1902 Encyclopedia > Saadia Gaon

(also known as: Saadia Gaon)
Medieval Jewish scholar and philosopher
(892-942 AD)

SAADIA, or SAADIAS (Heb. _____, Arab. ______1),. was the most accomplished, learned, and noble gaon (head of the academy) of Sürä (see BAB). Mar Rab Se'adyah b. Yoseph2 was born in the Fayyitm, Upper Egypt, in 892 and died at Sürä in 942. Of his teachers only the Jew Abu Kethir is positively known by name,3 but he must have had at least three more teachers of considerable learning, one a Karaite,4 one a Mohammedan, and one a Christian, as his acquaintance with the literature of these four religious bodies testifies. His pre-eminence over his contemporaries is indicated in the fact that he was the only gaon who had not been educated and then advanced by degrees in the academy, to the highest dignity of which he was called from a far-off country, but best appears in the excellence of his many works, which extend over most branches of learning known in his time. And his learning was exceeded by his manifold virtues. His love of truth and justice was made more conspicuous by the darkness of the corruption amid which he lived. When the resh galutha ("prince of the captivity," the highest dignitary of the Jews in Babylonia, and to some extent of those of the whole world) attempted to wrest judgment in a certain case, and first asked, then requested, and finally demanded the signature of the gaon of Sura in a threaten-ing manner, Se'adyah refused it, fearless of consequences. David b. Zakkai, the resh galutha, deposed him and chose another gaon in his stead. A reconciliation took place some years afterwards, and Se'adyah was reinstated in his old dignity. And, although his health had been fatally undermined by the behaviour of the resh galutha and his son, Se'adyah, when his former opponent died, was indefatigable in his endeavours to have this very son of his once mortal enemy placed on the throne of his fathers. But the new prince of the captivity enjoyed his dignity for little more than half a year. He left behind him a boy, twelve years of age, whom Se'adyah took into his own house and treated in every respect as his own child. This learning and these virtues endeared Se'adyah not merely to his contemporaries but also to the best men of succeeding ages. Behayye b. Yoseph (the author of the Hoboth Hallebaboth), Rashi, Se'adyah (the author of the commentary on Daniel in the Rabbinic Bible), David Kimhi, Behayye t>. Asher (the author of Kad Hakkemah), all appeal to him as an authority not to be questioned. Even Ibn 'Ezra defers more to him than to any other authority. To this day Jewish and Christian scholars alike express for him the highest admiration.

The numerous works which are ascribed to him may be conveniently divided into four classes.

I. Genuine and still extant Works.—(1) Arabic translations of, and in part commentaries on, books of the Bible : (a) the Penta-teuch (printed in Hebrew characters, Constantinople, 1546, fol., and in Arabic characters in the Paris and London polyglotts); (b) Isaiah (printed in Arabic characters from Hebrew letters of the Bodleian MS. Uri 156, by Paulus, Jena, 1790-91, 8vo); (c) Psalms (Ewald, Ueber die arabiseh geschriebenen Werke jiidischer Sprach-getehrten, Stuttgart, 1844, 8vo); (d) Proverbs (Bodleian MS. Uri 15); (e) Job (Uri 45) ; (/) Canticles (Merx, Die Saadjanische XJeber-setznng des Hohen Liedes ins Arabische, Heidelberg, 1882, 8vo). (2) Hebrew Lexicography : Seventy (90 or 91) ct7ra£ \ey6ueva to be found in the Bible, published from the Bodl. MS. Hunt. 573, by Dukes (Z. K. M., v. 6) and by Benjacob (Debarim Attikim, i., Leipsic, 1844). (3) Talmudic Literaturo: (a) Decisions (incorpo-rated in 'Ittur, Venice, 1608, fol. ; and in the book of Eesponsa, Sha'are Sedek, Salonica, 1792, 4to) ; (6) On the laws of inheritance (Bodl. MS. Hunt. 630). (4) Liturgy, both in prose and poetry : (a) Siddur (Bodleian MS. Uri 261); (b) Arabischer Midrasch (!) zu den Zehn Geboten, in Hebrew letters (MS. Jellinek of Vienna, with Hebrew and German translation by W. Eisenstädter, Vienna, 1868, 8vo). (5) Religious Philosophy: (a) Commentary on the Sepher Yesirah, MS. Uri 370 (Opp. Add., 4to, 89), contains the ear-lier part of a Heb. trans, in a modern hand ; (b) Kitdb al-Amänät wa'l-Ttiqdddt (Landauer, Leyden, 1880,8vo), translated into Hebrew by Yehudah Ibn Tibbon (editio princeps, Constantinople, 1562, 4to), and by R. Berekhyah Hannakdan, author of the Mishele Shu'alim (printed only in part; see Dukes, Beiträge, pp. 20, 22); nine chapters have been translated into German (Fürst, Leipsic, 1845, 12mo), and parts into English (Two Treatises, by P. Allix, London, 1707, 8vo).

II. Works now lost, but the existence of which is testified to by contemporary and later authors.— (1) An Arabic translation of, and in part commentary on, most, if not all, the other books of the Bible. (2) Lexical Treatises: Book of Interpretations (Sepher Pithronim, or Collection (Iggeron).B (3) Grammatical Treatises: (a) Elegancy of the Hebrew Tongue—(a) Treatise on the Changes, (ß) Treatise on the Combinations, (7) Treatise on Dagesh and Rapheh, (S) Treatise on the Letters J?, ¡1, H, X7; (b) Treatise on Punctuation8; (c) Treatise on Right Reading9;—it is not impossible that the first four constituted one work and the last two another work. (4) Talmudic Literature : (a) Translation of the Mishnak10; (b) Meth- odology of the (Babylonian) Talmud11; (c) Treatise on Bills13; (d) Treatise on Deposits13; (e) Treatise on Oaths14; (/) Treatise on Prohibited Degrees15; (g) Treatise on Impura et Pura, including Hilekhoth Niddah16 ;—it is very possible that those marked c to / constituted one book, just as the treatise marked g constituted one book. (5) Calendaric Literature : Sepher Sa'ibbur (Treatise on Intercalation).17 (6) Apologetics : Treatise on Investigations.18 (7) Polemics : (a) against Karaism—(a) 'Anan,19 (ß) Ibn Sakkawiyyah,'20 (7) Ibn Zitta (or Zutta)21; (b) against the Rabbanite Hivvi al- Balkhi22; (c) against the Karaite Ben Asher (the completer of the Massoreth ; see L.-B. d. Or., x. 684). (8) The nature of the Sepher Haggalui cited by Rabad II. and Ab. b. Hiy ya in his Sepher Sa'ibbur is not clear.

III. Works ascribed to Se'adyah the authorship of which is not sufficiently proven.—(1) The commentary on Canticles edited by Yishak Ibn 'Akrish (Constantinople, 1577, 4to), and that published by' L. 'Margaliyyoth at Frankfort-on-Oder, 177723 (2) The well-known piece of didactic poetry which gives account of all the letters of the Bible, how many times they occur, &c. (editio princeps, Venice, 1538, at the end of Elias Levita's Massoreth Hammass.).
IV. Works ascribed to Se'adyah by mistake.—(1) The Commentary on Daniel commonly found in the Rabbinic Bibles belongs to an-other Rab Se'adyah, who lived at least two hundred years later, and was a native either of France or the south of Germany. (2) The Commentary on the Sepher Yesirah, printed with the text and three other commentaries at Mantua in 1562, 4to. (3) The Book on Lots (Sepher Haggoraloth), often printed separately and in con-junction with similar works. (4) Eben Happilosophim (Lapis Philo-sophorum), ascribed to him by R. Mosheh Butrial (Mantua edition of the Sepher Yesirah as above). (S. M. S.-S.)


To make the legal decisions of the resh galutha more respected, the signatures of the geonim of Sura and Pumbaditha were desirable. A specimen of a legal decision by David b. Zakkai signed on the authority of Rab Se'adyah Gaon is to be found in Frankel - Gratz, Monatsschrift, xxxi. pp. 167-170.

If we may argue from the known to the unknown, Se'adyah's translations, whether they were called ta/slr or shark, contained more than a mere translation. Prom Ibn 'Ezra's preface to his com-mentary on the Pentateuch and from the Arabic comm. on the Psalms published in excerpt by Ewald we see that Rab Se'adyah was in the habit of explaining in addition to translating. Compare also Munk, "Notice sur Saadia," in Cahen, La Bible (Isaie), Paris, 1838, 8vo, p. 77, note 1.

3 In the copyist's subscription to this MS. the actual reading is not ilK-ny (Rapoport), but mK3J>; this should be as Munk prints it (" Notice," p. 108). The Bodleian MSS. are referred to in this article from personal inspection.

The original codex on brownish paper, in square characters of Babylonian handwriting (14th cent.), is defective at beginning and end. The supplement at the beginning, containing also l°,ter matter, is in S. Arabian handwriting. The well-known "Ten reasons for Sounding the Trumpet on the Day of Memorial" are not found in this Siddur (against Rapoport, ut supra, note 21). The three poetical pieces published as five by Rosenberg (Kobes, ii., Berlin, 1856) form an integral part of the Siddur, but bear on the surface marks of having been taken from a second-hand, if not a third-hand, copy, as the editor admits with regard to the "second petition." The "Two Petitions" must have served Ibn Gebirol (AVIOEBEOM) as a model for the latter or liturgical part of his ITD^D 1)13, just as he and others after him silently utilized Se'adyah's philosophy.

8 See Höboth Hallebaboth (preface) and Sibbub (Travels) of R. Peth-ahyah of Ratisbon (London, 1861, 8vo, p. 22).

' L.-B. d. Orients, x. coll. 516, 541, 684.

7 Ibid., coll. 516, 518. 8 See Rashi on Psalm xlv. 10.

9 L.-B. d. Or., x. 518.

10 Sibbub (as in note 5 above).

11 See Shem Haggedolim (Vilna, 1852, 8vo), ii. leaf 16a, col. 2.

12 See Sha'are Sedek (ut supra), leaf 17b.

13 See R. Menahem b. Shelomoh lebeth Meir (commouly called
Meiri) on Aboth (Vienna, 1854, 8vo, Introduction, p. 17).

14 See Rapoport, I.e., note 20.

16 See Pinsker, Likkute Kadmoniyyoth (Vienna, 1860, p. 174, note 1, in Nispahim). 16 See Rapoport, I.e., note 19.

17 See L.-B. d. Or., xii. coll. 101, 102.

18 See Sion (Frankfort-on-Main, 1842-43, 8vo), ii. p. 137.

19 See Pinsker (ut supra), p. 103. 20 Sion (as before).

31 On this commentator see Ibn 'Ezra on Exodus xxi. 24. From this passage we learn that Se'adyah and Ben Zitta were contemporaries, and even had oral controversies with one another.

32 See Halikhoth Kedem, Amsterdam, 1846, p. 71. Hivvi al-Balkhi had raised strong objections against the truth of Scripture in his Two Hundred Questions, or Objections to the Bible.

23 The editions "Prag", 1782 (Steinschneider), and Nowydwor, 1783 (Zedner), are probably the same as that of Frankfort with different titles.

The above article was written by: S. M. Schiller-Szinessy, Ph.D., Reader in Talmudic Literature, University of Cambridge.

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