Letter: Bodl. MS heb. b 11/33

Letter Bodl. MS heb. b 11/33


Input date

In PGP since 2020


This is the fourth letter sent by Yonatan ha-Kohen b. David of Lunel to Moses Maimonides, writing in his own name but also all the sages of Provence. The letter discusses three topics. (1) They have succeeded in finding a translator for the Guide for the Perplexed, Shemuel b. Yehuda Ibn Tibbon. "Indeed [the Guide] would have been 'as a small stone in a heap of stones' (Proverbs 26:8) and 'as a lily among thorns' (Song of Songs 2:2), a book for the illiterate, if our Creator had not brought us one wise and enlightened in every wisdom, whose father taught him the language of the Arabs, the son of the wondrous sage, the elevated physician, Yehuda Ibn Tibbon ha-Sefaradi." Yonatan then gives a list of works that Yehuda Ibn Tibbon has translated: Sefer ha-Emunot, Sefer Ḥovot ha-Levavot, Middot ha-Nefesh, Mivḥar ha-Peninim (of Ibn Gabirol), the Kuzari, and Sefer ha-Diqduq and Sefer ha-Shorashim by Ibn Jannāḥ. Then, referring to the Midrash on 1 Samuel 3:3 ("the lamp of Eli had not yet gone out [when the lamp shone of] Shemuel ha-Ramati"), he returns to Shemuel the son of Yehuda who has started his career in the lifetime of his father and teacher. "He scraped the honey from the carcass of the lion into his hands (Judges 14:9), and fed us, with the tip of the pen in his hand, of the honey [from your lips] and the drops of myrrh from your fingers, and our eyes were illuminated to see what was concealed. Our eyes have not been sated with seeing, nor our ears with hearing, and our desire has grown [greater than] in the beginning, like the thirsty bird that has begun to drink when the cup is taken away, or like the nursing baby torn away from his mother's breast." (2) This leads to the second topic: they wish to be sent the third and final part of the Guide, which they have not yet seen. (3) The third matter is alluded to in a postscript, in which Yonatan repeats a request for the responsa to the 24 queries they had sent regarding the Mishneh Torah. The response of Maimonides, who neglected to respond to the first three letters, has been preserved (not in the Geniza). From the response, we also learn that this letter by Yonatan of Lunel was accompanied by a letter to Maimonides from Shemuel Ibn Tibbon. In it, he introduced himself, expressed his wish to travel to Egypt and meet Maimonides in person, and sought advice on some matters of translation. Verso contains three different text blocks. At the top, very faded, is the address, most of which Stern succeeded in reading with UV light (משה יצ בן . . . ר מימו[ן] זצל המגיד דבריו ליעקב חקיו ומשפטיו לישראל). Next, there are 11 lines in the hand of Moses Maimonides, likely his notes to himself and/or an assistant when he filed away this letter: "When the responsa to their queries were delayed from reaching them due to an illness [. . .], they sent this fourth letter requesting the responsa and the Guide, and this is the text of their letter. [. . .] the Guide, and let the delayed responsa be expedited." The word after "illness" is difficult to read. Stern suggests רבאני and the translation "divine mania." Baneth suggests ובאני, meaning "an epidemic illness." Finally, in a third hand, there is a date, which must have been added by a later owner: Monday, 2 Elul 1580 (=1269 CE), Shabbat Shofeṭim. Information largely from Stern's analysis, pp. 18–20 and 23. There are various editions, awaiting digitization. For an edition of the writing by Maimonides, and a general analysis of the place of this letter in his correspondence with the scholars of Provence, see Stern, "Maimonides' Correspondence with the Scholars of Provence," Zion 16 (1951), pp.18–29. ASE

Bodl. MS heb. b 11/33 34 recto

34 recto


Bodl. MS heb. b 11/33 34 verso

34 verso
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