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Attend: Workshop on Abraham Ibn Ezra (22 June: Paris)

A workshop on “Abraham Ibn Ezra, a Twelfth-Century Polymath who Straddled Arabic, Hebrew and Latin Culture,” will be held on June 22 at the Paris Institute for Advanced Study, organized by  Shlomo Sela, Paris IAS fellow.

In the middle of the eighth century, with the completion of the Islamic conquest of the eastern, northern and part of the western shores of the Mediterranean, Jews managed to successfully integrate into the ruling society without losing their religious and national identity. They willingly adopted the Arabic language, spoke Arabic fluently, wrote Arabic in Hebrew letters (Judeo-Arabic), and employed Arabic in the composition of their literary works. The twelfth century witnessed a cultural phenomenon that saw Jewish scholars gradually abandon the Arabic language and adopt Hebrew, previously used almost exclusively for religious and liturgical purposes, for the first time as a vehicle for the expression of secular and scientific ideas.

Abraham Ibn Ezra (ca. 1089–ca. 1161) should be credited with the title of pioneer of this unprecedented endeavor. He passed the first five decades of his life in Muslim Spain, left his homeland at the age of 50, and began an itinerant life that took him through Italy, France, and England. During these years he wrote prolifically on a wide variety of subjects. Abraham Ibn Ezra’s fame is due to his outstanding biblical commentaries, but he also wrote religious and secular poetry and a series of religious-theological monographs and grammatical treatises, and his intellectual interests extended to the sciences as well. His scientific corpus, comprising more than thirty treatises, deals with mathematics, astronomy, scientific instruments and tools, and the Jewish calendar; but especially with astrology.

Since Ibn Ezra was resident in Muslim Spain until the age of 50 he drew almost exclusively on Arabic sources, and his references to his sources are an excellent means for learning about texts available in al-Andalus in the twelfth century and earlier. But an essential feature of this huge and multifarious corpus is that it was almost exclusively written in Hebrew. Since Ibn Ezra was the first Jewish intellectual to write on many of the topics and genres addressed in his literary corpus, his relocation in Latin Europe implied the creation of a new scientific Hebrew vocabulary. However, Ibn Ezra composed a number astronomical, mathematical and astrological treatises in Latin as well, in all likelihood with the linguistic help of Christian scholars. Moreover, Shortly after Ibn Ezra’s death, a process began in which collections of his writings were transmitted to non-Jewish readers via repeated waves of translations into Latin and the emerging European vernacular.

Modern research so far focused on separate aspects of Ibn Ezra’s work (biblical exegesis, poetry, philosophy, astrology, astronomy, mathematics, etc.), on the one hand, or in his being a polymath in the twelfth-century Renaissance, on the other. The programmed conference attempts to approach Abraham Ibn Ezra from an hitherto neglected aspect. That he remained until the age of 50 in Muslim Spain, where he received his Jewish and scientific education within the orbit of the Arabic culture and language, that he wandered through Latin Europe and produced part of his work in Latin, that the overwhelming majority of his oeuvre was composed in Hebrew for a Jewish readership, and that after his death his work was bequeathed to both Hebrew and Latin cultures, highlights that Abraham Ibn Ezra was a twelfth-century polymath who straddled Arabic, Hebrew and Latin culture. This multi-cultural perspective, of great relevance in the present era, will be at the core of the programmed conference. It will also provide a golden opportunity to connect French and foreign scholars.

9.30–9.45: Shlomo Sela (Bar-Ilan University, Israel): Welcome and Introduction

Session 1: Mathematics and Astronomy
9.45–10.20: Tony Levi (Université PARIS 7 - CNRS, Laboratoire SPHERE UMR): Mathematics in Abraham Ibn Ezra's writings.
10.20–10.55: Josefina Rodriguez Arribas (University of Münster): Abraham Ibn Ezra’s Treatises on the Astrolabe: his Contribution and Impact.

Session 2: Hebrew Poetry, Scientific–Philosophical Terminology, and Biblical Exegesis
11.10–11.45: Masha Itzhaki (Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales, Paris): The Secular Poetry of Abraham Ibn Ezra - Questions of Reliable Sources &  Identification.
11.45–12.20: Reimund Leicht (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem): Science and Philosophy in Hebrew: Remarks on Abraham Ibn Ezra's contribution to the formation of a new terminology.
12.20–12.55: David Lemler (University of Strasbourg): Abraham Ibn Ezra on Creation: a Naturalist Exegesis of a Natural Language

Session 3: Ibn Ezra’s Impact on the Latin-Christian Culture
14.30–15.05: Charles Burnett (Warburg Institute, University of London): John David, a Patron of Ibn Ezra and Latin Astronomers.
15.05–15.40: Moises Orfali (Bar-Ilan University, Israel): Anti-Christian versus Christological Interpretation in Abraham Ibn Ezra's exegesis
15.40–16.15: Mariano Gomez Aranda (Spanish High Council for Scientific Research, Madrid): From Hebrew to Latin: The Influence of Abraham ibn Ezra on the Spanish Humanists of the Renaissance
16.15–16.55: Judith Kogel and Patricia Stirnermann (Institut de Recherche et d'histoire des textes, Paris): A portrait of Abraham Ibn Ezra (Paris, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, ms 1186)

Contact Info:
Paris Institute for Advanced Study
Hôtel de Lauzun
17 quai d'Anjou
75004 Paris
Contact Email:

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