Nov 20, 2017



Last Name
First Name
Richard C.
A Biblical Translation in the Making: The Evolution and Impact of Saadia Gaon's Tafsīr
Harvard University Center for Jewish Studies
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Summary: In his youth, R. Saadia Gaon (882–942 CE) dreamed of publishing a proper translation of the Torah for Arabic-speaking Jews, to replace the overly literal ones in vogue at the time. His dream was fulfilled with the issuing of the Tafsir, the most important Jewish Bible translation of the Middle Ages. In this monograph, Richard C. Steiner traces the history of the Tafsīr—its roots, its modest beginnings, and its subsequent evolution. He argues that the first edition was an annotated translation prepared while Saadia was a student in Tiberias and that a page from a copy of it has survived in the Cairo Genizah. Steiner pays particular attention to the history of two innovative features of the translation that were useful in dealing with Muslim polemicists but distasteful to many Jews. These two features, one stylistic and one theological/philological, reflect the intellectual context in which Saadia worked; indeed, they are adumbrated in treatments of the Bible by two prominent Muslim scholars of the ninth century, Ibn Qutayba and Al-Jahiz.
Contents: Freedom versus literalism in the Tafsīr and earlier translations -- Abbreviation in the Tafsīr and earlier translations -- Approaches to repetition in Scripture -- Jewish resistance to stylistic abbreviation -- A Christian predecessor of the Tafsīr and the Arabic translations of the Pentateuch from Sinai -- Theological translation in the Tafsīr and earlier translations -- The first edition of the in the Tafsīr and its subsequent development -- Interfaith debate and Saadia Gaon's target audiences -- Al-Jāḥiẓ's challenge -- Rereading Saadia Gaon's translations and commentaries in the light of al-Jāḥiẓ's challenge -- Criticism of the Tafsīr -- Saadia Gaon's motives.

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