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HEBREW-ARABIC DICTIONARY, ALI BEN ISRAEL, [MIDDLE EAST: 11TH CENTURY]

Estimate:

30,000 - 40,000 USD

HEBREW-ARABIC DICTIONARY, ALI BEN ISRAEL, [MIDDLE EAST: 11TH CENTURY]

HEBREW-ARABIC DICTIONARY, ALI BEN ISRAEL, [MIDDLE EAST: 11TH CENTURY]

Estimate:

30,000 - 40,000 USD

Lot sold:

201,600

USD

HEBREW-ARABIC DICTIONARY, ALI BEN ISRAEL, [MIDDLE EAST: 11TH CENTURY]


108 pages (7 7/8 x 5 7/8 in.; 201 x 148 mm) (collation indeterminate) on paper; modern pagination in pencil in Arabic numerals in upper-outer corners; written in clear Eastern square script in black ink; single-column text of twenty-two to twenty-four lines per page; ruled in blind; justification of lines via dilation or contraction of final letters, abbreviation, and use of anticipatory letters; no catchwords; periodic vocalization (see, esp., pp. 70, 86); intermittent marginalia in later hand(s), at times vocalized with Arabic vowels (see, e.g., pp. 75, 77, 82, 90); Tetragrammaton generally represented via three yodin in a row. Dampstaining, particularly in outer edges; some gutters reinforced; periodic repairs in gutters at head, at times affecting individual letters; ink sometimes worn or chipped; repairs in outer margins of pp. 1-2, 5-10, 79-108, at times affecting individual letters; numerous pages with tears and/or holes, many of them repaired, mostly affecting individual letters (pp. 1-2, 5-14, 19-22, 49-52, 61-62, 75-76, 81-82, 97-100) or full words (pp. 23-30, 37-42, 45-48, 53-54, 57-60, 77-80); pp. 3-4 misbound (should appear between pp. 10-11); only a small fragment of pp. 55-56 remains. Modern brown buckram; paper ticket on spine with manuscript name; shelf mark lettered in gilt on spine; modern paper flyleaves and pastedowns.


One of only four known substantial copies of an important early, unpublished biblical lexicon, and the only one in private hands.


As interest in the study of the Hebrew Bible grew in the aftermath of the Muslim conquests and the compilation of the first masoretic treatises, the related fields of Hebrew linguistics, grammar, and lexicography began to flower. The first comprehensive dictionary of Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic extant, entitled Kitāb jāmi‘ al-alfāẓ (The Book of the Collection of Words), was compiled by David ben Abraham Alfasi probably in the second half of the tenth century in Jerusalem. One of the earliest and most important sources for the investigation of the history of Hebrew philology, it has survived in both a long and a short version, the latter apparently created by the author himself. Alfasi arranged his dictionary, divided into twenty-two chapters (one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet), according to the principle of biliteral (two-letter) roots. He had recourse to the ancient Targumim, Mishnah, Talmud, and the prayer book and often drew parallels between Hebrew (both biblical and mishnaic), Aramaic, and Arabic.


Alfasi’s lexicon achieved widespread popularity in the centuries following its publication. Because of its expansiveness, the longer version was condensed by Levi ben Japheth, and Levi’s abridgment was in turn epitomized by two other Jerusalem scholars, Ali ben Israel (mid-eleventh century) and Ali ben Suleiman (eleventh-twelfth centuries), apparently working independently of one another. Ali ben Israel’s text follows Levi ben Japheth’s compendium very closely, at times verbatim. However, Levi, and Alfasi before him, belonged to the medieval Karaite sect, which maintained traditions about biblical interpretation and Jewish law distinct from those of the mainstream, Talmud-abiding Rabbanite community. Accordingly, some of the exegetical comments in their dictionaries reflected their sectarian backgrounds. Ali ben Israel, by contrast, was a Rabbanite Jew; his abridged lexicon, therefore, omitted distinctively Karaite passages, perhaps in order to render the text acceptable for use in the instruction of Rabbanite students.


The present lot is one of only four significant fragments of Ali ben Israel’s epitomized version of Levi’s compendium to have come down to us. It is also the only known exemplar of this lexicon to bear a date (1066, though it is not clear whether this is the date of the work’s composition or the date of its copying), to name its author (though the attribution was added by a later hand), and to still be owned privately. Its historical value is therefore substantial. Indeed, in the words of a great twentieth-century scholar of Judeo-Arabic, “That a thorough and comparative study of all three compendia [those of Levi ben Japhet, Ali ben Israel, and Ali ben Suleiman] would be of great importance for the history of Hebrew philology need hardly be mentioned.”


Sotheby’s is grateful to Zvi Erenyi for providing information that aided in the cataloging of this manuscript.


Contents

pp. 1-8: introduction;

pp. 9-10: av through agmon;

pp. 11-22: end of vav through hai;

pp. 23-42: hamar through kehot;

pp. 43-44: matteh through melakhah;

pp. 45-58: massah through netsah;

pp. 59-100: pisgah through shafat;

pp. 101-102: introduction to tav through tevah;

pp. 103-106: tav-yod through hatikkem;

p. 107: torah through tittekha;

p. 108: owner’s inscription.


Provenance

Eliezer bar Joseph bar Mevorakh bar Saadiah bar Nathan (p. 108)


Literature

Joshua Blau, Ha-sifrut ha-aravit ha-yehudit — perakim nivharim (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1980), 52.


Geoffrey Khan, “The Contribution of the Karaites to the Study of the Hebrew Language,” in Meira Polliack (ed.), Karaite Judaism: A Guide to its History and Literary Sources (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2003), 291-318, at pp. 307-309.


Jacob Mann, Texts and Studies in Jewish History and Literature, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1935), 95-98 (Appendix IV).


Solomon L. Skoss (ed.), The Hebrew-Arabic Dictionary of the Bible Known as Kitāb Jāmi‘ al-Alfāẓ (Agrōn), vol. 1 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1936), xciv-cxxxix (chs. IV-V).


David Solomon Sassoon, Ohel Dawid: Descriptive Catalogue of the Hebrew and Samaritan Manuscripts in the Sassoon Library, London, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press; London: Humphrey Milford, 1932), 1:xli, 2:1035-1037 (no. 1044).

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