".
^ According to Martínez-Delgado 2010, p. 501, the stranger was
an adversary who attacked his view, while Scherman 1982, p. 64
says that the stranger merely relayed what he remembered from ibn
Naghrillah's plan to attack him.
^ a b Scherman 1982, p. 63
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Brisman 2000, p. 12
^ a b Zohar 2005, p. 46
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa
Martínez-Delgado 2010, p. 501.
^ a b c Scherman 1982, p. 63.
^ a b c d e Scherman 1982, p. 64.
^ a b c d e f Toy & Bacher 1906, p. 534.
^ a b
Encyclopædia Britannica 1998.
^ a b Scherman 1982, p. 22.
^ a b Scherman 1982, p. 64
^ Becker 1996, p. 277.
^ Martínez-Delgado 2010, pp. 501–502.
^ a b c d e f g Martínez-Delgado 2010, p. 502.
^ Cohen 2003, pp. 79–80.
^ a b Cohen 2003, p. 80.
^ a b c d Brisman 2000, p. 12.
^ a b c d e Brisman 2000, p. 13.
^ Scherman 1982, p. 65.
^ Satlow 2006, p. 213
^ Waltke & O'Connor 1990, p. 35
^ Toy & Bacher 1906, p. 535.
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Janāḥ's "Kitāb Al-Lumaʿ (Sefer Ha-Riqmah)" Copied from the Arab
Grammarians". The Jewish Quarterly Review. 86 (3): 275–298.
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ISNI: 0000 0001 1862 5197
BNF: cb134807345 (data)