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The use of Islamic Sources in Saadia

The use of Islamic Sources in Saadia

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Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, University of Pennsylvania
The Use of Islamic Sources in Saadiah Gaon's "Tafsīr" of the TorahAuthor(s): David M. FreidenreichSource:
The Jewish Quarterly Review,
New Series, Vol. 93, No. 3/4 (Jan. - Apr., 2003), pp.353-395Published by:
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THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW,
XCIII,
Nos.3-4(January-April, 2003)
353-395
THEUSEOFISLAMIC SOURCES IN SAADIAHGAON'STAFSIROFTHE TORAH
DAVID
M.
FREIDENREICH,
ColumbiaUniversity
ABSTRACTSaadiahGaon'sinfluentialtranslationofthe Torah nto Arabic haslongbeenknownto contain countless"mistranslations," assagesinwhich Saa-diahconsciouslymodifiesthe biblicaltexttoconformto Arabicliterary styleor to his ownbeliefsandunderstanding oftheBible.Several ofthe modi-ficationsfound in Saadiah's Tafslr derive from Islamic sources,includingIslamicterminologyandphraseology,Islamic law andtradition,and theQur'an itselfThispaper examinesthosepassagesin the Tafslrofthe TorahwhichreflectIslamicinfluencein anattempttounderstandhow,in a workwrittenforaJewishaudience, Saadiah utilizesmaterialgleaned fromthedominantreligion ofhisdayandwhyonseveral occasionsthegaonprefersIslamic interpretations overtheexisting rabbinic and biblical alternatives.
Saadiah Gaon's translation of theTorahinto Arabic isconsid-eredbyJoshuaBlau, perhapstheforemostlivingscholar of Judeo-Arabic,tobe "themost influential mediaeval Judeo-Arabic work."1Thetranslation,knownin Arabic astheTafsir,appears tohavebe-come theuniversally acceptedArabic rendition ofthePentateuchamongrabbinic Jewswithindecades of itscompletion in the early10thcentury,and it continues to be used to thisday. Saadiah'sTafsiroccupiesa rolesimilar to Onkelos'better-known AramaicTargumof the Torahas anauthoritativetranslationpopularlystudiedin re-ligiouscirclesalongside the Hebrew original. In terms of itsimpactonJewishculture,Saadiah'sbiographerHenry Malter ranks theTaf-siralongsidesuch influentialworksastheSeptuagintandMosesMendelssohn'sGerman translation of theBible; Malter credits theworkwithinauguratingheGoldenAgeofJewishliteraryactivityintheArabic-speakingworld.2
1
J.
Blau, "SomeInstancesReflectingthe InfluenceofSaadyaGaon's BibleTrans-lationon LaterJudeo-ArabicWritings,"nOccidentandOrient:ATribute o the Mem-ory ofAlexander Scheiber, ed. R. Dan(Leiden, 1988), p.21.
2H.
Malter,SaadiahGaon:HisLife andWorks Philadelphia, 1921),p. 142.
 
354THE JEWISH QUARTERLYREVIEW
One can considerall translationsto be interpretationsto someextent,and theArabic word tafsiritself means "explanation"or"in-terpretation."As Meira Polliackpoints out, "Saadiah'sawarenessoftheinterpretivenature ofhistranslationofthe Pentateuch may ex-plain its designationas tafsir; aterm which betterconveys this sensethan the termtarjamah"used bylater Karaite translatorsof the To-rah.3Indeed,Saadiah's work, especiallyin lightof its Karaitecoun-terparts,sparticularlynoteworthyforitsextensivedeviations fromtheHebrew original. Scholarshave pointed outcountless examplesofthese"mistranslations"andhaveidentified severalfactorsthataccountfor Saadiah's changes.One importantfactor seemstohavebeengenerallyoverlooked,however,even though examplesof itsapplicationhavethemselves beendulynoted. On severaloccasions,Saadiahdeviates fromthebiblical textor its standardabbinicunder-standingin favor ofaninterpretationdrawn fromtheQur'anor otherIslamic sources. An analysis ofhow Saadiahuses Islamicterms andsources inhisTafsirof the Torahcasts newlighton thegaon'satti-tudetowardthedominant religionof his time and towardits textsand traditions.
SAADIAH ANDHIS TAFSIR
The outline of Saadiah'sbiographyhas beenpieced togetherbymodernscholars, butthedetails remain uncertain.Saadiah was bornin 882in theFayyiimdistrictofUpper Egypt,spentsome time inthe Land ofIsrael,andbytheearly 920swasanimportant igureinRabbanitecircles andthe most forceful advocateof theBabylonianpositionin a rabbinic calendricaldispute.In928he wasappointedtothepositionof GaonofSura,head of oneof the twomajorrab-binic schools locatedinBaghdad.Otherthana shortperiodinexiledueto acontroversywith thepoliticalhead oftheBabylonianJew-ish community, heremainednthatpostuntilhisdeath in942.4Saa-
3M. Polliack,The KaraiteTraditionofArabicBible Translation:A LinguisticandExegeticalStudyof KaraiteTranslationsof the Pentateuchromthe TenthandElev-enth CenturiesC.E. (Leiden,1997),p. 86.
4Malter's
SaadiahGaon, written in the1920s, remainstheonly book-lengthtreat-mentof Saadiah's lifeinEnglish,althoughseveraldetails ofMalter'saccount (suchas Saadiah's yearof birth) havebeenprovenincorrecton the basisof evidence fromthe CairoGenizah.See A. Marx,"RabSaadia Gaon,"n RabSaadia Gaon:StudiesinHisHonor,ed.L.Finkelstein(New York,1944), pp. 53-97,for a brieferbiography

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