The Character of David in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Warrior, Poet, Prophet and King 9789004465978, 9004465979

King David if one of the most central figures in all of the major monotheistic traditions. He generally connotes the her

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The Character of David in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Warrior, Poet, Prophet and King
 9789004465978, 9004465979

Table of contents :
Notes on Contributors
The Variety of Davids in Monotheistic Traditions An Introduction
Chapter 1 David in History and in the Hebrew Bible
Part 1 The Images of David in Medieval Jewish, Muslim and Christian Sources
Chapter 2 David the Pious Musician in Midrashic Literature and Medieval Muslim Sources
Chapter 3 The Weeping King of Muslim Pietistic Tradition David in the Kitāb al-waraʿ of ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb (d. 238/853) and in Earlier Islamic Sources
Cchapter 4 David and the Temple of Solomon in Medieval Karaite Sources The Arabic Commentaries of Yefet ben ʿEli on the Books of Kings and Chronicles
Chapter 5 David as Warrior, Leader, and Poet in Medieval Hebrew Poetry of al-Andalus Shmuel ha-Nagid’s Self-Portrait as “The David of His Age”
Chapter 6 David in Medieval Jewish Thought Judah Halevi’s Book of the Kuzari as a Reconciliation Project
Chapter 7 Saint Louis as a New David and Paris as a New Jerusalem in Medieval French Hagiographic Literature
Chapter 8 David and Jonathan as a Paradigm of Male Friendship in Medieval Latin Literature
Part 2 The Psalter of David in Monotheistic Traditions
Chapter 9 David the Prophet in Saʿadya Gaon’s Commentary on Psalms and Its Syriac and Karaite Contexts
Chapter 10 Psalms to Reason, Psalms to Heal The Scriptures in Early Rūm Orthodox Treatises
Chapter 11 Images of David in Several Muslim Rewritings of the Psalms
Chapter 12 David’s Psalter in Christian Arabic Dress ʿAbd Allāh ibn al-Faḍl’s Translation and Commentary
Chapter 13 King David and the Psalter in Ethiopian Cultural Setting
Chapter 14 David’s Psalms in Eastern European Karaite Literature
Part 3 David and His Women: The Cross-Religious Reception Exegesis of the Bathsheba Narrative
Chapter 15 The Four Wives of David and the Four Women of Odysseus A Comparative Approach
Chapter 16 Josephus’ Retelling of the David and Bathsheba Narrative
Chapter 17 Our Mother, Our Queen Bathsheba through Early Jewish, Christian and Muslim Eyes
Chapter 18 God’s Master Plan The Story of David and Bathsheba in Some Early Syriac Commentaries
Chapter 19 Ibn Kaṯīr’s (d. 774/1373) Treatment of the David and Uriah Narrative The Issue of Isrāʾīliyyāt and the Syrian School of Exegesis
Part 4 Reinventing David in Early Modern and Modern Religious Thought and Literature
Chapter 20 “David Was Secretly a Woman” King David as a Messianic Topos in the Teaching of Jacob Frank
Chapter 21 Davidic Narratives in the Contemporary Roman Catholic Liturgical Readings
Chapter 22 The Reception of David and Michal in Twentieth and Twenty-First-Century Literature
Index of Sources
Index of Sacred Scriptures
Index of Ancient and Medieval Literatures
Index of Authors
General Index

Citation preview

The Character of David in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Themes in Biblical Narrative Jewish and Christian Traditions

Editorial Board Jacques T.A.G.M. van Ruiten Robert A. Kugler Loren T. Stuckenbruck Advisory Board Reinhard Feldmeier George H. van Kooten Judith Lieu Hindy Najman Martti Nissinen J. Ross Wagner Robyn Whitaker

volume 29

The titles published in this series are listed at

The Character of David in Judaism, Christianity and Islam Warrior, Poet, Prophet and King Edited by

Marzena Zawanowska Mateusz Wilk


Cover illustration: Sefer Eshlei Ravrevei, Amsterdam: Shlomo Proops, 1711. Frontispiece engraved by Abraham bar Jacob. JHI, H.3062.XVIII. Photo credit: Courtesy of the Emmanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute (JHI) in Warsaw LC record available at LC ebook record available at

Typeface for the Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic scripts: “Brill”. See and download: ISSN 1388-3909 ISBN 978-90-04-46596-1 (hardback) ISBN 978-90-04-46597-8 (e-book) Copyright 2021 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands. Koninklijke Brill NV incorporates the imprints Brill, Brill Nijhoff, Brill Hotei, Brill Schöningh, Brill Fink, Brill mentis, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Böhlau Verlag and V&R Unipress. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission from the publisher. Requests for re-use and/or translations must be addressed to Koninklijke Brill NV via or This book is printed on acid-free paper and produced in a sustainable manner.

To our endlessly patient spouses and friends Ania and Marcin

‫יחנִ י‬ ‫ֹתוכ ֵ ֑‬ ‫ִ‬ ‫ל־ּב ֶק ְצ ְּפָך֥‬ ‫ֽהוה ַא ְ‬ ‫יְ ָ ֗‬ ‫ּוֽ ַב ֲח ָמ ְתָך֥ ְתיַ ְּס ֵ ֽרנִ י׃‬ ‫‪Psalms 38:2‬‬


Contents List of Illustrations xi Abbreviations xiii Transliteration xiv Notes on Contributors xvi

The Variety of Davids in Monotheistic Traditions  An Introduction 1 Marzena Zawanowska


David in History and in the Hebrew Bible 19 Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò

part 1 The Images of David in Medieval Jewish, Muslim and Christian Sources 2

David the Pious Musician in Midrashic Literature and Medieval Muslim Sources 43 Sivan Nir


The Weeping King of Muslim Pietistic Tradition  David in the Kitāb al-waraʿ of ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb (d. 238/853) and in Earlier Islamic Sources  67 Mateusz Wilk


David and the Temple of Solomon in Medieval Karaite Sources The Arabic Commentaries of Yefet ben ʿEli on the Books of Kings and Chronicles 87 Yair Zoran


David as Warrior, Leader, and Poet in Medieval Hebrew Poetry of al-Andalus  Shmuel ha-Nagid’s Self-Portrait as “The David of His Age”  104 Barbara Gryczan




David in Medieval Jewish Thought  Judah Halevi’s Book of the Kuzari as a Reconciliation Project 126 Marzena Zawanowska


Saint Louis as a New David and Paris as a New Jerusalem in Medieval French Hagiographic Literature  154 Jerzy Pysiak


David and Jonathan as a Paradigm of Male Friendship in Medieval Latin Literature 188 Ruth Mazo Karras

part 2 The Psalter of David in Monotheistic Traditions 9

David the Prophet in Saʿadya Gaon’s Commentary on Psalms and Its Syriac and Karaite Contexts 209 Arye Zoref


Psalms to Reason, Psalms to Heal  The Scriptures in Early Rūm Orthodox Treatises 239 Miriam Lindgren Hjälm


Images of David in Several Muslim Rewritings of the Psalms 273 David R. Vishanoff


David’s Psalter in Christian Arabic Dress  ʿAbd Allāh ibn al-Faḍl’s Translation and Commentary 299 Juan Pedro Monferrer-Sala


King David and the Psalter in Ethiopian Cultural Setting 310 Witold Witakowski


David’s Psalms in Eastern European Karaite Literature 333 Zsuzsanna Olach


part 3 David and His Women: The Cross-Religious Reception Exegesis of the Bathsheba Narrative 15

The Four Wives of David and the Four Women of Odysseus  A Comparative Approach 363 Daniel Bodi


Josephus’ Retelling of the David and Bathsheba Narrative 403 Michael Avioz


Our Mother, Our Queen  Bathsheba through Early Jewish, Christian and Muslim Eyes 417 Diana Lipton and Meira Polliack


God’s Master Plan  The Story of David and Bathsheba in Some Early Syriac Commentaries 454 Orly Mizrachi


Ibn Kaṯīr’s (d. 774/1373) Treatment of the David and Uriah Narrative  The Issue of Isrāʾīliyyāt and the Syrian School of Exegesis 477 Marianna Klar

part 4 Reinventing David in Early Modern and Modern Religious Thought and Literature 20 “David Was Secretly a Woman”  King David as a Messianic Topos in the Teaching of Jacob Frank 509 Jan Doktór 21

Davidic Narratives in the Contemporary Roman Catholic Liturgical Readings 523 Elżbieta Łazarewicz-Wyrzykowska





The Reception of David and Michal in Twentieth and Twenty-First-Century Literature 554 Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer

Index of Sources 587 Index of Sacred Scriptures 589 Index of Ancient and Medieval Literatures 600 Index of Authors 611 General Index 617

Illustrations 7.1 7.2

7. 3

7.4 10.1 11.1 13.1 13.2 13.3

13.4 13.5



13.8 13.9

Charles the Bald as King David. Biblia Viviana, Tours, ca. 845–846. BnF Ms. Latin 1, fol. 215v (detail). Courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France 156 Agnolo Gaddi (ca. 1350–1396), Heraclius introducing the Holy Cross to Jerusalem, Florence, Basilica di Santa Croce, Leggenda della Vera Croce. Wikipedia Commons 158 Saint Louis going towards the Crown of Thorns. Les Grandes chroniques de France, Paris 1332–1350. British Library, Royal 16 G VI, fol. 395. Wikipedia Commons 168 King David penitent. Psalter of Saint Louis, Paris, ca. 1270–1274, BnF, Ms. Latin 10525, fol. 85v. Courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France 178 Approximate spread of Old Testament books in Arabic. © Miriam Lindgren Hjälm 240 Source texts, recensions, and manuscripts referenced in this study 274 Students of traditional school carrying their Psalter books. Säqota, 1993. Photo: Michael Gervers 311 Psalter, local Eth. signum C3–IV–374, fols. 1v–2r, 17th c., the Come to Me prayer. Ḥawzen, church of Täklä Haymanot. Photo: Michael Gervers 312 King David “the musician of God” with attendant and the prophets: Samuel (with horn) and below Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel. Gospels, beg. of the 16th c. Church of Mikaʿel Tafäyto. Photo: Michael Gervers 314 Allegory of Ethiopia, Afework Tekle. Mural (fragment), 1979. Däbrä Zäyt, The Hero Centre. Courtesy of Ewa Balicka-Witakowska 315 David tending the sheep of his father and Samuel anointing David (1 Sam 16:11–13). Psalter, end of the 17th c., Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Ms. Or. fol. 596, fol. 2r. Courtesy of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Orientabteilung 317 David (with bägäna) among the patriarchs and prophets. Lectionary for the Holy Week, local Eth. signum C3–IV–20, Ms. EMML GG 042, fol. 1r., beg. of the 16th c., Gundä Gunde Monastery. Photo: Michael Gervers 318 David playing bägäna at the apparition of the Virgin Mary in the Monastery of Məṭmaq (al-Maġtas). Mural, ca. 1818. Gondär, church of Däbrä Bərhan Śəllase. Photo: Michael Gervers 320 David singing at the dormition of the Virgin Mary. Wall painting, late 18th c. Tigray, church of Abrəha & Aṣbəha. Photo: Michael Gervers 321 Celestial ceremony of bestowing “The Pact of Mercy” (Kidāna məḥrat) to the Virgin Mary. Miracles of Mary, Ms. T3–IV–435, fol. 15r, mid of the 17th c., Ǝnda Ǝččäge, church of Kidanä Mǝḥrät. Photo: Ewa Balicka-Witakowska 323



13.10 Ethiopian ecclesiastics dancing and chanting at a church ceremony. 1971, Qwaqwala, church of St George. Photo: Stanisław Chojnacki 326 13.11 David in the procession with the Arc of Covenant. Mural by workshop of aläqa Ḫaylu, end of the 19th c., Däbrä Marqos, church of the Virgin Mary. Photo: Ewa Balicka-Witakowska 327 13.12 King David II (1379/80–1413) worshiping the Virgin Mary. Miracles of Mary, Ms. EMML 9002, fol. 133v, ca. 1400. Amba Gəšen, church of the Virgin Mary. Photo: Diana Spencer 328 17.1 Mary as Crowned Queen. Mosaic, ca. 430 CE. Church of Maria Maggiore, Rome. Photo: akg-images / Florian Monheim / Bildarchiv Monheim GmbH 425 17.2 Fra Angelico, Coronation of the Virgin. Tempera on wood, 112 × 114 cm, ca. 1425. Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Inv. 1612. Photo: akg-images / De Agostini Picture Lib. / G. Nimatallah 426 17.3 Jan Massijs, David and Bathsheba. Oil on wood, 162 × 197 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris, INV 1446. © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Tony Querrec 428 17.4 Bath of Bathsheba. From the Sacra Parallela, Rome, after 843. Paris, BnF Ms. gr. 923, fol. 282v. Courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France 438 17.5 Hans Memling, Bathsheba in the bath. Oil on panel, 191.5 × 84.5 cm, 1480. Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, Germany. Photo: bpk Bildagentur / Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, Germany 439 17.6 Lucas Cranach the Elder, David and Bathsheba. Painting on beech wood, 38.8 × 25.6 cm, 1526. Gemaeldegalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin. Photo: bpk Bildagentur / Gemaeldegalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin / Volker-H. Schneide 441 17.7 Artemisia Gentileschi, Bathsheba at Her Bath. Oil on canvas, 258 × 218 cm, 1650. Neues Palais, Sanssouci Palace, Potsdam, Inv. GK I 5389. Photo: bpk Bildagentur / Neues Palais, Sanssouci Palace, Potsdam / Gerhard Murza 443 17.8 Detail of a miniature of Bathsheba bathing in a pool. From Book of Hours, Use of Rome, France, W. (perhaps Angoulême or Cognac), ca. 1500, 24 × 15.5 cm. Library of King George III, British Library, King’s 7, fol. 54. © British Library Board, King’s 7 445

Abbreviations BL British Library, London BLs Bodleian Libraries, Oxford BM British Museum, London BML Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana (Laurentian Library), Florence BN Biblioteca Nacional (National Library), Madrid BnF Bibliothèque nationale de France (French National Library), Paris BS Berlin Staatsbibliothek (State Library) EMML Ethiopian Manuscript Microfilm Library, Addis Ababa and Collegeville, MN, USA IEC Isaac Elisha Collection, Lausanne SK Süleymaniye Kütüphanesi (Süleymaniye Library), Istambul JTSA Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York PUL Princeton University Library SP Acad. St. Petersburg, Institute of Oriental Studies of Russian Academy of Sciences RNL National Library of Russia T.-S. Taylor-Schechter UH Universität Heidelberg (Heidelberg University) UL Universiteit Leiden (Leiden University)

Transliteration 1


1.1 Consonants

‫ א‬ ‫ בּ‬ ‫ ב‬ ‫גּ‬/‫ ג‬ ‫דּ‬/‫ ד‬ ‫ ה‬ ‫ ו‬ ‫ ז‬ ‫ ח‬

ʾ b ḇ g d h v z ḥ

1.2 Vowels ‫ ָ◌ה‬/◌ָ ‫ ֵ◌י‬/◌ֵ ‫ ִ◌י‬ ‫וֹ‬/◌ׂ ‫ וּ‬


ā ē ī ō ū

�‫ ب‬ ‫ ت‬ � ‫ ث‬ � �‫ج‬ ‫ح‬ ‫ خ‬ � ‫ د‬ ‫�ذ‬

‫ ر‬

ṭ y k ḵ l m n s ʿ

‫ פּ‬ ‫ פ‬ ‫ צ‬ ‫ ק‬ ‫ ר‬ ‫ שׂ‬ ‫ שׁ‬ ‫תּ‬/‫ ת‬

p p̄ ṣ q r ś š t

◌ַ ◌ֶ ◌ִ ◌ָ ◌ֻ

a e i o u

◌ֲ ◌ֱ ◌ְ (vocal) ◌ֳ

ă ĕ ĕ ŏ

‫ �ز‬


‫ق‬ � ‫ ك‬



2.1 Consonants

‫ء‬/‫ ا‬

‫ ט‬ ‫ י‬ ‫ כּ‬ ‫ כ‬ ‫ ל‬ ‫ מ‬ ‫ נ‬ ‫ ס‬ ‫ ע‬

ʾ b t

‫ ��س‬ ��‫ �ش‬

s š

‫ �ص‬ � ‫ �ض‬ ‫ ط‬ ‫ �ظ‬




ṯ ǧ ḥ

ḏ r

‫ع‬ ‫�غ‬

‫ف‬ ��

ṣ ḍ ṭ ẓ


‫ ل‬

‫نم‬ � ‫ �ه‬

‫ و‬ �‫ �ي‬ ‫َ �ة‬ ◌

k l m n h w y a/at



2.2 Vowels

َ ‫ ◌ا‬

�‫ ِ◌�ي‬ ُ ‫ ◌و‬

ā ī ū

َ ◌

◌ِ ُ ◌

a i u

‫ �ى‬maqṣūra ّ �‫ ِ◌�ي‬ ّ ُ ‫ ◌و‬

ā iyy uww

Notes on Contributors Michael Avioz is Full Professor at the Department of Bible at Bar-Ilan University. His research focuses on biblical historiography and early biblical interpretation. He is the author of three books and numerous scholarly articles. His books include: Nathan’s Oracle (2 Samuel 7) and its Interpreters (Bern: Peter Lang, 2005); I Sat Alone: Jeremiah Among the Prophets (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2009); Josephus’ Interpretation of the Books of Samuel (London: Bloomsbury, 2015). His most recent book is Legal Exegesis of Scripture in the Works of Josephus (London: Bloomsbury, 2020). Daniel Bodi is Professor of History of Religions of Antiquity in the History Department at Sorbonne – University Paris 4. He received his ThD from the University of Strasbourg (1983), his PhD from Union Theological Seminary in New York (1988), and his Habilitation from Sorbonne Université – University of Paris 4 (Paris, 1996). His fields of interest include: David’s four wives, Michal, Abigail, Bathsheba and Abishag in the light of Amorite matrimonial practices; Gender Studies in a comparative perspective; the study of the Exilic and Persian periods (Ezekiel, Ezra–Nehemiah) and of the Aramaic Aḥiqar proverbs in their ancient Near Eastern background. His main publications are: The Michal Affair. From Zimri-Lim to the Rabbis (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2005); The Demise of the Warlord: A New Look at the David Story (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2010); Israël et Juda à l’ombre des Babyloniens et des Perses (Paris: De Boccard, 2010). Jan Doktór holds an MPhil from the Faculty of Economics (University of Warsaw, 1976) and a PhD from the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology (Polish Academy of Sciences, 1990). His doctoral dissertation “Messianic Teaching of Jacob Frank as a Response to the Crisis of Religious Tradition among the Eighteenth-century Polish Jews” was published in 1991 as: Jacob Frank and his Teaching. He is currently a researcher at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw and the chief editor of an academic journal Jewish History Quarterly. Among his publications are: In the Footsteps of the Apostate-Messiah. Jewish Messianic Movements in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Wroclaw 1998); The Beginnings of Polish Hasidism (Warsaw 2004; Toruń 2017), Missionaries and Jews in the Time of Messianic Upheaval in 1648–1792 (Warsaw 2012); (with Magdalena Bendowska) The Amsterdam of Polish Jews (Warsaw 2016).

Notes on Contributors


Barbara Gryczan is Assistant Professor at the Faculty of History, University of Warsaw (since 2019). She holds a PhD in Oriental Studies (University of Warsaw, 2016). Her dissertation was devoted to the study and analysis of the verbal system of medieval Hebrew as exemplified in Judah Halevi’s poetry. The results of her research on the subject were published in a paper “Verbal system: Medieval Hebrew Poetry” which appeared in the Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics (Leiden: Brill, 2012). Her areas of interest and expertise include linguistics (history of the Hebrew language), Hebrew literature (especially medieval Hebrew poetry), and literary translations into Polish. She has been publishing literary translations of medieval Hebrew poems in Polish literary journals. Currently, she is working in a research project Hebrew Poetry of the Golden Age in al-Andalus. An Anthology, sponsored by the National Humanities Development Program. Miriam L. Hjälm is Assistant Professor in Eastern Christian Studies at Sankt Ignatios College and Stockholm School of Theology (Enkilda Högskola Stockholm). She holds a PhD in Semitic Languages from Uppsala University (2015) where she wrote her dissertation on translation techniques in Arabic Bible translations. It was published as Christian Arabic Versions of Daniel: A Comparative Study of Early MSS and Translation Techniques in MSS Sinai Ar. 1 and 2 (Leiden: Brill, 2016). As a post-doctoral research fellow at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich she took part in “Biblia Arabica” project (2015–2017). The results of her research have for instance appeared in The Textual History of the Bible, vols. 1–3, eds. A. Lange et al. (Leiden: Brill, 2016–) and in her edited volume Senses of Scriptures, Treasures of Traditions: The Bible in Arabic among Jews, Christians and Muslims (Leiden: Brill, 2017). Currently, her research, funded by the Swedish Research Council, concerns the perception, use and interpretation of the Bible among early Arabic-speaking Christians in an interreligious context. Ruth Mazo Karras is Lecky Professor of History at Trinity College Dublin. She is a historian of gender and sexuality in medieval Europe. She is the author of Medieval European Sexualities: Doing Unto Others, Unmarriages: Men, Women and Sexual Unions in Medieval Europe, and most recently Thou Art the Man: The Masculinity of David in the Christian and Jewish Middle Ages (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021), amongst other books and articles. She served for 25 years as General Editor of the Middle Ages Series at the University of Pennsylvania Press, and in 2019–2020 was the President of the Medieval Academy of America.


Notes on Contributors

Marianna Klar received her DPhil from the University of Oxford (2002) and is currently Post-Doctoral Researcher at Oxford University, Senior Research Associate at Pembroke College, Oxford, and Research Associate at the Centre of Islamic Studies, SOAS, University of London. Her most recent publications focus on the Qurʾān’s structure, narratives, and literary context. She has also worked extensively on tales of the prophets within the medieval Islamic historiographical tradition and on Qurʾān exegesis. Her monograph on al-Ṯaʿlabī’s Tales of the Prophets was published in 2009, followed by an edited volume, Structural Dividers in the Qurʾān, published in 2021. Elżbieta Lazarewicz-Wyrzykowska is a Research Associate at the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology, working on a project dedicated to creating a new vision of biblical formation in the Catholic Church, and is also affiliated at the Faculty of History, University of Warsaw. She studied in Poland, Israel and England, and holds a PhD in Biblical Studies from the University of Manchester (2009). Her research interests include biblical masculinities, prophecy, reception of biblical texts in visual arts, music and liturgies, as well as in the contemporary Catholic liturgical readings. She published a paper on “Samson: Masculinity Lost (and Regained?)” in Men and Masculinity in the Hebrew Bible and Beyond, edited by Ovidiu Creanga (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2010), and is working on a book based on her doctoral thesis, Author, Hero and Aesthetic Love: How Can Bakhtin Help Us Understand Amos? Diana Lipton read English Literature at Oxford University and completed a PhD in Hebrew Bible at Cambridge University. She was a Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge (1997–2006), and Lecturer and then Reader in Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies at King’s College London (2007–2011). Since moving to Israel in 2011, she has taught at Hebrew University’s International School and, currently, at Tel Aviv University. Diana’s published books include Revisions of the Night: Politics and Promises in the Patriarchal Dreams of Genesis (1999); Longing for Egypt and Other Unexpected Biblical Tales (2008), Lamentations Through the Centuries (2012, with Paul Joyce), From Forbidden Fruit to Milk and Honey: A Commentary on Food in the Torah (2018), and several edited collections. She has two sons, and lives in Jerusalem with her husband, Chaim Milikowsky.

Notes on Contributors


Orly Mizrachi completed her PhD at Haifa University in 2014. She is a researcher and lecturer in the Department of Israel Studies at Haifa University and in the Department of Land of Israel Studies at Tel-Hai College. Currently, she is also a post-doctoral research fellow in the project “The Davidic Narratives and David’s Portrayal in Medieval Jewish Translation and Exegesis, A Comparative Approach” supported by the Israel Science Foundation (PI: Meira Polliack, Department of Biblical Studies, Tel-Aviv University 2017–2021). Her research interests focus on early Christianity, especially Syriac Churches in the pre-Islamic period. She has collaborated with researchers in other scholarly fields (e.g., Christian Galilee in Late Antiquity at Kinneret Academic College). Her publications include: “The Story of David and Bathsheba in Rabbinic Literature and Syriac Christianity” [in Hebrew]. Zion – Quarterly for Research in Jewish History, 84.3 (2019): 311–333. Juan Pedro Monferrer-Sala is Professor in Semitic languages at the University of Cordoba. He holds a PhD from the University of Granada (1996), and specializes in Semitic languages, as well as medieval religious minorities in the Iberian Peninsula and the Middle East. His research focuses on editing, translating and studying medieval Arabic Manuscripts. He has published (in Spanish, English, French and Catalonian) forty-two books, twenty-two as editor or co-editor, eighty-two book chapters, one hundred and seventy-five articles, forty-eight entries for different Encyclopaedias and two hundred and fifty-four reviews. He has also collaborated in bibliographical projects on Christian-Muslim relations in and outside Spain. Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò holds an MPhil (1997) and PhD (2003) in History from the University of Warsaw and is currently the Head of the Faculty of History. He has published extensively on the history of the Ancient Near East, especially Ancient Judah and Israel, biblical historiography, and relationships between Greek and Biblical worlds. Among his most important publications are: Origin Myths and Holy Places in the Old Testament. A Study of Aetiological Narratives (London – New York: Routledge 2016), and Goliath’s Legacy. Philistines and Hebrews in Biblical Times (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag 2016). He also co-edited (with Chiara Peri and Jim West), Finding Myth and History in the Bible. Scholarship, Scholars and Errors. Essays in honor of Giovanni Garbini (Sheffield – Oakville: Equinox Publishing 2016), and (with Marek Węcowski), Change, Continuity, and Connectivity. North-Eastern Mediterranean at the turn of the Bronze Age and in the early Iron Age (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag 2018).


Notes on Contributors

Sivan Nir is interested in the hermeneutics of late Midrash, medieval Bible exegesis, interreligious discourses and the literary study of the Bible. He completed his PhD dissertation on the poetics of characterization in medieval Jewish exegetical literature at Tel Aviv University (2019). He was a doctoral research fellow at Tel Aviv University, funded by the DFG project “Biblia Arabica” (PI s: Adang and Polliack). Nir co-authored articles on Saʿadia Gaon and Yefet ben ʿEli’s views on metaphor: (with Meira Polliack), “ ‘Many Beautiful Meanings can be Drawn from such a Comparison’: On the Medieval Interaction View of Biblical Metaphor in Exegesis and Poetry in Medieval Karaite and Rabbanite Texts,” in Exegesis and Poetry in Medieval Karaite and Rabbanite Texts (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 51–100; (with Amir Ashur and Meira Polliack), “Three Fragments of Saʿadya Gaon’s Arabic Translation of Isaiah copied by the Court Scribe Joseph ben Samuel (c. 1181–1209),” in Senses of Scripture, Treasures of Tradition (Leiden: Brill, 2017), 485–508. Zsuzsanna Olach is Research Associate in the KaraimBIBLE project and Assistant Professor at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow. She studied Turkology at the University of Szeged and holds a PhD in Turkic linguistics from the Uppsala University (2012). She was an Assistant Research Fellow (2012–2014) and a Research Fellow (2014–2016) in the Turkological Research Group at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the University of Szeged, where she also worked as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Altaic Studies (in 2016–2018). In 2014–2016 she conducted a research project The Jewish culture and its literature among Karaims: The Song of Moses sponsored by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Her interests include comparative linguistics and language contacts. She has published many articles and a monograph, A Halich Karaim Translation of Hebrew Biblical Texts (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2013). Meira Polliack is Professor of Bible at Tel Aviv University. Her MPhil (1989) and PhD (1993), both from the University of Cambridge, analyzed Cairo Genizah sources in connection to the Hebrew Bible, as well as Medieval Judeo-Arabic Bible translations, focusing in particular on the Karaite tradition in comparison with Saʿadia. To these issues she devoted her first monograph: The Karaite Tradition of Arabic Bible Translation: A Linguistic and Exegetical Study of the Karaite Translations of the Pentateuch from the Tenth to the Eleventh (Leiden: Brill, 1997). She has since published extensively on the Karaite contribution to the intellectual and cultural history of the Jews in the medieval Islamic world, on medieval Bible exegesis in general, on the Islamic impact on the development

Notes on Contributors


of Jewish hermeneutics and on conceptions of biblical narrative. During 2012– 2018 she served as one of the principal investigators of the internationally-led Biblia Arabica: The Bible in Arabic among Jews, Christians and Muslims research project. Jerzy Pysiak is Associate Professor at the Department of History of Culture, Faculty of Culture and Arts, University of Warsaw and specializes in different ideological and religious aspects of medieval French history. He has been guest lecturer at École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, at the University of Nantes, at Université Lumière Lyon 2, and at Comenius Universisty in Bratislava. He is recipient of numerous awards (the Aleksander Gieysztor Award in 2002, the “Clio” Award in 2013, and the Award of the Prime Minister of Poland in 2014). Among his most important books are The King and the Crown of Thorns: Kingship and the Cult of Relics in Capetian France (Warsaw: Warsaw University Press, 2012 [in Polish]; English, revised version, Pieterlen and Bern: Peter Lang, 2020), and (edited with Ph. Josserand), À la rencontre de l’Autre au Moyen Âge. In memoriam Jacques Le Goff. Actes des premières Assises franco-polonaises d’histoire médiévale (Presses Universitaires de Rennes, Rennes 2017). Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer holds a DPhil from the University of Oxford (2002), and is currently Professor in Old Testament at Örebro School of Theology, Sweden, and Research Associate at the Department of Old Testament and Hebrew Scriptures, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, South Africa. She has published widely on the prophetic literature, including two monographs on the book of Isaiah: Priestly Rites and Prophetic Rage: Post-Exilic Prophetic Critique of the Priesthood (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006); For the Comfort of Zion: The Geographical and Theological Location of Isaiah 40–55 (Leiden: Brill, 2011) and two on the book of Zechariah: Zechariah and His Visions: An Exegetical Study of Zechariah’s Vision Report (Bloomsbury: T&T Clark, 2014); Zechariah’s Vision Report and its Earliest Interpreters: A Redaction-Critical Study of Zechariah 1–8 (Bloomsbury: T&T Clark, 2016). She has also written many research papers, edited several collections of articles that investigate diverse historical and literary aspects of biblical prophecy, and published a textbook on biblical Hebrew. David R. Vishanoff is Associate Professor of Islamic studies in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Oklahoma. He received his PhD in West and South Asian Religions from Emory University in 2004. His first two books, The Formation of Islamic Hermeneutics and A Critical Introduction to Islamic Legal Theory,


Notes on Contributors

dealt with medieval theories of Qurʾānic interpretation; he has been extending that project into the modern period, beginning in Indonesia where he spent the spring of 2013 as a Fulbright scholar. His other long-term projects are an epistemology and pedagogy of “sacrificial listening,” and a series of studies on Muslim uses of the Bible, for which he is reconstructing and translating an eighth-century Muslim rewriting of the “Psalms of David.” These projects have led him to dabble as well in digital methods of data visualization and distant reading. Mateusz Wilk is Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Arts and Culture, University of Warsaw. He received his PhD in 2008 at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris for a dissertation written under the supervision of Gabriel Martinez-Gros. His research concentrates on the history and culture of Muslim Spain (al-Andalus). The areas of his interest include the ideology of power, the cultural memory of al-Andalus, and Muslim eschatology. His edition and English translation of the Kitāb al-waraʿ of ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb (d. 238/853) will soon be published with the University of Cordoba Press. Currently, he is working on a book on Lisān al-Dīn b. al-Ḫaṭīb and the Andalusi nostalgia. Witold Witakowski studied Semitics at the University of Warsaw and at Uppsala University, where he also completed his PhD thesis in Syriac historiography (1987). Since then, he has been attached to the Oriental Department, Uppsala University, where he has pursued research on various topics in Syriac and Ethiopic historiographic, apocalyptic and apocryphal literatures. He has published extensively on these subjects. Among his recent publications is the paper on “Cain, Abel and their sisters in Ethiopian tradition,” published in Studies in Ethiopian Languages, Literature, and History (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2017). Marzena Zawanowska holds a Ph.D. in Oriental Studies (2008), awarded by the University of Warsaw in cooperation with Tel Aviv University where she conducted her post-doctoral research. She is an Assistant Professor in the Mordechai Anielewicz Center for the Study and Teaching of the History and Culture of Jews in Poland (Faculty of History, University of Warsaw) and a Curator of Manuscripts in the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute. Her research interests include medieval Karaite Bible exegesis (especially Karaite, written in Judeo-Arabic), but also the borderlines between Judaism and Islam, as well as the history of Jewish thought and literature. She has published extensively on these subjects. Her

Notes on Contributors


authored book on Yefet ben ‘Eli’s Arabic commentary on the Abraham cycle appeared in the series “Karaite Texts and Studies”: The Arabic Translation and Commentary of Yefet ben ʿEli the Karaite on the Abraham Narratives (Genesis 11:10–25:18) (Leiden: Brill, 2012). Yair Zoran is an independent researcher in the field of medieval Arabic Bible exegesis. He holds a MPhil in Arabic Language and Literature from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His thesis focused on Yefet ben ʿEli’s translation and commentary on the book of Obadiah. His critical edition of the text appeared as an article in Ginzei Qedem (2012): 129–195. He has published on medieval Karaite Bible commentaries (specifically on Yefet ben ʿEli). Among his publications are: “The Majestic Plural [Pluralis majestatis] – the Plural of Respect” [in Hebrew]. Beit Mikra Quarterly, 143 (1995): 402–403; “ ‘Sending of Food-Portions’ and ‘Food Preparation’: Language and Halachah in the commentary of Yefet ben ʿEli, the Karaite, on Nehemiah 8:10.” Peamim, 153 (2017): 141–150; “The Great Name and its Merits in Islam and their Parallels in Jewish Literature” [in Hebrew], in Bein Ever le-Arav, 9 and 10–11 (Tel Aviv: Afikim, 2017 and 2019), 70–95. Arye Zoref is a post-doctoral research fellow at the Department of Biblical Studies, Tel Aviv University. He specializes in Judeo Arabic literature and interreligious discussions. His PhD dissertation was devoted to Tanchum ha-Yerushalmi’s Commentary on Canticles: Studies in its Tendencies and its Jewish, Sufi-Islamic and Christian Sources, with a Critical Edition (Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2013). Among his publications are: “The Influence of Syriac Bible Commentaries on Judeo Arabic Commentaries: Demonstrated by Several Stories from the Book of Genesis.” Studies in Christian – Jewish Relations, 11 (2016): 1–18; “The Journeys for God in Sufi and Judeo Arabic Literature.” PaRDeS: Zeitschrift der Vereinigung für Jüdische Studien, 22 (2016): 109–119.

The Variety of Davids in Monotheistic Traditions An Introduction

Marzena Zawanowska One of the most central figures in all of the major monotheistic traditions is King David. He personifies, in many respects, the heroic past of the (more imagined than real) ancient Israelite empire, of which he is commonly believed to have served as a unifying and effective king for about forty years (ca. 1010–970 BCE). David’s religious persona as a righteous king is underlined in the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament, where he is hyperbolically described as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22), while in the Qurʾān he is depicted as God’s “vicegerent on earth” (Sura 38:26). His prophetic abilities are also elaborated in the Hebrew Bible through God’s various revelations to him and prophecies conveyed through him, while his righteousness is underscored in the Psalms attributed to him, which led to his subsequent recognition as a prophet in Islam. In religious imagination, as well as in wider culture, literature and the arts, the figure of David has not only come to symbolize the golden period in the remote past of the ancient Kingdom of Judah and Israel of the first millennium BCE, but also as a source of revival and messianic hopes for the future, as in the famous biblical metaphor “a shoot from the stump of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:1–12). From post-exilic times, Jews believed that the messianic savior-king who will usher in an era of eternal peace and prosperity was to come from Davidic lineage, and it is in this light that the early Christians conceived his connection to Jesus which they made clear in two of the Gospels (Matthew 1; Luke 3:23–38). While the reception exegesis in all three religious traditions generally tended to idealize his image, David’s literary portrayal in the Hebrew Bible is one of the most complex of all biblical characters. On the one hand, he is depicted as a valorous warrior who bravely defeated Goliath (1 Samuel 17:49–50), the powerful army commander and ruler responsible for unifying a kingdom around the Jebusite city, Jerusalem, which he conquered and then established as capital, a gifted musician (1 Samuel 16:14–22), who by himself invented musical instruments (Amos 6:5; 1 Chronicles 23:2–5), a pious poet who authored some of the psalms contained in the Book of Psalms (generally attributed to his authorship in later sources), an affectionate lover (e.g., of Abigail in 1 Samuel 25), and a devoted friend (e.g., of Jonathan in 1 Samuel 13–23) and father (cf. his mourning over Absalom’s death in 2 Samuel 18:33). On the other hand, he © MARZENA ZAWANOWSKA, 2021 | doi:10.1163/9789004465978_002 This is an open access chapter distributed under the terms of the CC BY-NC 4.0 license.



is described as a vassal of the Philistine king Achish of Gath (1 Samuel 27), a ruthless politician, who ended the dynasty of Saul through acts of murder and force (2 Samuel 1–10), and someone who committed adultery with a married woman, Bathsheba, and eventually conspired to murder her husband, Uriah, one of his chief warriors (2 Samuel 11–12). For having “shed much blood” (1 Chronicles 22:8–10) and his infamous love affair, he is strongly criticized in the Bible itself (2 Samuel 12). By divine decree, and as a result of his morally dubious behavior, his offspring fall into calamity, culminating in the rebellion and subsequent killing of his beloved son Absalom (2 Samuel 11–1 Kings 2) and God defers the building of the Temple to the time of his son from Bathsheba, Solomon (2 Samuel 7; 1 Kings 8; 1 Chronicles 17:4; 2 Chronicles 6:9). Little wonder, therefore, that David’s richly ambivalent and fascinating biblical portrayal engendered varied interpretative traditions and that his character consequently underwent significant transformations in perception and reception in the three monotheistic traditions. For many centuries, one of the most dominant and common modes through which the story of David was addressed was the translation and commentary of the sanctified texts. Yet there were also other important forms of composition (such as legends, liturgical poems, homilies etc.) which developed alongside this traditional form of religious expression and which not infrequently elaborated on the Davidic narratives. Consequently, there existed in the pre-modern period a range of literary works which were used as a framework for intellectual reflections on David and his attributed book of Psalms, ranging from geographic, historical, and grammatical, through pietistic, ethical and heresiographical, to mystical, philosophical and/or theological. In the modern period, the popular genre of biblical translation and exegesis was used alongside secular literature and art in addressing King David. The present volume is devoted, in the main, to the pre-modern understanding and interpretation of David in the three monotheistic religions, as reflected in the translations and commentaries on the Scriptures written by Jews, Christians and Muslims. Nevertheless, papers devoted to selected works belonging to other genres of their respective religious (and to a lesser extent non-religious) literature are also included. The most fervent exegetical activity took place in the Middle Ages, the period when Judaism, Christianity and Islam consolidated their respective religious traditions, by creating or reshaping them in constant conversation with and (often polemical, or apologetic) response to one another. After the canon of the Hebrew Bible had been sealed, sometime around the mid second century CE, Jews, later joined by Christians, engaged in interpretative processes not only to establish its inherent meaning but also, and more importantly,

The Variety of Davids in Monotheistic Traditions


its meaning within a given religious community. Muslims, too, became part of this process due to the Prophet Muḥammad’s essential verification of the divine message contained in the Scriptures of the “People of the Book” (Ar. ahl al-kitāb) and the acceptance of their Prophets as God’s chosen messengers in the Qurʾān. Thus the three groups needed to position themselves vis-à-vis the others, with whom they shared a belief in the revelatory nature of some (if not all) of the Scriptures. In this sense, the medieval period, ranging from the rise of Islam to the High Middle Ages (around the eighth to the twelfth centuries CE) constituted a mosaic of different monotheistic traditions and their intellectual legacies, and was characterized by intensive, cross-fertilizing contacts as well as cross-cultural transfers of concepts and ideas between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This was the most important period in the theological crystallization of the three religions, all of which were engaged in defining their cultural and religious identities vis-à-vis the other. It is likely that the common core of these three religions, as we know them today, gained many of its distinctive traits during this period, through a complex process of “dialogue,” by which is meant mutual interchanges and subsequent transformations of textual traditions, including their appropriation to their own specific cultural and intellectual contexts, as well as their considerable propensity for strife and conflict. The wide array of exegetical techniques elaborated during the medieval period includes: Jewish, midrashic atomizing and homiletical gap-filling methods; allegorical and analogical readings typical of Christian exegesis; grammatical, literary-contextual and historical approaches, which significantly developed in the realm of Islam. These systems eventually overlapped in their usage and cross-fertilized each other, and the specific explanations they offered in resolving scriptural conundrums and interpretative cruxes became fundamental to many later approaches to reading and studying the sacred texts. They also informed later interpretative methods, including modern secular ones. The main focus of the present volume is therefore on the Middle Ages, although articles exploring works composed in other periods are also included as comparative sources, in an attempt to trace the development of chains of interpretive traditions, as well as the evolution and transformation of exegetical ideas. An additional reason for focusing on the medieval period is that it witnessed a conspicuous rise in popularity of the biblical figure of King David and his post-biblical lineage. Jewish and Christian traditions, prior to the emergence of Islam, exhibited a concern with the House of David but it is only after the emergence of Islam in the seventh century CE that a gradual growth of the spiritual importance of his family, as well as of the social-administrative status of its members may be observed in Jewish and Christian sources. The concern



with Davidic ancestry is borne out by the fact that the number of individuals claiming to be either direct (Heb. nĕśiʾīm), or at least spiritual (Byzantine, Carolingian and Capetian kings) descendants of King David noticeably increased, and that for the first time in history pedigrees tracing medieval dynasties back to their alleged Israelite forebear were produced.1 Also, the new and unmistakable preference for the name David, until then avoided and (with only few doubtful exceptions) completely absent from earlier epigraphic, literary, and documentary sources, suddenly emerged sometime in the eighth century, in the Islamic realm.2 Finally, the Middle Ages witnessed an unusual degree of spiritual unrest, especially in the Middle East, which brought about not only the emergence of new religions like Islam and other religious movements and sects, described in medieval heresiography, but also major divisions within existing religions such as the split between the adherents of Sunnism and Shiʿism within the Muslim world, or between the Rabbanites and Karaites within the Jewish world. The example of Karaism is particularly important in the context of the present volume since it seems to have emerged as the result of the Jews’ encounter with the Islamic scriptural model.3 The Karaites’ rejection of the rabbinic concept of the “Oral Torah” and the post-biblical texts in which it was incorporated (mainly the Mishnah and Talmuds) seems to be connected to the medieval Jews’ need to authenticate the Hebrew Bible vis-à-vis the Qurʾān. At least at the initial stage of its development, Karaism was a conglomerate movement, which combined representatives of the Jewish (gaonic) elite alongside marginalized Jewish sectors and members of various heterodox groups and, consequently, it played an important role in cross-cultural interchanges with Christians and Muslims.4 As such it constitutes a salient case study for exploring cross-cultural interchanges among different monotheistic traditions, especially in the Middle Ages.

1 See Franklin, This Noble House. 2 See Moss, From David to Davids. 3 See Polliack, “Conceptualization”; eadem, “The Karaite Inversion.” Cf. Ben-Shammai, “The Karaite Controversy”; idem, “Return to Scriptures”; Cook, “ʿAnan and Islam.” 4 On the origins of the Karaite movement, see Gil, “Karaite Antiquites”; idem, “The Origins.” For studies of Karaite perspective, see Astren, Karaite Judaism; Akhiezer, Historical Consciousness. On the Karaites as playing an important role in cross-cultural interchanges with Christians and Muslims, see Drory, The Emergence.

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The present volume aims at taking a new, critical look at the process of biblical creation and subsequent exegetical transformation of the character of David and his attributed literary composition, with particular emphasis put on the multilateral fertilization and cross-cultural interchanges among Jews, Christians and Muslims. To this end it brings together scholars from various research disciplines (such as literary, linguistic, cultural and religious studies) related to Jewish, Christian and Islamic studies, who critically examine different source texts related to King David and the book of Psalms. Thanks to this, the volume encompasses a detailed and comparative view of converging and diverging tendencies in the way David, his character and narratives on his life, as well as his attributed book were reclaimed, and fashioned in these religious cultures. It includes papers whose authors not only investigate transformations of the biblical materials in one given religious tradition, but also – and above all – in the intertwined worlds of the three major monotheistic cultures in cross-fertilizing contact. Therefore, in addition to monographic chapters devoted to the reception of David and the Psalter in individual religious movements and cultures (e.g., Ethiopian Christianity, Carolingian and Capetian empire, or Frankism), a significant number of articles utilise a comparative approach, scrutinizing the various texts in which David’s character and his attributed book have been appropriated and re-positioned in different traditions of the so-called “People of the Book” from biblical times and late antiquity until the early modern period. The twenty two chapters of the book are divided into four coherent thematic sections which focus on different aspects of the reception history of David and the Psalms in monotheistic traditions. As far as it was possible, individual chapters within each section were ordered chronologically. 1


Everything begins with the Hebrew Bible, the chief (if not unique) textual evidence on the historical King David, which served as an inexhaustible source of inspiration for later literature, especially of an exegetical nature, composed in different times and places by representatives of different religious traditions. Therefore the opening chapter, contributed by Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò, David in History and in the Hebrew Bible, is devoted to an historical survey of this scriptural character, offering a rich review of various scholarly approaches to the intricate and much debated question of David’s historicity. It explores the complex relationship between the biblical and extra-biblical evidence for David, discussing inter alia the etymology of the name David, the reliability



of extra-biblical testimonies (inscriptions) to the House of David, as well as historical context and circumstances in which the biblical character was supposedly active. It conjectures that, assuming the historicity of this figure, David might have been a local leader of a small, Habiru-like group active in the tenth century BCE in the Southern territories dominated by the Tribe of Benjamin and politically controlled by the Philistines from the City of Gath. The Images of David in Medieval Jewish, Muslim and Christian Sources The first chapter in this section focuses on 1 Samuel 16:14–22, where David is depicted as an accomplished musician and 1 Chronicles 23:2–5, where he is credited with the invention of musical instruments. Due to his centrality to all Abrahamic religions, medieval sources, both Jewish and Muslim, had to consider how to address David’s proclivity for music in a manner that would suit their different religious traditions, communities and views on music. In the paper David the Pious Musician in Midrashic Literature and Medieval Muslim Sources, Sivan Nir explores different ways in which Judaism and Islam treated the subject, highlighting their mutual interdependence as well as originality in this respect. It shows that the Talmuds, Ruth Rabbah and Midrash on Psalms depict David as a musician turned nightly scholar, and investigates how the midrashic imagery informed medieval Jewish commentaries on Psalms 107– 108, as well as how it influenced portrayals of David’s piety in Islam and the depictions of his musical skills (used against the demons) in various classical Muslim sources. In the next chapter of this section, The Weeping King of Muslim Pietistic Tradition: David in the Kitāb al-waraʿ of ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb (d. 238/853) and in Earlier Islamic Sources, Mateusz Wilk discusses the image of king David (Dāwūd) in the traditions contained in the Kitāb al-waraʿ, a compilation of Islamic piety – more specifically, religious scrupulosity – by ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb (d. 238/853), against the backdrop of earlier and contemporary Muslim literature. He argues that this hitherto unpublished work contains numerous traditions on prophets, yet David is the only one to whom a separate chapter is dedicated. The article presents and analyzes the role of David in the paradigm of Islamic piety of the third/ninth century through comparisons of Kitāb al-waraʿ with other similar sources from this period (e.g., Ibn Ḥanbal’s Kitāb al-zuhd). By doing so, it serves a starting point for further investigation of the role of prophets in the classical Islamic pietistic literature. The following article by Yair Zoran, David and the Temple of Solomon in Medieval Karaite Sources. The Arabic Commentaries of Yefet ben ʿEli on the Books 1.1

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of Kings and Chronicles, delves more deeply into the subject of the medieval Karaite tradition of interpreting the Hebrew Bible, a tradition which exerted significant influence on later Jewish exegesis of Scripture as a whole. One of its most important and influential representatives was Yefet ben ʿEli who lived in the second half of the tenth and the beginning of the eleventh century, mostly in Jerusalem. He was the first to compose a comprehensive commentary, including running Arabic translation, on the entire Hebrew Bible. The article explores his treatment of David’s testament to Solomon in 1 Chronicles 28 which relates to the building of the Temple, demonstrating the exegete’s literary sensibilities, as well as his ingenuity and originality in the artful way in which he combines different biblical passages and weaves them together into a unified literary structure that sheds a new light on the interpreted text. King David was a central figure not only in medieval exegetical and pietistic texts, but also in poetry. Our next author, Barbara Gryczan, contributes a paper David as Warrior, Leader, and Poet in Medieval Hebrew Poetry of al-Andalus: Shmuel ha-Nagid’s Self-Portrait as “The David of His Age,” in which she provides a detailed analysis of an autobiographical poem, Back away from me now, my friend, composed as a commemoration of Shmuel ha-Nagid’s victory over the troops attacking the foregrounds of Granada. During the battle, he served as the-commander-in-chief of the army of the Berber king of this city-state. The article explores the process of artistic auto-creation, unravelling the complex matrix of biblical intertexts and historical allusions as well as artistic devices and poetical mechanisms introduced by the poet in order to portray himself not only as a righteous leader of the nation and a direct heir of the Levites, but also a divinely inspired poet, an anointed “singer of God,” and “the David of his age.” It also offers a commentary on the cultural and socio-historical background of ha-Nagid’s times, as well as specific biographical insights, which put the examined poem in the broader context of the author’s various activities as poet, scholar, soldier and community leader. In the following article, David in Medieval Jewish Thought. Judah Halevi’s Book of the Kuzari as a Reconciliation Project, Marzena Zawanowska investigates the way in which the character of David was used in a philosophical-theological text written by one of the most famous medieval Jewish poets, Judah Halevi. She demonstrates how the author of the Kuzari de-biblicized the biblical character of David, using his idealized image as an instrument to convey and underscore what he considered the chief values and most important legacy of Judaism, namely: the Hebrew Bible (David as one of its authors); the Hebrew language (David as the author of the Psalms); the Chosen People with their unique gift of prophecy (David as a prophet); the Land of Israel with the



Temple in Jerusalem as its “holy of holies” (David as responsible not only for providing the plans of the Temple, but also for establishing the cultic ritual in it). Zawanowska argues that the figure of David served Halevi as a vehicle to transmit his constructive critique of his present day Jewry, aimed at healing or repairing and improving the entire Jewish nation – in terms of both Rabbanites and Karaites alike – and bringing about their re-unification, thereby restoring Judaism to its former glory. The next author, Jerzy Pysiak, brings us to the medieval Kingdom of France, showing how the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century French chroniclers and hagiographers fashioned Saint Louis’s image after the model of biblical King David, as the pious and godly king of a New Israel – France. In his Saint Louis as a New David and Paris as a New Jerusalem in Medieval French Hagiographic Literature, he demonstrates that the development of this royal ideology was closely connected with the cult of saints and relics, and especially with the translation of Passion relics which, already in the Byzantine empire, was believed to have been tantamount to the translation of Jerusalem to a new location – the Christian capital city of Constantinople in that case. Exploring the complex history of the origins of the royal ideology of the Capetian kings, the paper argues that although it undoubtedly echoes the Byzantine imperial ideology, it evolved independently and its origins should be sought more accurately in the Carolingian epoch, in which – starting from the time of the anointing of Pepin the Short, David had become an ideal model for the kings of the Franks. In the last chapter of this section, Ruth Mazo Karras focuses on Latin Christian literature. In her David and Jonathan as a Paradigm of Male Friendship in Medieval Latin Literature, she uses the story of David and Jonathan to examine how Christian and Jewish traditions in the Middle Ages treated friendship between men in relation to marriage between men and women. It demonstrates that David and Jonathan’s friendship was most often invoked in the Christian Central Middle Ages in a monastic context, but also outside it. The deep and intimate love between two men could parallel that which would be found in a marriage, or even go beyond it. It argues that discussions of friendship in the Jewish tradition often occur in commentaries on Pirqe Avot. Male friendship is seen in this treatise in two ways: in terms of (1) companionship and partnership in Torah study, and (2) a relationship between David and Jonathan, which is on a spiritual level. This second kind of male friendship is contrasted with love between men and women. Karras concludes that the common denominator between both traditions is that the line between friendship and love is not sharp.

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1.2 The Psalter of David in Monotheistic Traditions In contrast with mutual influences between medieval Jewish and Muslim cultures and literatures, relatively little attention has so far been paid to Jewish Christian cross-cultural interchanges in the Middle Ages. In his paper, David the Prophet in Saʿadya Gaon’s Commentary on Psalms and its Syriac and Karaite Contexts, Arye Zoref analyzes Saʿadya’s Commentary on the Book of Psalms against the backdrop of similar commentaries produced by Christian (in Syriac) and Karaite (in Arabic) exegetes. He argues that in an attempt to stress the unity of the book of Psalms and its prophetic nature, Saʿadya adopted only those concepts from the Syriac commentaries which best suited his purpose, and demonstrates that the Gaon modeled his introduction to the commentary on Psalms on the introductions of two Syriac commentators (Moshe Bar Kepha and Ishodad of Merv), and that he adopted the Syriac Nestorian idea that David wrote all the Psalms, but rejected some of the Nestorian interpretative approaches, such as a general disregard for the Psalms’ headings. In the following chapter, Psalms to Reason, Psalms to Heal. The Scriptures in Early Rūm Orthodox Treatises, Miriam Lindgren Hjälm examines different approaches to Scripture in general, and exegetical uses of the Book of Psalms in particular, in early Rūm Orthodox (Melkite) texts. From this corpus of texts, she singles out general statements relating to Scripture and explains them both in terms of reception of the Patristic heritage and as a message delivered to an audience in a specific context. Another question discussed in the paper relates to the authors’ conception of the Hebrew text of the Bible (e.g., Abū Qurra seems unaware that certain biblical books are not canonical among the Jews as well as ignorant of the fact that the Hebrew, Syriac and Greek versions sometimes differ, while Agapius of Manbiǧ invests much effort in proving that such deviations were introduced by the Jews for the purpose of obfuscating the notion that the Christ was the Messiah). In addition, the paper investigates the uses of the Psalms’ quotations in the analyzed texts. She demonstrates that, most often, Psalms that are understood to be prophetical are chosen to prove Christian doctrines as expressed in the New Testament. By Agapius, however, they are also used to recapitulate events recorded within the Old Testament corpus. Finally she shows how Agathon of Homs, makes the most complex use of the Psalms. The conclusion is that the genre of the text dictates the exegetical use of the Psalms. Among the many extant Arabic manuscripts of “the Psalms of David” are some that begin by sounding like translations of the biblical Psalms but turn out, on further investigation, to contain fresh compositions by Muslim authors. Our next author, David R. Vishanoff, in his paper Images of David in Several Muslim



Rewritings of the Psalms, identifies several different versions of these psalms, each of which starts with a shared core of one hundred psalms and then edits, reorganizes, rewrites, and adds to that core material. It demonstrates that each version presents David in a somewhat different light: although all present him as a model of repentance and otherworldly piety, some emphasize the gravity of his sin and tearful repentance, while others minimize his sin and promote a piety of strict orthodoxy and obedience. In addition, the article shows that each editor uses the shared symbol of David and his Psalms to advance his own vision of Islamic piety, not in opposition to Jewish or Christian pieties, but as a critique of worldliness within the Muslim community. Among all the Arabic versions of the Book of Psalms produced by Christian translators, one stands out for its unique features. It is a translation of the text of the 151 Psalms from the Greek original (according to the Septuagint) prepared by the eleventh century Melkite deacon Abū ’l-Fatḥ ʿAbd Allāh ibn al-Faḍl ibn ʿAbd Allāh al-Muṭrān al-Anṭākī. The author also added a fine commentary (in Arabic) to his translation. In the chapter David’s Psalter in Christian Arabic Dress: ʿAbd Allāh ibn al-Faḍl’s Translation and Commentary, Juan Pedro Monferrer-Sala offers a description of Ibn al-Faḍl’s Arabic translation and commentary on the Psalms, and argues that the importance of this text is confirmed by the existence of numerous revisions of the original Arabic version. In addition, the article includes an edition and analysis of Psalm 28 according to Ms. Sinai Ar. 65 which illustrates the changes to which the original Arabic version was subjected through the various revisions. In the next paper of this section, King David and the Psalter in Ethiopian Cultural Setting, Witold Witakowski demonstrates that although few compositions in Classical Ethiopic (Gəʿəz) are devoted specifically to David, or attributed to him, he is not an insignificant figure in Ethiopian culture and tradition. The paper argues that his importance and popularity depend on two circumstances: (1) David is regarded to be the author of the biblical Book of Psalms, which in Ethiopia is simply referred to as Dāwit, and whose popularity is based on the fact that the Psalter is used as a primer in traditional schools by which children learned how to read and write; (2) David is connected to the sphere of the cult of Mary as one of her ancestors, sometimes just being called “The Father of Mary.” Consequently, he often appears in the texts devoted to Mary, such as the Miracles of Mary. In addition, Witakowski shows that even more impressive testimonies of David’s importance can be found in iconographic representations. For instance, the image of David playing bägäna, a traditional Ethiopian stringed instrument, can be found in manuscript illuminations and in wall paintings in various churches. The article offers a synthetic overview

The Variety of Davids in Monotheistic Traditions


and analysis of all these diverse sources, which have so-far been unstudied or understudied. The Book of Psalms has always played an important role in the life of Eastern European Karaites, who had been using the Hebrew Psalms in liturgy held in the prayer houses called kenesa. At the turn of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, the language of liturgy changed from Hebrew to the Turkic vernacular of the Eastern European Karaites (so-called Karaim language). At about the same time, new Latin and Cyrillic based orthographies were introduced, and started to gradually replace the previously used Hebrew orthography. In the paper David’s Psalms in Eastern European Karaite Literature, Zsuzsanna Olach investigates how these processes, together with the “emancipation” of the Eastern European Karaites, brought about the emergence of Eastern European Karaite Bible translations, including translations of the Book of Psalms, both in old Hebrew script and in new orthographies. She argues that the significance of the Psalms among the Eastern European Karaites goes far beyond the liturgical context, demonstrating that individual Psalms have been adapted into hymns and religious poems by Karaim poets (e.g., Zarax ben Natan and Josef ben Shemuel), while singular verses and stanzas from the Psalms were profusely quoted in their poetical compositions. The article discusses various adaptations of individual psalms into poems offered by Karaim poets, offering the first results of a study of the use of the Book of Psalms in Eastern European Karaite literature. David and His Women: The Cross-Religious Reception Exegesis of the Bathsheba Narrative The Bible did not emerge in a cultural vacuum. Rather it bears witness to the fruitful cultural encounters between the ancient Jewish and the surrounding non-Jewish cultures, most notably the Greek/Hellenistic one. In the first chapter of this section, The Four Wives of David and the Four Women of Odysseus: A Comparative Approach, Daniel Bodi offers a literary analysis which juxtaposes the female biblical characters of Michal, Abigail, Bathsheba and Abishag, with those of the Greek epic, Odyssey: Calypso, Circe, Nausicaa and Penelope. It demonstrates that the Hebrew Bible places women at significant moments in David’s career – from a young humble warrior to a seasoned warlord and an aging ruler – which is comparable to the role played by women in the career of Odysseus from his ten-year absence from his island Ithaca for the duration of the Trojan war and his additional decade-long return voyage home to his faithful wife Penelope. The paper argues that all these female figures (symbolically representing the four types of women a man can meet in his life), who 1.3



played a crucial role in the lives of David and Odysseus, act as reflecting mirrors, bringing to the fore different aspects of David and Odysseus’ personalities and, allowing both characters to acquire a truer perception of themselves, their limits and shortcomings. In addition, Bodi points to the existence of other similarities between the analyzed narratives: Both Odysseus and David are major cultural heroes who are the main characters of the stories associated with them. Both the Homeric Epic and the biblical story of David offer fine observations on human nature. Both cultural heroes are depicted as being in need of the help of women in order to advance their lives and careers. In both cases, weakness or failure occurs because of their impulsive, heroic temperament – a traditional theme. Yet, the Bible has always inspired interest not only as literature, but also – and perhaps above all – as a historical document. From the exegetical point of view, one of the most problematic episodes in the biblical narrative on David is his affair with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1–12:25). Many questions arise from this remarkable story: How is David evaluated by the biblical narrator? What was Bathsheba’s part in this affair? Why did Uriah not go to his house as ordered by David? Did he know of David and Bathsheba’s affair? Why did Nathan choose to convey the divine message through a parable, rather than convict David directly? Why was David punished for his sin in a different way than Saul? In the chapter, Josephus’ Retelling of the David and Bathsheba Narrative, Michael Avioz focuses on the way in which the ancient Jewish historian addressed these questions and rewrote the David-Bathsheba narrative. He discusses the subject against the backdrop of the biblical text and its traditional rabbinic interpretations, and demonstrates that although it posed a great challenge to Josephus’ generally positive view of King David and despite the fact that he could have followed the Chronicler’s account and omitted this episode, the author of the Antiquities of the Jews decided to retain most of the problematic source material (with minor changes) and to confront it head-on. Avioz uncovers Josephus’ techniques when rewriting this narrative and tries to understand the reasons behind the changes he introduced (as influenced by Greek culture and its values, such as piety, justice, courage, obedience). The next, panoramic article by Diana Lipton and Meira Polliack, Our Mother, Our Queen: Bathsheba through Early Jewish, Christian and Muslim Eyes, considers the complex portrayals of David and Bathsheba in the three religions which, in different ways, see themselves as David’s heirs. In a story about succession and inheritance, Bathsheba appears at first to be a cartoon character in a cautionary tale about the dangers that beautiful women pose to powerful men. But, eventually, Bathsheba turns out to be pivotal in the so-called “succession narrative”; her son, Solomon, is David’s heir. Lipton and Polliack analyze

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a representative selection of textual and visual sources, mainly – though not uniquely – medieval, in an attempt to better understand Jewish, Christian and Islamic exegetical approaches – internal and in relation to each other – to dealing with complications in the Davidic lineage. Ancient Christian Bible exegesis has much in common with rabbinic interpretations, largely due to the common use of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. This is true in the Syriac literature even more so than in the Greek and Latin works. Syriac Christian writings contain many exegetical points that appear to have been influenced by rabbinic Judaism. At the same time, the Syriac-speaking church had been in constant conflict with Judaism since Syriac literature first emerged in the late third century, and consolidated in the fourth century. In the next chapter, God’s Master Plan: The Story of David and Bathsheba in Some Early Syriac Commentaries, Orly Mizrachi argues that all this is reflected in the Syrian exegesis of 2 Samuel 11–12. So, for instance, David is perceived as a prefiguration of Christ and his repentance is perceived as characteristic of His future era, when the biblical law will be annulled and the most important act of the Christian believer will be repentance. The paper demonstrates that during the Christological controversy in the fifth and in the sixth centuries, two independent Syriac-speaking churches were established. Thus, the biblical commentaries on these chapters are also a source of information concerning an internal dialogue between Jacob of Edessa and his predecessors in the Syrian Orthodox Church, on the one hand, and Ishodad of Merv and those who preceded him in the Church of the East, on the other. In the last article of this section, Ibn Kaṯīr’s (d. 774/1373) Treatment of the David and Uriah Narrative: The Issue of Isrāʾīliyyāt and the Syrian School of Exegesis, Marianna Klar demonstrates that Ibn Kaṯīr’s treatment of the David and Uriah narrative, held by many to underpin the qurʾānic pericope at Sura 38:21–25, is tantalizingly brief. Indeed, the visible tip of his act of exegesis consists merely of a two-pronged dismissal of “the story that the exegetes relate,” a gloss of the qurʾānic vocabulary, and an aphorism: “the good deeds of the pious are the bad deeds of [God’s] intimates.” The paper argues that underlying this, however, is a sizeable degree of unspoken scholarly interaction between Ibn Kaṯīr and the works of his peers. It demonstrates that Ibn Kaṯīr may rarely cite later exegetes by name, but he appears to have engaged substantially with their works, and indeed to have assumed his scholarly audience to be as familiar with their main points and their principal arguments as he was. It posits the existence of a specifically Syrian school of exegesis, whose parameters influenced Ibn Kaṯīr much more profoundly than has previously been acknowledged: the importance of al-Ḫāzin al-Baġdādī, in particular, would appear to have been critically overlooked. Finally, it postulates that Ibn Kaṯīr’s usage of the term isrāʾīliyyāt



should meanwhile be viewed within a much wider discussion of contemporary attitudes towards inherited exegetical material in general. Reinventing David in Early Modern and Modern Religious Thought and Literature The first chapter of this section brings us to eighteenth century Poland and the fascinating figure of Jacob Frank (1726–1791), a Polish-Jewish religious leader who claimed to be the reincarnation of the biblical patriarch Jacob and of the self-proclaimed messiah Sabbatai Zevi. Frank arguably created a new religious movement, later called Frankism, which combined some aspects of Judaism and Christianity. In the chapter, “David Was Secretly a Woman”: King David as a Messianic Topos in the Teaching of Jacob Frank, Jan Doktór explores the reception of King David and the shaping of his image in the teaching of Jacob Frank. The article investigates the reason why the figure of David caught Frank’s attention, despite his having pointedly abandoned the traditional messianic idea of returning to the Holy Land and the restoration of the kingdom of David. In addition, it addresses the question concerning which of David’s “messianic attributes” Frank wished to imitate and why, and demonstrates that Frank viewed David as “secretly a woman” (an incarnation of the Shekhinah [Heb. Šeḵinā]). Accordingly, in his opinion, it was David’s femininity that endowed him with salvific skills. Finally, the paper delves more deeply into the question of how this Davidic femininity should be understood – whether, in a literal sense, he was a woman, or whether a feminine aspect of divinity manifested itself in his person – and deals with Frank’s progressive idea that the arrival of the messianic era will put an end to gender segregation. The next paper by Elżbieta Lazarewicz-Wyrzykowska, Davidic Narratives in the Contemporary Roman Catholic Liturgical Readings, examines the passages from Davidic narratives in the books of Samuel and 1 Kings included in the contemporary Roman Catholic breviary and lectionary as “readings,” in light of the Christological focus of these liturgical collections. It argues that the decision about the inclusion of these passages in spite of the complex and potentially problematic image of David they convey was influenced by a number of interpretative traditions. This includes both the praise of David in Sirach 47:2– 11, easily yielding itself to generally Christian and specifically Catholic exegesis, and the Christian reception of David in the Gospel passion narratives, as well as later exegetical traditions, i.e., medieval monastic teachings of Aelred of Rievaulx and thirteenth century Dominican homiletics. The article explores also the means employed by the compilers of the liturgical collections to harmonize the selected biblical passages with these traditions. Finally, in the last chapter, The Reception of David and Michal in Twentieth and Twenty-First-Century Literature, Sophia Lena Tiemeyer analyses the way in 1.4

The Variety of Davids in Monotheistic Traditions


which four selected twentieth century novels function as midrash, understood in its broad sense as literature which interacts with and interprets the biblical material. The paper focuses on the novelists’ interpretations of the relationship between David and Michal. The biblical narrative offers but a brief description of their interaction, yet these sparse references encourage readers to explore further their respective feelings for each other and the motives behind their actions. The article is centered around a set of questions, originally posed by David Clines vis-à-vis the biblical narrative. (1) Why does David marry Michal, given that Saul initially offered his elder daughter Merab as a reward? (2) Why does Michal love David? (3) Does David love Michal back? (4) How should Michal’s position between her husband David and her father Saul be understood? (5) How should the presence of the terap̄ im in David’s and Michal’s bedroom be understood? (6) What does Michal feel about her husband Paltiel? (7) Why does Michal reproach David when he dances in front of the Ark of the Covenant? In addition, Tiemeyer addresses the following questions: What answers do these select novels offer and how do their modern perspectives influence their readings of the ancient tale? She argues that all the novels base their readings on existing narrative gaps in the text which they, in turn, seek to fill. The biblical story is ambiguous and this ambiguity paves the way for a wide range of interpretations. Thus, in a broad sense, these novels offer valuable interpretations of the biblical Davidic narrative.

We believe that the collection of chapters included in the present volume will contribute to our understanding of how different religious traditions accommodated one another and shaped their respective boundaries through the process of an ongoing, intensive and extensive dialogue over their sanctified texts. Its main beneficiaries will be scholars and students of Jewish, Christian and Islamic studies, especially those interested in Bible and Qurʾān exegesis and other religious literature, but also scholars of comparative literature and literary theory, historians, historians of art, cultural scientists and possibly also sociologists. Yet, we hope too that the book will offer something of interest to a wider public which will also benefit from its results, given the socio-historical importance of interreligious relations and the impact that these religious traditions had on the development of human culture and civilization as a whole. Far from offering a comprehensive account of the reception history of King David and the Psalms in all monotheistic traditions throughout the ages, the volume intends to illustrate the diversity and richness of the process of cross-cultural interchanges among Jews, Christians and Muslims, especially



in the Middle Ages, as exemplified in their perceptions and receptions of this central biblical figure and his attributed book, recognized in all monotheistic traditions as a sacred text. Accordingly, it contributes to our understanding of the multilaterally fertilizing effect that these interchanges had upon the major monotheistic religious traditions, their cultures and literatures, helping us to recalibrate and reassess the nature of the complex, enduring relationship between Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and to reconstruct the trajectories of cross-cultural contacts and transfers of ideas between them. 2

Technical Comments

Jewish, Christian and Islamic studies are generally considered to be independent academic disciplines and often studied and researched separately. So are different Semitic languages (e.g., Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Syriac, Classical Ethiopic [Gəʿəz]), Classical languages (Latin and Greek), and Slavic languages (e.g., Polish), which traditionally belong to different university departments. Investigating source texts written in all the above-mentioned languages by representatives of different religious traditions, and combining papers written by scholars of different academic backgrounds which represent a variety of academic disciplines and approaches, the present volume has a pronounced interdisciplinary and interreligious character. Therefore we decided to provide Latin transcription of all words written in non-Latin characters in the main text. For the same reasons, we provide full titles of biblical and other classical books and generally avoid abbreviations which might be intelligible in one discipline, but unknown to researchers representing other scholarly fields (e.g., MT for Masoretic text, or LXX for the Septuagint). We also try and explain all specialized terminology. Except for quotations from other works, proper names (such as Rashi) and lexicalized words or terms that infiltrated English academic discourse (e.g., Shiʿism), we use scientific transliteration (see pp. xiii–xiv) throughout the volume. In addition, unless indicated otherwise, the dates are provided according to the common era (CE), albeit they may occasionally be accompanied by dates in the Muslim and Jewish calendars. The book was partially edited and prepared for publication within the framework of the research project Hebrajska poezja złotego wieku w al-Andalus. Antologia [The Hebrew Poetry of the Golden Age in al-Andalus. An Anthology] sponsored by the National Program for the Development of Humanities (NPRH; grant Uniwersalia 2.2) awarded to Dr. Marzena Zawanowska (2018– 2023; No. 22H/18/0199/86).

The Variety of Davids in Monotheistic Traditions


Most of the authors of the papers included in this volume presented drafts of their chapters at the international conference Warrior, Poet, Prophet and King: The Character of David in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, hosted by the Institute of History, University of Warsaw and the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw in October, 2016, and generously sponsored by the European Association for Jewish Studies (EAJS) Conference Grant Programme in European Jewish Studies.5 It was organized by Mateusz Wilk (University of Warsaw) and myself, while Camilla Adang (Tel Aviv University), Juan Pedro Monferrer-Sala (University of Córdoba), Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò (University of Warsaw), and Meira Polliack (Tel Aviv University) formed the scientific advisory board of the event. I would like to thank them wholeheartedly for their wise advice, patient support and organizational collaboration. I should also like to convey my deepest gratitude to all the contributors of the present volume, without whom this work would have never seen the daylight, and especially to my colleague and dear friend, Prof. Meira Polliack who not only contributed – together with Dr. Diana Lipton – an excellent paper to the volume, but also has generously devoted her time to discuss various aspects of this project with me and suggested significant improvements to the draft of this introduction. In addition, I wish to thank Mr. Hugh Doyle for reading a final version of this volume and suggesting certain corrections and Dr. Magdalena Bendowska for helping us to choose the cover illustration. Together with Mateusz Wilk, we also owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Jorik Groen from Brill who showed unusual kindness in patiently assisting us during the final stages of preparing the book for printing. My special thanks go to Prof. Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò and Prof. Paweł Śpiewak for having enabled me to pursue my academic career and supported in many different ways. Finally, I would like to thank my family – my ever supportive husband and friend, Marcin, as well as my two beloved kids, Ada and Krzyś, for their patience with their often absent-minded wife and mother. Bibliography Akhiezer, Golda. Historical Consciousness, Haskalah and Nationalism of Eastern European Karaites. Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute for Study of Jewish Communities in the East, 2016 [in Hebrew]. Translated into English by David B. Greenberg. Leiden – Boston: Brill 2018.

5 See Zawanowska, “Warrior, Poet, Prophet, and King.”



Astren, Fred. Karaite Judaism and Historical Understanding. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2004. Ben-Shammai, Haggai, “The Karaite Controversy: Scripture and Tradition in Early Karaism.” In Religionsgespräche im Mittelalter, edited by Bernard Lewis and Friedrich Niewöhner, 11–26 [Wolfenbütteler Mittelalter-Studien, vol. 4]. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1992. Ben-Shammai, Haggai, “Return to Scriptures in Ancient and Medieval Jewish Sectarianism and in Early Islam.” In Les retours aux Ecritures. Fondamentalismes présents et passés, edited by Evelyne Patlagean and Alain Le Boulluec, 319–339. Louvain – Paris: Peeters, 1993. Cook, Michael. “ʿAnan and Islam: The Origins of Karaite Scripturalism.” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam, 9 (1987): 161–182. Drory, Rina. The Emergence of Jewish-Arabic Literary Contacts at the Beginning of the Tenth Century [in Hebrew]. Tel Aviv: Porter Institute of Poetics and Semiotics, 1988. Franklin, Arnold E. This Noble House Jewish Descendants of King David in the Medieval Islamic East. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. Gil, Moshe. “Karaite Antiquities” [in Hebrew]. Teʿuda, 15 (1999), 71–107. Gil, Moshe. “The Origins of the Karaites,” in Karaite Judaism: A Guide to its History and Literary Sources, edited by Meira Polliack, 73–118. Leiden: Brill, 2003. Moss, Yonatan. From David to Davids: An Abrahamic Onomastic Revolution, paper presented at the international conference “Warrior, Poet, Prophet and King: The character of David in Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” organized and hosted by the Institute of History, University of Warsaw, in cooperation with the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw (Warsaw, 26–28 October, 2016). Polliack, Meira, “Conceptualization of the Biblical Story and its Crystallization from Oral Sources in Writing: On Innovations of Judaeo-Arabic Interpretations in the Middle Ages” [in Hebrew]. In Bein Ever Le-Arav, edited by Yosef Tobi, vol. 6, 109–152. Tel Aviv: Ofakim, 2014. Polliack, Meira. “The Karaite Inversion of »Written« and »Oral« Torah in Relation to the Islamic Arch-Models of Qur’an and Hadith.” Jewish Studies Quarterly 22 (2015): 243–302. Zawanowska, Marzena. “Warrior, Poet, Prophet, and King: The Character of David in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Warsaw, 26–28 October 2016).” Collectanea Christiana Orientalia, 14 (2017), 219–241. Zawanowska, Marzena. “Warrior, Poet, Prophet, and King: The Character of David in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Academic report on international conference organized and hosted by the Institute of History, University of Warsaw, in cooperation with the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, sponsored by the European Association for Jewish Studies (EAJS) Conference Grant Programme in European Jewish Studies (Warsaw, 26–28 October, 2016).” Kwartalnik Historii Żydów – Jewish History Quarterly, 1(261) (2017), 153–166.

chapter 1

David in History and in the Hebrew Bible Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò David, next to Moses, is one of the most studied biblical characters.1 The problem is, however, that this important figure has no clear extra-biblical reference, which makes reconstructing the historical David and his kingdom a difficult, if not an impossible, task. A short paper such as this cannot exhaustively examine scholarly literature on David, nor every mention of the son of Jesse in biblical literature. Therefore, this article’s objective is solely to review extra-biblical sources, as well as selected biblical traditions related to this figure, to see whether at all, and if so, to what extent, they can be considered reliable historical sources, and on this basis to offer some general observations on the historical David. 1

The Name “David” (dwd/dwyd)

The name “David” (dwd/dwyd) is not common in West-Semitic onomastics. In the Hebrew Bible, it describes a single figure. The form dāwid/dāwīd is usually derived from the root dwd, meaning “to love” or “to be beloved,” which is also used to denote the uncle-family relation: “uncle” – dōd; “aunt” – dōdā.2 Incidentally, it may be observed that despite numerous studies, it remains uncertain whether the noun dūd, meaning “pot” or “jar”3 (cf., e.g., 1 Samuel 2:14), is related to the same root and its semantic field. Be that as it may, the names of a few other biblical characters are also derived from the same Hebrew root dwd: – dōdō (Judges 10:1; 2 Samuel 23:9. 24; 1 Chronicles 11:12. 26; 27:4);4 – dōday (1 Chronicles 27:4); – dōdāwāhū – for dōdiyāhū (2 Chronicles 20:37).5 1 The paper was prepared within the framework of the research project, “The Second Temple Jews – Between Tradition and the Greek World. The Greek Impact on the Second Temple Jews and its Dynamics,” (2016/23/B/HS3/01880), sponsored by the National Science Centre – Poland. 2 See BDB, s.v. 3 See Noonan, Non-Semitic Loanwords, 328–329. 4 See Schley, “Dodo (person).” 5 See Dempster, “Dodavahu (person).” © ŁUKASZ Niesiołowski-Spanò, 2021 | doi:10.1163/9789004465978_003 This is an open access chapter distributed under the terms of the CC BY-NC 4.0 license.



The etymology of the name “David,” or rather its atypical form, compelled scholars to look for parallels in the Ancient Near East. One of them, often cited in scholarly literature, is the Akkadian word dawīdūm, known from the Mari archive. This term was interpreted as the name of a military official of unknown rank, possibly a military leader.6 However, this interpretation of the texts from Mari turned out to be inaccurate.7 Most scholars addressing the subject opt for the reading that links the term dawīdūm with the verb dabdū – “to defeat” (CAD, D, 14–16) – which is unrelated to the Hebrew root dwd.8 This etymology of the Akkadian word makes any effort to trace the etymology of the name “David” to the term for a military leader unfounded. Apparently, the hypothesis that links the Hebrew name “David” with the word attested to in line 12 of the Mesha stele inscription, dwd (as: dwdh) (KAI2 310; ANET 320–321; CoS 2, 137–138), is much more solid. Klaas Smelik translates this line as follows: “I brought back the fire-hearth of his Uncle(?) from there,” interpreting the word dwdh as the title of god whose sanctuary in Atharoth is referred to in the text.9 Thomas L. Thompson,10 as well as Kenneth Kitchen,11 opt for the same interpretation of the enigmatic word in line 12. In addition, some scholars interpret the term dwd as the proper name of a deity.12 The interpretation of the word dwd in line 12 of the Mesha stele as a divine epithet, related to the main meaning of the root, i.e., “beloved one,” prevails in recent scholarship.13 Scholars also proposed translating the term dwdh in the Mesha stele inscription as a title of a person related to the local sanctuary in Atharoth.14 Despite the fact that such an understanding of this term fits the context well, it is impossible to determine its exact meaning on the basis of its etymology. This interpretation might be supported by 1 Samuel 10:14–15, where the term dōd describes a person. Most biblical translations render dōd in this verse as “uncle,” which, given the context, is not fully convincing. The uncertainties 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13


Cf. Thompson, The Bible in History, 204–205. See Tadmor, “Historical Implications.” Cf. Howard, “David (person).” See CoS, vol. 2, 137, n. 12. See Thompson, The Bible in History, 204–205. See Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, 452–453. See Barstad, “Dod.” See Jackson “The Language of the Mesha Inscription,” 112 where word dwd in line 12 is not translated: “After one hundred years of study directed at the M[esha] I[nscription], it is safe to say that an exact understanding of these words is still a mystery.” See also Mykytiuk, Identifying Biblical Persons, 121–126. Cf. dd – “loved one” in Ugaritic, in Del Olmo Lete and Sanmartín, A Dictionary, 264–265, sv. dd. See DNWSI, vol. 1, 242–243.

David in History and in the Hebrew Bible


have led scholars to propose other possible meanings for this term on a contextual basis, e.g., as referring to a certain military functionary.15 As demonstrated above, such a reading does not shed much light on the etymology and origins of the biblical David’s name.16 2

The House of David (byt dwd/dwyd)

In the quest for extra-biblical data supporting the historicity of the biblical David, scholars cite cases in which the name “David” is used to refer to the founder of a ruling house. Even though such sources do not directly attest to David’s historicity, they provide unique evidence of the existence of an ancient tradition related to David as the founder of a dynasty in Judah. The first evidence of this sort comes from a stele excavated in Tel Dan.17 The Aramaic inscription on it, dated to the ninth century BCE, bears an expression in line 9: bytdwd (KAI2 310; CoS, 2, 161–162).18 The most obvious reading of it is “House of David.” It is little wonder, therefore, that it has often been used as an argument to prove the historical existence of the biblical David. However, some scholars have expressed doubts about the inscription’s authenticity.19 Doubts also arose with regard to the well-known Mesha stele’s Moabite inscription, dated to the ninth century BCE, when André Lemaire suggested the reading of bt[d]wd in line 31 as “House of David.”20 Given that his reading is uncertain, it has not been universally accepted.21 In 2019, Israel Finkelstein, Nadav Na⁠ʾaman and Thomas Römer published an article challenging Lemaire’s interpretation.22 They argue that there is no basis for reading bt[d]wd in line 31 of the Mesha stele as “House of David,” and contend that the geographical context suggests that the reconstructed name should be of a Moabite ruler. Such an interpretation renders Lemaire’s reading unsustainable. The analysis of new photographs of the inscription and the squeeze of the stele prepared before its stone was broken led Finkelstein, Na’aman and Römer to conclude that the btdwd reading should be excluded. 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

See Ap-Thomas, “Saul’s Uncle.” Cf. Edelman, King Saul, 55–56. See DNWSI, vol. 1, 242: “word (subst?) of unknown meaning.” See Biran and Naveh, “An Aramaic Stele Fragment”; eidem, “The Tel Dan Inscription.” Cf., e.g., Athas, The Tel Dan Inscription. See Garbini, “L’iscrizione aramaica”; Lemche, “ ‘House of David’.” See Lemaire, “ ‘House of David’ Restored,” 33; idem, “La dynastie Davidique.” Some scholars have accepted it (see, e.g., Langlois, “The Kings, the City and the House of David”), while others rejected it (see, e.g., Mykytiuk, Identifying Biblical Persons, 265–273). See Finkelstein, Na’aman and Römer, “Restoring Line 31.”



Instead, they proposed to read it as blk, known in the Bible as the legendary Moabite ruler (Balak), mentioned in Numbers 22–24. Despite the doubts regarding the Tel Dan stele, I tend to accept the authenticity of its inscription, unearthed during controlled archaeological excavations. As to the inscription on the Mesha stele, I think it is impossible to determine its correct reading. At any event, I would refrain from citing these inscriptions as extra-biblical sources to prove the historicity of the biblical David. Accepting the inscriptions as genuine and approving the suggested readings as “House of David” is insufficient, in my view, to claim that these texts bring a decisive proof of the historicity of David. Moreover, if we accept the authenticity of both objects dated to the ninth century BCE (i.e., the references to the “House of David” in the Aramaic inscription on the Tel Dan stele and the Moabite one on the Mesha stele) prove at most the existence – at the time when the inscriptions were written – of a dynasty claiming to be David’s descendants. Accordingly, the historicity and existence of the Davidic dynasty may be sustained safely. Nonetheless, these references afford no proof of the historicity of the alleged founder of the ruling family in Judah who might have been a purely mythical figure.23 Studies of the etymology of the name “David,” as well as extra-biblical examples of its occurrence, result from a continuing effort to establish the historical credibility of the Davidic tradition, of which the Bible is the only source. As we have seen above, extra-biblical sources attest to nothing more than the existence in the ninth century BCE of a ruling family claiming to be descendants of a certain dwd. To sum up these two sections, in the discussions about the origins and etymology of the name dwd, three interpretations prevail. The first one derives the name “David” from a common noun, denoting the function of a military leader, or of a cultic functionary. Accordingly, it attempts to interpret David’s name as one coined from an honorific title.24 The second hypothesis emphasises the relationship between the name “David” and the main meaning of the root dwd – “to be beloved” – suggesting its derivation from divine epithets, or even from the proper name of a deity. The third way of explaining the origin of David’s name – rarely expressed overtly, but implicitly present in the 23


Such was the case with the House of Piast, the first historical dynasty in Poland, whose founder – “Piast the Wheelwright,” remains a legendary figure. Cf. also ancient Greek aristocratic families (e.g., the Alcmaeonidae in Athens), who claimed to be descendants of the mythical heroes. Cf., e.g., Howard, “David (person),” 41.

David in History and in the Hebrew Bible


scholarship – accepts its unusual form and points to its unknown etymology. In the first two cases, scholars try to combine the etymological argument with historical reasoning, e.g., by asking whether the name of the historical David was a title or whether it was a name with a particular meaning. As noted above, these explanations seem inconclusive. Paradoxically, the third interpretation, which does not offer any specific etymology for David’s name and abstains from any possible epigraphical parallels, may offer the strongest argument in favour of the historicity of David. If a biblical hero credited as the founder of the ruling family, had been invented, in all likelihood he would have received at the very least a telling name. Such is the case with Solomon, whose historicity is much more doubtful. The use of telling names in the Hebrew Bible is common enough (e.g., Adam, Eve, Elijah) to imagine the invention of a “good” name for the ruling dynasty’s legendary founder. The fact that we are unable to ascribe any specific meaning to David’s name strongly suggests that the name was not invented for the sake of the narrative, but belonged to a real figure. Thus, paradoxically, with the less-typical name for the literary character and its less-apparent meaning, the historicity of the original person bearing this name appears more plausible. Accordingly, although the reasoning for the name’s etymology is evidently weak and inconclusive, it provides an argument that weakens the hypothesis that David is a purely literary figure invented out of thin air. 3

The Davidic Traditions/Tradition on David

Recent scholarly literature related to the figure of David exhibits a clear paradigm shift, entailing a separation of the study of the historical David, and his attributed kingdom, from the literary corpus of biblical texts related to him. Trust in the historical value of the biblical narratives, i.e., belief in the existence of David and his kingdom, had been the dominant tendency in scholarship during most of the twentieth century. However, a methodological shift in the use of the Hebrew Bible as a historical source and critical scholars’ challenges to the prevailing paradigm considerably changed the discourse. Questions about the biblical narrative’s historicity, as well as efforts to anchor ancient Hebrew literature in the absolute chronology more accurately, changed the way in which the Davidic biblical tradition has been approached in most recent scholarly works. The character of David inspired many biblical writers, who depicted this figure according to the common imagery of their times. Yet,



historians must face key questions related to the biblical traditions’ historical value. Can we reconstruct the history of David, King David, and his kingdom, on the basis of biblical literature? Many scholars accept the re-dating of most of the biblical narratives, no longer viewing the history written in the tenth or ninth centuries BCE the same way it was viewed a century ago. Despite differences in the actual dating of the text, or its Vorlage, scholars tend to accept the Scriptures’ trustworthiness when it comes to David.25 Such a position, sometimes not expressed explicitly, is based on the belief in the truth of the Bible, i.e., the conviction that the biblical authors intended to describe the past as it really was. Following this paradigm of thinking, they presume that the biblical authors had access to old historical sources describing the actual historical past. In their opinion, these sources might have been of two kinds: either there were legends about spectacular historical events from the past, faithfully transmitted through the ages in oral form, or there were written sources originating near the time of the events related to the history of King David (such as royal inscriptions or court annals). In the case of the latter source type, the texts did not survive, they are not even referred to in later texts (the only exception may be the “Book of Jasher” [Heb. Sēp̄ er ha-yāšār], mentioned in 2 Samuel 1:18, the possible content and origin date of which are, unfortunately, unknown). Such texts might have indeed existed, but as they did not survive, nor were they referred to in a way to allow for their definite identification, historians cannot assume that they ever existed, much less consider their possible content. Accordingly, historians usually regard traditions supposedly transmitted orally through the ages as unfounded, as no method exists to prove or disprove the role of earlier oral traditions that might have inspired the actual writers. On the grounds of objective historical enquiry, understood as scholarly executed research, it is impossible to determine which content was transmitted through such oral traditions. Therefore, even if one accepts the fact that the biblical authors used oral traditions, it is virtually impossible to cite the actual content of such traditions. In addition, presuming their trustworthiness in faithfully transmitting real events would be a serious methodological mistake. The above notwithstanding, scholars tend to presuppose the existence of a faithful oral tradition behind the biblical narrative about the early monarchy. However, recent scholarship increasingly stresses the role of written sources and of the biblical authors’ creativity, to the detriment of the one played by


Cf. Halpern, David’s Secret Demons; McKenzie, King David; Finkelstein, Silberman, David and Solomon.

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possible oral stories of remote origins in time.26 Accordingly, the older hypothesis about popular legends transmitted orally27 gradually gave way to the image of highly sophisticated, skilful literati who wrote the biblical historiography.28 As such, the stories about David should not be considered faithful memories of the past, preserved and transmitted in the collective memory as folk tales, but rather as the result of a purposeful effort made by intellectuals using sources at their disposal, as well as sophisticated literary devices, to compose stories that would reflect their specific ideological agendas.29 In recent years, scholarship has also witnessed a growing division between the study of the historical David and that of the biblical Davidic tradition. The best example of this new “exclusive” approach is Joseph Blenkinsopp’s book David Remembered from 2013.30 Blenkinsopp sums up the studies in which David is considered a purely literary figure, developed in different ways by biblical writers from different periods.31 In this way, late biblical texts are not viewed as historical sources for the historicity of David, but as forms of literary expression of their authors and of the times in which they were active. Following Blenkinsopp, one may state that the biblical tradition of David allows for treating it as a separate literary phenomenon unrelated to the real, historical David. As such, the literary David cycle in the Hebrew Bible should be studied mostly as a source of knowledge about the biblical writers’ imagery and their use of David for their current agendas and ideologies. This reasoning allows for diachronic research on the development of the literary representation of David without a direct relation to supposed historical events from, let’s say, the tenth century BCE. This shift in approach to the biblical texts is hardly a novelty for historians, who have long tended to read ancient sources in the light of their original context.32 The tendency to avoid a straightforward, uncritical reading of ancient sources still remains an important methodological postulate within biblical scholarship and the so-called biblical archaeology. The methodology stressing the importance of influence exerted by ideology and the realities of the time on the final texts presents enormous difficulties to historians trying to distil “real” events from these texts. Keeping in mind the time gap between the occurrence of events and the moment when biblical texts were written, it is reasonable to doubt such sources’ historical value. However, 26 27 28 29 30 31 32

See Davies, Scribes and Schools; Davies and Römer (eds.), Writing the Bible. See Gunkel, Legends of Genesis; idem, Die Urgeschichte Und Die Patriarchen. Edelman (ed.), The Fabric of History; Unsok Ro (ed.), Story and History. See Garbini, “Davide nella storiografia,” 21. See Blenkinsopp, David Remembered. Cf. also Fröhlich (ed.), David in Cultural Memory. Cf. Garbini, Mito e storia nella Bibbia, 111–137.



this is not to say that every late text has little historical value because of its date of origin. Some late texts may preserve valuable, ancient information, and it is the historian’s task to evaluate sources and verify whether a given text may or may not be used as a reliable source of knowledge about past events.33 That being said, one may conclude that in this particular case, historians have dealt with two different – though tightly interwoven – fields of research: (1) The history of literature aiming to study literary forms and processes of creation, using topoi, patterns and literary devices diachronically; and (2) The history of real events reconstructed on the basis of fragmented, assorted, distorted, sometimes invented and thus simply improper (i.e., unreliable) sources. The first research field has plenty of valuable sources. In the second research field, the number of truly reliable, “solid” sources is difficult to estimate. It is up to each and every historian to evaluate the biblical material as a possible source of information about the historical David, as well as events from his time. It is even more demanding, as there is not a single extra-biblical source related to the historical David. 4

The Davidic Narratives

4.1 Ancient Near Eastern and Greek Influences The biblical narratives on David in 1–2 Samuel have been studied extensively and cannot be addressed systematically here. Scholars have pointed out the unparalleled structure of the David narrative, which can be compared to that of a novel. In the quest for possible analogies between the themes in 1–2 Samuel and other ancient texts, some similarities have been brought to scholarly attention and highlighted. In an article from 1975, Harry A. Hoffner, Jr.,34 postulates the existence of an ancient literary genre called “apology,” examples of which he found in Hittite texts. This kind of literature supposedly influenced the biblical authors who described David in ways that resembled the one in which the Hittite king Hattusili III had been presented (CTH 81).35 The Hittite document from the thirteenth century BCE is evidently a propaganda text – an apologia that describes Hattusili’s rise to power. It presents a kind of literary device that aims to justify the king’s usurpation. The king, who commissioned 33 34 35

Cf. Niesiołowski-Spanò, “Review of E.A. Knauf, Ph. Guillaume.” See Hoffner, “Propaganda and Political Justification.” Cf. also Hoffner, “Ancient Israel’s Literary Heritage,” esp. 183; Sung-Hee Yoon, The Question of the Beginning, 101–105. See Laroche (ed.), Catalogue des textes hittites, 58–62. Related bibliography available at , accessed 6 October 2018.

David in History and in the Hebrew Bible


the text, had no rightful claim to the throne and therefore needed propaganda to explain the legitimacy of his rule. Hence, the usurper enlists divine will to justify his claim. Peter Kyle McCarter use this analogy to hypothesise the David story’s early origins.36 At first glance, the David narrative presents a close analogy, but it is uncertain whether the literary device featuring divine will as the usurper’s justification to claim the throne was borrowed directly. In the case of every usurpation, the ruler needs a way to convince sceptics of the legality of his rule, and divine will is certainly the best way to explain an unusual circumstance of his rise to power. Thus, a similar usage of apologia in two distinct literary texts, as a way to explain rights to a throne, does not necessarily indicate a straightforward dependence on the Hittite document by the biblical narrative. This observation accords with the prevailing view in recent scholarship that the David narratives in 1–2 Samuel should be dated to the Second Temple Period, or more precisely, to the Persian Period. Scholars pointing to possible Greek influences on the Hebrew Bible narratives make a different case,37 in which analogies are not limited to the general literary genre (as in the case of the propagandistic context of the so-called apologia of Hattusili III and David). Comparing Greek literature with biblical narratives, they seek parallels in literary threads, descriptions of individual scenes, their sequences and the very structure of analysed texts. In this context, the following scholars should be mentioned: Martin West,38 Flemming A.J. Nielsen,39 Jan-Wim Wesselius,40 Philippe Wajdenbaum,41 and Bruce Louden.42 Martin West presents a wide range of analogies between Greek and Near Eastern texts, suggesting that there was an Oriental influence on Greek authors.43 Although not all analogies necessarily testify to definite Oriental borrowings by the Greek authors, it is the case where the Hebrew Bible is concerned. To say the least, instances of literary similarities exist between 36 37

38 39 40 41 42 43

See Kyle McCarter, “The Apology of David.” Cf. also Hoffner, “A Hittite Analogue.”; Knapp, Royal Apologetic. The comparison of Greek and biblical literatures has a long tradition. See e.g., Astour, Hellenosemitica; Brown, Israel and Hellas; Burkert, The Orientalising Revolution; Gordon, “Homer and Bible,” 43–108; idem, The Common Background. Some preliminary observations about the possible relations between Greek and biblical historiography can be found in Niesiołowski-Spanò, “Athens and Jerusalem.” See West, The East Face of Helicon. See Nielsen, The Tragedy in History. See Wesselius, The Origin of the History of Israel, esp. 104–163. See Wajdenbaum, Argonauts of the Desert. Cf. also Louden, Greek Myth and the Bible. See Louden, Greek Myth and the Bible. Cf. esp. Brown, Israel and Hellas.



Greek literary works and the Hebrew Bible in which the source of the influence (if one accepts the idea that the similarities are not accidental) cannot be taken for granted.44 Some examples may be instructive, e.g., deep sleep sent by a divinity (Iliad 24.443–446 and 1 Samuel 26:12)45 or the structure of duels (Iliad 7.67–272 and 1 Samuel 17).46 Similarities between the David narrative and Homer’s Iliad are also found in the Jonathan-David and Patroclus-Achilles relationships, respectively. Philippe Wajdenbaum follows the same route in tracing narrative parallels between Greek and Hebrew literatures. The cases that Wajdenbaum analysed widen the possible range of Greek influence on the David narrative considerably: David and Jonathan in 1 Samuel 14:8–12 and Hdt V 1; 1 Samuel 14:13–15 and Iliad 10.470–505, 520–525, and especially 1 Samuel 14:14 and Iliad 10.350–355; the description of Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:43–47 and Iliad 13.825–830; 1 Samuel 17:48–49 and Iliad 16.570–575, 735–745; Saul’s madness in 1 Samuel 18:10–11, 19:4–6, 9–10 and Hdt III 33, 36, as well as 1 Samuel 17:55–58 and Hdt VIII 90; the night incursion in 1 Samuel 26:5–12 and Iliad 24.440–245, 10.150–155; the Witch of En-Dor in 1 Samuel 28:8–14, 21–25 and The Odyssey 10.315–380; analogies in the description of Ajax and Saul in 1 Samuel 31:3–6 and Sophocles’ Ajax 815–860 as well as 2 Samuel 2:18–23 and Iliad 6.220–230, 16.595–599, 818–822; 2 Samuel 2:28 and Iliad 18.230–840; 2 Samuel 3:8 and Iliad 1.220–225; Abner’s funeral in 2 Samuel 3:31–36 and the analogy in Iliad 23.120–150, and especially Iliad 19.315–320. In contrast with Martin West’s and Philippe Wajdenbaum’s studies of analogies in individual micro-narratives, Jan-Wim Wesselius and Flemming Nielsen maintain that entire large-scale narrative structures in the Hebrew Bible are based on the original Greek patterns provided by Herodotus’ Histories.47 Possible Greek influence on the Hebrew Bible undoubtedly deserves further study, especially in the historical, diachronic context. Nevertheless, it is insufficient merely to point to literary parallels, and to hypothesize on this basis direct borrowing or mutual inspiration. Indicating possible literary analogies should go in tandem with reconstructing a plausible historical context for the process of cross-cultural interchanges. Possible and plausible time and place of contact between people who might have been involved in intellectual 44 45 46 47

Cf. Niesiołowski-Spanò, “Biblical Prophet Amos.” See West, The East Face of Helicon, 182. See West, The East Face of Helicon, 214. Cf. ibidem, 44–45 on antiphonal and responsorial singing in the narrative on David, e.g., in 1 Samuel 18:7. Cf. Louden, Greek Myth and the Bible, 112. See Nielsen, The Tragedy in History; Wesselius, The Origin of the History of Israel, 104–163.

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relationships and responsible for transfers of ideas, should be traced.48 The cumulative effect of West’s, Wesselius’ and Wajdenbaum’s studies strengthens the hypothesis that the origin of large parts of the biblical Davidic narrative can be dated to the Second Temple Period. Furthermore, the possible impact of the Homeric epic texts on the Hebrew Bible might suggest an even earlier dating, while the suggested relationship between Herodotus’ Histories and biblical stories might point to the end of the fifth century BCE, at the earliest. Yet, if one accepts the claim of possible influence of ancient Greek literature on the Hebrew Bible, including large parts of the narratives about David, the dating of the origin of this biblical literature should be reassessed accordingly. Current knowledge about the cultural setting in the province of Yehud in the Persian and early Hellenistic periods is of crucial importance. The possibility that Jewish literati from Yehud entered into contact with representatives of the Greek elites of the time, or at least people fluent in Greek literature, during the Persian period is rather unlikely (or, at least there are no direct sources pointing to such contacts). The situation changes significantly in the third and second centuries BCE, when Greek culture, including its educational system (which included Homer and Herodotus), appears in close proximity to Yehud, or even within the borders of the Jewish province.49 From this perspective, a Hellenistic origin for the narratives about David seems more plausible.50 Nonetheless, it should be noted that a possible late dating of the biblical narrative, does not, per se, diminish the text’s value as a historical source. The text written in the third or second century BCE may contain a lot of valuable historical information. Accordingly, the date of origin should not be the main factor in accepting or rejecting the historical value of a narrative. Atypical Literary Motifs 4.2 In the so-called Deuteronomistic account of David in 1–2 Samuel, a few main themes, narrative threads or aspects of the main plot can be singled out. For example the story of David is woven into the Saul narrative in order to support David’s right to the throne. Thus it is evident that the Deuteronomistic account relies on two (or more) distinct traditions. The differences between them are apparent in the descriptions of David entering Saul’s entourage (1 Samuel 16:22–23; 17:31; 17:55–58; 18:2), Saul’s envy of David’s military successes 48 49 50

On theoretical studies on the “contact zones,” see, e.g., Ulf, “Rethinking Cultural Contacts,” 81–132; Niesiołowski-Spanò, Goliath’s Legacy, 178–181. This already was proposed by Garbini, “Davide nella storiografia,” 21–22; Thompson, The Bible in History, 200–210. Cf. Gmirkin, Berossus and Genesis; idem, Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible.



(1 Samuel 18:6–9.14–16.28–30), Saul’s attempts to kill David (1 Samuel 18:10–11; 19:9–10), and others.51 In these well-known cases, the biblical redactors did not try to harmonise the divergent accounts and left alternative versions next to one another, indicating that the final author of this narrative used older versions and incorporated them into his account. We cannot say anything more about the Ur-narratives that he had at his disposal. Another narrative cluster deals with David as the monarch of Judah. It addresses certain topics normally related to kingship, e.g., military campaigns; numerous wives; royal patronage over a dynastic cult; providing resources for the cult; purchasing the land-plot for the future temple (2 Samuel 24:11–25); bringing the cult-object (i.e., the ark) to the royal seat (2 Samuel 6); and appointing priests for the royal cult (Zadok, Abiathar). These traditional motifs of the royal narrative are juxtaposed with themes atypical of the (usually laudatory) royal literature. The most striking examples of such atypical themes are those which, although unusual for royal literature, are common in the ancient Near East. For instance, David seems to be addicted to women, who are described not as pure objects of male cravings, but – in the broader narrative – as triggers of the king’s sins. David is also represented as untruthful and breaking promises, not to mention that he is depicted as a notorious liar and serial killer.52 Another strikingly unusual topic for the royal narrative – in the monarchy’s social setting – is the king’s dependence on external authority, be it a prophet (1 Samuel 16:11–13) or the elders of Israel (2 Samuel 5:3). Similarly, the suggestion that David was involved in a close relationship with Jonathan – apparently implying a homosexual liaison – also does not fit the typical narrative that aims to praise the king and strengthen the royal dynasty’s position. For both the authors and the target audience, all these topics make David less ideal a character, far from the image of the perfect monarch. It is my contention that the very existence of the atypical motifs in David’s biblical portrayal reveals the late origin of the narrative.53 It is hard to conceive of such a balanced, or nuanced and psychologically appealing narrative being created in the monarchical era, where the aim of such a text would have been to build and strengthen the kings’ positions, especially when they claim to be David’s pedigree. Neither do these atypical narrative motifs reflect old, orally transmitted legends, independent of the official royal propaganda. Therefore they should rather be considered late additions and purely literary inventions. This is the case of a literary creation, aiming to present the literary hero of the 51 52 53

See Garbini, “Davide nella storiografia,” 18; idem, Mito e storia nella Bibbia, 112. See Halpern, David’s Secret Demons, 73–103. Cf. Rückl, A Sure House, who argues for the exilic period of the composition.

David in History and in the Hebrew Bible


narrative in a more balanced way and, as such, to deploy a more convincing portrayal of David. Thus, the atypical aspects of the monarchical narrative do not attest to the historical background of the past, but to the writers’ ideology. David is described as an un-ideal monarch, addicted to women, sinful and often weak, dependent on others, who may be characterised as a king who squandered his divine blessing. The last phenomenon is particularly interesting because it may attest to the literary device that biblical authors used: the image of a hero, well-rooted in the tradition, cannot be entirely erased from the narrative, but it can easily be reshaped, and thanks to that, its portrait can be modelled anew. The literary King David is hardly the historical one. He is a kind of king that the late authors wanted to have in their narrative about the past. The less ideal the character of David was, the better for those who opposed the monarchy. Further, another atypical motif appears in connection with David’s role in the foundation of the cult in royal capitals.54 David’s role in the cult, probably as one of its founders, is indicated in many biblical passages, e.g., those that suggest his skills as the composer, and/or author of the Book of Psalms. The tradition about David being the author of the liturgical songs links him to the cult. Despite this strong link, 1–2 Samuel does not attribute the foundation of the main royal sanctuary in the capital of Jerusalem to David (incidentally, neither is it stated that David founded the sanctuary in Hebron, his first capital). Failing to attribute the foundation of the royal sanctuary in the capital city to the “Great King,” the dynasty’s founder, constitutes another atypical tradition about David. The ancient Near Eastern traditions provide numerous examples of texts formed around the “Great Kings,” founders of dynasties, who are also represented as founders of sanctuaries and benefactors of the cult. One should expect the narrative about David to bring additional information about his efforts to build a temple for God. In this case, we have another example of a text focused not on describing the past, but on reshaping earlier traditions according to the biblical author’s agenda. The writer tries to diminish David’s role by not giving him credit for building the temple in Jerusalem, a natural duty of the founder of the dynasty. The explanation of the reasons why David cannot build the temple (2 Samuel 7), despite his long rule in Jerusalem, remains as unconvincing as the rest of David’s sins.55 In this reworking of the David’s story it is 54 55

Here, and above, I use the terms “royal,” and “king” for convenience without any attempt to describe the real nature of rule during David’s times (irrespective of whenever they were). See Garbini, “Davide nella storiografia,” 24, 29–31.



suggested that because of divine will, David was not as great as other traditions suggest – at least with regard to the cult.56 This is not a result of the biblical author’s historical reasoning, but of his desire to impose his own political and ideological agenda on the Davidic tradition. Having said that, one may ask whether the writer could reshape the figure of David to such a great extent, and how strong the real notion of the historical David was at his time. Considering that the material in 1–2 Samuel presents a very atypical account of the great, royal founder, should we consider the entire narrative a pure fiction? It seems safe to assume that if, at the time when 1–2 Samuel was written, memories of the historical David were very vague, it was possible for the biblical author to present his version of the account, based on his own agenda. But if so, the historical credibility of all the texts would be weakened. Or perhaps this new version in 1–2 Samuel simply offers a one-sided polemic against another tradition (regardless of its historical value).57 All in all, it is safe to admit that the narrative in 1–2 Samuel presents an atypical account of the life of a great king, and as such is probably not the best source of knowledge on the historical David, but rather it offers a set of ideas about a mythical hero imposed by the biblical author on the narrative. To sum up this section, it should be emphasised that the entire literary cycle on Saul, David and Solomon strongly demonstrates the way biblical authors’ own agenda shapes the narrative, adapting accordingly whatever historical material may have been available to them. Although, at first glance, 1–2 Samuel looks like historiography, it should not be considered as such. This is not a historical account intending to present the past as it was, but a narrative trying to convince the audience to adopt a particular worldview by creating an imaginary past. However, it is nevertheless plausible that this past’s new shape was forged out of older sources – memories about real events (transmitted orally or in writings) – significantly remodelled and reshaped. It was much easier and more efficient to deprive David of some of his accomplishments than to erase him from the cultural memory. Hence, the Davidic narrative cannot be considered historiography in the proper sense of the word. Rather, it is a kind of historical novel in which some valuable old traces of information are interwoven into the fabric of a new literary composition. Accordingly, its purpose is not

56 57

Cf. with a similar feature in the Moses story, in Niesiołowski-Spanò, “The Broken Structure.” Garbini accepts the very existence of the memory about real David, in part preserved in polemical text, e.g., Chronicles. See Garbini, “Davide nella storiografia.”

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to explain the past as it was, nor to keep the memory in its current form, but instead to convey the propagandistic agenda of its authors.58 How can we reconstruct the historical David in the light of the critical evaluation of sources presented above? No extra-biblical sources referring to David exist. Some sources merely attest to the memory of David as the founder of a dynasty in Judah. In addition, the most extensive narrative about David that does exist (in the Hebrew Bible) is predominantly a literary fiction. Even if beneath the current biblical account are hidden vestiges of older sources, it is hardly possible to trace them back. The narratives as we have them today convey the biblical authors’ worldviews and therefore cannot be considered reliable historical sources, especially if interpreted literally. The biblical authors used the figure of David for their persuasive purposes, while the reason for writing Davidic narratives down was not historiographic. These texts played a role in intense debates about forms of self-government, the cult’s role in society, and borders between the Jews and others – debates that dominated Jews’ long history during the so-called Second Temple Period. For all these reasons, the exhaustive literature referring to David in the Hebrew Bible should be considered novels, of no historical value. Even if historically “true” details are provided, the entire narrative is not valuable as historiography. Thus, one ought to conclude that no historical sources exist that would allow us to reconstruct the historical David. Large parts of the Hebrew Bible that feature the figure of David were evidently not written as a form of commemoration and preservation of memory, but as a new version of the past, created for political and/or ideological reasons. Hence, critical historians should refrain from any attempts to reconstruct on this basis the historical David. The only thing that can be done is to present the historical realities, or context in which a historical David could have possibly lived.59 5

Historical Realities of “Davidic Times” – a Reassessment

In contrast to the more theoretical assessments presented above, below I would like to offer a much more subjective reconstruction of what can be learned from the sources at our disposal. As already noted, the Hebrew Bible does not offer a historically accurate narrative about David. However, it does contain a number of details that refer to actual historical realities. Digging into 58 59

The issue of biblical historiography has recently been addressed in: Niesiołowski-Spanò, “Why Was the Biblical History Written During the Persian Period?” Cf. Pfoh, “A Hebrew Mafioso,” 37–43.



the text to extract and single out valuable information from the overall fictitious biblical narrative goes beyond the scholarly quest for an objective truth. Historical reasoning on the basis of onomastics is always most uncertain. For example, we have seen how the etymology of the name David remains unclear. It may be an old name of which we do not have attestation before the mid-ninth century. Some scholars tried to link the historical David with the noun attested to in extra-biblical sources. For example, Giovanni Garbini posits that the biblical figure of David represents the embodiment of the functionary called dawid, attested to in the Mesha stele as the “viceroy” in the subordinated territory.60 Such a conjecture implies limiting the timeframe of the historical David to the first half of the ninth century BCE, or up to ca. 830 BCE at the latest, when Tell es-Safi (biblical Gath) was destroyed.61 In this case, the historical David should be interpreted as a result of the literary evolution of memory about the Israelite officer, called dawid, and if so, the original figure called dawid should be dated to the rule of Omrides (ca. 882–853 BCE). Nevertheless, this argument’s weakness lies in the fact that there is no way to ascertain when the title dawid was coined. It may have been much earlier than the epigraphical attestation, e.g., provided that the kings of Gath had been calling their subordinates dawid. If so, the dates proposed by Garbini, i.e., from the time of Omri (ca. 882–871 BCE) until the destruction of Gath (ca. 830 BCE), remain purely speculative. For those scholars who believe that the David narrative’s most credible aspect is his name, no method exists to propose anything more detailed with regard to the original David’s historical setting than the dating with terminus ante quem in the ninth century BCE. If one accepts the hypothesis that the character of David from the biblical narrative reflects an office, then – given the paucity of actual sources at our disposal – we cannot say much more than that. The biblical text highlights the fact that David remained, for a while, under the rule of Achish, king of the City of Gath. This detail fits well into the larger scenario pointing to the Philistines’ strong presence during Saul and David’s era. This allows us to narrow the time frame in which to locate the time of David’s activity. On this basis, one may say that the realities referred to in the Bible as “the time of David” could not have occurred earlier than ca. 1125 BCE (calculated as two generations after the settlement of the Philistines on the Levantine coast).62

60 61 62

See Garbini, Scrivere la storia d’Israele, 72–74. See Maeir, “Integrating Micro- and Macro-Archaeology,” 35–50. See Niesiołowski-Spanò, Goliath’s Legacy, 12–39.

David in History and in the Hebrew Bible


Moreover, if one accepts the detail about the City of Gath’s role as the centerpoint, the date of the destruction of Tell es-Safi – identified with biblical Gath – during the time of Hazael from Damascus (ca. 830 BCE) would offer a terminus ante quem for the time frame in question. However, assuming the authenticity of the details reported in the biblical narrative about the presence of the Philistine garrisons in Gibeon (1 Samuel 5:8. 11; 6:15), Bethlehem (2 Samuel 23:14) and Bet-Shean (1 Samuel 31:10), or perhaps even Jerusalem,63 it might be possible to narrow the suggested dating down by establishing the terminus ante quem to ca. 925 BCE, when the Egyptian army under Pharaoh Sheshonq marched through Palestine, bringing the local Philistine hegemony to an end.64 These two safe caesura determine the most likely time interval in which to place the historical reality of David behind the biblical narrative of David. Hardly anything more precise than that can be said, and the dates, ca. 1125–925 BCE, offer the most precise (possible) time frame for David’s activity that a historian can risk proposing.65 Biblical chronology places David in the middle of this period. In this regard, there is no reason to reject the biblical chronology as one of the possible chronologies for the historical setting and absolute dating of the “historical” David’s existence. Nonetheless, one should keep in mind that between the time fitting the reality of the “historical” David (i.e., the tenth century BCE) and the first firm attestation of the existence of the kingdom of Judah ruled by the Davidic dynasty lies a gap of more than a century. Therefore, either we should interpret the dynasty’s Davidic lineage as the fictitious invention of Judah’s rulers in the ninth century BCE, who sought to establish a link to their mythical founder; or we should admit that a real link between the dynasty’s founder and his descendants hibernated for more than a century within the less important kingdom of Judah during a period when the kingdom of Israel politically dominated it. Both scenarios are possible, but it is impossible to prove which (if any) is correct. To conclude, I am inclined to say that the historical realities reflected in the biblical account of the “historical” David as described in the biblical traditions point to the two centuries of the Philistine hegemony in the region (ca. 1125– 925 BCE) as the most likely setting for his activity. Having a very limited number of written texts available in this period, in order to keep alive the memory 63 64 65

See Niesiołowski-Spanò, “The Philistines in Jerusalem?” Niesiołowski-Spanò, Goliath’s Legacy, 28–29, 37–38. Therefore, the references about the kingdoms of Israel and Judah must be understood as anachronistic because the kingdom of Israel emerged in the central Hill Region only after the Sheshonq expedition, and Judah as the political entity emerged later.



of the historical David the biblical authors made extensive use of orally transmitted materials. Thus, it is possible that David’s historical era was closer to the end of the plausible timeframe suggested above, i.e., the tenth century BCE. If David was a historical person, he might have been the local leader of a small, Habiru-like group active in the Southern territories dominated by the Tribe of Benjamin and politically controlled by the Philistines from the City of Gath. Bibliography




James B. Pritchard (ed.), Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, vol. 1, Texts. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969. Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. Boston, MA: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1906 (repr. 1997). I.J. Gelb, B. Landsberger, A.L. Oppenheim, E. Reiner (eds.), The Assyrian Dictionary, Chicago: 1956–2010. William Hallo, The Context of Scripture, vol. 1–3. Leiden – Boston: Brill, 2003. Emmanuel Laroche (ed.), Catalogue des textes hittites. Paris 1956–1958. Jacob Hoftijzer and Karel Jongeling, Dictionary of the North-West Semitic Inscriptions. vol. 1–2. Leiden: Brill, 1995. Herbert Donner, Wolfgan Röllig, Kanaanäische und Aramäische Inschriften, vol. 1. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2002.

Secondary Literature

Ap-Thomas, Dafydd R. “Saul’s Uncle.” Vetus Testamentum, 11 (1961), 241–245. Astour, Michael C. Hellenosemitica. An Ethnic and Cultural Study in West Semitic Impact on Mycenaean Greece. Leiden: Brill, 1967. Athas, George. The Tel Dan Inscription: A Reappraisal and a New Interpretation [ Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement, vol. 360]. New York – London: De Gruyter, 2003. Barstad, Hans M. “Dod.” In Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, edited by Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking and Pieter W. van der Horst, 2nd ed. Leiden – Boston – Koln, 1999, 259–262. Biran, Avraham and Naveh, Joseph. “An Aramaic Stele Fragment from Tel Dan.” Israel Exploration Journal, 43 (1993), 81–98. Biran, Avraham and Naveh, Joseph. “The Tel Dan Inscription: A New Fragment.” Israel Exploration Journal, 45 (1995), 1–18.

David in History and in the Hebrew Bible


Blenkinsopp, Joseph. David Remembered. Kingship and National Identity in Ancient Israel. Grand Rapids, MI – Cambridge: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2013. Brown, Francis, Driver, Samuel Rolles and Briggs, Charles A. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. Boston, MA: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1906 (repr. 1997). Brown, John Pairman. Israel and Hellas, vol. 1–3. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1995–2001. Burkert, Walter. The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Davies, Philip R. and Römer, Thomas (eds.). Writing the Bible: Scribes, Scribalism and Script. London – New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2015. Davies, Philip R. Scribes and Schools: The Canonization of the Hebrew Scriptures. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998. Del Olmo Lete, Gregorio and Sanmartín, Joaquín. A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language in the Alphabetic Tradition, Part 1. Leiden – Boston: Brill, 2003. Dempster, Stephen G. “Dodavahu (person).” In Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David N. Freedman, vol. 2, 219–220. New York: Doubleday, 1992. Donner, Herbert and Röllig, Wolfgang. Kanaanäische und Aramäische Inschriften, vol. 1. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2002. Edelman, Diana V. King Saul in the Historiography of Judah [ Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement, vol. 121]. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991. Edelman, Diana V. (ed.). The Fabric of History. Text, Artifact and Israel’s Past [ Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement, vol. 127]. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991. Finkelstein, Israel and Silberman, Neil Asher. David and Solomon. In Search of the Bible’s Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition. New York: Free Press, 2006. Finkelstein, Israel, Na⁠ʾaman, Nadav and Römer, Thomas. “Restoring Line 31 in the Mesha Stele: The ‘House of David’ or Biblical Balak?.” Tel Aviv, 46 (2019), 3–11. Fröhlich, Ida (ed.). David in Cultural Memory [Contributions to Biblical Exegesis & Theology, vol. 93]. Leuven: Peeters, 2019. Garbini, Giovanni. “L’iscrizione aramaica di Tel Dan.” Rendiconti. Accademnia Nazionale dei Lincei, 9, no. 5 (1994), 461–471. Garbini, Giovanni. “Davide nella storiografia dei libri storici (Sam-Re).” Ricerche StoricoBibliche, 7, no. 1 (1995), 17–33. Garbini, Giovanni. Mito e storia nella Bibbia. Brescia: Paideia, 2003. Garbini, Giovanni. Scrivere la storia d’Israele. Brescia: Paideia, 2008. Gmirkin, Russell. Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus: Hellenistics Histories and the Date of the Pentateuch [The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies, vol. 433]. London – New York: T&T Clark, 2006. Gmirkin, Russell. Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible. New York: Routledge, 2017.



Gordon, Cyrus Herzl. “Homer and Bible. The Origin and Character of East Mediterranean Literature.” Hebrew Union College Annual, 26 (1955), 43–108. Gordon, Cyrus Herzl. The Common Background of Greek and Hebrew Civilizations. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1965. Gunkel, Herman. Legends of Genesis. Chicago: Open Court Pub. Co., 1901; repr.: Altenmünster: Jazzybee Verlag, 2012. Gunkel, Herman. Die Urgeschichte Und Die Patriarchen (Das Erste Buch Mosis): Übersetzt Und Erklärt Und Mit Einleitungen in Die Fünf Bücher Mosis Und in Die Sagen Des Ersten Buches Mosis Versehen. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1921. Hallo, William. The Context of Scripture, vol. 1–3. Leiden – Boston: Brill, 2003. Halpern, Baruch. David’s Secret Demons. Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King. Grand Rapids, MI – Cambridge: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001. Hoffner, Jr., Harry A. “A Hittite Analogue to the David and Goliath Contest of Champions?.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 30, no. 2 (1968), 220–225. Hoffner, Jr., Harry A. “Propaganda and Political Justification in Hittite Historiography.” In Unity and Diversity: Essays in the History, Literature, and Religion of the Ancient Near East, edited by Hans Goedicke, Jimmy Jack McBee Roberts, 49–62. Baltimore – London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975. Hoffner, Jr., Harry A. “Ancient Israel’s Literary Heritage Compared with Hittite Textual Data.” In The Future of Biblical Archaeology; Reassessing Methodologies and Assumptions, edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Alan Millard, 176–192. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004. Hoftijzer, Jacob and Jongeling, Karel. Dictionary of the North-West Semitic Inscriptions. vol. 1–2. Leiden: Brill, 1995. Howard, Jr., David M. “David (person).” In Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David N. Freedman, vol. 2, 41–49. New York: Doubleday, 1992. Jackson, Kent P. “The Language of the Mesha Inscription.” In Studies in the Mesha Inscription and Moab, edited by Andrew Dearman, 111–113. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989. Kitchen, Kenneth A. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003. Knapp, Andrew. Royal Apologetic in the Ancient Near East. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature Press, 2015. Langlois, Michael. “The Kings, the City and the House of David on the Mesha Stele in Light of New Imaging Techniques.” Semitica, 61 (2019), 23–47. Laroche, Emmanuel (ed.). Catalogue des textes hittites [Revue hittite et asianique], 1956–1958, 58–62. Lemaire, André. “La dynastie Davidique (byt dwd) dans deux inscriptions ouestsémitique du IXe s. av. J.-C.” Studi Epigrafici e Linguistici, 11 (1994), 17–19.

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Lemaire, André. “‘House of David’ Restored in Moabite Inscription.” Biblical Archaeology Review, 20, no. 3 (1994), 33. Lemche, Niels Peter “‘House of David’: The Tel Dan Inscription(s).” In Jerusalem in Ancient History and Tradition, edited by Thomas L. Thompson, 46–67 [ Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement, vol. 381]. London – New York, 2003. Louden, Bruce. Greek Myth and the Bible. London – New York: Routledge, 2019. Maeir, Aren M. Integrating Micro- and Macro-Archaeology at a Multi-Period Site: Insights and Outcomes from Tell es-Safi/Gath. In Cyber-Archaeology and Grand Narratives: Digital Technology and Deep-Tim Perspectives on Culture Change in the Middle East, edited by Thomas E. Levy and Ian W.N. Jones, 35–50. Cham: Springer, 2017. McCarter, Jr., Peter Kyle. “The Apology of David.” Journal of Biblical Literature 99, no. 4 (1980), 489–504. McKenzie, Steven L. King David. A Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Mykytiuk, Lawrence J. Identifying Biblical Persons in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions of 1200–539 B.C.E. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature Press, 2004. Nielsen, Flemming A.J. The Tragedy in History: Herodotus and the Deuteronomistic History, [The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies, vol. 251]. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997. Niesiołowski-Spanò, Łukasz. “Biblical Prophet Amos – A Simple, Poor Shepherd From Judah?.” In Euergesias Charin. Studies Presented to Benedetto Bravo and Ewa Wipszycka by Their Disciples, edited by Tomasz Derda, Jakub Urbanik, Marek Węcowski, 211–217. Warsaw: Fundacja im. Rafała Taubenschlaga, 2002. Niesiołowski-Spanò, Łukasz. “The Broken Structure of the Moses Story: Or, Moses and the Jerusalem Temple.” Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament, 23, no. 1 (2009), 23–37. Niesiołowski-Spanò, Łukasz. “The Philistines in Jerusalem? The Use of Archaeological Data as the Ethnic Marker: The Case of the Philistines, Other ‘Sea Peoples,’ and Judah.” In SOMA 2012. Identity and Connectivity: Proceedings of the 16th Symposium on Mediterranean Archaeology, Florence, Italy, 1–3 March 2012, edited by Luca Bombardieri, Anacleto D’Agostino, Guido Guarducci, Valentina Orsi, Stefano Valentini, 89–96 [BAR International Series S2581]. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2013. Niesiołowski-Spanò, Łukasz. Goliath’s Legacy. Philistines and Hebrews in Biblical Times [Philippika, vol. 83]. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2016. Niesiołowski-Spanò, Łukasz. “Athens and Jerusalem, Again. The New Paradigm of the Jewish and Greek Intercultural Relationships?” In Awīlum ša ana la mašê – man who can not be forgotten. Studies in in Honor of Prof. Stefan Zawadzki presented on the Occasion of his 70th Birthday, edited by Rafał Koliński, Jan Prostko-Prostyński, Witold Tyborowski, 161–169 [Alter Orient und Altes Testament, vol. 463]. Münster: Ugarit Verlag, 2018.



Niesiołowski-Spanò, Łukasz. “Review of E.A. Knauf, Ph. Guillaume, A History of Biblical Israel. The Fate of the Tribes and Kingdoms from Merenptah to Bar Kochba, London 2016.” Revue Biblique, 125 (2018), 277–282. Niesiołowski-Spanò, Łukasz. “Why Was the Biblical History Written During the Persian Period? Persuasive Aspects of Biblical Historiography and its Political Context.” In Collective Memory and Collective Identity: Case Studies in Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History, edited by Johannes Unsok Ro, Diana Edelman, 353–376 [Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, vol. 534]. Berlin – New York: de Gruyter, 2021. Noonan, Benjamin J. Non-Semitic Loanwords in the Hebrew Bible. A Lexicon of Language Contact. University Park, PA: Eisenbrauns, 2019. Pfoh, Emanuel. “A Hebrew Mafioso: Reading 1 Samuel 25 Anthropologically.” Semitica et Classica: Revue internationale d’études orientales et méditerranéennes, 7 (2014), 37–43. Pritchard, James B. (ed.). Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, vol. 1, Texts. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969. Rückl, Jan. A Sure House: Studies on the Dynastic Promise to David in the Books of Samuel and Kings. Fribourg – Göttingen: Academic Press – Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2016. Schley, Donald G. “Dodo (person).” In Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David N. Freedman, vol. 2, 220. Yale: Yale University Press, 1992. Tadmor, Hayim. “Historical Implications of the Correct Rendering of Akkadian dâku.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 17 (1958), 129–141. Thompson, Thomas L. The Bible in History. How Writers Create a Past. London: Jonathan Cape, 1999. Ulf, Christoph. “Rethinking Cultural Contacts.” Ancient West & East, 8 (2009), 81–132. Unsok Ro, Johannes (ed.). Story and History: The Kings of Israel and Judah in Context [Forschungen zum Alten Testament II, vol. 105]. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2019. Wajdenbaum, Philippe. Argonauts of the Desert. Structural Analysis of the Hebrew Bible [Copenhagen International Seminar]. London – New York: Routledge, 2011. Wesselius, Jan-Wim. The Origin of the History of Israel. Herodotus’ Histories as Blueprint for the First Books of the Bible [ Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement, vol. 345]. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002. West, Martin L. The East Face of Helicon. West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. Yoon, Sung-Hee. The Question of the Beginning and the Ending of the So-Called History of David’s Rise: A Methodological Reflection and Its Implications [Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, vol. 462]. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014.

part 1 The Images of David in Medieval Jewish, Muslim and Christian Sources

chapter 2

David the Pious Musician in Midrashic Literature and Medieval Muslim Sources Sivan Nir 1


Music is integral to the reception history of David. When first presented to Saul in 1 Samuel 16:3, David is portrayed as an accomplished lyre player who uses his musical skills to soothe the mad king.1 David is also connected to stringed instruments in Amos 6:5.2 The Book of Chronicles extends David’s relationship with musical instruments to the realm of Temple music.3 Rolf Rendtorff describes how David’s character was later enhanced by attributing many Psalms to him that were considered to be musical expressions of David’s inner musings, as alluded to by some of their titles and headings.4 Medieval Jewry continued to emphasize David’s spiritual nature and thus further distanced him from his earthly depiction in biblical prose. Late Midrash portrayed David as a humble sage (who at times rivaled Moses), which both enhanced his epic qualities and fleshed out his biography.5 Systematic medieval Bible exegesis, albeit occasionally apologetic, rendered the character of David in the Book of Psalms to be more consistent with his biography in the biblical narratives. His idealized nature as king also allowed exegetes to depict him as a paradigm of spiritual, prophetic or state-craft excellence.6

1 The verse reads: “And whenever the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand, and Saul would be relieved and feel better, and the evil spirit “would depart from him.” Throughout this paper, all translations of biblical verses are based on the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), unless included in the editions of the quoted texts. 2 For more on David and music in the Bible, see Rendtorff, “David in Psalms,” 54. 3 See 1 Chronicles 23:5; 2 Chronicles 29:26–27. These instruments are not trumpets (which would probably be attributed to Moses, based on Numbers 10:8). 4 See Rendtorff, “David in Psalms,” 56–58. 5 See Shenan, “David in Rabbinic literature,” 181–191. Some of these late midrashic biographical materials might be informed by a Muslim context. 6 I plan to address David in Medieval Jewish Psalm exegesis in greater detail in the future. The above summary is based on preliminary work that was part of my Ph.D. dissertation.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | doi:10.1163/9789004465978_004



This paper focuses on how David’s connection to the Book of Psalms was used by midrashic and Muslim medieval sources to portray the musical facet of his character.7 It compares the function and message of David’s midrashic characterization as above all a Torah scholar in the Babylonian Talmud and the Byzantine Midrash on Psalms8 to David’s depiction as an ascetic who musically duelled demons in several works of the Tales of the Prophets (Ar. Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ). The article concludes with a brief examination of the impact of these themes on some accounts of David’s death in these two corpora. Recent scholarship has rejected the notion of “influence” in favour of more complex dialectics that highlight the interdependent frames of self-definition between Jews, Christians and Muslims.9 The identification of the reception and reworking of traditions associated with Judeao-Christian sources (Ar. Isrāʾīliyyāt) requires careful study and comparison, since not only are direct attributions suspect, but the growing dissent stemming from the non-Islamic sources and an embellished folkloristic tone, in the ninth, fourteenth and twentieth centuries in particular, led to the preservation of those very sources where these connections are harder to glimpse, and whose characters are presented in a more pietistic portrait compatible with traditional Islamic values.10 Late midrashic sources for their part also tended to avoid overtly direct discourse.11 The aim of this paper hence, is not to establish a direct relationship between different interpretative traditions, but rather to trace the intricate web between I consulted commentaries and translations by Saʿadya Gaon, Yefet ben ʿEli, Rashi, Abraham Ibn Ezra, David Qimḥi and Isaac Abarbanel. 7 For the undisclosed Islamic reliance on Psalm verses when characterizing David see Goitein, “Isrā’īliyāt,” 99–100. 8 The second part of Midrash Psalms is much later and Provencal, but has no bearing on the accounts discussed in this paper. See Reizel, Introduction to Midrash, 281–285. 9 The need to go beyond the reductive debtor-creditor model of influence in favor of a more intertextual cultural view when discussing the Qurʾān and its interpretation has been repeatedly acknowledged in the last few decades. See, e.g., Lazarus-Yafeh, “Some Aspects,” 72–89; Firestone, “Abraham’s Journey,” 6–9; 23–24; Wasserstrom, Between Muslim and Jew, 56–75; Wheeler, “Israel and the Torah,” 61–85; Bernstein, Stories of Joseph, 1–10; Pregill, “Bible and Qurʾān,” 643–659. 10 The literature on this topic is vast. See Vajda, “Isrāʾīliyyāt,” and the sources mentioned there. For select studies, see Torrey, Jewish Foundation, 51, 68–75; Goitein, “Isrā’īliyāt,” 89–90; Kister, Studies, 101–103; Firestone, Journeys in Holy Lands, 312–313; Tottoli, Biblical Prophets, 165–175. The term itself is a loaded one and was originally pejorative, see ibid, “Origin and Use,” 193–210. For the complexity of the interdependencies between medieval Islamic sources and late Midrash, see Shtober, “Jewish Legend and Islam,” 114–121. For the impact of this process of selection on David’s medieval Islamic reception see Mohammed, David in the Muslim Tradition, 98–124. 11 For some reasons see, Lazarus-Yafeh, Intertwined Worlds, 13–29; Perlmann, “The Medieval Polemics,” 121–129.

David the Pious Musician in Midrashic Literature


them. My analysis of David can thus serve as a case study for the assessment of the broader reception of biblical figures in Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyā’ and Midrash, even in sources that might at first seem unrelated to one another. 2

Midrash: Sage First, Musician Second

Broadly speaking, rabbinic sources utilized passages from the Psalms that were interpreted as David’s monologues to characterize him – perhaps apologetically – as a pious king. However, both the Babylonian and Palestinian traditions downplay the importance of music in favor of David’s spiritual character. The different Talmudic accounts (b. Berakhot 4a) below are marked by letters for ease of reference:12 […] A prayer of David […] Keep my soul, for I am pious.13 Levi and R. Isaac: [A] The one says, “Thus spoke David before the Holy One, blessed be He; Master of the world, am I not pious? All the kings of the East and the West sleep to the third hour [of the day], but I, at midnight I rise to give thanks unto Thee.”14 [B1] The other one says: “Thus spoke David before the Holy One, blessed be He: ‘Master of the world, am I not pious? All the kings of the East and the West sit with all their pomp among their company, whereas my hands are soiled with the blood [of menstruation], with the fetus and the placenta, in order to declare a woman clean for her husband. And what is more, in all that I do I consult my teacher, Mephibosheth, and I say to him: My teacher Mephibosheth, is my decision right? Did I correctly convict, correctly acquit, correctly declare clean, correctly declare unclean? And I am not ashamed [to ask].’ ” [B2] R. Joshua, the son of R. Iddi, says: “Which verse [may be cited in support]? And I recite Thy testimonies before kings and am not ashamed15 […].”16 Sources [A] and [B] both view Psalm 86:1–2 as a Davidic proclamation of piety, whereas they interpret Psalm 99:62 as an example of this piety (namely, David 12 13 14 15 16

Abbreviated as B. See also Rashi on Psalms 57:9; 58:3. Psalm 86:1–2. Psalm 99:62. Psalm 119:46. Throughout this paper, all translations of passages from the Babylonian Talmud are based on the Soncino English edition. A comparison to Ma⁠ʾagarim: The Historical Dictionary project’s chosen Oxford manuscript for these passages (Ms. Bodleian Library, 366), has revealed no meaningful variations.



rising every midnight to pray). Both sources also view this nightly act as proof of David’s superiority to all Gentile kings. [A] argues for the piety of sacrificing sleep in order to praise God. David is characterized as a paradigmatic pious oriental king viewed through Hellenistic eyes. As Elimelech HaLevi pointed out, this depiction is similar to several known Greek passages praising the early-rising Cyrus.17 [B] on the other hand, as Avigdor Shenan remarked, is a more rote kind of “Rabbinization.”18 David prefers rabbinic duties to worldly pleasures.19 Hence, the rabbis’ own kind of unglamorous purity laws are the true hallmarks of piety and not David’s music or Psalms, which are completely absent from this account. The same indirect undermining of the importance of music is also evident in another Talmudic account (b. Berakot 3b): […] R. Oshaia, in the name of R. Aha, replies: “David said: ‘Midnight never passed me by in my sleep’.”20 [C] R. Zera says: “Till midnight he used to slumber like a horse,21 from thence on he rose with the energy of a lion.” [D] R. Ashi says: “Till midnight he studied the Torah, from thence on he recited songs and praises” […]. [E] But did David know the exact time of midnight? […] David had a sign. For so said R. Aha b. Bizana in the name of R. Simeon the Pious: “A harp was hanging above David’s bed. As soon as midnight arrived, a North wind came and blew upon it and it played of itself. He arose immediately and studied the Torah till the break of dawn. After the break of dawn the wise men of Israel came in to see him and said to him: ‘Our lord, the King, Israel your people require sustenance!’ ” […].22 This passage is a digression from a lengthy discussion about the number of watches in the night and is structured similarly to the above mentioned accounts. The source [C] describes David in line with [A]: he sleeps little and lightly, and rises every midnight to praise God. [D] like [B] adds rabbinic elements and Torah study. David praises God and studies Torah. [E] argues that David is no longer the one playing the harp. Instead, a divine sign in the form of a gust of wind plays a tune to wake him precisely at midnight so he will study.23 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

See HaLevi, “David’s Violin,” 334–335. See also the sun worshipping kings in b. Berakot 7a. For an explanation of the typical rabbinic treatment of biblical characters, see Levinson, Twice Told Tale, 188–190. See Shenan, “David in Rabbinic literature,” 198–199. Based on Psalm 109:62. According to the Talmud, horses sleep very lightly. See b. Sukkah 26a. For a lengthy commentary on this passage, see Paris, “Economy and Government,” 114–115. For more on this passage, see Shenan, “David in Rabbinic literature,” 188.

David the Pious Musician in Midrashic Literature


The implication is that studying is superior to music in the eyes of God. David himself no longer needs to play his harp in praise, just study. Possibly older Palestinian parallels to this Babylonian source [E] are collected and expanded in the Midrash on Psalms (Midrash Psalms 22:8):24 [F] In another comment, For the leader; upon ʾayelet ha-šaḥar is interpreted as “For the leader; upon strength at dawn.” Elsewhere, Scripture says, awake my glory; awake, psaltery and harp; I myself will awake at dawn.25 This is as though David said: “I will awake the king’s glory for the sake of my Maker’s glory, my glory being nothing before my Maker’s glory.”26 [G] R. Phinehas said in the name of R. Eleazer ben Menahem: “What did David use to do? He used to take a psaltery and a harp, put them above his head, and upon waking himself at midnight, used to play upon them; thereupon the sages of Israel,27 upon hearing David’s playing, used to say: ‘If David, king of Israel, occupies himself at midnight with Torah, with songs and praises, so much the more should we!’ And it turned out that because of David, all the children of Israel sat down and occupied themselves with Torah” […].28


25 26



Extrapolated solely on the rabbinic authorities named in Midrash Psalms and in the Talmud, the Midrash Psalms version appears in fact to be older. Midrash Psalms cites a fourth generation Palestinian Amora, whereas the Talmud names several fourth to sixth generation Babylonian Amoraim. See their respective entries and possible periods of activity in Hyman, Toldoth. Psalm 57:9. See Braude, Midrash on Psalms, vol. 1, 305. Comparison to Ms. Cambridge, University Library, Or. 768 revealed little of interest, except the addition of another sage, which might make the anonymous comments older. Moreover, this passage might have the additional aim of invalidating the possibility that David “awakened” God at dawn. Mishnah (m. Maʿaser Šeni 5:15), teaches us that “Yoḥanan the High Priest […] did away with the Awakeners and the Stunners.” The “Awakeners” were the Levites or priests, who each morning woke God up with their song. Studies have shown that the practice had pagan cognates. Egyptian temples, e.g., would awaken Serapis at dawn with songs and melodies. See Friedheim, “Challenge of Music,” 71–72. The rabbinic sources conveniently circumvent such potential readings. The possible influence of the Babylonian Talmud on the inclusion of “sages” underlined in source [E] is missing from a clearly earlier parallel in Ruth Rabbah. See Ruth Rabbah (Lerner) 6:1, which also references music-induced prophetic ecstasy 2 Kings 3:15, as well as parallels in Midrash Psalms 57:4 and the Palestinian Talmud, (y. Berakhot 1:1). All these sources mention David’s study companions rather than “sages.” Thus, the Midrash on Psalms version might be a compromise to fit with the Babylonian Talmud’s addition. See Braude, Midrash on Psalms, vol. 1, 305.



Source [F] identifies the “the leader” mentioned in the titles of certain Psalms with David and so argues that he was strong at dawn. Hence, David would already be up at the crack of dawn. Psalm 57:9 reports David stating his devotion to the glory of God that surpasses his personal glory. Such sentiments lead David to rise early. The underlined Hebrew paraphrase of verse 9 is the Midrash on Psalms’ sole important contribution to the older Palestinian accounts of this interpretation.29 The argument it puts forward is still very similar to those in Talmudic sources [A], [C] and [D]. According to [G], David would serve as a role model for all of Israel. He would rouse himself at midnight and play his musical instruments kept nearby, to signal to the sages of Israel to study the Torah as well. As in the Talmud’s [E], music is secondary and only acceptable when conducive to Torah study. This hierarchical theme is expanded on in another account that refers to the divine wind motif found in source [E]. Midrash on Psalms 22:8 continues: [H] R. Levi said: “A window was left open above David’s couch – left open to the north – and across the window hung a harp, and when the north wind came up at midnight it blew through the harp, which then played of itself;30 and David would say, Awake, my glory.31 How awakened? By the psaltery and the harp. I will awaken the dawn:32 That is, ‘I shall be he who awakes the dawn, the dawn shall not awake me.’ All night long his inclination-to-evil would tempt him, saying ‘David! David!33 Is it the way of kings that the dawn wake them? Kings sleep three hours into the day.’34 Yet thou declares I will awaken the dawn,35 and thou risest at midnight saying: at midnight I will rise to give thanks unto Thee.”36 29


31 32 33

34 35 36

The interpretations following [F] ([G] and [H] of R. Phineḥas and R. Levi), are already attested to by the Palestinian Talmud (y. Berakot 1:1) and thus older than Midrash Psalms. An Aramaic version of [F] is found in y. Berakot 1:1 as well, further supporting the view that the Hebrew version in Midrash Psalms is a later adaptation in language and content. Divine worship with self-playing instruments might be inspired by pagan culture. The rabbinic literature notes that there were pagan temples in which visitors encountered statues that “spoke and sang” aided by ventriloquists or by tubes inserted in the statue. See Friedheim, “Challenge of Music,” 79–80. Psalm 57:8. Psalm 57:8. Note the address “David David” emulating divine calls to biblical characters, such as “Samuel Samuel” in 1 Samuel 3:10. This fits the evil inclination’s learned discourse in Palestinian sources, since it approaches David as if God were the one speaking. See more on this discourse in Rosen-Zvi, “Yetzer,” 265–266. As noted in the Babylonian Talmud above. Psalm 57:8. Psalm 119:62. See Braude, Midrash on Psalms, vol. 1, 305.

David the Pious Musician in Midrashic Literature


The wind and not David is, once more, the musician. The special focus of this account is not that music encourages study, but on David’s inner temptation to go on sleeping. Music helps David conquer the evil inclination by rousing him. This account, when compared to the Talmudic [A] and [B] dramatizes David’s struggle rather than contrasts him with other kings. This indifference towards David’s music is concomitant with the general rabbinic outlook on music. According to numerous Talmudic and tannaitic sources, after the destruction of the Temple, music was forbidden for all extents and purposes. Emmanuel Friedheim argues that the abundance of such negative sources demonstrates the considerable influence exerted by pagan music on Jewish society, which the rabbis wanted to stop.37 Ultimately, the rabbis could not ban musical innovations altogether and had to adjust their rulings. As a result, no explicit prohibition of even blatantly pagan music is to be found anywhere in rabbinic literature.38 Hence, the implicit hierarchy between study and music conveyed by the abovementioned accounts is another form of rabbinic propaganda against music: even David the musician does not need music. 3

David’s Excessive Prayer and Fasting in Muslim Sources

David’s eminence in the Tales of the Prophets far outshines his lesser role in Qurʾān. Consequently, several new trajectories emerge.39 Generally speaking, the Islamic treatment of biblical figures as described by Aviva Schussman, veers towards two complimenting trends, namely the etiological and the pietistic.40 Correspondingly, there are two possible kinds of Muslim reflection on the discussed rabbinic accounts about David. The first is the musical conflict with evil and the genesis of musical instruments, which will be explored extensively in the next section. The other is more straightforward and was integrated into the extreme piousness of Muslim depictions of David, as mentioned in passing by James Lindsay.41 Specifically, these sources all refer to the theme of David’s 37 38 39 40 41

See Friedheim, “Challenge of Music,” 83–84. See Friedheim, “Challenge of Music,” 87–88. The rabbis were lenient as regards Greek music in Hellenized “mixed” Jewish and Gentile cities such as Beth Gubrin and Caesarea of the third through the fourth centuries CE. Wagtendonk, “The Stories of David,” 343–344. Schussman, “A Glance,” 104–105. For an overview of the genre, see Tottoli, Biblical Prophets, 138–163. See Lindsay, “Case of David,” 65–68. The similarity to this account [C] was already noted by Geiger and Taylor. See Geiger, Judaism and Islam, 145–146; Taylor, “Al-Bukhari and the Aggada,” 199–200. For another trajectory connecting the very same rabbinic and Islamic sources, about Adam gifting years of his life to David, see Schwarzbaum, Studies, 282.



light sleep resulting from his constant prayer (similar to the abovementioned rabbinic accounts [A], [C], [D] and [H]). It is hard to argue for a specific rabbinic source of influence. However, at the very least, the same interpretation of the Psalms as presenting David’s prayer practices can be considered to have shaped the exegetic tradition of the Qurʾān:42 “Be patient over what they say and remember Our servant, David, the possessor of strength; indeed, he was one who repeatedly turned back [to Allah]” (Sura 38:17). Although David’s strength was occasionally interpreted as physical prowess,43 Muslim tradition favored more ascetic endeavours, including nightly prayers. An example is al-Ṯaʿlabī’s (d. 1035) use of one of the Qurʾānic verses that mention David: “Among them were strength in worship and power in effort, as God has said: and remember Our servant David, lord of might (Sura 38:17) – meaning strength in worship, a penitent; that is, one who repents, gives praise, and is obedient […].”44 The following account relates David rising to pray after the first half of the night (i.e., at midnight) as in midrashic accounts. In his Ṣaḥīḥ (vol. 4, book 55, no. 631), al-Buḫārī expounds: Narrated by ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAmr (d. ca. 683): “Allah’s Apostle said to me, ‘The most beloved fasting to Allah was the fasting of [the Prophet] David who used to fast on alternate days. And the most beloved prayer to Allah was the prayer of David who used to sleep for [the first] half of the night and pray for 1/3 of it and [again] sleep for a sixth of it.’ ” The mention of midnight is absent in two possibly later45 accounts noted by Ibn ʿAsākir (d. 1176) where David (or his family) rise at night and pray. This suggests the primacy of the ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAmr account.46 42

43 44 45 46

Stillman notes the common practice in Jewish medieval sources to view various Psalm verses as instances of monologue originally uttered by unrelated biblical characters. He speculates whether this practice could have influenced Muslim exegesis, specifically with regards to what Cain and Abel said to each other prior to their confrontation in Muslim tradition. See Stillman, “Cain and Abel,” 235–236. See, e.g., Zamaḫšarī on the verse. See al-Ṯaʿlabī, Tales of the Prophets, 466. Later in terms of the isnāds and thus mostly speculatively. See the next footnote. See Lindsay, “Case of David,” 65. It reads there: “1) (Tabith): ‘David the Prophet of God (May God bless him and grant him peace) used to allot the hours of the night and day among his family. Some member of David’s family was awake to pray during each hour of the day and night. (God) encompassed them in this verse, “Give thanks, House of David. Yet few of My servants are truly thankful (Sura 34:13).’ 2) Another ḥadīṯ [authority

David the Pious Musician in Midrashic Literature


Ibn Kaṯīr (d. 1373) also makes reference in passing to the fact that David would devote the last part of the day to sermons, which could be an Islamized form of the nightly Torah study described in rabbinic accounts much like [G], [E] and especially [D]: “David divided his working day into four parts: one to earn a living and to rest, one to pray to his Lord, one to listen to the complaints of his people, and the last part to deliver his sermons […].”47 While rabbinic exegesis of the Book of Psalms might have inspired elements in these Muslim images of David, they are novel in their own right. They reframe David’s piety into third person reports, since they cannot use the Psalms as textual evidence of David’s pious confessions. Moreover, fasting is often described as concomitant with David’s prayers. Generally, fasting has positive spiritual connotations in many medieval Muslim sources. David as a prophet is associated with such practices by some authors such as al-Ġazālī48 (d. ca. 1111). It should be noted that according to some Muslim sources, David might have sinned like his biblical counterpart.49 It should thus come as no surprise that these sources also depicted him as committed to fasting so as to emphasize his penitence. In fact, the hyperbolic nature of his fasting and praying in Islam resulted in his reconceptualization as an exemplary penitent. According to both James Lindsay and Marianna Klar, David in the Tales of the Prophets as well as in the ḥadīṯ literature is always described as exceeding the minimum obligations required of an average Muslim.50 In all likelihood, this

47 48

49 50

of Wuhayb b. al-Ward] (d. ca. 770): ‘David the Prophet of God (May God bless him and grant him peace) used to [pray] in turn throughout the night with the members of his household. An hour did not go by in his house without someone praying or mentioning the name of God. When it was David’s appointed time, he rose to pray. It was as though his heart contained his and his household’s worshipfulness. God looked upon his heart and was pleased with what he saw of (David’s) worshipfulness and that of his household’.” The interpretation of “heart” found in the second account might be a hidden reference to 1 Samuel 16:7, where the divine gaze into David’s heart is the main reason for him being anointed as King. Account 2 also has David rouse himself as he does in the Palestinian traditions. See Ibn Kaṯīr, Stories of the Prophets, 146. I have summarized what Berg noted on the subject of fasting which is also relevant to David. Al-Ġazālī, in his Kitāb asrār al-ṣawm, points out that fasting earned the penitent high esteem from God. He distinguishes three levels of fasting. The highest is that of the Prophets, such as David, as well as the ṣiddīqūn and those who have been brought into the proximity [of God] (Ar. al-muqarrabūn). There are various traditions in the Ḥadīt literature about fasting connected with ethical tendencies, which he quotes to support his own view. See examples of these traditions about David below. For more on fasting, see Berg, “Ṣawm.” Such as the views of al-Ṭabarī and al-Kisāʾī on Sura 38:21ff. See Lindsay, “Case of David,” 68; Klar, Interpreting al Thaʿlabī, 139–140. See also, Anabsi, “David in Islam,” 5–9.



excess was aimed at emphasizing David’s sorrow for his sins. This pietistic trend is emblematic of Islamic sources in conversation with rabbinic accounts on David in general.51 Geneviève Gobillot describes how zuhd (roughly “ascetic”) ideas spread from the biographies of Muḥammad and his companions, to mystical works such as Ibn Ḥanbal’s (d. ca. 855) Kitāb al-zuhd (The Book of Religious Piety) where asceticism is attributed to other figures like David. Interestingly, however, only from the tenth century onwards, do actual mystics become the protagonists of these works. Similarly, a later ḥadīṯ seems to go against earlier traditions based on a passage from the Qurʾān (Sura 25:67), which aims at limiting ascetic trends.52 The above depiction of David as a pious renouncer is probably a reflection of this gradual medieval embrace of asceticism and therefore probably predates the tenth century waning of this trend. Thus, depictions of David praying are part of an ongoing medieval Muslim debate. He is portrayed as an extreme renouncer, but his practices are also considered too extreme by some of these same sources.53 David’s nightly prayers are used to promote asceticism in much the same way Midrash used them to encourage Torah study. Munim Sirry noted that al-Ġazālī in his Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn (The Revival of the Religious Sciences) finally reconciled the scholastic and mystic aspects of zuhd.54 The Muslim portrayal of David’s character

51 52 53


See for instance, the interplay of sources about David slaying of Goliath, Sokolow, “Goliath and ‘Og in Midrash and Ḥadith,” 52. See Gobillot, “Zuhd,” IE 2. Midrashic sources reflect a similar ambiguous attitude toward asceticism. Some sources depict certain rabbis as ascetics, whereas later sources eliminate ascetic characteristics from the very same figures. See Urbach, The Sages, 395–396. In some aḥādīṯ about David’s fasting, the narrator is not a proponent, admirable as it is. For instance, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Buḫārī, vol. 3, book 31, no. 196: “Narrated by ʿAbdullah bin ‘Amr bin al-ʿAs Allah’s Apostle said to me, ‘O ʿAbdullah! Have I not been informed that you fast during the day and offer prayers all the night.’ ʿAbdullah replied, ‘Yes, O Allah’s Apostle!’ The Prophet said, ‘Do not do that; fast for few days and then give it up for few days, offer prayers and also sleep at night, as your body has a right on you, and your wife has a right on you, and your guest has a right on you. And it is sufficient for you to fast three days in a month, as the reward of a good deed is multiplied ten times, so it will be like fasting throughout the year.’ I insisted (on fasting) and so I was given a hard instruction. I said, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! I have power.’ The Prophet said, ‘Fast like the fasting of the Prophet David and do not fast more than that.’ I said, ‘How was the fasting of the Prophet of Allah, David?’ He said, ‘Half of the year,’ (i.e., he used to fast on every alternate day). Afterwards when ʿAbdullah became old, he used to say, ‘It would have been better for me if I had accepted the permission of the Prophet (where he allowed me to fast only three days a month)’.” See Sirry, “Pious Muslims,” 441–442; Shiloah, Music in the World of Islam, 31.

David the Pious Musician in Midrashic Literature


corresponds closely to this trend given the combination of the motifs of music and fasting; al-Ġazālī used David as a precedent for both practices.55 Furthermore, al-ʿAṭṭār’s (d. ca. 1220) story of Mālik b. Dīnār’s “conversion” to zuhd, includes reports of the latter being awakened at night to pray by a speaking lute.56 This parallel provides a striking example of attributing a tale similar to midrashic accounts of David (sources [E] and [H]) to a Muslim pious figure. Hence, David was turned into a paradigm of piety in Muslim narratives on pious figures and later Midrashim bespeak of a similar process.57 This ascetic trend is related to the settings of the following accounts, which underscore David’s piety, using his musical gifts in a hyperbolic way compared to their Jewish counterparts. 4

David’s Symbolic Musical Competition with Demons

Amnon Shiloah’s works on Islamic music show how David’s voice is not only a precedent ever favoured by apologists but also possesses angelic connotations in myriad medieval genres.58 Some of David’s descriptions in the Qurʾān (Sura 21:79; 34:10) depict him as a kind of Orpheus with an entrancing voice.59 He is also identified with the invention of wind instruments called mizmār and miʿzaf, because he was the first to play them. Rudi Paret notes that Ḥadīṯ60 praises David’s enchanting singing and not his capacity to play instruments.61 Ta‌ʾrīḫ and Qiṣaṣ place similar emphasis on the arresting beauty of David’s

55 56 57

58 59 60 61

See below. See Sirry, “Pious Muslims,” 444–445. This conversation with a lute is unusual when compared to a more mundane dream revelation that strengthens the motif’s association with Midrash. In fact, Goitein attributes direct Psalm quotations to Mālik b. Dīnār and his circle, and describes their admiration of David. See Goitein “Isrāʾīliyyāt,” 98–100. For receptions of these Islamic ideas integrated into David’s character in late Midrash, see the version of account [E] in Seder Eliyahu 18 and also the unique Pirqei de Rabbi Eliezer 42, which both add ascetic penitent elements absent from probably older sources. See also Midrash Psalms 51:6 discussed as a sign of this kind of Islamic influence in Mohammed, David in the Muslim Tradition, 148–149. See for instance, Shiloah, Music in the World of Islam, 33 and other refrecnces to his studies that follow. David’s voice may have inspired or was inspired by the angel Israfil’s voice. See Burge, Angels in Islam, 223, 229. See Poché, “Mizmar,” 58–60; Shiloah, The Theory of Music, 119. See Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim: book 4, ḥadīṯ 1734; book 6, ḥadīṯ 279. See also Ṣaḥīḥ al-Buḫārī, vol. 6, book 61, ḥadīṯ 568. David is sometimes described as playing wind instruments. See Paret, “Dāwūd.”



voice rather than his capacity to play.62 In fact, al-Ṭabarī (d. 923) even tells us that musical instruments were invented by demons63 as pale imitations of David’s voice.64 The need to tackle the issue of forbidden instruments is also reflected in one of al-Kisāʾī’s accounts (the oldest manuscripts date back to the early thirteenth century65), where David’s enchanting voice is only used to draw the Israelites away from their amusements with the devil’s musical instruments: Ibn ‘Abbās (d. ca. 687) said: “Then the children of Israel became divided and occupied themselves with the amusements of the devil: there were those who played lutes and those who played drums, pipes, castanets and the like – until God sent David as prophet and revealed sixty lines of the Psalms to him. He also gave him such a voice he could recite correctly and sedately in more than seventy melodies, the likes of which no one had ever heard for sonority and volume […]. The children of Israel left their diversion and amusement and came to David’s Tower to hear his music […]. He divided his time into three: a day for worship, a day for his wives and a day for sitting in judgment. On the day for worship the ascetics would come down form the mountains and caves, and the birds and beasts would come from the air and the valleys and stand in rows around the Tower […].”66




65 66

For example, Ibn Kaṯīr, Tales of the Prophets, 146. Generally, Ibn Kaṯīr chooses to focus on David’s piety, and eliminates all tensions from his depiction (such as David’s sinfulness). See Klar, Interpreting al-Thaʿlabī, 140. The author may have omitted David’s alleged confrontation with the demons for this same reason, or because of its transmitters’ associations with Isrāʾīliyyāt. The demonic origins of musical instruments is not the only possibility mentioned in medieval Muslim sources. Some scholars relegated musical instruments to the descendants of Cain, as in the Bible and even mentioned the Devil’s involvement. Some midrashic accounts show similar dispositions that may have inspired and in turn drew inspiration from these Islamic views, such as Midrash Genesis Rabbah 22:32 and the late Midrash Aggadah 4:21. See, e.g., Poché, “Mizmar,” 69 (on Ibn al-Kalbī). Thus, al-Ṭabarī may have been familiar with the demonic connotation of music and chose to revisit this issue. This is supported by the time gap between the transmitters, see the next footnote. See al-Ṭabarī, History, vol. 3, 143: “According to what they have mentioned (Wahb b. Munabbih? d. ca. 725–37), God did not give anyone of His creation a voice like his. So when David recited the Psalms, wild beasts would gaze at him with delight, until they were lined up, intently listening upon hearing his voice. The demons invented flutes, lutes, and cymbals with only his voice as a model.” See Tottoli, Biblical Prophets, 151–155. See al-Kisāʾī, Tales of the Prophets, 278–279.

David the Pious Musician in Midrashic Literature


Gabriel Reynolds pointed out that the connection between David’s singing and the devil has a dramatic parallel in al-Ṯaʿlabī’s extensive account of David’s life:67 [Abū Hurayra (d. c 681)68 said]: “[…] Among God’s favors were David’s pleasant voice, delightful and agreeable comfort, a trilling voice, and modulations in singing. God had not bestowed upon any of His creatures a voice like his. He would recite the Psalms with seventy melodies so that those with fever would sweat and the unconscious would revive. When he recited the Psalms, he would go forth into the desert69 and stand there, and the scholars of the children of Israel would stand about him while the people would stand behind the scholars, the djinns behind the people, and the demons behind the djinns. Wild beasts and beasts of prey would draw near and be seized by the neck, while birds shielded him from the sun’s rays, the flowing water stood still, the wind died down, and the heavenly pipes, lutes, and cymbals did not make a sound. Cursed Iblis envied him for that and it became unbearable for him. He said to his demons: ‘Do you not see what has befallen you?’ They replied: ‘Command us to do what you wish.’ He said: ‘The only thing that will turn the people away from David is something that will contradict him and be contrary to his situation.’ So they arranged pipes and lutes and strings and instruments of kinds like David’s sounds. The foolish among the people heard them and inclined toward them and were deceived by them […].”70 David is a kind of Orpheus conducting a divinely harmonious orchestra. The envious Iblis and his demons entice the foolish among the people by their demonic imitation of the Davidic orchestra, resulting in a test of faith. According to Shiloah, this competition is evident in Ḥuǧwīrī’s71 (d. 1072) possibly older account, which places unique emphasis on God as the instigator of the musical trial to identify the true believers among the flock.72 67 68 69

70 71 72

See Reynolds, “David,” EI3. Abū Hurayra is also accused of transmitting Isrāʾīliyyāt. See Abbott, Studies, vol. 2, 8–9. The choice of an isolated location might be another expression of an attempt to prove David’s ascetic piety. Based on what Katz notes, “performance of the āḏān is meritorious even in cases in which there is no need to inform others of the time of prayer, such as in isolation.” See Katz, “Call to prayer.” See al-Ṯaʿlabī, Tales of the Prophets, 463; Wagtendonk, “The Stories of David,” 345. Note Ḥuǧwīrī’s even greater emphasis on the miraculous effects of David’s voice. See Ḥuǧwīrī, The Kashf, 402–403: “[…] The whole of this topic (that what you glean from music is dependent upon your moral character) is illustrated by the story of David, whom God made his vice-regent and gave him a sweet voice and caused his throat to be



The underlined passages in al-Kisāʾī’s and al-Ṯaʿlabī’s accounts, and specifically al-Ṯaʿlabī’s description of David attracting the sages of Israel by reciting the Psalms, seem to resonate with the rabbinic David calling the sages and all of Israel to study the Torah every night (accounts [G] and [E]), as Samuel Rosenbaltt suggestes.73 Al-Kisāʾī might have chosen ascetics instead of sages as a result of the reconceptualization of David’s character described in the previous section. Even if these rabbinic versions indeed inspired the Muslim accounts,74 the differences between the rabbinic and Muslim depictions of David are far more interesting and instructive. The transformation of David from harp or lute player into a singer or bearer of wind instruments is the easiest to explain. Christian Poché suggests that it might be connected to the nefarious magical connotations of string instruments in pre-Islamic Arabia. The miʾzaf (an Arabic equivalent of the Hebrew kinnor according to certain Arab historians) was part of the heritage of the ancient Yemenite civilization associated with taming the djinns. A different explanation suggests that the emphasis on David’s singing was related to the unpopularity of the Christian psalterion among the Arabs.75 Hence, David’s instruments were adapted to an Arabic context, and distanced from demonic connotations. The demonic motif in these accounts is a reflection of the wider controversy over the nature of music in medieval Muslim thought. Music was perceived as highly resonant with the soul and was considered to affect the moral qualities of the listeners. Doris Behrens-Abouseif mentions that David was one of the precedents used by pro-music thinkers such as al-Ġazālī and al-Fārābī (d. ca.

73 74 75

a melodious pipe, so that wild beats and birds came from mountain and plain to hear him, and the water ceased to flow and the birds fell from the air. It is related that during a month’s space the people who were gathered round him in the desert ate no food, and the children neither wept nor asked for milk; and whenever the folk departed it was found that many had died of the rapture the seized them as they listened to his voice; one time it is said, the toll of the dead amounted to seven hundred maidens and twelve thousand old men. Then God, wishing to separate those who listened to the voice and followed their temperament from the followers of the truth who listened to the spiritual reality, permitted Iblis to work his will and display his wiles. Iblis fashioned a mandolin and flute and took up a station opposite to the place where David was singing. David’s audience became divided into two parties: the blest and the damned. Those who were destined to damnation lent ear to the music of Iblis, while those who were destined to felicity remained listening to the voice of David […].” Also see Shiloah, The Theory of Music, 88. See Rosenblatt, “Rabbinic Legends in Hadith,” 249. Alternatively, the inspiration is not just in the Midrashim, but rather the Muslim call to prayer. See Poché, “Mizmar,” 64–66; Shiloah, Music in the World of Islam, 37. Also consider Rav Huna’s reported hostility to harps in this light (Midrash Psalms 81:3).

David the Pious Musician in Midrashic Literature


950) who referred to David to justify their own musical activities.76 In their view, David comes to embody the nature of good music, in direct opposition to the devil’s music. Thus, the precedent of David’s singing was used (and abused) in the moral struggle over the value of music in medieval Islam. He served as a symbolic figure to better suit the audience’s changing needs, as in the case of David’s alleged asceticism described above. While the midrashic Palestinian sources concentrated on David’s evil inclination77 (such as Midrash Psalms 22:8, account [H]), Muslim sources chose to focus on the devil. The difference between an internal and external incentive to sin – the inclination to do evil and the devil respectively – highlights the stark philosophical disparity between the Jewish and Muslim accounts of David, regardless of their possible similarity in other respects. Carol Bakhos maintains that echoes of apocalyptic dualism that existed even in the Qurʾān are one of the main features distinguishing Qiṣaṣ literature from most rabbinic literature.78 Accordingly, the dichotomy between good and evil music transpiring from these sources is typical of the Qiṣaṣ’ world view, and as such represents a distinctly Muslim treatment of David. Muslim thinkers claimed that the way to God was pleasurable, as was David’s music. One simply needs to discern the right kind of pleasure from the wrong one symbolized by the devil and his music. The rabbinic narrative argues that Torah study is the one true way leading to God and therefore the midrashic David is made to convey this picture of an exemplary pious sage, not a musician. In essence, the rabbinic views on music are similar to Islamic traditionalists’ views and at odds with the above Islamic accounts, such as that of Ibn Abī al-Dunyā.79 However, it seems



78 79

Arabic authors considered that music had a powerful impact on the soul. Music can either result in a profound religious experience or can act as a temptation to commit sins and engage in dissolute behavior. Al-Ġazālī mentioned David and bird song as positive precedents. He even argued that all prophets sent by God had beautiful voices like David’s, thereby further cementing David’s music as a symbol on a par with fasting. Al-Ġazālī’s views were accepted by other jurists and theologians, especially Ṣūfīs, who considered music one of the pleasures inherent to being in Paradise. See Behrens-Abouseif, “Aesthetics.” Note that the evil inclination appears in a text attributed to R. Levi in the Palestinian accounts in the Midrash on Psalms and the Palestinian Talmud, but not in the Babylonian account cited above ([B]; y. Berakot 4a). R. Levi was a second to third generation Palestinian Amora (ca. the beginning of the fourth c. CE). The description of the yēṣer in the above accounts is compatible with its non-sexual presentation in the sources of that period, according to Rosen-Zvi, “Yetzer,” 264–269. See Bakhos, “Migrating Motif,” in the concluding section of her article. See Goitein, “Isrā’īliyāt,” 95; Shiloah, Music in the World of Islam, 34–35.



that those very same tradtionalists were also the ones more hositle to Isrā’īliyāt and thus they left a much smaller mark on David’s reception. These philosophical differences were still dominant when Qiṣaṣ literature was collected in written form. According to Yosef Toby’s analysis, the far-reaching rabbinic disdain for Greek music is one of the reasons why Saʿadya Gaon (d. ca. 942) rejected the Greek-Arabic focus on the pleasurable effects of poetry.80 Apparently, he was still under the sway of traditionalist midrashic notions of piety. 5

David’s Death in al-Kisāʾī and Midrash: An Extension of David’s Previous Characterizations

The ideological differences between rabbinic and Islamic sources are further supported by differences between the rabbinic accounts of David’s death and the one in al-Kisāʾī. They convey entirely different messages, regardless of al-Kisāʾī’s probable acknowledgment of some midrashic versions or details.81 The Talmud again uses David to show that Torah study is superior to music. David’s music could not alter his destiny which was to die on a Sabbath, regardless of his protests. Rather, his Torah study stalled the angel of death for some time and eventually forced the angel to resort to trickery82 (b. Šabbat 30b).83 As Stephen Burge argues, the death of prophets, such as Enoch, Noah, Moses and Abraham, and their last interaction with the Angel of Death is a common enough type scene in Islamic literature. However, only the pietistic David and Muḥammad do not challenge the Angel in order to postpone their 80 81 82 83

See Toby, “Theory of Poetry,” 334–336. This collection is more folkloristic in nature and uses extended stories including Isrā’īliyāt, rather than Qurʾānic verses as the spring board for its accounts. See Schussman, “A Glance,” 91–92, 99. See in the section previewing both versions above. See the Talmudic account (b. Šabbat 30b per Soncino, p. 87): “[…] Now, every Sabbath day he (David who knew he would die on a Sabbath) would sit and study all day. On the day that his soul was to be at rest, the Angel of Death stood before him but could not prevail against him, because learning did not cease from his mouth. ‘What shall I do to him?’ said he. Now, there was a garden before his house; so the Angel of Death went, ascended and swayed the trees. He [David] went out to see: as he was ascending the ladder, it broke under him. Thereupon he became silent [interrupting his studies] and his soul had repose […].” Islamic parallels to several motifs in this account exist, but unrelated to David: stalling death – the remembrance (Ar. ḏikr) of God stops the Devil, See Burge, Angels in Islam, 178. Also see Ibid, 216, for a tradition reminiscent of God’s Talmudic desire to keep David alive around longer for his beautiful prayers. Allah similarly denies the prayers of the righteous in order prolong his enjoyment their prayers.

David the Pious Musician in Midrashic Literature


demise. The eminence of David’s piety goes intentionally beyond the possibly related Jewish traditions.84 Indeed unlike David’s Talmudic study, nothing could save David from death in al-Kisāʾī’s account of the incident. No mention of his arresting voice is made, despite al-Kisāʾī’s considerable emphasis on its irresistible power. David cannot gain a single hour of life, but instead is comforted by the promise that he is forgiven as a penitent: Wahb (b. Munabbih) said: “David was exceedingly jealous of his women, and whenever he went out, he would lock them and take the keys with him.85 One day he went out, and upon his return, saw a handsome man in the middle of the hall. Angrily he said: ‘Who are you, and who let you into my hall among my women?’ ‘He let me in who is Master of the hall and who gave you dominion and authority. I am he who fears not kings. I am the Angel of Death, come to take your spirit.’ David trembled and said, ‘O Angel of Death, let me go to my people and my children to bid them farewell.’ ‘I cannot do that, O David,’ said the angel. ‘Have you not heard then when their term is expired, they shall not have respite for an hour, neither shall their punishment be anticipated (Sura 10:50)?’ David wept and said, ‘O Angel of Death, I have wept much over my sins and transgressions. Will my tears avail me or not?’ ‘Yes, David,’ he said, ‘every tear that falls from a penitent sinner’s eye weighs more in His scales than the earth and the mountains.’ ‘O Angel of Death,’ said David, ‘who will the children of Israel have after me?’ ‘Your successor is Solomon,’ said the angel. ‘Then now is my spirit ready for death,’ David said. ‘Take that which God has commanded you to take.’ And the angel took his spirit.”86 The paramount importance of repentance is borne out by the vivid, dramatized description of David’s acceptance of his own demise. This depiction of his death forms an integral part of David’s representation as a Muslim exemplar of piety. If there is any connection to the Jewish accounts, it is polemical; namely that nothing can stop death. There are several reasons to assume there was such a connection between the Jewish and Muslim accounts. The first is the possible attribution of this story to the Isrāʾīliyyāt expert, Wahb ibn 84 85 86

Burge, Angels in Islam, 141–145; 241–243, 247–248, 250–253, 259–260; Rosenblatt, “Rabbinic Legends in Hadith,” 250–251. Cf. with the Baraita in the Babylonian Talmud (b. Giṭṭin 90a), where keeping wives under lock and key is considered an excessive degree of sexual modesty. If this view had any impact on al-Kisāʾī’s David, it was to portray him once again as excessively pious. See al-Kisāʾī, Tales of the Prophets, 299–300.



Munabbih.87 The second lies in the fine details of another remark by al-Kisāʾīs on the subject, which was evidently influenced by the rabbinic accounts on David’s death: “It is related on the authority of the Prophet that David lived for one hundred years and died on a Saturday. It is also said that his spirit was taken while he was preaching from the pulpit.”88 The attribution of this statement to the Prophet himself seems to suggest the apologetic integration of Jewish materials into Muslim exegetic tradition.89 In addition, the statement that David died while preaching echoes the Talmudic (b. Šabbat 30b) account of David dying while studying, which is consistent with the overall tendency in Muslim sources to replace descriptions of him studying at night with references to him preaching. Furthermore, according to al-Kisāʾī, David dies on the Sabbath as he does in the Talmud. Finally, in a Palestinian account of David’s death, the light of the sun could have spoiled his corpse and required the protection of birds to shade it (Ruth Rabbah 3:2).90 This detail is echoed in some of al-Ṯaʿlabī91 and al-Kisāʾī’s accounts. Both authors emphasize that after David’s sin, birds would no longer shield him from the sun. This avian motif might have been drawn from the Isrāʾīliyyāt, given that these transmitters are the only ones showcasing the motif.92 In any case, al-Ṯaʿlabī and al-Kisāʾī seem to have been familiar with 87 88 89




See Abbot, “Wahab b. Munabbih,” 103–106. See al-Kisāʾī, Tales of the Prophets, 300. Al-Kisāʾī’s identity and the dating of his work are both difficult questions. It is possible that his “Tales of the Prophets” were later embellished with Isrāʾīliyyāt materials or used as a repository for such materials to conceal their “problematic” Jewish provenance behind the author’s authoritative persona. See Tottoli, Biblical Prophets, 151–155. See Rabinowitz, Midrash Rabah, 44: “[…] And David died on a Pentecost which coincided with the Sabbath and the Sanhedrin went up to present themselves to Solomon. He said to them, ‘Move him from place to place’. They said to him, ‘but does not a Mishnah state that a corpse may be washed and anointed as long as the limbs are not moved?’ he said to them, ‘the dogs of my father’s house are hungry’. They answered him, ‘does not a Mishnah state that pumpkins may be cut [on the Sabbath] for an animal, and a carcass for dogs?’ What did he do? He took a curtain and spread it over [the body] that the sun should not beat down upon it, while others explain that he summoned eagles who spread their wings over him that the sun should not beat down upon him.” See al-Ṯaʿlabī, Tales of the Prophets, 463: “It is said that when David recited the Psalms after having committed sins, the water did not stand still for him, the wild animals, domesticated animals, and birds no longer paid attention to him as they had before that, and his melody was impaired […].” See Klar, Interpreting al-Thaʿlabī, 114. In al-Ṯaʿlabī’s lengthy Davidic address to God as “creator of light,” David confesses his fear of the sun’s rays (in bold). While this speech is heavily laced with references to the Qurʾān), it is still possible that it reflects Ruth Rabbah. David’s loss of the shading birds in both sources is telling, given that the transmitters are two notable Isrāʾīliyyāt experts (in bold): “Ibn Faṯawayh told us with his chain

David the Pious Musician in Midrashic Literature


the sun and bird shade motif, which in Jewish tradition was associated with David’s demise, but transferred it to his sin and subsequent fall from divine grace. If so, this would further testify to the complex reception of midrashic materials in Muslim literature. 6


David’s association with the Psalms resulted in a reinterpretation of some of them as an expression of his innermost thoughts. Both Babylonian and Palestinian rabbis used this technique in homilies in which they tended to read certain Psalms as David’s confessions of his rigorist nightly prayer routine. These interpretations were aimed at distancing David from the musical aspect of his character by implicitly suggesting the lesser importance of David’s preoccupation with music to that of his Torah study. These rabbinic interpretations inspired different Islamic authors. The integration of Jewish materials in this corpus, however, was highly selective. The nightly prayer motif was adopted in Muslim texts associated with zuhd literature that portrayed David as a model ascetic. Correspondingly, the midrashic motif of David’s struggle against his own desires to awaken every night to praise God was incorporated into other medieval Muslim texts debating the value of music. Qiṣaṣ accounts made David the paradigm of positive music battling the negative musical prowess of the Devil. A similar selective and creative approach to Jewish sources in Muslim literature is also reflected in al-Kisāʾī’s treatment of midrashic materials recounting David’s death. Neither

of transmission from Ka’ab al-Ahbar and from Wahb b. Munabbih, who all agreed, saying: When the two angels came to David and he passed judgment on them himself, they changed their form and ascended while saying […]: I am one who is unable to bear the heat of Your Sun (Sura 20:119 Adam, Sura 76:13 not in paradise, Sura 9:81 those that praised Islam did not understand that the sun is not hotter than Hell!). How then will I be able to endure the heat of your fire? Praise be to the Creator of light, my God. I am he who is unable to stand the noise of your threat. How, then, shall I be able to endure the noise of hellfire? (Sura 25:12 is still a strange complaint, but might be related to the fact that David was a musician) Praise be to the Creator of light, my God […].” See al-Ṯaʿlabī, Tales of the Prophets, 473–474. The connection to Midrash is even more evident in al-Kisāʾi’s account, where the birds provide shade to David as long as he is righteous: “I have favored thee with an excellent voice, the like of which no one except thy father Adam has had […] I have commanded the birds to assemble above thy head and to sing hymns of praise along with thee […].” See al-Kisāʾī, Tales of the Prophets, 281. For an interpretation that uses this light motif yet exonerates David of sin, see Mohammed, David in the Muslim Tradition, 67–68.



Torah study nor music can help al-Kisāʾī’s David postpone the time of death, only pious repentance. Thus, although the character of David and his musical gifts function as exemplars for the two religious communities, they are made to convey different sets of values that were particularly important to each of these respective communities; namely, Torah study in Judaism and penitence in certain Islamic circles. Later Italian, Provençal and Spanish Jewish thinkers93 absorbed such Muslim notions of the spiritual value of music and formed a conception of the character of David that departs from classical Midrash, but this issue goes beyond the scope of this paper.94 Bibliography

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On the adoption of Muslim musical concepts by the Jews, see Avenary, “Science of Music,” 53–54. Ibn Falaquera’s understanding of music is highly dependent on the Muslim Brethren of Purity’s Epistle on Music. See Shiloah, “The Source of Falaquera’s Chapter,” 375–377. These schools of thought however, had a very specific David in mind that emphasized his demonic conflict.

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chapter 3

The Weeping King of Muslim Pietistic Tradition David in the Kitāb al-waraʿ of ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb (d. 238/853) and in Earlier Islamic Sources Mateusz Wilk 1

Introduction: Kitāb al-waraʿ of ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb

Kitāb al-waraʿ (Book of Religious Scrupulosity) by ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb (d. 238/853) belongs to a tradition of third/ninth-century ḥadīṯ compilations that deal with themes of piety and zuhd (lit. “mild asceticism” or “renunciation”).1 The surviving compilations on waraʿ, a term usually translated as “religious scrupulosity,” were authored by or ascribed to Ibn Ḥanbal (d. 242/855), al-Muḥāsibī (d. 243/857), Ibn Abī al-Dunyā (d. 281/894),2 and ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb (d. 238/853). To this list we may add Kitāb al-zuhd wa-’l-ʿibāda wa-’l-waraʿ (The Book of Renunciation, Worship and Religious Scrupulosity) written by Asad b. Mūsā (d. 212/827), but the state in which this work has been preserved sets it apart from other similar compilations, as only traditions on Hell have survived from the book that must have originally included ḥadiṯ on other topics as well.3 ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb was one of the principal figures in the early Malikism of al-Andalus. A full description of his life goes beyond the scope of the present work. Suffice it to say that he initially adhered to the maḏhab of al-Awzāʿī (which was, supposedly, the most popular legal school in al-Andalus before 1 For the term “mild asceticism” see Hurvitz, “Biographies and Mild Asceticism.” Other important articles concerning models of piety in the ḥadīṯ compilations of the time include Kinberg, “What Is Meant by Zuhd” and Melchert, “The Piety of the Hadith Folk.” The present article is a result of my research on religious scrupulosity in third/ninth-century Islam, funded by the National Science Centre (NCN; grant Sonata 3; no. 2012/05/D/HS3/03521). 2 Although multiple editions of Ibn Ḥanbal’s Kitāb al-waraʿ exist, I used mainly the one prepared by Zaynab Ibrāhīm al-Qarūṭ (published by Dār al-kutub al-ʿilmiyya, Beirut 1987). See also a German translation of this work by Pitschke, Skrupulöse Frömmigkeit im Frühen Islam. For similar works, see also al-Muḥāsibī, Kitāb al-makāsib wa-’l-waraʿ; Ibn Abī al-Dunyā, Kitāb al-waraʿ. I am currently preparing a critical edition and English translation of ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb’s Kitāb al-waraʿ (University of Córdoba Press, forthcoming). The excerpts quoted in this paper are taken from this edition (with slight modifications when necessary). 3 See Asad b. Mūsā, Kitāb al-zuhd (Book of Renunciation). © Mateusz Wilk, 2021 | doi:10.1163/9789004465978_005 This is an open access chapter distributed under the terms of the CC BY-NC 4.0 license.



the advent of Malikism in the mid-third/ninth century), being a student of, among others, Ṣaʿṣaʿa b. Sallām (d. 192/807 or 201/817) – a prominent Awzāʿite jurist – as well as of two important Proto-Maliki scholars, al-Ġāzī b. Qays (d. 199/815) and Ziyād b. Abī ʿAbd al-Raḥmān, known as Šabṭūn (d. 204/819–820).4 Ibn Ḥabīb undertook a three-year voyage to the East, departing in 208/823– 824, during which he studied fiqh in Egypt (with, among others, Aṣbaġ b. al-Faraǧ [d. 224–225/839–840]) and in Medina (with famous Maliki masters like Muṭarrif [d. 220/835] and Ibn al-Maǧišūn [d. 212/827]). Upon his return to his hometown, Elvira, he was summoned to the court of the Umayyad emir of al-Andalus, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān II in 218/833. From this time onwards, he fulfilled the post of a “counselor jurist” (Ar. al-faqīh al-mušāwar), which means that he was a member of the council of high-ranking jurists directly advising the emir. Ibn Ḥabīb had retained this high position at the Cordoban court for twenty years, until his death in 238/853. Throughout this period, he enjoyed considerable authority in the early Maliki circles of al-Andalus, often advising in high-profile judicial cases at the court. The most famous and controversial among them was the one of “the nephew of ʿAǧab,”5 when Ibn Ḥabīb managed to oppose the majority vote of other jurists and cause the nephew of ʿAǧab to be condemned to death.6 Many extant works are authored by or attributed to ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb7 and it can safely be said that they constitute most of the Andalusi sources from the third/ninth century in our possession. In the present paper, I would like to focus on the (hitherto unpublished) Kitāb al-waraʿ in order to explore the image of King David that emerges from this source. Kitāb al-waraʿ or Book of Religious Scrupulosity by ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb has been preserved in the Arabic manuscript no. 5146 of the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid (folios 180v–201v). It forms a part of a florilegium, a collection of works on various topics. The manuscript certainly dates to a much later period than the text itself; the folios containing the treatise are written in a clear maġribī 4 On the concept of “Proto-Malikis,” being essentially the first generation of scholars who imported the Maliki doctrine to al-Andalus, see Fierro, “Proto-Malikis, Malikis and Reformed Malikis,” 61–70. 5 ʿAǧab was the favorite concubine of the late emir al-Ḥakam I, the father of ʿAbd alRaḥmān II. 6 For the most detailed discussion of this famous case, see Fierro, La heterodoxia en al-Andalus, 57–63. For detailed reconstructions of Ibn Ḥabīb’s life, see Arcas Campoy, Serrano Niza, “Ibn Ḥabīb” and Arcas Campoy, “La autoridad doctrinal de ʿAbd al-Malik ibn Ḥabīb.” 7 The published ones are Kitāb adab al-nisāʾ (Book of Good Conduct of Women), Kitāb waṣf al-firdaws (Book of Description of Paradise), Kitāb al-ta‌ʾrīḫ (Book of Chronology), Muḫtaṣar fī-’l-ṭibb (Compendium of Medicine), Kitāb al-wāḍiḥa (The Clear Book), Ašrāṭ al-sāʿa (Conditions of the Last Hour), Kitāb al-ribā (Book of Usury).

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script that may date to the fifteenth, sixteenth or even seventeenth century (no precise dating seems possible on the sole basis of paleography).8 2

The Principal Aspects of Religious Scrupulosity (waraʿ)

As most similar compilations on religious scrupulosity (Ar. waraʿ) and mild, renunciant asceticism (Ar. zuhd), Kitāb al-waraʿ of ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb contains ḥadīṯ dealing with various problems of piety in social life. The discussion of the problem of distinction between zuhd and waraʿ exceeds the scope of the present study, yet it may be observed that zuhd often involves the idea of a positive act for the sake of God and Islam (e.g., renouncing luxuries, or sharing with the poor), while waraʿ is more “negative,” involving rigorous avoidance of things that can cause a pious man to cross the ever-elusive boundary between the licit (Ar. ḥalāl) and the illicit (Ar. ḥarām). It is then, in the first place, the avoidance of every doubt in religion and the religious way of life, including situations in which such doubts may arise. In Ibn Ḥabīb’s compilation, we find the following tradition: It is narrated from ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Ḥabīb, from his father that the Messenger of God (on whom be peace and prayers) said: “Virtue is a trait of kindness and sin is what rankles in your breast, something that you would not like people to know about.” And Abū al-Dardāʾ used to say: “Good is in tranquility, and evil is in doubt, so leave what makes you doubtful for what does not.”9 From this and several other similar traditions contained in Kitāb al-waraʿ, it transpires that scrupulosity is, at least to some extent, the avoidance of emotional anxiety caused by the danger of going astray and committing (even inadvertently) an illicit act. This is why one of the most common problems present in compilations on religious scrupulosity is finding licit means of sustenance, namely those that would allow a pious man to earn his living in a lawful way and become economically independent from others, being thereby able to fulfill his religious duties (offering alms from illicit gain is null and void; the obligation is considered unfulfilled under such circumstances). This is well exemplified by the following tradition quoted by Ibn Ḥabīb:

8 The folio numbers in the quoted texts refer to this manuscript. 9 See Ibn Ḥabīb, Kitāb al-waraʿ, no. 99, fol. 186v.



Al-Ḥasan said: “The Messenger of God (on whom be peace and prayers) said: ‘By the One in whose hand my soul is! It is better for you to take a rope, go to the woods, gather some wood, then go sell it to eat and pay alms from the proceeds, than to ask people [for support], which they may grant or refuse’.”10 Thus, waraʿ constitutes scrupulous avoidance of all illicit acts, with a special focus on social life (from economic activity, through gossiping, slander and eavesdropping, to cursing or indecency). There is also another important aspect of scrupulosity that should be briefly mentioned here, probably the only one that does not consist of abstaining from doubts or illicit acts. It is the constant examination (literally “accounting”) of oneself (Ar. muḥāsabat al-nafs), which is an indispensable condition of scrupulosity. Ibn Mihrān said: “A man does not truly fear God if he does not examine himself scrupulously, meaning his food, drink and clothing – whether they are licit or illicit.” Al-Ḥasan said: “People whose accounting will be the easiest on the Day of Resurrection are those who examine themselves constantly before God in this world. And the ones whose accounting will be the hardest on the Day of Resurrection are those who took things indiscriminately, with no examination. They shall find God making them accountable for a weight of dust! And they say: ‘Woe to us! What kind of a Book is this that leaveth not a small thing nor a great thing but hath counted it!’11 This is a Qurʾānic verse.”12 Even though I attempted to define scrupulosity as the quest for peace and avoidance of doubts, a scrupulous man’s heart seems to know no peace as it is in constant fear of transgression.13 This constant anxiety is an indispensable condition of scrupulosity, while the scrupulosity is, in turn, indispensable for any religious life. A lack of scrupulosity can even nullify all rituals or religious practices:

10 11 12 13

See ibidem, no. 50, fol. 183v. This tradition occurs frequently in other compilations. See Sura 18:49 (in Pickthall’s translation). See Ibn Ḥabīb, Kitāb al-waraʿ, no. 69, 70, fol. 185r. Cf. ibidem, no. 5, fol. 180v. On fear as an integral part of Islamic piety in the period prior to the third/ninth century, see Melchert “Exaggerated Fear.”

The Weeping King of Muslim Pietistic Tradition


[ʿAbd al-Malik] said: “Asad b. Mūsā narrated to me from ʿUṯmān al-Mawṣilī from Yaḥyā b. Mihrān: ʿĪsā b. Maryam (prayers be upon him!) said: Even if you fast until you become thin as straws and if you pray until you become bent like bows, it will not be accepted from you without sincere scrupulosity’.” ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz said: “He who has no scrupulosity and does not abstain from eating forbidden food has no religion at all.”14 In his article on fear in the early Islamic pietistic tradition, Christopher Melchert argues that in the second half of the second/eighth century, the “exaggerated fear” disappears from pious practices, being replaced by a more moderate version of piety (and the related theology). Accordingly, the stress of later ḥadīṯ compilations shifts from presenting heroic models of piety from early Islamic times towards a more accessible paradigm that can be followed much more widely, thereby offering salvation to more people than had previously been the case.15 I do not intend to essentially challenge this view. It is true that in the third/ ninth-century pietistic compilations, we no longer see protagonists of Muslim tradition wish they had never been born because of the mere possibility of being condemned to the Fire, or suddenly burst into tears out of such fear. Such imagery all but disappears from pietistic compilations. Yet, even if we find fear replaced by anxiety and constant mindfulness in our sources, the concept of salvation that transpires from the third/ninth-century compilations on waraʿ continues to appear “elitist.” There is no hope of salvation for a man unable to avoid doubt in his religion, who fails to constantly keep holding his soul to account. He will not even be saved by dutiful fulfilment of the rituals available and prescribed to every Muslim. While the nature of fear might have changed over time (albeit traditions on Heaven and Hell are far from being uncommon in third/ninth-century pietistic ḥadīṯ),16 in the compilations on scrupulosity, salvation does not seem to be offered to many, still being destined solely for paragons of religion. Lastly, it should be noted that pietistic compilations do not generally offer theoretical analysis of the discussed concepts. Therefore, it is difficult and challenging to clearly distinguish between zuhd and waraʿ. But for one exception, the compilers provide no definitions of the analyzed concepts, which renders

14 15 16

See Ibn Ḥabīb, Kitāb al-waraʿ, no. 3, 7, fol. 180v. See Melchert, “Exaggerated Fear.” See, e.g., Melchert, “Locating Hell.”



any attempts to distinguish between waraʿ and zuhd arbitrary.17 The only author who does attempt to present religious scrupulosity in a more systematic manner is al-Muḥāsibī, who defines its place in a broader mystical system.18 What makes Kitāb al-waraʿ of ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb stand out among other compilations on religious scrupulosity is its relatively broad interests as well as focus on politics and the relationship of a pious man with political power. Ibn Ḥabīb’s Kitāb al-waraʿ contains an extensive chapter on the scrupulous avoidance of friendship with rulers. In fact, a pious man should have no dealings with them at all, as that may cause him to partake in their potentially illicit gains: Sufyān used to say: “Do not frequent the princes and those who frequent them. Do not eat their food and do not try to imitate them.” Then he said: “By God, if it were not reproachable, I would abstain from praying for those who come to the ruler, so that it could become an example.” Sufyān used to say: “Do not yield to the ruler in anything, even if it’s the last thing you do. Even if he calls upon you to recite a sūra from the Qurʾān, do not recite it.”19 A ruler and the state in itself, has the power to either condemn a man to the Fire, or aid his salvation: Al-Awzāʿī said: “It has reached me that God Almighty destroys subjects, even if they are rightly guided, if their imams are iniquitous. He also has mercy for subjects, be they iniquitous and wicked, if the imams are rightly guided.”20

17 18 19


For a definition of zuhd, see Kinberg, “What Is Meant by Zuhd.” See al-Muḥāsibī, Kitāb al-makāsib wa-’l-waraʿ, 68. See also Picken, Spiritual Purification in Islam, 74–75. For a comparison of a more “typical” pietistic author, Ibn Ḥanbal, with al-Muḥāsibī’s approach, see Picken, “Ibn Ḥanbal and al-Muḥāsibī.” See Ibn Ḥabīb, Kitāb al-waraʿ, no. 259, fol. 197r; no. 282, fol. 198v. Such a reticence towards the state is a common motive in biographies of many scholars and ascetics. On the political stance of Sufyān al-Ṯawrī (who appears as the transmitter in both of the quoted traditions and is known to have informally supported the Umayyads), see Judd, Religious Scholars and the Umayyads, 80–90. See Ibn Ḥabīb, Kitāb al-waraʿ, no. 270, fol. 197v. In the next tradition (no. 271, fol. 197v), it is said that the common folk (Ar. al-ʿāmma) are destroyed because of the sins of the elites (Ar. al-ḫāṣṣa), but not the other way around. On al-Awzāʿī and his political views, see Judd, Religious Scholars and the Umayyads, 71–79.

The Weeping King of Muslim Pietistic Tradition


This gives the state a kind of a terrible power over the ultimate fate of believers in the Hereafter. It is only aggravated when political dissent (Ar. fitna) occurs, as it always has eschatological undertones.21 In such time, a scrupulous man is expected to maintain his distance from all sides of the conflict and avoid participating in it in any way, even if such quietism would lead to his death: [The Prophet] (on whom be peace and prayers) said: “A dissent (Ar. fitna) will come, in which a sitting man will be better than a walking one, and a walking man will be better than a riding one.” A man asked him: “What are we to do, o Messenger of God?” The Messenger of God (on whom be peace and prayers) was sitting on his mantle – he took its fringe, covered his head with it and said: “Be the killed servant of God.”22 Thus, any attempt at participating in the activities of the ruler or the state, not to mention at taking a political stance, can be a threat to scrupulosity and, in consequence, to religion and salvation itself. It is against this backdrop that we should consider the traditions on King David (Ar. Dāwūd) in Kitāb al-waraʿ of ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb. Before proceeding to the analysis of the relevant fragments of this work, I would like to summarize the image of King David in the Qurʾān and in the oldest known Islamic compilation on David, Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd (The Traditions on David) of Wahb b. Munabbih [d. 110/728 or 114/732]. 3

King David in the Qurʾān

David (Ar. Dāwūd) is described by the Qurʾān as a prophet (Ar. nabī), but not a messenger (Ar. rasūl) of God. As with other biblical characters, the Qurʾān “assumes” that its readers are generally familiar with the story of David, which is why the Qurʾānic account is neither chronological, nor particularly detailed.



One of the most common meanings of the Arabic term fitna (lit. “refinement of a precious metal”) is eschatological tribulation that precedes the end of the world, during which the community of faithful believers is refined like a precious metal to ensure the salvation of the worthy. Cf. Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic, 20–21, and further bibliography there. See Ibn Ḥabīb, Kitāb al-waraʿ, no. 102, fol. 187r. The compilation contains a separate chapter devoted to the question of what to do during dissent (Ar. Bāb mā yaṣnaʿu-’l-muslim fī-’l-fitna; no. 106–118, fol. 187v–188r), where a similar attitude is recommended. The traditions also provide a list of measures to prevent the spread of dissent (e.g., avoidance of idle talk) and discuss the question of the salvation of its participants.



Thus, the killing of Goliath (Ar. Ǧālūt) is mentioned23 and David’s image of a military leader is completed by two other passages,24 where God teaches him how to make armor for himself and for the protection of his people. It is notable that his military prowess is a result of divine revelation. Elsewhere, it is stated that David received a revelation of the holy book of Zabūr25 that can presumably be identified with the Psalms. In addition, he is depicted praising God together with mountains and birds.26 There are also some similarities between him and other Islamic prophets; for example, David is the only Qurʾānic character except Adam to be described as a “viceroy” (Ar. ḫalīfa) of God,27 while Sura 5:78 has both David and Jesus curse the unbelieving Jews. However, the most important Qurʾānic passage on David is found in Sura 38 (Ar. Sūrat Ṣad), alluding, among other things, to David’s affair with Bathsheba. Muḥammad is reminded of the story of David and instructed to be patient with the unbelievers casting doubt on God’s signs and warnings: Bear with what they say, and remember our bondman David, lord of might. Lo! He was ever turning in repentance. Lo! We subdued the hills to hymn the praises with him at nightfall and sunrise, And the birds assembled; all were turning unto Him. We made his kingdom strong and gave him wisdom and decisive speech. And hath the story of the litigants come unto thee? How they climbed the wall into the royal chamber, How they burst in upon David and he was afraid of them. They said: Be not afraid! (We are) two litigants, one of whom hath wronged the other, therefore judge aright between us, be not unjust and show us the fair way. Lo! This my brother had ninety-nine ewes while I had one ewe and he said: Entrust it to me, and he conquered me in speech. (David) said: He hath wronged thee in demanding thine ewe in addition to his ewe, and lo! Many partners oppress one another, save such as believe and do good works, and they are few. And David guessed that We had tried him, and he sought forgiveness of his Lord, and he bowed himself and fell down prostrate and repented. 23 24 25 26 27

Sura 2:251. Sura 21:80 and 34:10–11. Sura 17:55 and 21:105. Sura 21:79, 34:10. Sura 38:26 (cf. also Sura 2:30 and 2:251).

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So We forgave him that and lo! He had access to our presence and a happy journey’s end. O, David! Lo! We have set thee as a viceroy in the earth, therefore judge aright between mankind and follow not desire that it beguile thee from the way of Allah. Lo! Those who wander from the way of Allah have an awful doom, forasmuch as they forgot the Day of Reckoning.28 It is worth noting that the “Bathsheba affair” is never recounted explicitly, but only alluded to in Sura 38:21–24, mentioning the “litigants” (Ar. al-ḫaṣm) wanting David to judge between them. This is, of course, a reference to an episode from 2 Samuel, where the prophet Nathan comes to David, tells him the parable of two men, rich and poor, according to which the rich one took the poor one’s only lamb. When David says that the rich man should restore the lamb fourfold and die for what he had done, Nathan, comparing David to the wicked rich man, foretells God’s vengeance to him for taking Bathsheba and causing the death of her husband, Uriah the Hittite. When David repents, Nathan announces that God has forgiven his sin, but his first child by Bathsheba will die.29 It is evident that the Qurʾānic passage in question is intended for an audience that knew this narrative well. We only find there an outline of the story of David: a potent and wise ruler who is tried by God, succumbs to sin, but is eventually forgiven. Thus, the image of David in the Qurʾān can be summarized as that of a prophet enjoying a special relationship with God, receiving revelations and instructions, as well as someone privileged to praise God together with all of nature (Sura 38:18). His piety is eventually tried by God (Ar. fatannā-hu; Sura 38:24) and although David fails this trial he repents and is finally forgiven. It is worth noting that this trial is absent from 2 Samuel, where we simply read that David saw Bathsheba taking a bath, but the whole affair is not described as a test of David’s moral integrity.30 It can be concluded that David’s personal relationship with God, which manifests itself, among other things, in God’s will to put David to a trial, seems to set David apart from other Qurʾānic prophets. It also provides a narrative “framework” that is expanded in the Islamic tradition (including the Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ).

28 Sura 38:17–26, in Pickthall’s translation. 29 2 Samuel 12:1–14. 30 2 Samuel 11:2.

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King David in Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd

The oldest corpus of ḥadīṯ dealing with David is Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd by Wahb b. Munabbih (d. 110/728 or 114/732). Wahb was a Yemeni ḥadīṯ transmitter, probably of Persian origin, who played an important role in the early transmission of Islamic historical traditions. Muslim sources attribute a number of compilations to him, of which only few remnants survive to this day. They can be divided, as suggested by Raif Georges Khoury,31 into three principal groups. The first one includes biblical stories and Judeo-Christian traditions (mainly the tales of the prophets – Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ (Wahb b. Munabbih is the oldest known author of this genre), as well as other compilations of a purely religious nature (e.g., Wahb’s most famous work Kitāb al-mubtadāʾ wa-qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ [Book of Origin and Tales of the Prophets],32 but also Kitāb al-Isrāʾīlīyyāt [Book of Jewish Traditions], Kitāb zabūr Dāwūd [Book of the Psalms of David], edifying and pietistic compilations like Ḥikmat Luqmān or Mawʿiẓat Wahb [The Wisdom of Luqmān or Exhortation of Wahb], as well as Tafsīr Wahb). It is also possible that Wahb, who at some point in his life allegedly adopted the doctrine of qadar, wrote Kitāb al-qadar (Book of Divine Decree). The second group are compilations on Islamic history, Futūḥ Wahb (Wahb’s History of Conquests) and Maġāzī rasūl Allāh (Raids of the Messenger of God). Finally, the third group of Wahb’s works concerns pre-Islamic Arabia and contains only one compilation, Kitāb al-mulūk al-mutawwaǧa min Ḥimyar wa-aḫbāri-him wa-qiṣaṣi-him wa-qubūri-him wa-ašʿāri-him (Book of the Crowned Kings of Ḥimyar: Their History, Tales, Tombs and Poems). The main difficulty that arises when one tries to assess Wahb’s literary production is the fact that most of these works are known to us only by their titles or from passages quoted in later works. We cannot even be certain of the exact titles of some of Wahb’s works or their number. This state of preservation is not surprising, given the fact that Wahb b. Munabbih was an early transmitter and very few texts survived from his time (i.e. the turning point of the first/seventh and the second/eighth century). It is also worth noting that, at this early stage of development of the Islamic tradition, the very notion of authorship was not what it is today – a compilation “by” Wahb b. Munabbih did not mean a collection whose form and content had necessarily been determined by Wahb 31


On Wahb b. Munabbih’s life and work, see Khoury, Wahb b. Munabbih, vol. 1, 189–316 and further bibliography there. My enumeration of Wahb’s compilations is based on this work. I am deeply grateful to Dr. Maciej Klimiuk of the University of Heidelberg for providing me with a copy of this text. For other possible versions of this title, see Khoury, Wahb b. Munabbih, vol. 1, 222–23.

The Weeping King of Muslim Pietistic Tradition


himself. Rather, it refers to a collection of traditions transmitted orally by Wahb and only at a later date put into writing. The form of such compilations could have depended on many factors such as the needs of intended readership or audience, ways of transmission, or the nature of human memory. Accordingly, the books mentioned by Wahb’s biographers could have been later collections put together on the basis of oral transmission. Thus, while it is possible to have some general idea of the content of these collections, it is impossible to reconstruct their original form. In many cases, it is also very difficult to determine the sources of Wahb’s traditions. For example, hadīṯ constituting Islamic versions of biblical narratives was quite prevalent in his transmission. It is, however, impossible to ascertain whether Wahb was a converted Jew or Christian, or whether he had taken his stories on prophets from other sources. The only two extensive and independent (i.e., not contained in other compilations) fragments of Wahb’s works are preserved in a papyrus held in the library of the University of Heidelberg, bearing the signature PSR Heid. Arab. 23. This papyrus, containing a work entitled Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd (Traditions on David), as well as fragments of Maġāzī rasūl Allāh (Raids of the Messenger of God), was published and translated into German by Raif Georges Khoury.33 Maġāzī rasūl Allāh will not concern us here, as it is a compilation on early Islamic history, but Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd is of utmost interest to the present article, as it is a very early source on the Islamic David. Moreover, Wahb b. Munabbih appears in many (relatively speaking) of the isnāds of traditions transmitted by ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb throughout his compilations (though, as we will see, the links between Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd and Kitāb al-waraʿ are rather limited). There is a possible connection between Wahb’s transmission and the relatively important role played by David in Ibn Habīb’s Book of Religious Scrupulosity and therefore a brief discussion of the Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd is in order. First of all, the relationship between Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd and other compilations attributed to Wahb concerning prophetic history, Kitāb al-mubtadāʾ wa-qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ and the Kitāb al-Isrāʾīlīyyāt, remains unclear. It is probable that Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd was a part of one of these works, however, it cannot be ruled out that it formed a separate compilation, unmentioned by Wahb’s biographers. As noted above, David could have played an important role in Wahb b. Munabbih’s transmission, since another, now lost, work, bearing the title of Zābūr Dāwūd (presumably a version of the Psalms) is attributed to this author. It is, of course, impossible to assess its relationship to Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd from the Heidelberg papyrus alone. 33

See ibidem, vol. 1, 33–115 (Ḥadīt Dāwūd) and 117–175 (Maġāzī rasūl Allāh). The second volume of this work contains a facsimile of the papyrus.



Generally speaking, Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd is a compilation of chronologically arranged traditions recounting the biblical narrative of 1 and 2 Samuel, spanning the time from the reign of Saul (Ar. Ṭālūt) until that of Solomon (Ar. Sulaymān). Little wonder, therefore, that David is the central character of this compilation. Although its detailed analysis is beyond the scope of the present paper, several things should be noted. First of all, the traditions on David greatly expand what is only alluded to in the Qurʾān. For example, we have seen that, in the Qurʾān, David is taught by God how to defend himself and his people. In Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd, we find a tradition according to which David was collecting stones for his sling (with which he was later to kill Goliath/Ǧālūt) and three of these stones spoke to him, urging him to take them. It turned out that one of them had previously belonged to Abraham (Ar. Ibrāhīm), another one to Isaac (Ar. Isḥāq), the third one to Jacob (Ar. Yaʿqūb), and that these patriarchs had killed many foes with them.34 This example encompasses the aforementioned important aspects of the Qurʾānic image of David, most notably his special, personal relationship with God, as well as what links him to other prophets and the history of Israel. In accord with Islamic tradition on David, one of the most important episodes in his life reported by Ḥadīt Dāwūd is his sin, which resulted in sending Uriah to his death and the taking of his wife, Bathsheba. A curious trait in this compilation is that David believed that a sinless life is possible for a man and actually wished to be tried by God, just like other prophets had been tried before him: David said: “O, Lord! You have put to trial those who lived before me and you have exalted them in posterity by virtue of their endurance, but you have not put me to trial!” God revealed to him: “O, David (Ar. Dāwūd)! You have chosen trial over salvation (Ar. Inna-ka (i)ḫtarta-’l-balā ­ʿalā-’l-ʿāfiya),35 so take heed, for I shall put you to trial within this month of yours.” It was a Monday afternoon, the thirteenth day of the month of raǧab.36 A striking element in this narrative is a certain hubris exhibited by David, who actually invites a trial from God, being convinced that he is capable of living 34 35 36

See Wahb b. Munabbih, Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd, 7, v. 9–16, in Khoury, Wahb b. Munabbih, vol. 1, 52–53. See also 12, v. 13–18, 66–67 (henceforth Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd), where David is described as making armors and selling them in order to gain sustenance and give alms to the poor. Ar. ʿĀfiya is a specific term that can mean safety from a trial or danger brought upon by God. See Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd, 14, v. 13–17. Cf. Khoury, Wahb b. Munabbih, vol. 1, 70–71. The translation is mine.

The Weeping King of Muslim Pietistic Tradition


without succumbing to sin.37 But this hubris also results from a desire to be equal to other prophets who lived before him. Thus, it is yet another strategy employed by the Muslim tradition to create a link between David and other biblical prophets and, in a broader sense, between Islam and other Abrahamic religions. David fails the test (unlike the prophets before him, “exalted in posterity by virtue of their endurance”), but his penance and subsequent forgiveness is one of the crucial traits of his image in Muslim tradition.38 The compilation describes the life of penance that David leads after his sin, and ends during the reign of his son, Solomon. In general, Wahb b. Munabbih’s Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd, whether it originally constituted a part of Kitāb al-Isrāʾīlīyyāt or not, belongs to the Isrāʾīlīyyāt genre. These traditions contain narratives loosely related to biblical accounts and served to “bridge the gap” between Islam and other Abrahamic religions, often expanding and/or interpreting the text of the Qurʾān. Accordingly, Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd shows the formation of the Islamic image of David at a very early stage. The main focus seems to be that of depicting David in relationship to earlier prophets, inscribing him into a broader Islamic history of salvation. This aspect would later change, becoming less prevalent in later texts such as Kitāb al-waraʿ of ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb.39 5

King David in Kitāb al-waraʿ

A distinctive feature of Ibn Ḥabīb’s Book of Religious Scrupulosity in comparison to other similar compilations is the presence of a series of nine traditions40 dedicated to King David and contained in one of the last chapters of the book, dealing with the merits of old age.41 Although Kitāb al-waraʿ contains traditions featuring prophets other than Muḥammad, no other prophet save for David (Ar. Dāwūd) appears in a series of ḥadīṯ that can be considered a set 37 38 39 40 41

See ibidem, 14, v. 1–3, 69–71. For a thorough account of this episode in the Islamic tradition, see Mohammed, David in the Islamic Tradition. For more on David in the qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ genre, see Klar, Interpreting al-Thaʿlabī’s Tales of the Prophets, 95–141. See Ibn Ḥabīb, Kitāb al-waraʿ, no. 317–325, fols. 200v–201r. It should be noted that traditions on Adam’s repentance (no. 315, 316, fol. 200v) and David are digressions from the main subject of the chapter, which is old age and God’s increased leniency towards those who reached it. One can wonder whether the organization of materials included in the book is not corrupted in this unique preserved manuscript (at least in this chapter).



constituting a coherent story. The last of these traditions ends with a telling phrase: “This is the story of David (on whom be peace and prayers).”42 All nine traditions revolve around the “error,” or “sin” (Ar. ḫaṭiʾa) of David (Ar. Dāwūd). It might be interesting to note that the nature of this sin is never explicitly specified in these traditions. Presumably, the episode was famous enough and therefore such a clarification was unnecessary. The nine traditions are brief enough to be quoted here in extenso: It is narrated from Abū Ṣāliḥ, from Ibn ʿAbbās who said: “When Dāwūd committed his error, he called upon his servant named Šimʿūn, stripped himself of his kingly garments and donned a garment of wool, with a rope around his waist. He said to the servant: ‘Lead me as a sinner who is led to a place of punishment.’ So, he led him to a miḥrāb, where Dāwūd was prostrating fervently before God.” Al-Ḥasan said: “[Dāwūd] was prostrating for the best part of the night, until it was called to him: ‘Raise your head, for you have been forgiven,’ so he raised his head and saw a prayer carpet made of flesh (Ar. siǧǧāda min laḥm)43 (?).” Wahb b. Munabbih said: “He did not raise his head until the angel said to him: ‘First you sin, and you rebel at last! Raise your head!’ And he raised it.” Sulaymān al-Ta‌ʾī said: “Dāwūd was prostrating until his forehead and knees were wounded and herbs grew from his tears and he prayed: ‘[O, God!] If you wanted, you would deliver me from error.’ God had mercy on him and forgave him and he did not raise his eyes to heaven, because of his shame before his Lord, until he died.” Wahb b. Munabbih said: “Dāwūd lived very long and did not drink water without mixing it with his tears and did not break his fast on his bed without making it wet from his tears, to the point where the drapes did not dry.” Abū Ḏarr said: “When God forgave Dāwūd, he used to dedicate one day to governing, one day to his women and one day to his weeping.” Ṯābit said: “When Dāwūd used to mention God’s punishment, all the members of his body trembled as if they had become dislocated.” Sulaymān said: “After what happened, Dāwūd did not sleep with a woman and kept abstaining from it until he departed from this world.” 42 43

Ar. fa-hāḏā qiṣṣat Dāwūd ṣallā Allāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallama. See Ibn Ḥabīb, Kitāb al-waraʿ, no. 325, fol. 201r. The last detail is difficult to interpret.

The Weeping King of Muslim Pietistic Tradition


Al-Ḥasan said: “In fits of anguish Dāwūd remembered his error and exited [his palace] screaming, going to the Temple (Ar. bayt al-maqdis). The sons of Israel left their tents for him and he said to them: ‘Fend for yourselves! I want to mourn! Verily, the one who commits an error weeps over it!’ This is the story of Dāwūd (on whom be peace and prayers).” Surprisingly, despite the fact that Wahb b. Munabbih is quoted twice in the isnāds, the traditions of Ibn Ḥabīb are not included in the Ḥadīt Dāwud from the Heidelberg papyrus. In this compilation, we do not find the narrative about the angel scolding David for refusing to raise his head after being forgiven. We only read that God announced to David His forgiveness, but David did not raise his head “until Gabriel came.”44 What follows is a rather long account (absent in Kitāb al-waraʿ), in which God convinces David of His forgiveness by making him go to the tomb of Uriah and call upon him. David converses with the dead Uriah, confessing his sin and the way in which he has wronged him. In the end, God reveals to David how He would reward and compensate Uriah in the Hereafter, and it is only at that moment that David believes that he is forgiven.45 Thus, if we compare Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd with Ibn Ḥabīb’s version, the latter appears much more truncated. Moreover, the tradition from Kitāb al-waraʿ introduces a detail absent from Wahb b. Munabbih, namely David being scolded by the angel for refusing to raise his head. The second instance where Wahb b. Munabbih appears is the tradition depicting David weeping after having sinned. Unfortunately, the only tradition in Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd that could be perceived as a possible source for Ibn Ḥabīb appears at a place where the papyrus is highly deteriorated and it was impossible for Khoury to read or reconstruct the whole text.46 Moreover, the context (i.e., the surrounding traditions) does not make such a possibility very probable, so I think it is safe to conclude that this tradition does not appear in Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd. Only one tradition transmitted by Ibn Ḥabīb has a counterpart in Ḥadiṯ Dāwūd, though the latter version is much longer. In addition, Ibn Ḥabīb quotes 44 45 46

See Wahb b. Munabbih, Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd, 18, v. 12–13, Cf. Khoury, Wahb b. Munabbih, vol. 1, 80–81. See ibidem, 18, v. 14–20, v. 16, vol 1, 80–85. See Wahb b. Munabbih, Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd, 19, v. 20 in Khoury, Wahb b. Munabbih, vol. 1, 84–85, cf. Ibn Ḥabīb, Kitāb al-waraʿ, no. 321, fols. 200v–201r. A form of the šrb root appears in the preserved text of Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd, so it is possible that the tradition speaks of David mixing his drinking water with his tears, but there is no other, more convincing, argument for that. On the drapes of David, wet from tears, cf. Wahb b. Munabbih, Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd, 20, v. 19–20.



Abū Ḏarr and not Wahb b. Munabbih as its source in Kitāb al-waraʿ.47 It is therefore possible to conclude that despite the fact that Wahb is mentioned twice in Ibn Ḥabīb’s series on David quoted above, Ḥadīṯ Dawūd and Kitāb al-waraʿ have little in common. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Ibn Ḥabīb used any compilation by Wahb b. Munabbih. Ḥadīṯ was largely transmitted orally (especially at the time of Wahb), Ibn Ḥabīb was notorious for truncating his isnāds (which often renders impossible the task of tracing the sources of his traditions) and, as we have seen, we are uncertain of the status of Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd (was it a fragment of a larger compilation or a separate work?) and its circulation. All these problems greatly complicate the task of establishing firm connections between the compilations of Wahb and those of Ibn Ḥabīb. The closest counterpart of this series of traditions in the pietistic literature of the third/ninth century is the chapter on David’s piety (Ar. zuhd) in Ibn Ḥanbal’s Kitāb al-zuhd.48 However, although the repentance of Dāwūd after the “Bathsheba affair” remains an important theme also in this compilation, it is hardly the only subject present in this chapter; it also deals with the manner in which the prophet prayed (with no apparent relation to Bathsheba) and remembered God, how he feared Him and His punishment, or with the book of Zabūr. On the whole, the image of David in Ibn Ḥanbal’s compilation seems fundamentally different from the one contained in Ibn Ḥabīb’s Kitāb al-waraʿ. Ibn Ḥanbal’s David appears closer to a general ideal of piety, manifesting itself not only in repentance, but also in prayer, remembrance of God (Ar. ḏikr Allāh) and fear of His punishment. Such a representation of David is generally coherent with the nature of Ibn Ḥanbal’s Kitāb al-zuhd – a peculiar work, if one compares it to other pietistic compilations of the period, because it is a collection of ḥadīṯ dealing with examples of the piety of the prophets. Apparently, Ibn Ḥanbal aims to prove thereby that the model of zuhd advocated by him and his contemporaries can be traced back to the times of the prophets and thus legitimate. The question that arises is why Ibn Ḥabīb’s David is so distant from this paradigm. He is the only prophet to be presented in a series of traditions, but the narratives revolve only around his repentance and penance for his sin.

47 48

According to this tradition, David dedicated one in three days to ruling, one to his women and one to weeping. Wahb’s version is longer and speaks of four days. See ibidem, 20, v. 1–22. See Ibn Ḥanbal, Kitāb al-zuhd, 135–141.

The Weeping King of Muslim Pietistic Tradition




The Qurʾān, Ḥadīṯ Dāwūd of Wahb b. Munabbih and Kitāb al-waraʿ of ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb each seem to witness a different stage in the complex process of the formation of the image of David/Dāwūd in classical Islam. The Qurʾānic fragments, with their allusive style, are evidently intended for an audience (or readership) familiar with the biblical story of David. They introduce him as one of the prophets in the historia sacra, which starts with the creation of Adam and concludes with the mission of Muḥammad. The crucial aspects (further developed in later Muslim sources) of the Qurʾānic character of David are his special relationship with God, his ties with other prophets (from the past as well as the future, like Jesus/ʿĪsā), and his sin and repentance. David’s special relationship with God manifests itself in the fact that God teaches him how to make armor for himself (the killing of Goliath/Ǧālūt is mentioned as well). In addition, David is depicted as someone capable of praising God like no other prophet before or after him; all of creation joins him in this praise. The relationship with other prophets serves the purpose of inscribing Islam (or, more specifically, the mission of Muḥammad) into the history of salvation, encompassing other Abrahamic religions, and by doing so to “legitimize” it in the eyes of Jews and Christians. Ḥadiṯ Dāwūd by Wahb b. Munabbih belongs to the Isrāʾīlīyyāt genre, i.e. traditions supposedly taken from the Jews, containing Islamic versions or interpretations of biblical narratives. As such, they were used primarily to create a link between Islam and the “biblical past” and it is at this point of transmission of Wahb b. Munabbih’s ḥadīṯ (the second/eighth century) that we see that the story of David is enriched with a considerable number of details – the Isrāʾīliyyāt would later become a basis for the qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ narratives on prophets (a compilation of one such title is already attributed to Wahb b. Munabbih). The case of ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb and his Kitāb al-waraʿ is different. In mid-third/ninth century, a peculiar type of piety emerges, largely focused on religious scrupulosity (Ar. waraʿ) and renunciation (Ar. zuhd), as well as pervaded with apocalyptic anguish. Another of its distinctive features was, sometimes very sharp, rejection of the state and its institutions, perhaps best visible in Kitāb al-waraʿ by ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb. This paradigm of piety is expressed throughout a number of compilations of ḥadīṯ assembled during this period, while a relatively high number of traditions on David/Dāwūd is a peculiar feature of the Kitāb al-waraʿ. The theme that is best visible in all these traditions is David’s excessive repentance, manifesting itself in weeping (in two traditions),49 shame result49

See Ibn Ḥabīb, Kitāb al-waraʿ, no. 321, 322, fols. 200v–201r.



ing in refusal to raise his head from prostration50 and look up to the heavens, or refraining from sexual intercourse.51 However, given the aforementioned focus of Ibn Ḥabīb on political matters and on dangers that the state or the ruler constitute for a pious man, in my view, the most important image in this series of traditions on David may be the stripping of his kingly garments52 and exiting his palace in “fits of anguish” upon remembering his sin.53 If the state and power are indeed such a nefarious and destructive force threatening to condemn every faithful man, then it is hardly surprising that David, in order to regain the grace of God, has to resign his royal dignity and power. Thus, the answer to our question regarding the relative importance of David in Ibn Ḥabib’s compilation implies that it is connected with the importance of political (and eschatological) themes in Kitāb al-waraʿ. Bibliography

Primary Sources

Asad b. Mūsā. Kitāb al-zuhd. Edited by Raif Georges Khoury. Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz Verlag, 1976. Ibn Abī al-Dunyā. Kitāb al-waraʿ. Edited by Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-Ḥammūd. Kuwait: no publishing house, 1988. Ibn Ḥabīb. Ašrāṭ al-sāʿa wa-ḏihāb al-aḫyār wa-baqāʾ al-ašrār. Edited by ʿAbd Allāh ʿAbd al-Muʾmin al-Ġamārī al-Ḥasanī. Riyād: Dār aḍwāʾ al-salaf, 2005. Ibn Ḥabīb. Kitāb adab al-nisāʾ al-mawsūm bi-Kitāb al-ġāya wa-’l-nihāya. Edited by ʿAbd al-Maǧīd Turkī. Beirut: Dār al-ġarb al-islāmī, 1987. Ibn Ḥabīb. Kitāb al-ribā. Edited by Naḏīr Awhāb. Dubai: Markaz Ǧumuʿat al-Maǧīd li-’l-ṯaqāfa wa-’l-turāṯ, 2012. Spanish translation: Adday Hernández López. El Kitāb al-ribā de ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb (m. 238/852). Doctrina temprana legal sobre la usura. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 2017. Ibn Ḥabīb. Kitāb al-ta‌ʾrīḫ. Edited by Jorge Aguadé. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1991. Ibn Ḥabīb. Kitāb al-wāḍiḥa: Das ‘K. al-wāḍiḥa‌ʾ des ʿAbd al-Malik b. Ḥabīb: Edizion und Kommentär zu Ms. Qarawiyyin 809/40, edited by Beatrix Ossendorf-Conrad. Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag, 1994 and (other fragments of the same work) Kitāb 50 51 52 53

According to one of the traditions, he is scolded by the angel for refusing to raise his head. See ibidem, no. 319, fol. 200v. See ibidem, no. 324, fol. 201r. Cf. also no. 322 (fol. 201r.), where David dedicates every one in three days to his women. See ibidem, no 317, fol. 200v. See ibidem, no. 325, fol 201r.

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al-wāḍiḥa (Tratado jurídico. Fragmentos extraídos del “Muntajab al-aḥkām” de Ibn Abī Zamanīn (m. 399/1008)). Edited by María Arcas Campoy. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 2002. Ibn Ḥabīb. Kitāb waṣf al-firdaws, no name of the editor. Beirut: Dār al-kutub al-islāmī, 1987. Spanish translation: Kitāb waṣf al-firdaws (la descripción del paraíso), trans. Juan Pedro Monferrer-Sala, Granada: Grupo de Investigación “Ciudades Andaluzas bajo el Islam,” 1997. Ibn Ḥabīb. Muḫtaṣar fī-l-ṭibb (Compendio de medicina). Edited by Camilo Álvarez de Morales and Fernando Girón Irueste. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1992. Ibn Ḥanbal. Kitāb al-waraʿ. Edited by Zaynab Ibrāhīm Qārūṭ. Beirut: Dār al-kutub al-ʿilmiyya, 1987. Ibn Ḥanbal. Kitāb al-zuhd. Edited by Muḥammad Ǧalāl Šarf. Beirut: Dār al-nahḍa al-ʿarabiyya, 1981. al-Muḥāsibī. Kitāb al-makāsib wa-’l-waraʿ, edited by ʿAbd al-Qādir Aḥmad ʿAṭā. Beirut: Muʾassasat al-kutub, 1987.

Secondary Literature

Arcas Campoy, María. “La autoridad doctrinal de ʿAbd al-Malik ibn Ḥabīb (m. 238/835) frente a los cadíes y alfaquíes de su tiempo.” In Cadíes y cadiazgo en al-Andalus y el Magreb medieval, edited by Rachid El Hour and Rafael Mayor, 47–67. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 2012. Arcas Campoy, María, Serrano Niza, Dolores. “Ibn Ḥabīb.” In Biblioteca de al-Andalus, edited by Jorge Lirola Delgado and José Miguel Puerta Vilchez, 9 vols., vol. 3, 219– 227. Almería: Fundación Ibn Tufayl de Estudios Árabes, 2004–2012. Cook, David. Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic. Princeton: The Darwin Press, 2001. Fierro, Maribel. La heterodoxia en al-Andalus durante el periodo omeya. Madrid: Instituto Hispano-Árabe de Cultura, 1987. Fierro, Maribel. “Proto-Malikis, Malikis and Reformed Malikis in al-Andalus.” In Islamic School of Law. Evolution, Devolution and Progress, edited by Peri Bearman, Rudolph Peters and Frank E. Vogel, 57–76. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005. Hurvitz, Nimrod. “Biographies and Mild Asceticism: A Study of Islamic Moral Imagination.” Studia Islamica, 85 (1997), 41–65. Judd, Steven. Religious Scholars and the Umayyads. Piety-minded Supporters of the Marwānid Caliphate. London – New York: Routledge, 2014. Khoury, Raif Georges. Wahb b. Munabbih, 2 vols. Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz Verlag, 1972. Kinberg, Leah. “What Is Meant by Zuhd.” Studia Islamica, 61 (1985), 27–44. Klar, Marianna O. Interpreting al-Thaʿlabī’s Tales of the Prophets. Temptation, Responsibility and Loss. London – New York: Routledge, 2009.



Melchert, Christopher. “The Piety of the Hadith Folk.” International Journal of Middle East Studies, 3(34) (2002), 425–439. Melchert, Christopher. “Exaggerated Fear in the Early Islamic Renunciant Tradition.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 3(21) (2011), 283–300. Melchert, Christopher. “Locating Hell in Early Renunciant Literature.” In Locating Hell in Islamic Traditions, edited by Christian Lange, 101–123. Leiden: Brill, 2015. Mohammed, Khaleel. David in the Islamic Tradition. The Bathsheba Affair. Lanham – Boulder – New York – London: Lexington Books, 2015. Picken, Gavin. “Ibn Ḥanbal and al-Muḥāsibī: A Study of Conflicting Scholarly Methodologies.” Arabica, 3–4(55) (2008), 337–361. Picken, Gavin. Spiritual Purification in Islam. The Life and Works of al-Muḥāsibī. London – New York: Routledge, 2011. Pitschke, Christoph. Skrupulöse Frömmigkeit im Frühen Islam. Das “Buch des Gewissensfrömmigkeit” (Kitāb al-waraʿ) von Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal. Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz Verlag, 2010.

chapter 4

David and the Temple of Solomon in Medieval Karaite Sources The Arabic Commentaries of Yefet ben ʿEli on the Books of Kings and Chronicles Yair Zoran The biblical depiction of King David and its subsequent reception in monotheistic traditions have been addressed from various viewpoints in a number of important studies.1 To mention just a few published in the last decades, Sara Japhet treated extensively the representation of David in the Book of Chronicles;2 Yair Zakovitch devoted a comprehensive study to the biblical character of David from a literary viewpoint;3 Ruth Kara Ivanov-Kaniel authored an article concerning David’s image in Jewish tradition and is about to publish a book on the subject;4 Ghalib Anabsa addressed the figure of David in Islam;5 and, most importandly for our current discussion, Yoram Erder dedicated a detailed study to the treatment of the figure of David in Yefet ben ʿEli’s Bible commentaries,6 while Arye Zoref analyzed Yefet’s interpretations of David’s Final Days.7 In this article, I shall try to make a modest contribution to the topic of medieval Karaites’ perception of King David. To do so, I shall concentrate on the commentaries on different biblical books by one of the greatest commentators 1 This article was completed thanks to the generous support of the grant funded by a DFG-DIP, awarded for the research project: Biblia Arabica: The Bible in Arabic among Jews, Christians and Muslims (PI s: Camilla Adang, Meira Polliack, Sabine Schmidtke). Throughout this paper, English translations of biblical verses follow New Revised Sstandard Version (NRSV), with slight modifications when necessary. I wish to thank the staff of the Institute for Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts housed in the National Library of Israel, Jerusalem, and in particular Mr. Shammai Fishman for his help in deciphering the manuscripts as well as Dr. Michael Glatzer for helping me in translating this article into English. I would also like to heartily convey my gratitude to one of the editors of this volume, Dr. Marzena Zawanowska, in acknowledgement of her kind help in reshaping and improving this paper. 2 See Japhet, I & II Chronicles. Cf. also eadem, Ideology. 3 See Zakowitz, David. 4 See Kaniel, “King David”; eadem, Feminine Messiah. 5 See Anabsa, “Reflection.” 6 See Erder, “Influence.” 7 See Zoref, “King David’s Final Days.” © Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | doi:10.1163/9789004465978_006



active in Jerusalem in the so-called Golden Age of Karaism, Yefet ben ʿEli (10th–11th c.) in an attempt to describe his approach to the story of David’s testament in 1 Chronicles 28. It is noteworthy that he was the first Jewish exegete to write commentaries on all of the twenty-four books of the Hebrew Scriptures, of which most have been preserved. I will use these sources to compare his interpretation on this specific chapter from 1 Chronicles with his commentaries on other biblical books in order to trace developments and changes in his attitude towards the biblical character of David, as well as his subtle attempts to improve that image. In addition, I will investigate Yefet’s treatment of one specific narrative motif, namely David’s testament to Solomon, in an attempt to recreate the exegete’s reconstruction of the order of events narrated in the Bible. Finally, while doing so, I shall also try to shed new light on Yefet’s unique approach to the Bible and his innovative methods of interpretation. Yet before we delve more deeply into the source text, it is worth making the preliminary observation that the structure of 1 Chronicles 28 is very peculiar. It begins with David’s words directed to the elders, followed in verse 9 by the beginning of David’s testament to Solomon. This breaks off after verse 10: “See then, the Lord chose you to build a house as the sanctuary; be strong and do it”, and from verse 11 onwards the author relates David’s instructions to Solomon concerning how to build the Temple. In verse 19 the text returns to direct speech in the first person, in which David does not speak to Solomon, but tells us about himself: “All this that the Lord made me understand by His hand on me, I give you in writing – the plan of all the works” (v. 19). Only then does the text return to David’s words to Solomon which conclude his speech: “See then, the Lord chose you to build a house as the sanctuary; be strong and do it” (v. 20). Immediately thereafter it goes on to detail David’s testament to Solomon. Such a peculiar narrative structure calls for interpretation and encourages Bible exegetes to have recourse to other biblical passages treating of the same subject to establish the meaning and order of events described in the Bible. 1

David as Prophet of God and Divinely Inspired Architect of His Temple

According to the Bible, David was a sinner and because of his offences was severly punished by God who, among other things, deferred the building of the Temple to the time of his son Solomon (2 Samuel 7; 1 Kings 8; 1 Chronicles 17:4; 2 Chronicles 6:9). In the passage under discussion from 1 Chronicles 28, David openly admits that these consequences were the result of God’s judgement, stating: “But God said to me, ‘You will not build a house for My name, for you are a man of battles and have shed blood’ ” (1 Chronicles 28:3).

David and the Temple of Solomon in Medieval Karaite Sources


Such a depiction of David stands in blatant contradiction with the Muslim concept of the infallibility of prophets (Ar. ʿiṣma) to which Yefet subscribed.8 Therefore he tries to cope with the problem of apparent incongruity between the plain sense of the sacred text and the important theological principle of prophetic infallability by asserting at the beginning of his commentary on 1 Chronicles 28:19 (“all this in writing at the Lord’s direction he made clear to me”) that this verse refers to David’s receiving instruction directly from God. By doing so, he undercores his important position as the recipient of divine revelation. Our exegete writes: In this story (Ar. qiṣṣa)9 [Scripture] informs [us] that David wrote down the plan for the Temple,10 as well as the priests’ chambers together with all of the vessels [of the service of the House of the Lord] mentioned [in this connection],11 and handed them to Solomon so that he would act [i.e., build the Temple] according to the written instructions. Moreover, he informed [Solomon] that all of this came [to him] from God. This resembles what happened when the Tabernacle was built (Heb. maʿase miškān),12 when everything was [performed upon] an instruction from God (Ar. tawqīf).13 This is demonstrated by the statement and the plan of all that he had by the spirit.14 8 9 10

11 12 13


See Frank, Search, 228. Cf. Andruss, Jonah, 24–28; Zawanowska, 183–184. On the term qiṣṣa (“story”), see, e.g., Polliack, “Biblical Narrative”; Zawanowska, Abraham, 111–153, esp. 114–116. The word al-quds serves Yefet mostly to designate the Temple, but in some cases, it may also designate the city of Jerusalem. Most often, Yefet uses the word ‫ ירושלים‬in his commentaries and almost always does not translate it into Arabic in the verses themselves. See Zoran, “David’s Testament.” 1 Chronicles 28:13. For occurrences of such phrases cf. Zoran, “Shilluah Manot,” esp. 147 n. 19. Yefet uses this word in his commentary on Exodus 25:9 saying that the Mishkan is ‫בתוקיף מן‬ ‫ = אללה‬by God’s instruction (Cf. Ms. SP RNL Evr. Arab. I 29 fol. 78b). This term is taken from Islamic judicial terminology. Later in his discussion of this verses, Yefet uses it again saying: “The sages said that the three houses, meaning, the Tabernacle, the first Temple and the future House, all of them [are built] by instruction from God; [God] has introduced [their plans] to His saints – the Tabernacle to Moses, the first Temple to David, and the future house to Ezekiel.” (‫ אעני אלמשכן ובית ראשון ובית עתיד כלהא‬,‫קאל אלעלמא אן אלג׳ ביות‬ ‫ פאלמשכן למשה ובית ראשון לדויד ובית עתיד ליחזקאל‬.‫)בתוקיף אוראהא לאוליאה‬. The term ‫ בית עתיד‬occurs elsewhere in Yefet’s commentaries and requires a separate discussion. The whole passage from which this quotation is taken will be also dealt with elsewhere. With regards to showing the Temple to David, see Japhet, Ideology, 174–182 and 367. See Zoran, “Metamorphosis of Tradition.” 1 Chronicles 28:12. ‫ערף פי הד׳ה אלקצה אן דויד כתב אשכאל אלקדס ומחלקות הכהנים‬ ‫ וערף אן כל‬.‫מע סאיר אלאלאת אלמד׳כוראת ואעטאהא לשלמה ליעמל חסב מא כתב לה‬ .‫ד׳לך מן ג׳הה אללה וד׳לך מת׳ל מא ג׳רי פי מעשה משכן אלד׳י אלכל בתוקיף מן ענד אללה‬



Yefet translates the Hebrew word hiśkīl / ‫“ השכיל‬instructed” used in this biblical passage by the Arabic aršada / ‫“ ארשד‬to guide” – a common way of translating that verb in his work – which is also related to the concept of tawqīf “instruction from above.” By emphasizing the fact that David enjoyed revelations from God, and, by passing the revealed plans for the Temple on to Solomon, significantly contributed to the building of the Temple, Yefet managed to subtly improve the image of David: He is suggesting that if David maintained contact with the divine so that he still held a crucial role in the building of the Temple, his sins must not have been so serious. 2

David as Humble King and Paradigm of Modest and Righteous Sage

Another problematic aspect of the biblical representation of David is related to his status as a king. Scripture does not depict David as a particularily modest, shy or humble person. In order to improve his image as a pious ruler, our Karaite exegete presents him as someone who does not consider himself to be above the common people. In his commentary on the verse “King David rose to his feet and said ‘hear me my brothers, my people!’ ” (1 Chronicles 28:2), Yefet expounds: [Scripture] says King David rose to his feet15 to inform us that even though he was both a king and an elderly person, he rose to his feet out of respect for the public. […] Next he [i.e., David] said “my brothers, my people.” It is possible that [by this expression] he referred to [the members of] his own, as well as of other tribes, using [the term] “my brothers” [to address the members of] his own tribe, and “my people” [to address the members


‫ידל עלי ד׳לך קולה ותבנית כל אשר היה ברוח עמו‬. See Ms. SP RNL Evr. Arab. I 1395 fol. 128a. In this way he also translates “For the leader. A maskil of the Korahites” (Psalm 42:1): ‫( ללמסתחת רשד‬cf. Ms. BnF Paris 287, fol. 1v) = “for the one who urges the guidance,” but “Happy is he who is thoughtful [‫ ]התופס בשכלו‬of the wretched” (Psalm 41:2), he translates: ‫( טובי אלמפתרס אלי אלפקיר‬cf. Ms. BnF Paris 286, fol. 245r) = “Happy is he who understands the wretched.” “Were they wise, they would think upon this” (Deuteronomy 32:29), Yefet translates: ‫( לו אנהם עקלו יפתרסו הדא‬cf. Ms. SP Acad. C72, fol. 245r) = “Were they to understand [‫]תפסו בשכלם‬, they would understand this and in his commentary”: ‫לו‬ ‫( כאנת מעהם עצות כאנו קד תפרסו פיהא‬cf. ibidem, fol. 247r) = “If they had counsel [‫]עצות‬.” However, in his translation of the expression ‫“ = ושום שכל‬and giving the sense” (Nehemiah 8:8), he uses both options: ‫( ואג׳עאל רשד וקיל תפרס‬cf. Ms. SP RNL Evr. Arab. I 4036, fol. 90v) = “and giving guidance, but some say understanding.” From this we may learn how flexible Yefet was as a translator. 1 Chronicles 28:2.

David and the Temple of Solomon in Medieval Karaite Sources


of] other [tribes]. Or he may have said “my brothers” in order not to give himself preference over them; thus he used [the expression] “my brothers” the same way it is used in the Torah: Thus he will not act haughtily toward his brothers. Next he said “my people”16 and called them so, because he was one of them, united with them by [adherence to] one religion, as [in the expression] your people shall be my people, and your God my God.17 In this passage, Yefet uses David’s words “my brothers, my people” to improve his image by emphasizing David’s humble nature and his deep respect to fellow men, qualities which are by no means obvious in his biblical portrayal. Furthermore, in his commentary on a passage in Deuteronomy which discusses the laws concerning Israel’s kings (Deuteronomy 17:14–20), Yefet refers to the above-mentioned scene described in 1 Chronicles 28:2 using it as an example of good manners and paradigmatic behavior on the part of a king. In his words: Had he [i.e., God through Moses] said not to act haughtily and did not say toward his brothers,18 we would have known that he [i.e., a king] [could] act haughtily [toward his brothers], but he added the word19 his brothers here to prevent him [i.e., a king] from reviling them [i.e., his subjects; fellow Israelites] so that when the people assembled, he did not patronize them.20 Just as David, peace be upon him, did [as it is said] King David rose and said ‘hear me my brothers, my people!’21 [The fact that] he rose, even though he was already old at that time, shows that he respected them and their status in his heart, calling them here his brothers, meaning that he regarded them as brothers despite his position, his rank and his status.22

16 17

18 19 20 21 22

Deuteronomy 17:20. Ruth 1:16. ‫ ערף אן מע כונה מלך ושיך׳ קאם עלי רג׳ליה‬,‫ת׳ם קאל ויקם דויד המלך על רגליו‬ .‫ יג׳וז אן יכון אשאר בה אלי סבטה ואלי סאיר אלנאס‬,‫ ת׳ם קאל אחי ועמי‬.…‫תעט׳ים ללג׳מע‬ ‫ פקאל אחי‬.‫וסבטה אחי וסאיר אלנאס עמי או יכון קאל אחי בחית׳ אנה לם יפצ׳ל נפסה עליהם‬ ‫ ת׳ם קאל ועמי לאנה מן ג׳מלתהם ואלדין אלואחד‬.‫כקול אלתורה לבלתי רום לבבו מאחיו‬ .‫ג׳מעהם נטיר עמך עמך ואלהיך אלהי׳‬. Cf. Ms. SP RNL Evr. Arab. I 1395, fol. 123 – r–r. Deuteronomy 17:20. For the meaning of the term fāʾidā / ‫ =( פאידה‬note), see Friedman, Dictionary, 694. For this meaning of istiṭāl / ‫ =( אסתטאל‬patronize), see ibidem, 323. 1 Chronicles 28:2. ‫ולו קאל לבלתי רום ולם יקל מאחיו קד כנא נעלם אנה יסתעמל שמך אלקלב ולכן פאידה‬ ‫מאחיו האהנא ימנעה אלאסתטאלה עליהם ואלא יכון אדא אג׳תמעת אלאמה רפע נפסה‬ ‫ ויקם המלך דוד ויאמר שמעוני אחי ועמי פקיאמה עלי‬:‫ וכמא עמל דויד עה״ש‬.‫עליהם‬ ‫ ידל עלי אג׳לאלה להם ומחלהם פי נפסה נט׳יר קולה‬,‫ והי פי הד׳א אלוקת קד שאך׳‬,‫רג׳ליה‬



Therefore, according to Yefet, David deserved (and received) his reward: When it says to the end that he may reign long [Scripture] makes it known that by doing so he and his descendants23 will be worthy to reign long and that they [i.e., his descendants] have already been granted a royal dynasty like the priests.24 Thus, in Yefet’s view, David was worthy to reign on account of his humility and his proper (i.e., not haughty) conduct as a king. By drawing such a conclusion, the exegete again subtly improves the portrayal of David, by highlighting those of David’s features which are not emphasised in the biblical account. Incidentally, it may be noted that the fact that Yefet sends the readers of his commentaries back and forth between biblical texts, as well as between his own commentaries on these texts, illustrates his common practice of interpreting one verse in the light of another, as if acting according to the concept enshrined in the words “the words of the Torah are poor in their place and rich in another place.”25 Such an approach to biblical texts results in a dictinctively cross referential character of his exegetical works which are marked by a consistent avoidance of repetition.26 Therefore, anyone who wants to learn about Yefet’s approach to a biblical character, or any other subject for that matter, needs to go through his commentaries on many biblical passages and books to accumulate all the necessary information scattered throughout his texts. Returning to our subject, however, Yefet also emphasizes David’s modesty in his commentary on the verse O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my look haughty (Psalm 131:1), where he states: David said these things about himself and about all people who say to themselves that they are on the level of beasts … thus David said about

23 24 25 26

‫ יעני אנה יתצוורהם אכ׳וה מקאמה פי אלמנזלה ואלרתבה‬,‫האהנא מאחיו‬. See Ms. SP Acad. C41, fols. 18v–19r. Deuteronomy 17:20. ‫ יערף אנה אד׳א פעל הד׳א אסתחק אן יטיל אלעמר פי אלמלך‬,‫וקאל למען יאריך ימים‬ .‫וכד׳אך אולאדה מן בעדה כקו׳ הוא ובניו וקד ג׳על להם סלסלה אלמלך מת׳ל אלכהנים‬. See Ms. SP Acad. C41, fol. 19r. Cf. y. Roš Haššanah 3:5, fol. 58d (The Jerusalem Talmud the edition of the Hebrew Language Academy (Jerusalem, 2000), 675 l. 31–32. See Zawanowska, “Islamic Exegetical Terms,” 316. On this attitude to the Scriptures, see also Zoran, “Nehemiah 9.”

David and the Temple of Solomon in Medieval Karaite Sources


himself and those like him among the sages and righteous my heart is not proud, nor my look haughty.27 Hence, Yefet depicts David as a paradigm of modesty whose words are to be repeated by “those like him among the sages and righteous.” Although the exegete does not state it explicitly, this passage seems to imply that David was, in his view, not only a modest person, but also a righteous sage. 3

Structural Reconstructions of David’s Testaments

The story of King David is described in several biblical books. Yefet evidently tries to read them all in conjunction with one another, indicating connections between them. In his commentary on 1 Kings 1:1 he states: In the Book of Kings the shock (Ar. ʾirtiʿāš; lit. “anxiety”) that he [i.e., David] underwent when he saw the sword of the angel of the Lord has already been mentioned, as it is said: and though they covered him with bedclothes, he never felt warm.28 In this passage, Yefet connects two consecutive stories. According to him, what is related in the first chapter of Kings is an immediate result of what is related in the story of Ornan’s threshing floor in the preceding, concluding, chapter of the book of Samuel (2 Samuel 24). Thus, David’s physical condition mentioned in 1 Kings 1 stems from his mental situation, i.e., the anxiety that he felt due to that incident described in 2 Samuel 24. Yefet puts the matter into a wider context, saying: “This proves that he [i.e., David] continued to live after that

27 28

Psalms 131:1. ‫הד׳א אלקול קאלה דויד עאל״ס ען נפסה וען כל בני אדם אלד׳ין יערפון אנפסהם‬ ‫מקאם אלבהאים … וקאל דויד ען נפסה וען מת׳לה מן אלחכמים ואלצדיקים לא גבה לבי ולא‬ .‫רמו עיני‬. See Ms. BnF Paris 289, fol. 124v. 1 Kings 1:1. ‫וקד ד׳כר פי ספר מלכים אלארתעאש אלד׳י לחקה בעקב נט׳רה חרב מלאך יי כמא‬ ‫קאל ויכסוהו בבגדים ולא יחם לו‬. See Ms. SP RNL Evr. Arab. I 1395, fol. 123r. Similarly, the Midrash says: “R. Samuel bar Nahmani said: When David saw the angel his blood chilled from fear. That is what is written: and though they covered him with bedclothes, he never felt warm (1 Kings 1:1) – meaning that his blood chilled.” See Midrash Tehillim, ed. Shlomo Buber, 9a. Midrash Tehillim stems from the same period as Yefet. Thus it may have been a reference to acommon understanding of the phrase at that time, but it could also have been a reference to an ancient homily that Yefet might have known. A similar homily appears in Pirqei de-Rabbi Eliezer 43, but without citation of the verse from Kings.



[incident] and was able to rise to his feet.”29 Thus, according to our exegete the phrase “and though they covered him with bedclothes, he never felt warm” (1 Kings 1) serves as a sort of resumptive repetition, aimed at creating a connection between the accounts and sending the reader back to what was described at the end of 2 Samuel 24. Bible scholars usually use the term of resumptive repetition to denote repetitions of exactly the same words appearing in two verses separated from one another by a passage or chapter and aimed at bringing the reader back to a narrative flow suspended by the insereted digression. Although in this case there is no repetition of the same words, the above cited phrase from 1 Kings 1 plays, in Yefet’s view, a similar resumptive role. At any event, the question may be asked, why it was important for Yefet to indicate the connection between both biblical passages? The most obvious answer is that he wished to read the biblical accounts as a single coherent literary narrative, despite the fact that the constituent texts may be scattered in different books of Scripture. It is worth noting that he also underscored this connection between the different passages by using similar terminology. In both places – his commentary on the story of Ornan’s threshing floor (2 Samuel 24) and in the opening of his commentary on 1 Kings 1, as well as in his comment on 1 Chronicles 21–22 he employed the Arabic term ʾirtiʿāš / ‫ארתעאש‬, meaning (= “anxiety”). In his words: [Scripture] informs [us] that David did so [i.e., offered sacrifices] as he could not pass there [i.e., to Gibeon] because of the trembling and anxiety (Ar. ʾirtiʿāš) that he felt when he saw the sword of the angel of the Lord. This is the time regarding which it says God sent an angel to Jerusalem etc., David looked up and saw the angel of the Lord standing.30 So when David saw him and saw the angel’s drawn sword, his heart trembled with fear and that is hinted at by the statement because he was terrified by the angel of the Lord.31

29 30 31

‫והד׳א ידל עלי אנה בקי בעד ד׳אך ואמכנה אלוקוף עלי רג׳ליה‬. See Ms. SP RNL Evr. Arab. I 1395, fol. 123r. 1 Chronicles 21:16–17. 1 Chronicles 21:30. ‫וערף אן דויד פעל ד׳לך מן חית׳ אנה לם יקדר עלי אלמרור אלי תם למא‬ ‫לחקה מן אלרעדה ואלארתעאש ענד מא ראי חרב מלאך יי והו אלוקת אלד׳י קאל ענה‬ ‫וישלח האלהים מלאך לירושלם ותמאמה וישא דויד את עיניו וירא את מלאך יי עומד‬ ‫ פכמא וקעת עין דויד עליה וראי סיף אלמלאך מסלולה דאכ׳לה אלרעדה מן אלפזע פאלי‬.‫וג׳‬ ‫ד׳לך אשאר בקולה כי נבעת מפני מלאך יי‬. See Ms. SP RNL Evr. Arab. I 1395, fol. 95r.

David and the Temple of Solomon in Medieval Karaite Sources


It should be noted that Yefet refrains here from citing the relevant verse from 1 Kings (“and though they covered him with bedclothes, he never felt warm”; 1 Kings 1:1). It would be interesting to ponder why he decided to omit it. It is a matter of conjecture, but perhaps our exegete decided to cite here only verses from Chronicles, to teach his readers that the passage from Chronicles constitutes a distinct thematic unit concerning David’s testament to his people, followed by his testament to his son. This, then, would be understood as the chapter of David’s testaments.32 Be that as it may, Yefet again suggests here a wholistic interpretation that integrates all the elements of the story. According to his reconstruction, 1 Chronicles 21:30 completes what was not said in the last chapter of Samuel, while the quotation of 1 Kings 1:1 is used to establish a continuity between the testaments.33 Yefet’s attempt to reconstruct the continuity between testaments is clearly seen in his commentary on 1 Kings 1:1, where he says: It has already been said in [the Book] of Chronicles that when David saw the angel of the Lord there with his sword drawn, he was struck with shock and terror,34 as it says: terrified by the sword.35 This happened to him when he was old. And because of the severe trembling of his body it did not warm up with the help of clothes … and although he could have slept with her [i.e., Abishag], he lost his passion as he preferred to refrain from doing so. And what proves that his passion left him is that it says in [the Book of] Chronicles King David rose to his feet and said “hear me my brothers, my people,” etc.,36 since that story was after this one.37 We will clarify this in connection to the verse When David’s life was drawing to a close.38 32 33 34 35 36 37 38

This interpretation is reinforced by the exegete’s remarks made in his commentary on Deuteronomy 17:20, quoted above: “he was already old at that time” (‫והי פי הד׳א אלוקת‬ ‫)קד שאך׳‬. See above, text at n. 21. Daniel Caine goes even further and suggests that Yefet sees here a spiritual revival that enables David to fulfill his promise to Bathsheba to bequeath the kingship to Solomon. This is the only occurrence of the use of this pair of terms by Yefet. 1 Chronicles 21:30. 1 Chronicles 28:2. This refers to the story about Abishag the Shunammite in the verses that we omitted in the quotation. From here we may conclude, that David’s strength to rise came from Abishag. 1 Kings 2:1. ‫קד אכ׳בר פי דברי הימים אנה ענד מא שאהד דויד מלך אללה ת׳ם וסיפה מג׳רדה‬ ‫ פערץ׳ לה ד׳לך והו‬.‫בידה לחקה מן ד׳לך אנבהאר ורעבה כקולה כי נבעת מבני [= מפני] חרב‬ ‫ פמן שדה רעדה בדנה לם יחם בדנה מן אלת׳יאב … ולו אמכנה אן יג׳תמע מעהא בעד‬.‫שיך׳‬ ‫אן זאל ענה אלעארץ׳ למא ג׳אז לה אן ימתנע ען ד׳לך ואלד׳י ידל עלי אן הד׳א אלעארץ׳ זאל‬



Thus, once again Yefet applies here his technique of sending his readers back and forth between biblical texts as well as his commentaries on different passages in Scripture– in this case between the Book of Kings and the Book of Chronicles.39 As a result, he manages to reconstruct (or establish) a narrative continuity between the end of 2 Samuel 24, 1 Chronicles 21:30, 1 Kings 1:1, and finally, 1 Chronicles 28:2ff. Interestingly, in his commentary on the opening verses of 1 Chronicles 29, Yefet presents a slightly different picture. He divides the narrative in chapters 28–29 into three separate thematic units or episodes. The first includes David’s speech to the people and to Solomon together; the second, his charge to Solomon alone; and the third, his parting words to the people. The exegete elucidates: Know that these are three [distinct thematic] units [or episodes] (Ar. fuṣūl): In the first one, he [i.e., David] speaks to the people and to Solomon. In the second one, he addresses Solomon alone. And this last one is addressed to the public.40 In a speech directed to the people, David explains his plan to prepare Solomon for his future role and instruct him how to build the Temple. Yefet clarifies: He [i.e., David] said to them: “Know that my son is one in his generation, [there is] none other like him, and God has already chosen him for great things. But he is a boy who does not know the matters the way I know them.” [By stating so] [David] wanted to pay attention to the great and broad matter of the magnificent building for God.41 “Therefore I had to make an effort to raise the [needed] amount of money to make it easier for him [i.e., Solomon] [to execute the building project] so that the construction would be completed quickly.” Then he [i.e., David] started to list to them what he prepared for the construction and said: I have spared

39 40 41

‫ענה הו קולה פי דברי הימים ויקם דוד המלך על רגליו ויאמר שמעוני אחי ועמי ותמאם‬ ‫אלקצה לאן תלך אלקצה כאנת בעד הד׳ה ונחן סנביין ד׳לך פי פצל ויקרבו ימי דוד למות‬. See Ms. SP Acad. C36, fols. 1v–2r. See above text at note 14. ‫ אלפצל אלת׳אני‬.‫ אלפצל אלאול כאן יכ׳אטב אלאמה ושלמה‬.‫אעלם אנהא ת׳לת׳ה פצול‬ ‫ והד׳א אלפצל אלאכ׳יר ללג׳מע‬.‫כ׳אטב בה שלמה פקט‬. See Ms. SP RNL Evr. Arab. I 1395, fol. 111r. This is a parenthetical passage that the commentator inserts into David’s speech.

David and the Temple of Solomon in Medieval Karaite Sources


no effort to lay up, etc.,42 by which he meant “I have spared no effort to prepare/secure for him money he would need.”43 Later, David describes in detail the preparations he made with regard to building materials.44 Yefet’s explanations indicate that he approached the Bible as a first rate literary work of perfectly crafted composition in which he identifies phrases serving as resumptive repetitions aimed at clarifying the picture and providing the necessary connections between passages. It may be noted in passing that this is a fascinating proof of Meira Polliack’s views concerning Yefet’s structural method of interpretation.45 When commenting on 1 Kings 2:9, Yefet compares this verse with the information provided in 1 Chronicles, pointing out the differences. Interestingly, while doing so, he divides the passage in 1 Chronicles into two thematic units or episodes that occurred at different times: The testament imposes [on Solomon] three types of actions. The first is obedient adherence to God so that God’s promise to David will be fulfilled. The second is demanding recompense from whom it is incumbent [i.e., the revenge against Joab, etc.]. The third is giving reward for the good. [Scripture] has already pointed out in the [Book of] Chronicles46 42 43

44 45 46

1 Chronicles 29:2. ‫ אעלמו אן ולדי הד׳א ואחד פי זמאנה ליס לה נט׳יר וקד אכ׳תאר אללה בה לאמור‬:‫פקאל להם‬ ‫ ואלד׳י אראד אן יעאניה הו אמר‬,‫ ליכנה חדת׳ לם יערף אלאמור כמא ערפתהא אנא‬.‫כבאר‬ ‫ פמן אג׳ל ד׳לך אחתג׳ת אלי אן אתעב פי תחציל אלעדד‬.‫עט׳ים ואסע לאנה בני ללה עט׳ים‬ ‫ ת׳ם אכ׳ד׳ יתלו עליהם מא אסתעדה ללבני פקאל ובכל כחי‬.‫ליכ׳פף ענה וינקל אלבני בסרעה‬ ‫ יריד בד׳לך אני מא תרכת ג׳הד פי אסתעדאדי אלעדד אלדי יחתאג׳ אליהא‬,‫הכינותי‬. See Ms. SP RNL Evr. Arab. I 1395, fol. 111r. See ibidem, n. 47. See Polliack, “Biblical Narrative.” This is an appropriate place to point out that Yefet usually refers to Chronicles by the name Dibrē Yāmīm as opposed to the more accepted form Dibrē ha-Yāmīm. This form may be found already in the Peshitta in the form Dibrei yamim, and also in a ninth century responsum discovered by David Sklare. My thanks go to him for passing it on to me and allowing me to use it. It seems that both forms were used simultaneously. Evidently the copyist of this commentary had a manuscript before him in which the name was written Dibrē ha-Yāmīm, but since he was familiar with the other form he used it, correcting it according to what he was familiar with. In fact the form Dibrē Yāmīm is a bit surprising since on the one hand it does not appear in Scripture and on the other hand Arabic constructs usually contain the definite article – we would expect someone living in the Arabic cultural sphere to follow that practice. And for evidence – in his commentary on 1 Kings 8:22 our scribe also writes: “and we already pointed out in Chronicles” (‫וקד ד׳כרה‬ ‫)פצ׳לין פי דברי ימים‬. This shows that he knew this form and he used both forms interchangeably. See Ms. SP Acad. C36, fol. 65v.



other things that David ordered Solomon in two [thematic] units [or “episodes”] (Ar. faṣlayn) [that occurred] at different times in the presence of the congregation. The first unit [recounts David’s words] My son Solomon is an untried youth.47 These words [were pronounced in the presence of] the congregation. Therefore [Scripture] says afterwards Then he summoned his son Solomon and charged him with building the House48 until [the verse] Go and do it, and may the Lord be with you.49 This narrative required mentioning God’s promise from [the verse] But you will have a son who will be a man at rest, etc.50 And [the narrative] requires his urging him to obey [God] so that his kingdom will be established in his hand and thus he says: Then you shall succeed, if you observantly carry out the laws and the rules.51 [Therefore] he included mention of preparing the money [for building] the House and for [paying the salaries] of the craftsmen. And he also mentioned afterwards that he had asked the elders of Israel to strengthen his [i.e., Solomon’s] hands. And the final testament was [announced] also in the presence of the heads of Israel, as it it said in [the verse] David assembled all the officers of Israel52 and therefore determined everything related to this matter which involved other matters, saying: And you my son Solomon, etc.53 Therefore [Scripture] mentions what he [i.e., David] informed him [i.e., Solomon] about building the House and gave him what he had written down about the dimensions of the Temple and more.54 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54

1 Chronicles 22:5. 1 Chronicles 22:7. 1 Chronicles 22:16. 1 Chronicles 22:9. 1 Chronicles 22:13. 1 Chronicles 28:1. 1 Chronicles 28:9. ‫ אלואחד אלתמסך בטאעה אללה ליתם ועד אללה לדוד‬.‫תצ׳מנה הד׳ה אלוציה ת׳לת׳ה צ׳רוב‬ ‫ וקד ד׳כר‬.‫ואלת׳אני אכ׳ד׳ אלחק ממן עליה מטאלבה ואלת׳אלת׳ אלמכאפאה עלי אלכ׳יר‬ ‫פי דברי [ה]ימים אשיא אכ׳ר וצי בהא דוד לשלמה והי פי פצ׳לין פי וקתין וכאן ד׳לך פי‬ ‫ פאלפצל אלאול ויאמר דוד שלמה בני נער ורך׳ ותמאם אלקול [והו‬.‫חצ׳רה אלג׳מאעה‬ ‫ וד׳כר אלוציה והו‬.‫ ת׳ם קאל בעדה ויקרא לשלמה בנו ויצוהו לבנות בית‬.‫קול] ללג׳מאעה‬ ‫ פתצ׳מנה הד׳ה אלקצה‬.‫מן בני היה עם לבבי לבנות בית אלי קום ועשה ויהיה ייי עמך‬ ‫ד׳כר ועד אללה מן הנה בן נולד לך הוא יהיה איש מנוחה ותמאם אלקול ותצ׳מנת חתה‬ ‫עלי אלטאעה ליתם לה אלמלך והו קולה אז תצליח אם תשמר לעשות את החקים ואת‬ ‫ ת׳ם ד׳כר בעד ד׳לך מא כאטב‬.‫ ותצ׳מנת ד׳כר אסתעדאד עדד אלבית ואלצנאע‬.‫המשפטים‬ ‫ ואלוציה אלאכ׳רי כאנת איצ׳א בחצ׳רה רוסא ישראל‬.‫בה שיוך׳ ישראל מן אלשד עלי ידה‬ ‫ ותצ׳מנת איצ׳א מא שאכל הד׳א‬.‫כמא תצ׳מן ד׳לך פצל ויקהל דוד את כל שרי ישראל‬ ‫ וד׳כר איצ׳א מא ערפה מן אמר‬.‫אלבאב אן פיהא אשיא אכ׳ר מן קולה ואתה שלמה בני וג׳‬ ‫ וד׳כר איצ׳א מכ׳אטבה אלג׳מע פי‬.‫בנא אלבית ואעטאה כתאבה במסאחה אלאולם וגיר ד׳לך‬

David and the Temple of Solomon in Medieval Karaite Sources


From this passage we learn that Yefet interwove chapters 22 and 28–29 from 1 Chronicles into one episode. Interestingly, he does not point out here that David spoke to Solomon privately. At this point we face a difficult problem. Contrary to what our exegete says in his commentary on the beginning of 1 Chronicles 29 where he presents three thematic units (Ar. fuṣūl), the latter of which begins with the words “My son Solomon is an untried youth”,55 in his commentary on 1 Kings 1 he presents only two units the first of which is the third in 1 Chronicles 29. Thus, it appears that in his commentary on 1 Chronicles 28–29 Yefet completes and corrects what he omitted in his commentary on 1 Kings 1, sensing that he left something out. It is possible that when he wrote his commentary on 1 Kings, Yefet did not remember precisely what he had written on 1 Chronicles 28–29 and vice versa. Another possibility is, of course, that Yefets conceived the first two units in 1 Chronicles 28 as one. Being aware of the similarities and differences between the narratives in chapters 29 and 22, in his commentary on 1 Chronicles 22:5 Yefet offers an interesting interpretation. Noticing that in chapter 22 there is no mention of an addressee of David’s remarks, Yefet concludes – unlike his comment on the relevant passage in the Book of Kings (1 Kings 1) – that these were the king’s thoughts. He expounds: [Scripture] says For David said, my son Solomon56 and does not mention that he [i.e., David] said [this] to someone, thus one should conclude that he said it in his heart.57 And this verse is connected to the previous thematic unit (Ar. al-faṣl al-mutaqaddim) as if it were said there that David prepared all of those things because he thought, “my death is approaching and Solomon my son, whom God chose to build the House, is still young. Moreover, he is untried and not tough. And all the more so, building the House of God is a major undertaking, enormous and requiring a long time. And all that I can do is to prepare for him in order to make it easier for him and to speed up the construction. Therefore, I had to

55 56 57

‫אן יכ׳רגו אשיא לבית אללה‬. See Ms. SP Acad. C36, fols. 12r–v. Based on the verse: “David gave his son Solomon the plan of the porch … and the plan of all that he had by the spirit” (1 Chronicles 28:11–12). 1 Chronicles 22:5. 1 Chronicles 22:5. This remark is an intriguing example of Yefet’s psychological approach. It appears that he said this out of an awareness of David’s remarks in 1 Chronicles 29 where he makes his speech about his son before an audience. That is Yefet’s interpretation of the words “and with all my strength I have prepared,” shedding a new light on the verse.



proceed and prepare it,” as it is said: let me, then, lay aside material for him.58 Yefet concludes, stating: This demonstrates that he [i.e., David] prepared the building materials only close to his death, as it is said: So David laid aside much material before he died.59 Towards the end of his commentary on 1 Kings 5:32, Yefet once again refers to 1 Chronicles 22 to emphasize David’s wish to alleviate the task of building of the Temple imposed on Solomon, by making preparatory steps towards this work: [Scripture] has already informed [us] in [the Book] of Chronicles that David also prepared a lot, as [testified] by his words: I have also laid aside wood and stone and you shall add to them.60 Likewise he prepared [materials] of every type, and procured the laborers for that purpose too, in order to alleviate [to Solomon] the work [of building of the Temple] because it is enormous and mighty.61 The continuity that Yefet detects or proposes between 1 Chronicles 21 and 22 seems quite evident and natural, and therefore he does not need to use 1 Kings to prove it. However, when he wants to establish or create a similar continuity between 1 Chronicles 28 and 29, he needs to insert a reference to 1 Kings 1:1 in support of his claim.


59 60 61

1 Chronicles 22:5. ‫קאל ויאמר דויד שלמה בני ולם יד׳כר אנה קאל לפלאן פיג׳ב אן יקולה‬ ‫ ויג׳ב אן יכון הד׳א אלפסוק מתעלק באלפצל אלמתקדם כאנה קאל פי אלפצל‬.‫פי נפסה‬ ‫אלמתקדם אן דויד אסתעד הד׳ה אלאשיא כלהא מן חית׳ אנה קאל פי נפסה אן מותי קד‬ ‫קרב ושלמה אבני אלד׳י אכ׳תאר אללה בה לבני אלבית צגיר אלסן ומע ד׳לך פהו מדלל ליס‬ ‫ פכל מא אמכנני אן אס�ת‬.‫ טויל‬,‫ עט׳ים‬,‫ ומע ד׳לך פבני בית אללה פהו באב כביר‬.‫הו כןשן‬ ‫עדה לה ליכ׳פף ענה וירוג׳ אלבני פיג׳ב אן אקדמה ואסתעדה כקולה אכינה נא לו‬. Cf. Ms. Lausanne (Isaac Elisha collection), Elisha 17 (no pagination). 1 Chronicles 22:5. ‫פדל ד׳לך אנה לם יסתעד אמור אלבני אלא בקרב מותה כקולה ויכן דויד‬ ‫לרוב לפני‬. See Ms. Lausanne (Isaac Elisha collection), Elisha 27 (no pagination). 1 Chronicles 22:14. ‫וקד אכ׳בר פי דברי הימים אן דוד אסתעד איצ׳א כת׳ירא כקולה ועצים ואבנים הכינותי‬ ‫ועליהם תוסיף וכד׳לך אסתעד מן כל לון ואסתעד אלצנאע איצ׳א לד׳לך ליסהל אלעמל לאנה‬ ‫עמל כביר עט׳ים‬. See Ms. SP Acad. C36 Fol. 35b–36a.

David and the Temple of Solomon in Medieval Karaite Sources




The Karaites are generally known for their fidelity to the plain-sense, contextual meaning of the Hebrew Bible. And yet, when faced with important theological problems, such as incongruity between the sacred text and important theological tenets such as the one concerning prophetic infallability (Ar. ʿiṣma), Yefet was prepared to improve the image of David so that it was a better fit for the concept of prophethood he endorsed. Similary, when the depiction of an important biblical character is at stake, the exegete is prepared to improve it by highlighting certain aspects of that character not necessarily dominant in the biblical account, such as David’s humility. In addition, Yefet’s exegetical treatment of biblical passages related to David’s testament analyzed in detail in this paper offers an intriguing example of his sensitivity to the literary aspects of the biblical text as well as his enduring endeavor to reconstruct the order and structure of the narrated events. As we have been able to see, with great art he combines different passages and weaves them together into a coherent thematic unit. Such reconstructions shed a new light on the meaning of the interpreted text. Bibliography

Manuscript Sources

Yefet ben ʿEli, Commentary on the Torah (Deuteronomy), St. Petersburg, Ms. Acad. C72. Yefet ben ʿEli, Commentary on the Torah (Deuteronomy), St. Petersburg, Ms. Acad. C41. Yefet ben ʿEli, Commentary on Exodus, St. Petersburg, National Library of Russia [= SP RNL], Ms. Evr. Arab. I 29. Yefet ben ʿEli, Commentary on Samuel, St. Petersburg, National Library of Russia [= SP RNL], Ms. Evr. Arab. I 1395. Yefet ben ʿEli, Commentary on Kings, St. Petersburg, National Library of Russia [= SP RNL], Ms. Evr. Arab. I 1395. Yefet ben ʿEli, Commentary on Kings, St. Petersburg, Ms. Acad. C36. Yefet ben ʿEli, Commentary on Kings, Lausanne (Isaac Elisha collection), Ms. Elisha 17. Yefet ben ʿEli, Commentary on Nehemiah, St. Petersburg, National Library of Russia [= SP RNL], Ms. Evr. Arab. I 4036. Yefet ben ʿEli, Commentary on Psalms, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France [= BnF], Ms. Paris 287. Yefet ben ʿEli, Commentary on Psalms, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France [= BnF], Ms. Paris 286.



Yefet ben ʿEli, Commentary on Psalms, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France [= BnF], Ms. Paris 289. Yefet ben ʿEli, Commentary on Chronicles, St. Petersburg, National Library of Russia [= SP RNL], Ms. Evr. Arab. I 1395. Yefet ben ʿEli, Commentary on Chronicles, Ms. Lausanne 27.

Printed Sources and Studies

Anabsa, Ghalib. “The Reflection of the Image of King David in Early Islamic Tradition” [in Hebrew]. Beyn ʿEḇer le-ʿAraḇ, 9 (2017), 172–184. Andruss, Jessica Hope. The Judaeo-Arabic Commentary on Jonah by the Karaite Japheth ben Eli: Introduction and Translation. Master’s thesis submitted at the Ohio State University, 2007. Erder, Yoram. “The Influence of Muslim Theology on Yefet Ben ʿEli as Evidenced in his Interpretation of Two Biblical Stories: The Sins of King David in the Census and the Sins he Committed with Bathsheba.” Revue des Etudes Juives, 174 (1–2) (2015), 47–76. Frank, Daniel H. Search Scripture Well: Karaite Exegetes and the Origins of the Jewish Bible Commentary in the Islamic East [Études sur le judaïsme médiéval, vol. 29]. Leiden: Brill, 2004. Friedman, Mordechai A. A Dictionary of Medieval Judeo-Arabic in the India Book Letters from the Geniza and in Other Texts [in Hebrew]. Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute, 2016. Japhet, Sara. I & II Chronicles: A Commentary [Old Testament Library]. Westminster – Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1993. Japhet, Sara. The Ideology of the Book of Chronicles and its Place in Biblical Thought. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbraun, 2009. Kara-Ivanov Kaniel, Ruth. “King David and Jerusalem from Psalms to the Zohar: Perspectives on Jewish Texts and Contexts.” In Psalms In/On Jerusalem, edited by Ophir Müntz-Manor, and Ilana Pardes, 67–107 [Perspectives on Jewish Texts and Contexts, vol. 9]. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2019. Kara-Ivanov Kaniel, Ruth. The Feminine Messiah. King David in the Image of the Shekhinah in Kabbalistic Literature [The Brill Reference Library of Judaism, vol. 68]. Leiden: Brill, 2021 [in print]. Midrash Qohelet Rabba I–VI, edited by Menahem Hirshman. Jerusalem: Schechter Institute, 2017. Midrash Tehillim (ed. Shlomo Buber), Vilna 1891. Polliack, Meira. “Biblical Narrative and the Textualization of Oral Tradition: Innovations in Medieval Judaeo-Arabic Bible Exegesis” [in Hebrew]. Beyn ʿEḇer le-ʿAraḇ, 6 (2014), 109–152. Zakovitch, Yair. David – from Shepherd to Messiah [in Hebrew]. Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi, 1995.

David and the Temple of Solomon in Medieval Karaite Sources


Zawanowska, Marzena. The Arabic Translation and Commentary of Yefet ben ‘Eli the Karaite on the Abraham Narratives (Genesis 11:10–25:18). Leiden: Brill, 2012. Zawanowska, Marzena. “In the Border-Land of Literalism: Interpretative Alterations of Scripture in Medieval Karaite Translations of the Bible into Arabic.” Intellectual History of the Islamicate World, 1 (2013), 179–202. Zawanowska, Marzena. “Islamic Exegetical Terms in Yefet ben Eli’s Commentaries on the Holy Scriptures.” Journal of Jewish Studies, 64(2) (2013), 306–325. Zoran, Yair. “Shilluah Manot and Hakhanat Okhel – Language and Halakha in the Commentary of Yefet ben Eli the Karaite on Nehemiah 8:10” [in Hebrew]. Peʿamim, 153 (2017), 141–150. Zoran, Yair. “The Commentary of Yefet ben Eli the Karaite to Nehemiah 9 and its Place in his Exegetical Enterprise” (in print). Zoran, Yair. “The Metamorphosis of Tradition. A Study of an Excerpt from the Commentary of Yefet ben ʿEli the Karaite to Chronicles 28:19 and its Parallel in his Commentary on Exodus 25:9.” In Festschrift Presented to Haggai Ben-Shammai on the Occasion of his Birthday, edited by Miriam Frenkel and Phillip I. Lieberman (forthcoming). Zoref, Arye. “King David’s Final Days in Yefet ben Eli’s Commentary: The Psychology Behind Politics” [in Hebrew]. Peʿamim, 162 (2021), 35–64.

chapter 5

David as Warrior, Leader, and Poet in Medieval Hebrew Poetry of al-Andalus Shmuel ha-Nagid’s Self-Portrait as “The David of His Age” Barbara Gryczan 1

Introduction: Socio-historical background of Shmuel ha-Nagid’s Literary Activity

Shmuel ha-Nagid (993–1056) was one of the most influential Jewish dignitaries and intellectuals of al-Andalus as well as a prominent figure of the social and cultural phenomenon known as the convivencia.1 The convivencia refers to a period of relative tolerance and harmonic coexistence of the three monotheistic cultures under the Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages. Scholars of Jewish studies conventionally call it “the Golden Age” to convey the idea of a period of remarkable, unprecedented flourishing of Jewish culture from the tenth to the mid-twelfth centuries.2 The unique historical and political circumstances of the time allowed the Iberian Jewish population to establish prosperous and stable communities, headed by influential, intellectual elites. Once the two powerful players in the game – the Muslim and the Christian empires – established relatively stable geographic boundaries and began, at least for a while, to strive for peace, a space for a third party emerged and thus Jewish contributions came to be valued by both sides. Given that the Jews, an ethnic and religious group deprived of state and land, were perceived both as a neutral party in the local conflicts and also as a group open to ‘civilising’ influences of the larger empires, Jews 1 The article was written within the framework of the NPRH grant (Uniwersalia 2.2) awarded to Dr. Marzena Zawanowska to conduct a study for the realization of the research project Hebrajska poezja złotego wieku w al-Andalus. Antologia [The Hebrew Poetry of the Golden Age in al-Andalus. An Anthology] (2018–2023; No. 22H/18/0199/86). 2 The term was initially introduced by the nineteenth-century Jewish historians and was quickly popularised, thanks to the publication of Heinrich Graetz’s monumental (eleven volumes) Geschichte der Juden. In his groundbreaking work, which comprises the first modern-day extensive edition and academic commentary to the poetic works of the period, Yefim (Hayim) Schirmann described the phenomenon as the “Spanish miracle.” See Goitein, A Mediterranean Society, vol. 5, 425. © Barbara Gryczan, 2021 | doi:10.1163/9789004465978_007 This is an open access chapter distributed under the terms of the CC BY-NC 4.0 license.

David as Warrior, Leader, and Poet


were often entrusted with the role of mediator between Christian and Muslim and considered eligible for prominent positions as those who could exercise official functions. Jewish dignitaries were thus able to provide care and support to their own communities. Imitating the Muslim rulers, they extended patronage to numerous scientific and artistic endeavours. As a result, the Jewish courtly life flourished. The development of Jewish society was naturally stimulated by the advancement of the Islamic civilisation, since the thriving Muslim culture at its peak was an evident inspiration for non-Muslims and as such it exercised influence on the communities residing within its borders. However, it has been recently demonstrated in numerous publications that the idealised, romanticised picture of the Golden Age as an era of true ‘civilisation’ based on reciprocal admiration and acceptance envisioned by the nineteenth-century historians, is in fact a fanciful utopia.3 In reality, while the Muslim authorities remained tolerant towards the Jews, especially as long as the Jewish presence was considered useful, this did not mean that they were accepting, let alone admiring, of the representatives of the minority culture. In addition, both sides firmly believed in their own moral and religious superiority and their intercultural relations remained strictly formal.4 No historical evidence exists of intermarriage between the communities or even common feasting; on the one hand, the Jews fiercely guarded their ethnic integrity by means of separating themselves as much as possible from the Gentiles; on the other hand, while in general maintaining an interest in the latest scholarly and artistic accomplishments of their non-Muslim subjects for the sake of their own cultural development, the Muslims seem to have paid little attention to the intellectual achievements of the Jews. Furthermore, the tolerance of the Muslim societies was characterised by its strict and easily strained boundaries. History proves that the political mood in Andalusia was volatile and that on occasion the Muslim crowd could express its violent opposition to the rise of non-Muslim officials. If they reached too high on the political ladder, the Jews were reminded of their place. 3 For a detailed inquiry into the history of the Jewish–Muslim relations in the times of convivencia, see, e.g., Frank (ed.), Jews of Medieval Islam; Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross; Perlmann “Medieval Polemics”; Scheindlin “Jews in Muslim Spain”; Wasserstein, “Jewish Elites in Al-Andalus”; idem, “Muslims and Golden Age.” 4 An inestimable source of information on the life of Jewish communities in Andalusia is the Cairo Geniza. Among the preserved documents (dating from the ninth to the nineteenth centuries) are letters exchanged between the representatives of Jewish elites from around the Mediterranean basin. The monumental work of editing and publishing a significant amount of these fascinating materials was done by Shelomo Dov Goitein, in his monumental, six-volume Mediterranean Society.



For instance, in 1066, in spite of the official position of the authorities on the matter, the mob murdered approximately 3000 Jews in the anti-Jewish riots in Granada, while in the early 90s of the same century, the Jews were officially exiled from the city-state of Granada after it had been conquered by the Almoravids. Nonetheless, decades before these events, in the very same city of Granada, Shmuel ha-Nagid – known in Islamic circles as Ismāʿīl b. Naġrīla – rose to power and prominence. His life story provides a rare example of the spectacular success and career advancement of a man who rose from humble origins to become the most powerful man after the king and a respected leader of the Andalusian Jewry. Working up the ranks of administrative functionaries, he gained influence in his 20s, having been nominated by Ḥabūs, the Berber king of Granada, to the position of counsellor. In the year 1037, serving under Ḥabūs’ successor, Bādīs, ha-Nagid was appointed a vizier and the commander-in-chief of Bādīs’ army. Consequently, he led Bādīs’ troops in numerous campaigns until his death in 1056, which was most probably caused by battle injuries. Moreover, he was equally active as the head of the Jewish community. In 1027, he was granted the title of the nagid – the official leader of the Jewish community. The key to his success was his unequalled skill at diplomacy, which was undoubtedly the most praised among his many virtues.5 However, in addition to his role in political and social life ha-Nagid was also a prominent figure in Jewish culture. His scholarly interests covered many diverse areas such as rabbinical studies, Bible exegesis, and Hebrew linguistics. In addition, as a man of influence and wealth, he was a committed patron of the arts. However, most importantly for our current discussion, he was a talented poet – the foremost representative of the new literary style – the first to 5 Ross Brann cites the opinions of ha-Nagid’s contemporaries and the subsequent generations to indicate how highly esteemed he was, not only among the Jews but also among Muslims who, surprisingly enough, were willing to treat him as an equal. See Brann, Power in the Portrayal, 38–39. In contrast, ha-Nagid’s son, Yehosef, who succeeded his father in the office, was openly criticised for his hubris and conceit. ha-Nagid chose him to be his heir not only as a politician but also as a man of letters. At a young age, Yehosef copied his father’s diwan preceding each of the poems with a word of explanation and introduction (most probably dictated by Shmuel himself, as the boy is believed to have had been eight years old at the time). As a grown man, he proved himself to be as successful a strategist as his father (he was the one to outline and initiate the construction of the impressive fortress bordering Grenada, known today as Alhambra). However, because of his arrogance, Yehosef failed to gain the trust of the Jewish community and equally evoked the hostility and malevolence of his Muslim associates and subordinates. Consequently, Yehosef was the victim to allegations of disloyalty (he was accused of having planned a usurpation of the throne) and was murdered in the riots of 1066.

David as Warrior, Leader, and Poet


have implemented in his verse all the innovative features characteristic of the poetics of the Hebrew Golden Age. 2

Linguistic Background of the Revival of Biblical Hebrew

Hebrew language and literature underwent a spectacular and rapid development from the tenth to the eleventh centuries owing to, amongst other factors, the linguistic endeavours of ha-Nagid and his contemporaries. The revolution had already begun, earlier in the East, with the works of Saʿadya Gaon, a Jewish scholar from Egypt, active in Babylonia, who initiated a new kind of rabbinic studies, namely biblical exegesis enriched with complex theoretical, lexicographic, grammatical, and linguistic analyses of the Hebrew language as well as sophisticated literary and stylistic studies of its poetics. His endeavours paved the way for the emergence of a new, “refined” type of liturgical poetry that was more elaborate and clearly structured as well as linguistically closer to the biblical model. Saʿadya’s pioneering works quickly spread, reaching Jewish communities around the Mediterranean basin. As a result, his new approach dominated much of the intellectual endeavour of Jewish scholars and thinkers of the time.6 In poetry, “the quest for biblical purity at any cost”7 soon became one of their main concerns. The linguistic analysis inspired and fostered by such a clear-cut aim, helped to shape a consistent vision of what the norm of the language employed in lyrical works should be. This development, in turn, led to a flourishing of poetry, characterised by the Hebrew poets striving to make a reality of both the new vision.8 6 Saʿadya’s grammatical works, although groundbreaking, were soon surpassed by his prominent followers. In the long list of linguists, grammarians, poets and philosophers of the time, the name of ha-Nagid should definitely be included along with names such as Dunash Ben Labrat (920–990), Jehudah Hayyuj (ca. 945–ca. 1000), Jonah Ibn Janah (ca. 990–ca. 1050), Solomon Ibn Gabirol (ca. 1021–ca. 1058), Moses Ibn Ezra (ca. 1060–ca. 1139), Judah Halevi (1071/75–1141), Abraham Ibn Ezra (1092–1167), Joseph Qimḥi (1105–1170), David Qimḥi (1160– 1235), to name just a few. 7 See Sáenz-Badillos, History of the Hebrew Language, 227. 8 Norman Roth describes this phenomenon as the “complete resurrection of Hebrew language from the oblivion, into which it had fallen.” See Roth, “Hebrew Language,” 322. It may be worth mentioning that it was the first successful revival of the Hebrew language. Much like the representatives of the Haskalah and the then-Zionist movement in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the poets of the Golden Age aimed to restore the Hebrew language and its literary tradition. Even though they were not as successful as the Zionists were in enforcing Hebrew to replace all other languages in all forms of communication, when it came



The revolutionary character of the works of the Golden-Age authors is also evident in their implementation of an entirely new (in the Jewish lyrical tradition) poetic style inspired by Arabic verse. The poems were bound by strict and elaborate Arabic prosodic rules regarding their form and metre, while their content was enriched by a whole range of new subjects. The new metre was introduced into Hebrew literature by Dunash ben Labrat, a student of Saʿadya who arrived from Egypt and was the first to propagate the innovative poetic style that has persisted ever since in the works of all the famous poets of the era. These poets, just like their Arab counterparts, exhibited interest in a wide array of secular topics, producing love poems, eulogies, “poems of desire,” “poems of wine,” “poems of friendship” and “poems of war.”9 Still, it ought to be noted that Hebrew poetry, even though secularised and inspired by the Arab verse on the formal level, was written in a language exceptionally faithful to the biblical model and deeply submerged in the conceptual as well as the historical reality of the Jewish sacred Scriptures. This characteristic, in turn, allowed for the emergence of new sophisticated rhetorical devices such as the šibuṣ (pl. šibūṣīm), which involves drawing certain verses or phrases from the Bible and incorporating them into the (usually contextually different) environment of the poem, and remez (pl. rĕmāzīm), which literally denotes a “hint,” and stands for an evocation of certain biblical situations in poems.10 Both these devices, markedly inspired by the biblical form (language) and content, were introduced to Hebrew poetry by the Jewish Andalusian authors and, with time, became the hallmarks of the poetry of the Golden Age. It is instructive to quote Ross Brann’s comment, which encapsulates the revolutionary use of tradition by the Hebrew poets of the time in contrast to the far more conservative approach to the same sources of the traditionalists. He says: to the language itself, they were more successful in restoring the Biblical model. Prominent linguists themselves, they were able to reconstruct precisely not only the semantic layer of the language but also the whole of its syntactic structure, together with the complex verbal system. Such was not the case with the modern revival of Hebrew in which the biblical lexicon was incorporated into a syntactic model far closer to the Slavic than the Semitic pattern, adopted (to some extent probably unconsciously) from the native tongue of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and other Ashkenazi Zionists responsible for the revival of the language. For more on this issue, see, e.g., Zuckermann, “New Vision.” 9 The poetics, genres, themes, structure, and cultural background of the medieval Hebrew poetry have been given a great deal of scholarly attention. For the most recent fundamental studies, see, e.g., the works of Arie Schippers, Ezra Fleischer, Israel Levin, and Shulamit Elitzur. 10 For a broader and more detailed characteristic of these rhetorical devices, see, e.g., Pagis, Change and Tradition; Lowin, Arabic and Hebrew Love Poems.

David as Warrior, Leader, and Poet


[…] traditionalists continued to decipher the meaning of Scripture as contemplated by the rabbis and to maintain the interpretations cited in the Talmud and Midrash as if little had changed. But Hebrew poets began to spin webs of figurative magic by manipulating and flexing the diction, figures and associations of the Bible in ever more imaginative ways.11 3

The Dream of the Neo-Solomonic Kingdom in al-Andalus

The secularisation of the language of the Scriptures, as well as of the longestablished Jewish poetic tradition of the piyyuṭ, appears as a surprising and even improbable phenomenon. Shmuel ha-Nagid, who belonged to the early generation of the secular poets of al-Andalus, is definitely among those responsible for this development. In all likelihood, he was the first to fully embrace and comprehensively develop the idea of reviving the biblical language through literature. As the most successful medieval Jewish intellectual and the first to profit from the new, favourable cultural and economic conditions, he distanced his art from the recent diasporic literary heritage. Instead, he fought for the revival of Biblical Hebrew that engendered cultural and historical continuity between the original literary corpus of the Scriptures and his modern texts. Hence, by writing works in Hebrew, he did not wish to be simply a representative of the liturgical synagogue lore but rather to act as a contemporary representative the biblical tradition and history – both understood in their broadest possible sense. Furthermore, while reading ha-Nagid’s works, one can hardly resist the impression that he lived a dream of the “neo-Solomonic kingdom in Andalusia.”12 His aim was to revive not only the biblical language but also the whole of the Hebrew culture (even though away from Ereṣ Israel). He envisioned a strong, self-aware and influential Jewish society that created its own history, a worthy successor to the biblical one. These bold ambitions are clearly reflected, among other things, in the poem “Back away from me now, my friend,” which we will discuss below. In this sense, the language of the Scriptures was no longer to be perceived as the holy tongue of divine revelation, to be used solely for sacral proposes. It was to become the living language of contemporary Jewish history again. In his war poems, ha-Nagid attempted to create chronicles documenting the events of his own time, akin to their biblical prototypes. Therefore, he wished to find 11 12

See Brann, Compunctious Poet, 23. See Cole (trans.), Selected Poems of Shmuel Ha-Nagid, xxiii.



a way to legitimise his self-proclaimed and close-to-blasphemous role as the direct successor of biblical authors. To achieve this goal, ha-Nagid divided his diwan into three major parts, namely Ben Mišlē, Ben Tĕhillīm, and Ben Qōhelet. The titles are meant to suggest an obvious connection between his works and biblical poetry, traditionally attributed to David and Solomon. The titles may be understood as “After the Book of Proverbs,” “After the Book of Psalms,” and “After the Book of Ecclesiastes,” yet they can also be translated, perhaps more in accord with the author’s intention, as “The Small Book of Psalms,” “The Small Book of Proverbs,” and “The Small Book of Ecclesiastes,” understood as continuations of the biblical books. Moreover, ha-Nagid’s ambition was to serve not only as a mere scribe – a faithful recorder of events – but also as the main protagonist in such works, much like King David or Solomon, someone exercising a legitimate influence on the Jewish history of his time. Aspiring to be the leader of a renewed Jewish society modelled after the biblical Kingdom was probably even more audacious an endeavour than the idea of commenting on the current historical events in the biblical manner. Therefore, ha-Nagid never slackened in his efforts to legitimise his role, using every opportunity to create either a direct or allusive connection between himself and selected biblical luminaries. 4

Ha-Nagid’s Self-portrait as “The David of His Age” in his Poem Back away from Me Now, My Friend

This tendency of ha-Nagid finds its utmost expression in the war poem Back away from me now, my friend. The piece reports the events of the battle of Argona, where ha-Nagid fought as the chief of the defending army. In the poem, he overtly proclaims himself as “the David of his age.” The text is constructed in the form of a dialogue, being a polemical poetic discussion between the writer and an anonymous sceptical and critical disputant.13 The poem comes from the second volume of ha-Nagid’s diwān, entitled Ben Tĕhillīm, which according to Peter Cole is:

13 Ha-Nagid’s ideas were met with criticism to which he was very sensitive as testified, e.g., by his partially preserved poetic discussion with Isaac Ibn Khalfun. Khalfun’s poems of criticism did not survive but we can read Ha-Nagid’s ardent respond (in Ben Tĕhillīm 174– 176) proceeded by his son’s introduction in which the “quarrel” with Ibn Khalfun is being directly addressed.

David as Warrior, Leader, and Poet


[…] perhaps the most original of the three, as it introduces to postbiblical Hebrew poetry the full range of Arabic subject matter, complete command of the new poetics, and an unforgettably personal cast to the biblical language of the verse. This combination of subject, tone, and impulse aligns ha-Nagid with the martial-lyric spirit of Second Samuel and the Davidic Psalms, an affiliation ha-Nagid makes explicit at several points.14 It can be best classified as a war poem and a boast poem – both characteristic of the Iberian poetical culture of the time but belonging to a much older genre in received Arabic culture, dating back as far as the pre-Islamic oral poetic tradition. In contrast to its genre, the language of the poem and its rhetoric are deeply rooted in the text of the Scriptures. The elaborate use of paraphrases and hidden quotations from the biblical texts reveals a hidden agenda – an additional layer to the straightforward boast. ha-Nagid manages to strengthen his message and legitimise his claims by linking them directly to the sacred text. Thus, the present-day historical content of the poem is densely interspersed with the elaborate network of šibūṣīm and rĕmāzīm. ha-Nagid used those devices to prove that it was his legacy to be both the leader of the Jewish community and the singer of God and announced himself the legitimate heir and direct descendant of Jeduthun and “the David of his age.” The set of šibūṣīm employed for that purpose is far more complex and refined than it appears at first glance. Below, I attempt to deconstruct some of them to demonstrate how those sophisticated literary and linguistic tools convey the poet’s ideological claims. The poem begins with a paraphrase of the last verse of Psalm 39: ‫ָה ַ ׁ֣שע ִמ ֶ ּ֣מּנִ י וְ ַא ְב ִ ֑ליגָ ה‬ ‫ְּב ֶ ֖ט ֶרם ֵא ֵלְ֣ך וְ ֵא ֶינּֽנִ י׃‬

Look away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more! Psalms 39:14

The above concluding verse of the psalm is a plea to God to refrain from judgement so that the supplicant can lead a peaceful life. Ha-Nagid uses the same phrase as an appeal to refrain from criticism; however, his invocation is not a humble request, but rather as part of a harsher repartee. Also, it is not directed to God but toward a sceptical human disputant: ‫יתי וַ ֲח ֵב ִרי‬ ִ ‫ ֲע ִמ‬, ‫ְׁש ֵעה ִמּנִ י‬


Back away from me now, my friend

See Cole (trans.), Dream of the Poem, 38.



It is, in fact, a warning, as revealed in the following section of the poem. His next verse also strongly evokes psalmic imagery: ?‫ֲה ִלי ַת ְפ ִחיד ְּב ִמ ִּלים לֹא נְ כֹונִ ים‬ ‫אֹורי‬ ִ ְ‫וְ ֵאיְך ֶא ְפ ַחד – וְ צּור יִ ְׁש ִעי ו‬

Would you scare me with false accusations? What would I fear – with the Rock as my light and salvation?

The author proves his legitimacy by mentioning the divine support that he has been granted, just like the author of the Psalms. Let us look at some biblical verses from the Psalter that might have been inspirational for that line: ‫הו֥ה‬ ָ ְ‫ירא י‬ ֑ ָ ‫ֹאורי ְ֭ויִ ְׁש ִעי ִמ ִ ּ֣מי ִא‬ ֣ ִ ‫הו֤ה׀‬ ָ ְ‫י‬ ‫ָ ֽמ‬ ‫ֹעוז־ח ַּ֗יי ִמ ִ ּ֥מי ֶא ְפ ָ ֽחד‬ ַ֝

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? Psalms 27:1

‫ּומ ָּי֣ה נַ ְפ ִ ׁ֑שי‬ ִ ‫ֹלהים ּֽד‬ ִ ‫ל־א‬ ֱ֭ ‫ַ ֣אְך ֶא‬ ‫ׁשּוע ִ ֽתי׃‬ ָ ְ‫ִ֝מ ֶּ֗מּנּו י‬ ‫יׁשּוע ִ ֑תי‬ ָ ‫ְך־הּוא צ֭ ִּורי ִ ֽו‬ ֣ ‫ַא‬ ‫א־א ֹּ֥מוט ַר ָ ּֽבה׃‬ ֶ ֹ ‫ִ֝מ ְׂשּגַ ִּ֗בי ל‬

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

‫ֹבודי‬ ֑ ִ ‫ּוכ‬ ְ ‫ֹלהים יִ ְׁש ִ ֣עי‬ ִ ‫ל־א‬ ֱ֭ ‫ַע‬ ‫אֹלהים‬ ֽ ִ ‫צּור־ע ִ ּ֥זי ַ֝מ ְח ִ֗סי ֵ ּֽב‬ ֻ

On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Psalms 62:2–3

Psalms 62:8

Having stressed that his status is equal to that of the Psalmist, ha-Nagid – who can with all certainty be identified with the speaker of the poem – continues his reproof. He warns his adversary that he will be treated as an enemy if he continues to discredit him or undermine the legitimacy of his claims: ‫וְ ִאם ַּת ְר ֶּבה ֲע ִלילֹות‬ ‫ְּת ִהי ֶא ְצ ִלי ְּכ ַא ְכזָ ִרי וְ נָ ְכ ִרי‬

but if you persist in your slander, I’ll count you among the heathen and cruel

Moreover, in the following lines, the one who assaults his name is compared to the one who attacks his land: ,‫יתי‬ ִ ‫ּתֹולל ְּב ֵב‬ ֵ ‫טֹובה ְל ִמ ְס‬ ָ ‫וְ ֵאין‬ .‫עֹולל ְּב ִע ִירי‬ ֵ ‫וְ ֵאין ָׁשלֹום ְל ִמ ְת‬

No good could come of one who exalts himself over my family, no peace to him who threatens my city.


David as Warrior, Leader, and Poet

Hence, the poet – soldier proves himself to be as serious and commited in his literal struggles as he is on the battlefield. What is more, while mentioning “his family,” he indicates that he regards himself as a descendant of the Psalmist in particular, as well as the heir of the priestly and Levitical traditions in general. The attempt to prove such a connection must have been essential for ha-Nagid, as it is developed gradually throughout the whole poem in an elaborate manner. In the next couple of verses, ha-Nagid describes his legacy more specifically, though not yet directly, as that of a descendant of the house of David – by the use of a sophisticated combination of a remez and a šibuṣ: ‫וְ ִאם לֹא ַת ֲעזֹב ָר ָעה ְּב ִפיָך‬ ‫וְ ִת ְת ַא ֵּמץ ְּכ ֵבית ֶמ ִרי ְּב ֶמ ִרי‬ ,‫וְ ִׁש ְמעּו‬, ‫ ְמיֻ ָּד ַעי‬, ‫ְּפנּו ֵא ַלי‬ ‫ּובֹרּו ֶאת ְּד ָברֹו ִמ ְּד ָב ִרי׃‬

If you can’t keep from your mouth’s evil, and insist on rebellion like Ezekiel’s rebels – then turn to me, friends, and listen, and weigh his word against mine.

The above lines and particularly the phrase ‫( ְּכ ֵבית ֶמ ִרי ְּב ֶמ ִרי וְ ִת ְת ַא ֵּמץ‬literally “if you persist to rebel like the rebellious house”) correspond directly to chapter two of the Book of Ezekiel: ‫ירא ֵמ ֶ֜הם‬ ֨ ָ ‫ל־ּת‬ ִ ‫ן־א ָדם ַא‬ ָ ֠ ‫וְ ַא ָ ּ֣תה ֶב‬ ‫ירא ִ ּ֣כי ָס ָר ִ ֤בים‬ ֗ ָ ‫ל־ּת‬ ִ ‫יהם ַא‬ ֣ ֶ ‫ּומ ִּד ְב ֵר‬ ִ ‫ל־ע ְק ַר ִ ּ֖בים ַא ָ ּ֣תה‬ ַ ‫ֹאותְך וְ ֶא‬ ָ֔ ‫וְ ַסֹּלונִ ֙ים‬ ‫יהם‬ ֣ ֶ ֵ‫ּומ ְּפנ‬ ִ ‫ל־ּת ָיר ֙א‬ ִ ‫יהם ַא‬ ֤ ֶ ‫ֹיוׁשב ִמ ִּד ְב ֵר‬ ֵ֑ ‫ל־ּת ָ֔חת ִ ּ֛כי ֵ ּ֥בית ְמ ִ ֖רי ֵ ֽה ָּמה׃‬ ֵ ‫ַא‬ ‫יהם ִ ֽאם־יִ ְׁש ְמ ֖עּו‬ ֶ֔ ‫ת־ּד ָב ַר֙י ֲא ֵל‬ ְ ‫ִד ַּב ְר ָ ּ֤ת ֶא‬ ‫וְ ִאם־יֶ ְח ָ ּ֑דלּו ִ ּ֥כי ְמ ִ ֖רי ֵ ֽה ָּמה׃‬ ‫ר־אנִ ֙י‬ ֲ ‫ן־א ָ ֗דם ְׁש ַמ ֙ע ֵ ֤את ֲא ֶׁש‬ ָ ‫וְ ַא ָ ּ֣תה ֶב‬ ‫י־מ ִרי ְּכ ֵב֣ית‬ ֖ ֶ ‫ל־ּת ִה‬ ְ ‫ְמ ַד ֵּב֣ר ֵא ֔ ֶליָך ַא‬ ‫ר־א ִנ֖י‬ ֲ ‫ַה ֶ ּ֑מ ִרי ְּפ ֵצ֣ה ֔ ִפיָך וֶ ֱא ֕כֹל ֵ ֥את ֲא ֶׁש‬ ‫נ ֵ ֹ֥תן ֵא ֶ ֽליָך׃‬

And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house. “But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” Eze 2:6–8

Ezekiel refers here to the rebellious nature of the house of Israel and speciaifcally to the events described in 2 Chronicles 13:1–22. ha-Nagid draws a connection between himself and the biblical prophet. He refers to the specific moment when Ezekiel, criticising his contemporaries, compares their deeds to those of Jeroboam and Belial, who rose against the authority of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, even though the kingship over Israel was granted to David



and his sons by God and ensured by the covenant. As they were “driven out the priests of the Lord, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and made priests for themselves like the peoples of other lands” (2 Chronicles 13:9), the followers of Jeroboam were challenged, rebuked, and defeated by Abijah, the king of Juda. By quoting the words of Ezekiel where the prophet denounces “the rebellious house,” ha-Nagid evokes the situation described in 2 Chronicles. Hence, with the use of just one phrase, he manages to link himself directly to the biblical prophet and priest (Heb. kōhēn) – Ezekiel – as well as the poet, military leader, and king – David. Moreover, just like Abijah and Ezekiel, ha-Nagid emphasises the importance of the role of the priests and Levites, who were also singers of psalms and poets, for the preservation of the Jewish identity. He insists on having his rightful place among them. This stance may seem puzzling and surprising considering that he was a general of a Gentile army and a minister in a foreign government. Nonetheless, it was congruent with his vision of a renewed and prosperous Jewish society and not entirely unrealistic. As noted above, Jewish communities during the Golden Age experienced periods of remarkable success, even if occasionally interrupted by dramatic outbursts of violence. ha-Nagid’s time was the period of the highest prosperity; life in his days was better for the diaspora than it had ever been before and was ever going to be afterwards. Fighting successfully to support the dominance of his protectors, ha-Nagid hoped to be able to ensure the well-being of his Jewish protégés and, from a longer perspective, eventually turn his neo-Solomonic utopia into reality. To legitimise his actions, the poet, a couple of lines later, stresses once again that his choices are empowered by the “heritage” awarded to him by God. He strengthens these claims by again paraphrasing Psalm 62: – ‫יבנִ י ֲע ֵלי ֶח ְב ַרת ְמ ָל ִכים‬ ֵ ‫יְ ִר‬ .‫תֹורי‬ ִ ְ‫יתיו׃ זֹאת ְמנָ ת ֶח ְל ִקי ו‬ ִ ִ‫ֲענ‬ – ‫וְ ִה ְפ ִחיד ֵמ ֲחרֹון ַא ָּפם וְ ִק ְצ ָּפם‬ .‫יבֹותיו׃ ְּב ֵאל ַמ ְח ִסי וְ ִׂש ְב ִרי‬ ִ ‫ֲה ִׁש‬

He disputes my alliance with kings. This, I say, is my lot and inheritance. He fears the face of their wrath. My refuge and hope, I respond, is in God.

As the conversation with the imagined adversary continues, ha-Nagid is accused of recklessness for putting his life at stake in somebody else’s war. He upholds the firm conviction that his actions are granted divine commendation and his fate is secured. He even mentions that he has been assured of this by God’s angels (Seraphs) in a dream: :‫יתיו‬ ִ ִ‫ ַמה ָּלְך וְ ִל ְק ָרבֹות? ֲענ‬:‫וְ ָׂשח‬ ,‫מֹותי וְ ִק ְב ִרי‬ ִ ‫ְּכ ָבר נִ גְ זַ ר ְמקֹום‬

What are these battles to you? he asks. And I answer: The place of my death

David as Warrior, Leader, and Poet

‫ ַה ְמ ַב ֵּׂשר ִלי ֲע ֵלי יַ ד‬,‫וְ ָה ֵאל‬ .‫ יִ ְהיֶ ה ְּב ֶעזְ ִרי‬,‫ְׂש ָר ָפיו ַּב ֲחלֹום‬


and burial is set, and the Lord who sent me seraphs in a dream will save me.

Subsequently, ha-Nagid contemplates how people are predestined to their fate and adduces examples of vile biblical characters who, in peaceful times, were stricken by unexpected early death, such as the kings Zimri and Tivni or the Egyptian killed by Moses. Thus, he concludes no one can feel safe but the one who acts righteously and puts his trust in God. ha-Nagid is certain of his fate, knowing that he will live and die according to the divine plan. This statement together with his assumed priestly status is once again underlined by means of šibūṣīm from the Book of Psalms and a remez that alludes to the ceremony of the consecration of priests: ‫אּולי ֲא ַב ֶּלה‬ ַ ,‫ֲח ַדל ִמּנִ י ְמ ַעט‬ ‫יָמי‬ ַ ‫ְּבטֹוב‬ ,‫אׁשי ְּפ ֵא ִרי‬ ִ ֹ ‫וְ ַעל ר‬ ,‫וְ ֶא ְׁש ֶּתה ֵמי ְמנּוחֹות ִמ ְּב ֵא ִרי‬ !‫אֹורי‬ ִ ְ‫ וְ נֹוזְ ִלים ִמן י‬,‫ְּבכֹוס יֶ ַׁשע‬ ‫כֹוסי‬ ִ ‫מֹואס ְּב‬ ֵ ‫ֲהטֹוב ִלי ִּכי ֱא ִהי‬ ?‫ּופּורי‬ ִ ‫גֹור ִלי‬ ָ ‫וְ לֹא ֶא ְׂש ַמח ְּב‬ ,‫יתי ְל ָב ָבְך‬ ִ ‫וְ ִאם ָּת ִׁשית ְל ַא ְח ִר‬ ,‫הֹודי וְ ָע ְׁש ִרי‬ ִ ‫וְ לֹא יִ ְׁשוֶ ה ְלָך‬ ‫ְל ַמ ַען ִּכי ְּב ָכל ָׁשנָ ה ְּב ַמיִ ם‬ – ‫ּומ ֶהם ר ֹב יְ ָק ִרי‬ ֵ ,‫וְ ֵאׁש ָאבֹוא‬ ,‫יתְך‬ ָ ‫מֹותי ַא ֲח ִר‬ ִ ‫ֲהלֹא ִת ָירא ְּכ‬ !‫ּוב ִריא‬ ָ ‫יתְך‬ ָ ‫וְ ַא ְּת ָׁש ֵלו ְּבתֹוְך ֵּב‬

Leave off me now – maybe I’ll spend my days in prosperity, a turban above me; I’ll drink still water from my well in the cup of deliverance – and running water drawn from my river. Is it right to despise my inheritance, and not rejoice in my portion and fate? If your heart hurts for my future, and refuses to fathom my wealth and splendour because of the fire and water I come through year by year fear, my lord, for your own as for mine, though you’re healthy at home, and calm.

The phrase ‫אׁשי ְּפ ֵא ִרי‬ ִ ֹ ‫יָמי וְ ַעל ר‬ ַ ‫( ֲא ַב ֶּלה ְּבטֹוב‬literally “I’ll spend my days in prosperity wearing a turban on my head”) refers to the consecration ceremonies of Aaron and his sons described in Exodus 29 and Leviticus 8: ‫ת־ה ְּבגָ ִ ֗דים וְ ִה ְל ַּב ְׁש ָ ּ֤ת‬ ַ ‫וְ ָל ַק ְח ָ ּ֣ת ֶא‬ ‫ּתנֶ ת וְ ֵא ֙ת ְמ ִ ֣עיל‬ ֹ ֔ ‫ת־ה ֻּכ‬ ַ ‫ת־א ֲה ֙ר ֹן ֶא‬ ַ ‫ֶ ֽא‬ ‫ת־ה ֑חֹ ֶׁשן‬ ַ ‫ת־ה ֵא ֹ֖פד וְ ֶא‬ ָ ‫ָה ֵא ֔ ֹפדוְ ֶא‬ ‫וְ ָא ַפ ְד ָ ּ֣ת ֹ֔לו ְּב ֵ ֖ח ֶׁשב ָה ֵא ֽ ֹפד׃‬ ‫אֹׁשו וְ נָ ַת ָ ּ֛ת‬ ֑ ֹ ‫וְ ַׂש ְמ ָ ּ֥ת ַה ִּמ ְצ ֶנ ֶ֖פת ַעל־ר‬ ‫ל־ה ִּמ ְצ ָנ ֶֽפת׃‬ ַ ‫ת־נ�֥זֶ ר ַה ּ֖קֹ ֶדׁש ַע‬ ֵ ‫ֶא‬

Then you shall take the garments, and put on Aaron the coat and the robe of the ephod, and the ephod, and the breastpiece, and gird him with the skillfully woven band of the ephod. And you shall set the turban on his head and put the holy crown on the turban. Exodus 29:5–6



‫אֹׁשו‬ ֑ ֹ ‫ת־ה ִּמ ְצ ֶנ ֶ֖פת ַעל־ר‬ ַ ‫וַ ָּי ֶׂ֥שם ֶא‬ ‫ל־מּול ָּפ ָ֗ניו‬ ֣ ‫ל־ה ִּמ ְצ ֶ֜נ ֶפת ֶא‬ ַ ‫וַ ָּ֨י ֶׂשם ַ ֽע‬ ‫ֵ ֣את ִ ֤ציץ ַהּזָ ָה ֙ב ֵנ�֣זֶ ר ַה ּ֔קֹ ֶדׁש ַּכ ֲא ֶ ׁ֛שר‬ ‫הו֖ה ֶאת־מ ֶ ֹֽׁשה׃‬ ָ ְ‫ִצָּו֥ה י‬

And he set the turban on his head, and on the turban, in front, he set the golden plate, the holy crown, as the Lord commanded Moses. Leviticus 8:9

Mentioning the “turban on his head” – a symbol of priesthood – ha-Nagid makes a direct connection between himself and Aaron, the first anointed priest (kōhēn), and his house. Into the next verse, the poet entwines phrases from Psalms 23:2 – ‫ֵמי ְמנּוחֹות‬ “still waters” – and Psalm 116:13 – ‫ׁשּוֹעות‬ ֥ ְ‫“ ֹּכוס־י‬the cup of salvation.” Both are thanksgiving Psalms that convey gratitude for divine support and guidance. The popular Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd”) expresses the joy of life and the sense of security enjoyed by those who follow God’s path, while Psalm 116 articulates gratefulness to the Creator for preserving from peril – drinking from the cup of salvation is a thankful gesture of a survivor. This last prayer, which is also a prayer of a saved warrior, brings us to the leading subject of ha-Nagid’s poem, which is the recently won battle. A couple of lines later, the phrase ‫אנּו־ב ֵ ֥אׁש ַּוב ַ ּ֑מיִ ם‬ ָ ‫“ ָ ּֽב‬we went through fire and through water” from Psalm 66:13 is paraphrased to ‫“ ְּב ָכ ָלנָ ה ְּב ַמיִ ם וְ ֵאׁש ָאבֹוא‬the fire and water I come through year by year,” which serves again to validate ha-Nagid’s engagement in war. In the following verse, he alludes to the Bible once more: ‫ׁשּורי‬ ַ ‫ֲאנִ י ֶא ְב ַטח ְּב ֵאל ִה ִּפיל ֲא‬ .‫ׁשּורי‬ ִ ‫ְּבתֹוְך ַּפ ִחים ְט ָמנּום ַל ֲא‬

I trust in the Lord who humbled my foes in snares concealed for my footsteps

Here, Ha-Nagid compares himself to Jeremiah, another of the biblical priests and prophets of whom we read in the Bible: ‫יחה ְל ָל ְכ ֵ ֔דנִ י‬ ָ ‫י־כ ֤רּו ִׁש‬ ָ ‫ִ ּֽכ‬ ‫ּופ ִ ֖חים ָט ְמנ֥ ּו ְל ַרגְ ָ ֽלי׃‬ ַ

For they have dug a pit to take me and laid snares for my feet. Jeremiah 18:22

ha-Nagid might have felt especially connected to Jeremiah because the prophet was also criticised and plotted against by his contemporaries, a fact repeatedly mentioned in his book, as, for example, in chapter 18, just a couple of lines before the above-cited verse:

David as Warrior, Leader, and Poet

‫הּו‬ ֮ ָ‫אמ ֗רּו ְל ֨כּו וְ נַ ְח ְׁש ָ ֣בה ַ ֽעל־יִ ְר ְמי‬ ְ ֹ ‫וַ ּי‬ ‫ֹּתורה‬ ֜ ָ ‫אבד‬ ַ֨ ֹ ‫ת ִּכי֩ לֹא־ת‬ ֒ ‫ַמ ֲח ָׁשֹבו‬ ‫ִמּכ ֵֹ֗הן וְ ֵע ָצ ֙ה ֵ ֽמ ָח ָ֔כם וְ ָד ָ ֖בר ִמּנָ ִ ֑ביא‬ ‫כּו וְ נַ ֵּכ֣הּו ַב ָּל ֹׁ֔שון וְ ַאל־נַ ְק ִ ׁ֖ש ָיבה‬ ֙ ‫ְל‬ ‫ל־ּד ָב ָ ֽריו׃‬ ְ ‫ל־ּכ‬ ָ ‫ֶא‬


Then they said, “Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah, for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us strike him with the tongue, and let us not pay attention to any of his words.” Jeremiah 18:18

After making all those claims and pointing out all the connections that serve to reaffirm his status as God’s chosen leader and fighter, ha-Nagid moves to the description of the battle. The exact course of the battle is not of our concern here. However, worth noting is the manner in which it is reported. To ensure historical continuity with the events described in the Scriptures, ha-Nagid calls his enemies by the names of the biblical adversaries of Israel. Accordingly, the troops of the so-called “Slavs” (the non-Muslim mercenaries of European origin) are called Zemarites (i.e., Canaanite people who are mentioned in Genesis 10:18 and 1 Chronicles 1:16 as one of the “scattered clans”), while the two attacking “Spanish princes,” Wāṣil and Muwāfaq, are compared to Og and Sihon (i.e., the Amorite kings who were defeated by Moses’s army in Numbers 21, 32, and 33 and Deuteronomy 1, 2, and 3). Hence, thanks to this allusion, ha-Nagid places his achievements alongside the glorious victories described in the Torah and includes his name in the list of the leaders of the Jewish people, next to Moses. In the closing stanzas, the poet addresses his interlocutor once again, expressing both his right and duty as a poet to praise God in thankful songs after complying with his obligation in the battle: ,‫ ַּב ֲע ִדי ָקם צּור ְּב ָצרֹות‬,‫יְ ִד ִידי‬ ,‫צּורי‬ ִ ‫ּלֹותי ְל‬ ַ ‫וְ ַעל ָּכ ָכה ְּת ִה‬ ַ ‫וְ ִׁש‬ ‫ ָחזָ ה ְמגֹור ַצר‬,‫ירֹותי ְל ֵאל‬ ,‫גֹורי‬ ִ ‫ וְ ֵה ִפיג ֶאת ְמ‬,‫ְּבתֹוְך ִל ִּבי‬

‫ ָׂשם ֳצ ִרי ַעל‬,‫רֹופא‬ ֵ ‫רֹותי ְל‬ ַ ‫וְ זִ ְמ‬ .‫ וְ ִה ִּד ַיח ְל ִצ ִירי‬,‫ְמקֹום ַה ִּציר‬

My friend, for me in my straits the Rock rose up, therefore I offer these praises, my poem to the Lord: He recognized fear of the foe in my heart and erased it. So my song is sung to the healer: He ravaged my enemies with pain, easing my own.

That right is, however, questioned once again by the anonymous opponent: ?‫תּוכל ַא ְּת ְל ַה ֵּלל‬ ַ ‫ ֲה‬:‫אֹומר ִלי‬ ֵ ְ‫ו‬

Who are you to pay homage?



The objection is refuted by ha-Nagid with the most explicit answer: !‫דֹורי‬ ִ ‫ ֲאנִ י ָדוִ ד ְּב‬:‫יבֹותיו‬ ִ ‫ ֲה ִׁש‬I am, I answered, the David of my age! He responded: Is Saul, too, with the prophets? ?‫יאים‬ ִ ‫ ֲה ָׁשאּול ַּבּנְ ִב‬:‫וְ ָענָ נִ י‬ ִ ִ‫ ֲענ‬And I told him: ‫ יְ ֻר ָּׁשה ִמ ְּמ ָר ִרי‬:‫יתיהּו‬ The heir of Merari, Sitri, and Assir, ‫ּומ ַאּסיר וְ ֶא ְל ָקנָ ה וְ ָא ָסף‬ ֵ Elkanah, Mishael, Elzaphan, and Assaf! !‫יׁש ֵאל וְ ֶא ְל ָצ ָפן וְ ִס ְת ִרי‬ ָ ‫ּומ‬ ִ ‫דּורה‬ ָ ‫יכה לֹא ְּת ִהי ִׁש ָירה ְס‬ ָ ‫ וְ ֵא‬How could a poem in my mouth be improper to the God who heals my wound? ?‫זֹורי‬ ִ ‫ְּב ִפי ָל ֵאל ֲא ֶׁשר ּגָ ָהה ְמ‬

In these concluding verses, ha-Nagid openly compares himself to King David and supports his claim with his alleged Levitic pedigree by adducing a list of names of Levi’s offspring and contending to be their heir. His descent from these liturgical singers and poets provides an immediate justification for ha-Nagid’s self-proclaimed status. As a Levite, he is not only granted the right to compose poetry in God’s name but also even obliged to do so. Also, the Levitic provenance explains ha-Nagid’s service under a foreign, non-Jewish king, as the Levites, being the servants of the Temple, were never granted their own land. Moreover, in case the list of names was not considered credible enough, in the following lines, ha-Nagid declares himself to be a direct descendant of Jeduthun: ‫הֹורי יְ דּותּון ַה ְמ ַה ֵּלל‬ ַ ‫ּומ‬ ֵ .‫הֹורי‬ ִ ‫אתי ְל‬ ִ ‫ וְ יָ ָצ‬,‫ְלנַ ֵּצ ַח‬

From Jeduthun the singer of psalms my father descends, and I from my father.

The poem opens with šibūṣīm from Psalms 39 and 62, both of which are attributed to Jeduthun, the singer of Psalms. As noted above, the first verse of the poem begins with a paraphrase of the last verse of Psalm 39. By quoting the words of Jeduthun at the outset of his lyrical work and mentioning his name at the end of it, ha-Nagid manages to craft an elaborate framing device, which reveals the most careful selection and deliberate choice of biblical materials. In the closing lines of his poem, ha-Nagid openly and immodestly confesses to his covenant with God: – ‫ְל ֵאל ָע ַלי ְל ַה ְמ ִּתיק סֹוד ְּב ִׁש ִירי‬ ,‫וְ ִלי ָע ָליו ְל ָמ ֵרר ֵלב ְמ ֵצ ִרי‬ - ַ‫ׁשֹור ַרי – ו‬ ְ ‫וְ הּוא ָע ֵרב ְל ַח ֵּלל‬

For the Lord I sweeten my song in its discourse, as He embitters my enemy’s heart. As He has pledged to vanquish my foes,

David as Warrior, Leader, and Poet ,‫ֲאנִ י ָע ֵרב ְל ַחּלֹותֹו ְּב ִׁש ִירי‬ – ‫וְ ִל ְפעֹל לֹו ְּכמֹו ָׂש ִכיר ְּב ָכל יֹום‬ !‫יֹומי ֶאת ְׂש ָכ ִרי‬ ִ ‫וְ הּוא יִ ֵּתן ְּב‬


so I have pledged my song to please Him – to worship Him day by day in my labor, until He pays my wage.

Hence, the poet maintains that he is anointed both as a poet and a warrior. God is pleased with his songs and thus favours him in the battle. Such an alliance accords ha-Nagid, at least in his view, the right to consider himself the “David of his age” and makes him feel invincible and tireless in building his dream of the kingdom. He is also hopeful of leaving that heritage to a successor who would live up to his monumental expectations. In another poem, also included in Ben Tĕhillīm, ha-Nagid declares: ‫ ַאל ַּת ֲהר ֹס ִּבנְ יָ ן‬,‫הֹוסף ְּבנִ י‬ ֵ ְ‫י‬ ,‫ּומ ְׁשק ֶֹלת‬ ִ ‫יְ ַס ְד ִּתיו ְּב ַקו י ֶֹׁשר‬ ‫ וְ ֵא ָח ֵׁשב‬,‫קּומה ֲע ֵלי ַכּנִ י‬ ָ ְ‫ו‬ 15,‫ וְ ֵת ָח ֵׁשב ְּכק ֶֹה ֶלת‬,‫ְּכ ָדוִ ד‬


Yehosef my son, do not destroy a structure whose foundation I laid with the line and weight of integrity. Assume my station, that I be taken For David and you be considered Solomon.16


As we know ha-Nagid’s neo-Solomonic dream was not to be fulfilled. His son and would-be-Solomon – Yehosef – was murdered in Granada in the bloody massacre of 1066. Afterwards no Jew in al-Andalus ever came again to assume a degree of power equal to that entrusted into the hands of Shmuel ha-Nagid. However, the unique and prolific Hebrew culture thrived for another century in the Iberian Peninsula, leaving behind one of the most remarkable legacies of world literature. Shmuel ha-Nagid was not only among its pioneers, but also among its most prominent and original representatives – the only one to have composed war poems. Notably, as the only poet of all the medieval Jewish authors who was a soldier and a prince, he was bold enough to perceive himself, accordingly, as “the David of his age.”

15 16

See Shmuel ha-Nagid, Ben Tĕhillīm, 64. Translation after Ross Brann. See Brann, Compunctious Poet, 53–54.



Appendix: Ha-Nagid’s Poem Back away from Me Now, My Friend

Below, I present the Hebrew text of ha-Nagid’s poem Back away from me now, my friend as edited by Dov Yarden (except for splitting the hemistichs and transferring the ceasura to the following verse in order to preserve the graphic correspondence between the Hebrew text and Peter Cole’s English translation):17 ,‫יתי וַ ֲח ֵב ִרי‬ ִ ‫ ֲע ִמ‬,‫ְׁש ֵעה ִמּנִ י‬ .‫ וְ ַהט אֹזֶ ן וְ ֵלב ֶאל ַמ ֲא ָמ ִרי‬ ?‫ֲה ִלי ַת ְפ ִחיד ְּב ִמ ִּלים לֹא נְ כֹונִ ים‬ !‫אֹורי‬ ִ ְ‫ְֵאיְך ֶא ְפ ַחד – וְ צּור יִ ְׁש ִעי ו‬ – ‫ וְ ִאם ַּת ְר ֶּבה ֲע ִלילֹות‬,‫יתי ַא ְּת‬ ִ ‫ֲע ִמ‬ ,‫ְּת ִהי ֶא ְצ ִלי ְּכ ַא ְכזָ ִרי וְ נָ ְכ ִרי‬

,‫יתי‬ ִ ‫ּתֹולל ְּב ֵב‬ ֵ ‫טֹובה ְל ִמ ְס‬ ָ ‫וְ ֵאין‬ .‫עֹולל ְּב ִע ִירי‬ ֵ ‫ וְ ֵאין ָׁשלֹום ְל ִמ ְת‬ ‫וְ ִאם לֹא ַת ֲעזֹב ָר ָעה ְּב ִפיָך‬ – ‫ וְ ִת ְת ַא ֵּמץ ְּכ ֵבית ֶמ ִרי ְּב ֶמ ִרי‬ ,‫ וְ ִׁש ְמעּו‬,‫ ְמיֻ ָּד ַעי‬,‫ְּפנּו ֵא ַלי‬ :‫ ּובֹרּו ֶאת ְּד ָברֹו ִמ ְּד ָב ִרי‬ – ‫יְ ִר ֵיבנִ י ֲע ֵלי ֶח ְב ַרת ְמ ָל ִכים‬ .‫תֹורי‬ ִ ְ‫ זֹאת ְמנָ ת ֶח ְל ִקי ו‬:‫יתיו‬ ִ ִ‫ ֲענ‬ – ‫וְ ִה ְפ ִחיד ֵמ ֲחרֹון ַא ָּפם וְ ִק ְצ ָּפם‬


Back away from me now, my friend – wait just a moment and hear my plan. Would you scare me with false accusations? What would I fear – with the Rock as my light and salvation? You’ve been in my circle, but if you persist in your slander, I’ll count you among the heathen and cruel. No good could come of one who exalts himself over my family, no peace to him who threatens my city. 5 If you can’t keep from your mouth’s evil, and insist on rebellion, like Ezekiel’s rebels – then turn to me, friends, and listen, and weigh his word against mine. He disputes my alliance with kings. This, I say, is my lot and inheritance. He fears the face of their wrath.

See Shmuel Ha-Nagid, Ben Tĕhillīm, 31–34. English translation after Cole (trans.), Dream of the Poem, 50–53. As in all the poems in the collection, it is headed by Yehosef’s introduction which provides concise information on the background of this poem. It reads (in Cole’s translation): “And Yaddayir the commander came to the place known as Argona in the year 4801 [1041], and with him were Waasil and Muwaafaq, both of them well-known officers among the Andalusian leaders, and they overcame Argona and killed the commander of the city. Afterward they marched to a place known as Samantin and overcame most of the castles there. And then our forces went out against them and the hand of God was with them and they killed Waasil and Muwaafaq. And Yaddayir fled until he was trapped at Cordoba and he was taken from there and imprisoned in the castle of Munekar. And my lord, my father, spoke of what happened to him and how he fared, praising God for having granted him this great victory.” See Cole, The Dream of the Poem, 379.

David as Warrior, Leader, and Poet .‫ ְּב ֵאל ַמ ְח ִסי וְ ִׂש ְב ִרי‬:‫יבֹותיו‬ ִ ‫ ֲה ִׁש‬ :‫יתיו‬ ִ ִ‫ ַמה ָּלְך וְ ִל ְק ָרבֹות? ֲענ‬:‫וְ ָׂשח‬ ,‫מֹותי וְ ִק ְב ִרי‬ ִ ‫ ְּכ ָבר נִ גְ זַ ר ְמקֹום‬ ‫ ַה ְמ ַב ֵּׂשר ִלי ֲע ֵלי יַ ד‬,‫וְ ָה ֵאל‬ .‫ יִ ְהיֶ ה ְּב ֶעזְ ִרי‬,‫ְׂש ָר ָפיו ַּב ֲחלֹום‬ ?‫אתי – ֲה ִלי יָ ד‬ ִ ‫ ְּב ַח ָּט‬,‫וְ ִאם ֶא ַּמק‬ !‫יְבֹואנִ י ֲא ֶׁשר נִ ְכ ַּתב ְּב ִס ְפ ִרי‬ ֵ – ‫וְ יֵ ׁש ָא ָדם ֲא ֶׁשר לֹא ַׂשר ְּב ַחּיָ יו‬ ,‫ וְ זִ ְמ ִרי‬,‫ ְּכ ִת ְבנִ י ֵמת ְּבלֹא ִעּתֹו‬ ‫וְ יֵ ׁש ַא ֵחר ֲא ֶׁשר לֹא ָבא ְּב ֶק ֶרב‬ ,‫ְמ ִר ָיבה אֹו ְק ָרב – נִ ְט ַמן ְּכ ִמ ְצ ִרי‬ ‫ וְ ָהיָ ה‬,‫וְ יֵ ׁש נִ ְס ֶּפה ְּבלֹא ִמ ְׁש ָּפט‬ .‫ְּבעֹודֹו ָמְך וְ ָר ֵעב וַ ֲע ִר ִירי‬

‫אּולי ֲא ַב ֶּלה‬ ַ ,‫ֲח ַדל ִמּנִ י ְמ ַעט‬ ,‫אׁשי ְּפ ֵא ִרי‬ ִ ֹ ‫יָמי וְ ַעל ר‬ ַ ‫ ְּבטֹוב‬ ,‫וְ ֶא ְׁש ֶּתה ֵמי ְמנּוחֹות ִמ ְּב ֵא ִרי‬ !‫אֹורי‬ ִ ְ‫ וְ נֹוזְ ִלים ִמן י‬,‫ ְּבכֹוס יֶ ַׁשע‬ ‫כֹוסי‬ ִ ‫מֹואס ְּב‬ ֵ ‫ֲהטֹוב ִלי ִּכי ֱא ִהי‬ ?‫ּופּורי‬ ִ ‫גֹור ִלי‬ ָ ‫ וְ לֹא ֶא ְׂש ַמח ְּב‬ ,‫יתי ְל ָב ָבְך‬ ִ ‫וְ ִאם ָּת ִׁשית ְל ַא ְח ִר‬ ,‫הֹודי וְ ָע ְׁש ִרי‬ ִ ‫ וְ לֹא יִ ְׁשוֶ ה ְלָך‬ ‫ְל ַמ ַען ִּכי ְּב ָכל ָׁשנָ ה ְּב ַמיִ ם‬ – ‫ּומ ֶהם ר ֹב יְ ָק ִרי‬ ֵ ,‫וְ ֵאׁש ָאבֹוא‬ ,‫יתְך‬ ָ ‫מֹותי ַא ֲח ִר‬ ִ ‫ֲהלֹא ִת ָירא ְּכ‬ !‫ּוב ִריא‬ ָ ‫יתְך‬ ָ ‫ וְ ַא ְּת ָׁש ֵלו ְּבתֹוְך ֵּב‬ ‫ׁשּורי‬ ַ ‫ֲאנִ י ֶא ְב ַטח ְּב ֵאל ִה ִּפיל ֲא‬ ‫ׁשּורי‬ ִ ‫ ְּבתֹוְך ַּפ ִחים ְט ָמנּום ַל ֲא‬ ‫ וְ ָט ַבח‬,‫מב ָצר‬ ְ ‫ְּביֹום ָּבא ַצר ְל ִעיר‬ ,‫ ְּבתֹוכֹו ַׂשר ְּכמֹו ֵעגֶ ל וְ ִכ ְמ ִריא‬ ‫וְ ַצר זֶ ה ִמ ְּׁש ֵאר ַמ ְל ִּכי – וְ ָר ַעת‬ .‫חֹוקי ֶת ֱח ַסר ֵמ ַרע ְׁש ֵא ִרי‬ ִ ‫ ְר‬


My refuge and hope, I respond, is in God. What are these battles to you? he asks. And I answer: The place of my death 10 and burial is set, and the Lord who sent me seraphs in a dream will save me. If I were rotting away with sin could I stop it? My book holds my destiny! There are people who die before their time, like Zimri, who reigned for a week, or Tivni – and others who face neither struggle nor war but are buried just like the Egyptian, whom Moses saw. There are those who are swept away for want of righteousness, and others in life who go hungry, poor and alone. 15 Leave off me now – maybe I’ll spend my days in prosperity, a turban above me; I’ll drink still water from my well in the cup of deliverance – and running water drawn from my river. Is it right to despise my inheritance and not rejoice in my portion and fate? If your heart hurts for my future, and refuses to fathom my wealth and splendour because of the fire and water I come through year by year, 20 fear, my lord, for your own as for mine, though you’re healthy at home, and calm. I trust in the Lord who humbled my foes in snares concealed for my footsteps when the enemy came to the garrisoned city and slaughtered its vizier like a calf. He was a foe in the line of my king – and the evil of strangers pales beside the evil of kin.


Gryczan ‫יכי‬ ֵ ‫וְ ָהיּו ָׁשם ְׁשנַ יִ ם ִמּנְ ִס‬ ,‫דּודי ַה ְּצ ָמ ִרי‬ ֵ ְ‫ ְס ָפ ַרד ִעם ּג‬ ‫ וְ ָה ְלכּו ֶאל ְמ ָצדֹות‬,‫וְ ָל ְכדּו ִעיר‬ ,‫ּדֹותם ְּכמֹו ֶק ֶטב ְמ ִר ִירי‬ ַ ‫ ְל ַׁש‬ ‫וְ יָ ָצאנּו ְל ַה ִּדיחֹו – וְ יָ ָצא‬ ,‫בּורי‬ ִ ‫ֹלהים וֶ ֱהנִ יאֹו ַב ֲע‬ ִ ‫ֱא‬ ‫אׁשי ְס ָל ִעים‬ ֵ ‫וְ רֹאׁש ֵאלּול ֲע ֵלי ָר‬ ,‫ּופ ִרי‬ ֶ ‫ לֹא ְמקֹום ֵע ֶׂשב‬,‫ְמ ָצאנּום‬ ‫הֹור ְדנּום ֱא ֵלי ֶא ֶרץ ְּכמֹו תֹוא‬ ַ ְ‫ו‬ ,‫ֲא ֶׁשר נָ גַ ע ֱא ֵלי ָמרֹום וְ ִה ְמ ִריא‬ ‫וְ נָ פֹוצּו ְל ַא ְר ָּב ָעה ֲח ִמ ָּׁשה‬ ,‫ ְּכמֹו זַ יִ ת ֲא ֶׁשר נָ ַקף ְׂש ִכ ִירי‬ ‫לׁשה‬ ָ ‫וְ ִח ַּל ְלנּום ְׁשנַ יִ ם מּול ְׁש‬ ,‫נֹוקד ְּכ ָתב ִּב ְסגֹול וְ ֵצ ִרי‬ ֵ ‫ ְּכמֹו‬ ‫וְ ִה ִּכינּום ְּב ַמ ָּכה ִכ ְּל ָתה ֶאת‬ ,‫מֹורי‬ ִ ‫ ְסגֻ ַּלת עֹוג וְ ִסיחֹון ָה ֱא‬ – ‫יכים ַה ְּׁשנַ יִ ם‬ ִ ‫וְ ֻהּכּו ַהּנְ ִס‬ ,‫הֹולְך ְּב ֶק ִרי‬ ֵ ‫ וְ זֶ ה ַתגְ מּול ֲא ֶׁשר‬ ‫וְ ַתּמּו כֹל – ְל ַבד ִּת ְׁש ָעה ֲאנָ ִׁשים‬ ,‫ֲא ֶׁשר נָ סּו וְ הּוא ִע ָּמם ֲע ִׂש ִירי‬ ‫הּובל ְּכמֹו ַׁשי‬ ַ ‫ּוב ַּקׁש ַעד ֲא ֶׁשר‬ ֻ .‫ׁשּורה ֱא ֵלי ַמ ְל ִּכי ְּב ִת ְׁש ִרי‬ ָ ‫ וְ ִכ ְת‬ ,‫ ַּב ֲע ִדי ָקם צּור ְּב ָצרֹות‬,‫יְ ִד ִידי‬ ,‫צּורי‬ ִ ‫ּלֹותי ְל‬ ַ ‫ וְ ַעל ָּכ ָכה ְּת ִה‬ ‫ ָחזָ ה ְמגֹור ַצר‬,‫ירֹותי ְל ֵאל‬ ַ ‫וְ ִׁש‬ ,‫גֹורי‬ ִ ‫ וְ ֵה ִפיג ֶאת ְמ‬,‫ ְּבתֹוְך ִל ִּבי‬ ‫ ָׂשם ֳצ ִרי ַעל‬,‫רֹופא‬ ֵ ‫רֹותי ְל‬ ַ ‫וְ זִ ְמ‬ .‫ וְ ִה ִּד ַיח ְל ִצ ִירי‬,‫ְמקֹום ַה ִּציר‬ ?‫תּוכל ַא ְּת ְל ַה ֵּלל‬ ַ ‫ ֲה‬:‫אֹומר ִלי‬ ֵ ְ‫ו‬ !‫דֹורי‬ ִ ‫ ֲאנִ י ָדוִ ד ְּב‬:‫יבֹותיו‬ ִ ‫ֲה ִׁש‬

Two of the Spanish princes were there, and the Zemarite troops, and they seized the city, 25 then advanced like a pestilence, destroying the fortress. We went out to stop them, and He broke them before us, and August discovered their heads on stone, not in the orchards and grass. We brought them down to the ground like birds of the air who had raised their wings on high; we chased them in clusters of four and five, like olives from a tree the worker has beaten. 30 We slew them two against three, like long vowels against short in a word; we struck them the blow that had leveled the armies of Og and Sihon. The princes were stricken, reward for their obstinance, and all of it ended, except for the nine who fled – their leader a tenth, pursued until he was brought like a gift, or tribute, that summer to my king. 35 My friend, for me in my straits the Rock rose up, therefore I offer these praises, my poem to the Lord: He recognized fear of the foe in my heart and erased it. So my song is sung to the healer: He ravaged my enemies with pain, easing my own. Someone objected: Who are you to pay homage? I am, I answered, the David of my age!

David as Warrior, Leader, and Poet ?‫יאים‬ ִ ‫ ֲה ָׁשאּול ַּבּנְ ִב‬:‫וְ ָענָ נִ י‬ ‫ יְ ֻר ָּׁשה ִמ ְּמ ָר ִרי‬:‫יתיהּו‬ ִ ִ‫ ֲענ‬ ‫ּומ ַא ִּסיר וְ ֶא ְל ָקנָ ה וְ ָא ָסף‬ ֵ !‫יׁש ֵאל וְ ֶא ְל ָצ ָפן וְ ִס ְת ִרי‬ ָ ‫ּומ‬ ִ ‫דּורה‬ ָ ‫יכה לֹא ְּת ִהי ִׁש ָירה ְס‬ ָ ‫וְ ֵא‬ ?‫זֹורי‬ ִ ‫ ְּב ִפי ָל ֵאל ֲא ֶׁשר ּגָ ָהה ְמ‬ ‫הֹורי יְ דּותּון ַה ְמ ַה ֵּלל‬ ַ ‫ּומ‬ ֵ .‫הֹורי‬ ִ ‫אתי ְל‬ ִ ‫ וְ יָ ָצ‬,‫ ְלנַ ֵּצ ַח‬ – ‫ְל ֵאל ָע ַלי ְל ַה ְמ ִּתיק סֹוד ְּב ִׁש ִירי‬ ,‫ וְ ִלי ָע ָליו ְל ָמ ֵרר ֵלב ְמ ֵצ ִרי‬ - ַ‫ׁשֹור ַרי – ו‬ ְ ‫וְ הּוא ָע ֵרב ְל ַח ֵּלל‬ ,‫ֲאנִ י ָע ֵרב ְל ַחּלֹותֹו ְּב ִׁש ִירי‬ – ‫וְ ִל ְפעֹל לֹו ְּכמֹו ָׂש ִכיר ְּב ָכל יֹום‬ !‫יֹומי ֶאת ְׂש ָכ ִרי‬ ִ ‫ וְ הּוא יִ ֵּתן ְּב‬


He responded: Is Saul, too, with the prophets? And I told him: 40 The heir of Merari, Sitri, and Assir, Elkanah, Mishael, Elzaphan, and Assaf! How could a poem in my mouth be improper to the God who heals my wound? From Jeduthun the singer of psalms my father descends, and I from my father. For the Lord I sweeten my song in its discourse, as He embitters my enemy’s heart. As He has pledged to vanquish my foes, so I’ve pledged my song to please Him – 45 to worship Him day by day in my labor, until He pays my wage.


Primary Sources

Secondary Literature

Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. Stuttgard: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1997. The English Standard Version Bible. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2007. ha-Nagid, Shmuel. Ben Mišlē. Diwan Shmuel ha-Nagid, edited by Dov Yarden. Jerusalem: Dov Yarden, 1982. ha-Nagid, Shmuel. Ben Tĕhillim. Diwan Shmuel ha-Nagid, edited by Dov Yarden. 2nd edition. Jerusalem: Dov Yarden, 1982. ha-Nagid, Shmuel. Ben Qōheleth. Diwan Shmuel ha-Nagid, edited by Dov Yarden. Jerusalem: Dov Yarden, 1992. Saʿadya Gaon. Kutub al-luġa – Fragments. In “A Study of Inflection in Hebrew from Saadia Gaon’s Grammatical Work Kutub al-Lughah,” edited by Solomon Skoss. Jewish Quarterly Review, 33 (1942–43): 171–212.

Brann, Ross. The Compunctious Poet: Cultural Ambiguity and Hebrew Poetry in Muslim Spain. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991. Brann, Ross. Power in the Portrayal. Princeton, Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2009.



Cohen, Mark R. Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994. Cole, Peter (trans.). Selected Poems of Shmuel HaNagid. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996. Cole, Peter (trans.). Dream of the Poem. Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950–1492. Princeton – Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2007. Elitzur, Shulamit. Hebrew Poetry in Spain in the Middle Ages. 3 vols. [in Hebrew]. Tel Aviv: The Open University of Israel, 2004. Fleischer, Ezra. Hebrew Liturgical Poetry in the Middle [in Hebrew]. Jerusalem: Keter, 1975. Fleischer, Ezra. Hebrew Poetry in Spain and Communities Under Its Influence. 3 vols. [in Hebrew]. Jerusalem: Ben Zvi Institut, 2010. Frank, Daniel H. (ed.). The Jews of Medieval Islam: Community, Society, and Identity: Proceedings of an International Conference Held by the Institute of Jewish Studies, University College London, 1992. Leiden – New York – Koln: Brill, 1995. Goitein, Shelomo, Dov. A Mediterranean Society, The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza. 6 vols. Berkeley – Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967–93. Graetz, Heinrich (ed.). Geschichte der Juden von den ältesten Zeiten bis auf die Gegenwart. 11 vols. Leipzig: Leiner, 1853–75. Halkin, Hillel. Yehuda Halevi. New York: Schocken, 2010. Levin, Israel. The Embroidered Coat: The Genres of Hebrew Secular Poetry in Spain. [in Hebrew]. Tel Aviv: Katz Research Institute for Hebrew Literature Tel Aviv University, 1994. Lowin, Shari L. Arabic and Hebrew Love Poems in al-Andalus. New York: Routledge, 2014. Malter, Henry. Saadia Gaon: His life and works. Morris Loeb Series. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1921. Mamman, Aharon. Comparative Semitic Philology in the Middle Ages. From Saʿadiyah Gaon to Ibn Barūn (10th–12th c.). Leiden – Boston: Brill, 2004. Menocal, Maria Rosa, Scheindlin, Raymond P., Sells, Michael (eds.). The Literature of Al-Andalus (The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature). Boston – New York – London: Little, Brown and Company, 2002. Pagis, Dan. Change and Tradition in the Secular Poetry: Spain and Italy [in Hebrew]. Jerusalem: Keter, 1976. Perlmann, Moshe. “The Medieval Polemics between Islam and Judaism.” In Religion in a Religious Age, edited by Shelomo Dov Goitein. Cambridge: Association for Jewish Studies, 1974. Roth, Norman. “Hebrew Language.” In Medieval Jewish Civilization: An Encyclopedia, 322–29. New York – London: Routledge, 2003.

David as Warrior, Leader, and Poet


Sáenz-Badillos, Angel. A History of the Hebrew Language, translated into English by John Elwolde. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Scheindlin, Raymond P. Wine, Women and Death: Medieval Hebrew Poems on the Good Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986. Scheindlin, Raymond P. The Gazelle: Medieval Hebrew Poems on God, Israel, and the Soul. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991. Scheindlin, Raymond P. “The Jews in Muslim Spain.” In The Legacy of Muslim Spain, edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi. Leiden: Brill, 1992. Schippers, Arie. Spanish-Hebrew Poetry and the Arabic Literary Tradition: Arabic Themes in Hebrew Andalusian Poetry. Leiden: Brill, 1994. Schirmann, Yefim (Hayim). The History of Hebrew Poetry in Christian Spain and Southern France edited, supplemented, and annotated by Ezra Fleischer [in Hebrew]. Jerusalem: Magnes, 1997. Simon, Uriel. Four Approaches to the Book of Psalms: From Saadia Gaon to Abraham Ibn Ezra. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1991. Wasserstein, David J. “Samuel Ibn Naghrīla ha-Nagid and Islamic Historiography in al-Andalus.” Al-Qanṭara, 14 (1993), 109–125. Wasserstein, David J. “Jewish Elites in Al-Andalus.” In The Jews of Medieval Islam: Community, Society, and Identity, edited by Daniel H. Frank, 101–110. Leiden: Brill, 1995. Wasserstein, David J. “The Muslims and the Golden Age of the Jews in al-Andalus.” Israel Oriental Studies, 17 (1997), 179–96. Zuckermann, Ghilad. “A New Vision for ‘Israeli Hebrew’: Theoretical and Practical Implications of Analysing Israel’s Main Language as a Semi-Engineered SemitoEuropean Hybrid Language.” Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, 5(1) (2006), 57–71.

chapter 6

David in Medieval Jewish Thought

Judah Halevi’s Book of the Kuzari as a Reconciliation Project Marzena Zawanowska 1


King David is one of the most complex, rich, and ambivalent characters in the Hebrew Bible.1 He is described as a brave warrior and an efficient ruler, but also as a vassal of the Philistine king – a sort of a mercenary soldier – and a sinner, criticized in Scripture itself for his morally reprehensible dealings with Bathsheba. Notwithstanding this mixed legacy (or perhaps because of it), he became a central figure in all of the monotheistic traditions. Each of these traditions significantly reinterpreted him and his life story to the effect that, with time, he has become chiefly associated with the (albeit more imagined than real) idyllic past of the United Kingdom of Judah and Israel and with messianic hopes for ultimate redemption in the future. In addition, all these traditions rendered him the pious author of the entire book of Psalms, despite the fact that the Bible makes no such claim, and in fact overtly attributes some of the psalms to different authors. This last aspect of David’s character was of particular importance for the medieval Jewish poets who lived in the Iberian Peninsula and wished to revive the Hebrew language and to imitate its beauty in their own poetical oeuvre. One of them, Shmuel ha-Nagid, went so far as to see a new incarnation of David in himself.2 1 The paper was prepared within the framework of the research project, “The Karaites and Karaism as Portrayed in Medieval Rabbanite Sources. A Comparative Study and Translation of Judah Halevi’s Kuzari,” sponsored by the National Science Centre (NCN; grant Opus 10) awarded to Dr. Marzena Zawanowska (2015/19/B/HS2/01284). I wish to express my gratitude to Ms. Tamar Cohen for her careful reading of this text and all the corrections and suggestions. Throughout the paper, I follow Barry S. Kogan’s and Lawrence V. Berman’s translation of The Book of the Kuzari with slight modifications and minor adjustments when necessary. I am very grateful to Prof. Kogan for having shared with me this translation prior to its publication. All the italicized phrases within the citations are in the original, while passages in bold as well as additions of Arabic words in brackets are my own. 2 See, in this volume, Gryczan, “David as Warrior, Leader, and Poet.” © Marzena Zawanowska, 2021 | doi:10.1163/9789004465978_008 This is an open access chapter distributed under the terms of the CC BY-NC 4.0 license.

David in Medieval Jewish Thought


In this paper, I would like to focus on the work of another of these poets, Judah Halevi, and examine the reception of the biblical David in his opus magnum Kitāb al-radd wa-’l-dalīl fī al-dīn al-ḏalīl (The Book of Refutation and Proof on Behalf of the Despised Religion).3 This treatise in comparative religion, written in Judeo-Arabic in twelfth-century Spain (ca. 1130–1140), better known under its shortened Hebrew title Sēp̄ er ha-Kūzarī (The Book of the Kuzari), or simply Kūzarī (henceforth spelled Kuzari), is one of the most important and influential texts of medieval Jewish philosophy and beyond.4 It is written in the form of a dialogue and uses a pseudo-historical story of the Khazars’ coversion to Judaism (a motif popular in contemporaneous literary texts and oral tradition) as the narrative framework for an extensive religious debate between the nameless Khazar king and four wise men: the philosopher, the Christian, the Muslim, and the Jew. After a short debate (Kuzari 1:1–9), the king manages to contravene the arguments of the philosopher, as well as the Christian and the Muslim sages (who both confirm the truth of the Hebrew Bible) and decides to convert to Judaism. The rest of the book (Kuzari 1:10–5:28) reports his discussion with the Jewish sage whose long statements are only sparcelly interrupted by the king’s inquiries and comments. The aim of my analysis is to scrutinize Halevi’s outlook on the intriguing and colorful biblical character of David as emerging from this discussion, exploring how and why – if at all – the author instrumentalized David, as well as how far he strayed from the scriptural depiction of the figure. Yet, before attempting to answer these questions and delving more deeply into Halevi’s portrayal of David in the Kuzari, a few words needs to be said about the treatise itself. In many respects, it is one of the most difficult and ambiguous texts written in the Middle Ages. Little wonder, therefore, that scholars offer divergent interpretations not only of the text itself but of the whole question of the purpose of its writing.5 The common denominator of the various approaches is that their authors try to find an ordering principle to help them understand the enigmatic composition by providing an 3 This title appears in Ms. Cambridge, T.-S. Arabic N.S. 308.86. An alternative title, Kitāb al-ḥuǧǧa wa-’l-dalīl fī naṣrat al-dīn al-ḏalīl (The Book of Sign and Proof of the Victory of [or “in Support of”] the Despised Religion), is attested to in Ms. Oxford, Bodleiana, Poc. 284. On both these Mss., see Yehudah Halevi, The Book of Refutation, ‫ט–י‬. On the title, see ibidem, ‫יא–יב‬. 4 For a seminal study of the reception of this text in Jewish tradition, see Shear, The Kuzari. 5 For an overview of different scholarly approaches to this text, see Berger, “Toward a New Understanding”; Zawanowska, “Introduction. Yehudah ha-Levi and His Book of the Kuzari.” For a review of scholarship dealing with The Book of the Kuzari and main research trends, see (still valid) Lobel, Between Mysticism and Philosophy, 6–9; Shear, The Kuzari, 2–12.



interpretative key to it.6 My paper represents another voice in this ongoing discussion. Accordingly, I will use the figure of David not only as an instructive, illuminating example of Halevi’s engagement with biblical materials, but also as a tool to address the more general question of the purpose of writing of his treatise. 2

Omissions: De-biblicization

David is one of the most frequently mentioned biblical characters in The Book of the Kuzari – third after Moses and Abraham – while the book of Psalms, which Jewish tradition attributes to him, is referred to more often than any other biblical text with the exception of the Torah. This stands in contrast to other famous medieval philosophical texts, such as Saʿadya Gaon’s (d. 942) Kitāb al-amānāt wa-’l-iʿtiqādāt (The Book of Beliefs and Opinions), Baḥya Ibn Paquda’s (mid-11th c.) Darāʾib al-qulūb (Duties of the Hearts), or Moses Maimonides’ (d. 1204) Dalālat al-hā’irīn (The Guide of the Perplexed), where the figure of David is almost absent, even though their authors do frequently refer to the Psalms. Against this backdrop, The Book of the Kuzari, with its seventeen mentions of David in different contexts, stands markedly out, although – as we will see – Halevi’s David preserves little if anything of the character’s biblical prototype. The treatise does not present a single narrative or historical event related to this figure alluded to so (relatively) often by the author, nor are there any traces of his colorful adventures or of the historical context of his times as described in the Bible. As a result, David himself becomes flat and faded. In fact, he ceases to be a historical and/or literary character altogether, and thus, in a way, becomes a non-biblical figure. This first trend in Halevi’s reception of the biblical David can thus be called “de-biblicization.” Here it may be instructive to observe that, according to Halevi, the biblical authors themselves were selective, not putting in writing all that they knew about David, or about other biblical characters, for that matter. The difference between those authors and the medieval thinker is that while the latter omits the more down-to-earth (factual and material) aspects of David’s depiction, the former – at least in Halevi’s view – were silent about his more spiritual (prophetic and intellectual) aspects. In Kuzari 3:63, we read:

6 See Berger, “Toward a New Understanding.”

David in Medieval Jewish Thought


[…] the biblical historian (or “chronicler”; Ar. muʾarriḫ) was not interested in things that are recondite, but in things that are well-known, things that are public. Accordingly, in connection with Joshua, he did not mention a thing about his knowledge, which was passed down [to him] from God, exalted be He, and also from Moses, peace be upon him.7 Rather, he mentioned only the day when the Jordan halted its flow,8 and the day when the sun stood still,9 and the day of the mass circumcision10 because of their notoriety among the multitude. The same is true of the stories (Ar. aḫbār) of Samson, Deborah, Gideon, Samuel, David, and Solomon. He did not mention anything about their knowledge nor anything about the traditions they had with regard to the Law (Ar. al-aṯār fī al-šarīʿa); but he did mention some of the stories about Solomon, his great feasts,11 and his immense wealth.12 Again, he did not mention any of his rare feats of knowledge, except for [the story that begins], Later, two prostitutes came [to the king …],13 since the affair came to its conclusion in the presence of the multitude. As for his wisdom14 in connection with the Queen of Sheba15 and others, he did not mention that either, since it was not the purpose of the author (Ar. al-mudawwin) to mention anything except what was well-known to the multitude, which the entire community has preserved. Halevi conjures up a conception of the biblical author-redactor or compilereditor (Ar. mudawwin) – initially introduced by medieval Karaite exegetes – in support of the authenticity of oral tradition, which, in his view, existed already in biblical times.16 Thus, this assertion reflects his subversive use of a typically Karaite concept to polemicize against the Karaites’ rejection of the Oral Torah. He claims that the author (or authors) of historical reports in the Bible (Ar. muʾarriḫ) was selective, putting into writing only those things that were 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Cf. Deuteronomy 39:9. Cf. Joshua 3:13–17. Cf. Joshua 10:12–15. Cf. Joshua 5:2–9. Cf. 1 Kings 5:2–3; 10:5. Cf. 1 Kings 5:6–8; 10:14–29. Cf. 1 Kings 3:16–28. Cf. 1 Kings 10:4–8. Cf. 1 Kings 10:1–13. On the concept of the biblical mudawwin in medieval Karaite exegesis, see, e.g., Ben-Shammai, “On mudawwin”; Goldstein, Karaite Exegesis, 119–138; Polliack, “Karaite Conception”; Sasson, “The mudawwin revisited”; Simon, Four Approaches to Psalms, 71–97; Wechsler, Yefet ben ‘Eli on Esther, 28–34; Zawanowska, “Was Moses the mudawwin.”



“well-known to the multitude, which the entire community has preserved.” Accordingly, he mentioned nothing about David’s and other biblical characters’ “knowledge nor anything about the traditions they had with regard to the Law (Ar. al-aṯār fī al-šarīʿa).” In other words, Halevi was of the opinion that different biblical characters, including David, were transmitters of the Oral Torah, but this fact is not explicitly acknowledged in the Bible because they did not receive the knowledge of “traditions […] with regard to the Law” publicly (“in the presence of the multitude”), and as a result “the multitude” was unaware of their possession of it. Thus, the main target of Halevi’s polemic here are the opponents of the Oral Torah, most notably, the Karaites, while his line of defense is that the knowledge of traditions has been a recondite possession of the privileged few. Interestingly, the concept that the knowledge of truth rests with and is transmitted by the elite of the few selected individuals – the chosen ones (Ar. ṣafwa), who preserve it in secrecy (nota bene, well known from Shiʿite writings) – appears also, mutatis mutandis, in Karaite discourse.17 The difference between the Karaite conception of the righteous remnant (Heb. šĕʾerīt) and the idea of ṣafwa is that the latter is an inherited, genetic quality which, according to Halevi, characterized all of Israel (Jacob’s offspring), while šĕʾerīt is not biologically dependent. Rather, it refers to a small group or community within Israel (out of the entire nation) that remained loyal to the true Torah and occupied itself with its study and teaching.18 Another difference is that the Karaites argued that the true knowledge of which they claimed to be in secret possession is different from (or an alternative to) the Rabbanite tradition, which they considered “a commandment of men learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13), while Halevi maintains that the Oral Torah constitutes this true knowledge transmitted secretly. Hence, this comment reveals how Halevi skillfully interplays ideas drawn from the different sources at his disposal – including Karaite ones – by subjecting them to subversive interpretations. 17 18

On the Shiʿite concept of ṣafwa and its influence on Halevi, see Krinis, God’s Chosen People; idem, The Legitimist Inheritance. On the more general Arabic background of Halevi’s treatise, see idem, “The Arabic Background,” and further bibliography there. I am grateful to Prof. Daniel Lasker for bringing this issue to my attention. On the Karaites’ self-perception as a community that was forced in the past to remain in hiding, see Yefet ben ʿEli’s comment on Zechariah 5:9–11, where he declares: “The supporters of truth (Ar. ahl al-ḥaqq) had been subdued and [made] invisible [presumably, by the majority who embraced the Oral Torah] until the time of the appearance of the little horn (Daniel 7:8 = Muḥammad), who […] enabled [selected] individuals from [the children of] Israel to disclose something of the truth in the kingdom of the little horn [= Muslim empire].” I am grateful to Kees de Vreugd for having permitted me to read his edition of Yefet’s commentary on Zechariah prior to its publication.

David in Medieval Jewish Thought


To generalize, we can say that Halevi exhibits interest in subjects that are ignored (or purposefully passed over) and underrepresented in Scripture, while he shows no concern for the dominant aspects in the biblical depiction of David, namely, things that were “well-known,” and “public” such as his stormy life story, replete with military bravado and romantic exultation. Having discussed what Halevi omits, now the question may rightly be asked: what did he decide to preserve? What remains of the intriguing biblical figure of David in The Book of the Kuzari? What aspects did the medieval author choose to highlight? Moreover, what did he add to David’s representation, and why? 3

Preservation: Idealization

As might be expected, from among the numerous and variegated biblical reports on David, Halevi carefully chooses chiefly those aspects of his scriptural representation that bespeak of his spirituality. Not only does he preserve, but also emphasizes – or even over-emphasizes – them, thereby idealizing David’s image. A good example of how Halevi plays with the biblical materials, placing into relief David’s prophetic powers and downplaying other, more carnal, aspects of his biblical depiction, may be adduced from Kuzari 1:99, where we read: […] the shape of the Tabernacle in its entirety was shown to Moses on the mountain […]. Similarly, the revered house that Solomon built was one of the things whose form was shown to David in a spiritual way.19 Referring to a passage from Chronicles (1 Chronicles 28:11–13), Halevi emphasizes that David, like Moses before him, was privy to prophetic visions. His received prophecy, moreover, related to the most central aspects of religious life of Israel – and a central theme of Halevi’s [proto-] Zionist thought – namely, the Temple. In this context, Halevi focuses on David’s spirituality while omitting the fact that, just a few verses earlier, God says to David: “But God said unto me: Thou shalt not build a house for My name, because thou art a man of war, and hast shed blood” (v. 3) – a detail that signals David’s entanglement in physical brutality and violence, and as such reflects badly on the biblical figure. Yet, David’s association with the Temple, in Halevi’s view, goes well beyond his involvement in its building (in terms of planning its shape). Firstly, the 19 Cf. 1 Chronicles 28:11–21.



author indicates that it was only in David’s time that the exact site where the Temple was to stand was revealed (see Kuzari 2:14). Secondly, and most importantly, David is associated with introducing and establishing the rules of cultic ritual in the Temple. In Kuzari 3:39, Halevi asserts: […] At times, we do see something that was enacted after Moses, and it became a Law (Ar. šaraʿ), as for examples, when Solomon consecrated the center of the court and offered burnt offerings at a place other than the altar20 and held the feast …[ for] seven days and again seven days.21 There is also what David and Samuel put into proper hierarchical order with respect to the arrangement of the singers in the Temple, and it too became a Law that endured (Ar. šaraʿan mustamarran).22 Again there is what Solomon did in connection with the Tabernacle […]; and there is also what Ezra wrote down for his community during the Second Temple period with respect to contributing one third of a shekel23 […]. According to this passage, David (together with his son, Solomon) is attributed with the establishment of the religious cult in the Temple with its specific rituals and musical arrangements.24 Thus, he is considered by Halevi not only as a recipient and transmitter of the Oral Law (see Kuzari 1:99 above), but also as a lawgiver himself, a prophet (comparable to Moses) through whom religious legislation was occasionally revealed.25 Incidentally, a similar idea is also 20 21 22 23 24


1 Kings 8:64. 1 Kings 8:65. Cf. 1 Chronicles 9:22, 33; 2 Chronicles 5:12–13. Nehemiah 10:32. This comment is interesting as it suggests that the revelation of religious law (Ar. šaraʿ) did not end with Moses, but continued with later biblical prophets. In contrast with Karaism, the traditional Jewish outlook is that halakhah should be derived from the Pentateuch alone, and not from the entire Hebrew Bible, as it transpires from this passage, in which Halevi indicates that certain halakhic rulings were revealed also to prophets other than Moses, and were included in biblical books other than the Torah (and not merely passed through the oral tradition). Accordingly, this comment seems to reflect more a Karaite than a Rabbanite view of the Hebrew Bible as a text which in its entirety constitutes a legitimate source of religious legislation. It is not inconceivable that Halevi observed that the Rabbanite Jews in fact derived halakhah from the entire Hebrew Bible just like the Karaites did (e.g., selling on Shabbat is forbidden on the basis of Amos 8:5, while doing business in the sense of buying and selling, is only forbidden in Nehemiah 10:32; 13:15–22). The last example, of a contribution of only “one third of a shekel” recommended in Nehemiah 10:33, is most telling given that it may be understood as contradicting an explicit ruling included in the Pentateuch (see Exodus 30:11–16; 38:25–26), which imposes a contribution of “half a shekel.” This apparent contradiction found various solutions] in

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expressed in Kuzari 3:41 (this time, however, with no mention of David), where the author expounds: […] Thus, the statement, You shall not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it26 has come to mean: [You shall not add to or take away from] all that I have commended you through Moses and all that I have commanded you through a prophet from among your people,27 in keeping with the conditions that establish [fitness] for prophecy,28 or, all that the priests and the judges have agreed upon from the place which YHVH shall choose,29 for they are indeed supported by the Divine Presence (Heb. Šeḵinā). Here Halevi seems to equate Moses with other prophets, asserting that divine commandments were revealed also thorough these. In addition, he mentions the traditional authorities of the Oral Law (considered its earliest transmitters in the chain of tradition), namely, the priests and the judges, but, interestingly, their rulings are only binding, in his view, on the condition that they are declared in Palestine (“from the place which YHVH shall choose” [Deuteronomy 17:10]). Such a Palestinocentric statement seems to implicitly undermine the authority of later Jewish religious leaders active outside of Palestine, in the diaspora after the destruction of the Second Temple, like the sages of the Babylonian Talmud. To be sure, a similar notion was endorsed by the Karaites, who rejected the authority of the “shepherds of the exile.” Although Halevi never says so explicitly, it seems that he is less enthusiastic about the Oral Torah produced outside of the Land of Israel than that which originated in Palestine. This is borne out by the fact that in his chain of tradition, he writes laudably as well as profusely and in detail about the sages of the Mishnah (Kuzari 3:64–67), while to the sages of the Talmud he devotes solely two sentences. In Kuzari 3:67, he declares: As for the traditions of the Talmud and those who transmitted them, an account of them, their methods, their extraordinary aphorisms, Jewish halakhic exegesis. Yet for our current discussion it is important to note that Halevi treats an enactment from the Book of Prophets as law (Ar. šaraʿ). On the debate over this subject during the second Temple period, as well as in the medieval Karaite and Rabbanite halakha, see Erder, Methods, 145–150, 155–164; idem, “Half-Shekel Commandment.” 26 Deuteronomy 4:2. 27 Deuteronomy 18:15. 28 Cf. Deuteronomy 18:21–22. 29 Cf. Deuteronomy 17:10.



and their parables would take far too long to discuss. Even though they contain things that are not regarded as praiseworthy today (Ar. lā yustaḥsanu al-yawm), in those times they were useful and were regarded as praiseworthy. Thus, in the first sentence, he dismisses the Talmud with a hardly convincing excuse that it “would take far too long to discuss” it. Furthermore, the second sentence seems to suggest that the wisdom included in the Talmud is not universal and eternal, but rather dependent on a specific time and place, which would not be the case had Halevi believed it was of a revealed nature. This not particularly flattering description of the Talmud (an exilic product, at least in terms of its more acclaimed Babylonian version, and written in Aramaic) stands in blatant contrast with Halevi’s highly appreciative depiction of the Mishnah (edited in the Land of Israel and written in Hebrew), which is, in his view, of inimitable beauty and perfection of style, and therefore, he concludes, “human beings simply fall short of composing anything like it, unless it is with Divine Assistance” (Kuzari 3:67).30 Thus it seems that, as opposed to his view of the Mishnah, Halevi might not have considered the Talmud to be a revealed or divinely inspired text, an inherent part of the Oral Torah given to Moses at Mount Sinai together with the Written one. This supposition seems to be further corroborated by a statement in Kuzari 3:73, where he describes it as a human compilation of the sayings of sages, prepared by their eager pupils who made diligent efforts (Ar. iǧtihād) to faithfully transmit the teachings of their 30

The passage on the Mishnah reads: “[…] They [= the sages] show the same concern for the Mishnah that they showed for the Torah with respect to organizing it, arranging it, numbering the orders, chapters, and halakhic rules, as well as preserving the reports transmitted, all of which makes it improbable to believe that it is only something conventionally agreed upon. Moreover, in terms of good classical Hebrew, it includes much that is not derived from the language of Scripture. As for the conciseness of its speech, the beauty of its structure, and the excellence of its composition (Ar. īǧāz kalāmihā wa-ḥusn niẓāmihā wa-ǧawda taṣnīfihā), encompassing aspects of the meanings [they discussed] authoritatively and decisively, without doubt and conjecture, it is at the cutting edge. He who considers it with an eye for the truth will see that human beings simply fall short of composing anything like it, unless it is with Divine Assistance. No one will register opposition to it except those who are ignorant of it and have not been engaged in reading and studying it.” It seems reasonable to assume that Halevi’s laudatory description of the Mishnah constitutes an apologetic response to the objections raised against it by the Karaites. See, e.g., the second and third chapters Salmon ben Yerūḥīm’s polemical treatise Sēp̄ er milḥāmōt Adonai (Book of the Wars of the Lord), where he criticizes the Mishnah’s content (i.e., the fact that it cites opposing views and includes internal contradictions), as well as its language and style, all of which prove, in the author’s view, that it is a human composition. See Davidson (ed.), Book of the Wars of the Lord.

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masters.31 We can fathom the seriousness of this allegation only if we bear in mind that relying on individual intellectual effort (Ar. iǧtihād), instead of following tradition, was one of the major allegations advanced by the Rabbanites against the Karaites. Hence, Halevi is presumably making subversive use of a concept conventionally employed to denigrate the Karaites, to implicitly criticize the Rabbanite tradition that originated outside of the Land of Israel.32 Parenthetically, it is a matter of conjecture, but it seems to me not unlikely that rightly because of such statements, Abraham Ibn Daʿud chose to respond to Halevi by offering in his Sēp̄ er ha-Qābālā (The Book of Tradition; ca. 1167) a historical reconstruction of an unbroken chain of oral tradition from Moses up to community leaders in twelfth-century Spain, including its reliable transmitters active in the exile.33 By doing so, he arguably intended to prove – against Halevi’s claim – that the leaders of the diaspora were as much legitimate religious authorities as the tannaitic sages in Palestine. Returning to our subject, however, we may say that, arguably, one of the most important aspects of the representation of David emphasized (or over-emphasized) by Halevi is his affiliation with the Temple and its cult, as well as his prophetic powers, which made him partake in divine revelation. 31



We read there: “Now I do not deny, O king of the Khazars, that there are things in the Talmud about which I cannot convince you, nor can I even prove that they belong to a [single] domain. They are the things which the Talmud simply brought together because of the diligent effort (Ar. iǧtihād) of the disciples [of the Sages], since they held to the view that even the ordinary conversation of the Sages requires study (b. Abodah Zarah 19b; b. Sukkah 21b). Their sole intent was to state only what they had heard from their masters, while at the same time making a diligent effort (Ar. iǧtihād) to pass on everything that they had heard from their masters. In that regard they were also intent on [reporting] their exact words. Now sometimes they did {not} understand what they meant, and so they said, ‘Thus we were told, and [thus] we have heard’. But sometimes, the master had certain aims with regard to that subject, which were concealed from his students. And so the matter [in question] reached us, and we attached no importance to it because we did not know his aim. However, all of this pertains to what is neither permitted nor forbidden. Therefore, [practically speaking,] we need not be concerned with it. Nor will it harm the work [if we adopt this stance], notwithstanding the different viewpoints that we have mentioned.” It might be that at the time (at least in al-Andalus) the Talmud did not enjoy as prominent a position as it is usually assumed. Tellingly, Maimonides does not mention the Oral Torah in his principles of Jewish faith, presumably intending to have the Talmud replaced with his own work, the Mishneh Torah, which would not be the case had he believed it was of a revealed nature. For more on the status of the Talmud in al-Andalus, see Fishman, Becoming the People of the Talmud, 65–120. See Cohen, Sefer ha-Qabbalah. For an argument that Halevi’s Kuzari was polemicizing against the Andalusian Jewish bourgeois society, see ibidem, L; Lasker, Judah Halevi and Karaism; idem, From Judah Hadassi.



Yet, there are also other personal features of the biblical character that Halevi chooses to highlight, such as his being a wise philosopher and/or theologian (Kuzari 3:11), a sage (Kuzari 5:20), a righteous, pious believer who knows how to praise God and His Torah in an exemplary fashion (Kuzari 2:56), a gifted poet enjoying ultimate command of the Hebrew language (Kuzari 2:68), and a brilliant musician (Kuzari 2:64).34 Thus, at first sight, Halevi’s reception of David seems to reflect a conventional, idealized representation of the biblical figure. Nonetheless, for our current discussion it is important to note that the thinker’s portrayal of David is connected with key ideas in his thought, and, at the same time, the main foci of his reflection in The Book of the Kuzari, namely: (1) the Land of Israel,35 with Jerusalem and the Temple; (2) the Chosen People, with their unique gift of prophecy; and (3) the Bible and the Hebrew language in which it was written. Hence, from this perspective it appears that David plays a pivotal role in Halevi’s treatise, constituting an axis of his discussion of the paramount issues treated in the text. In addition, some scholars maintain that The Book of the Kuzari is a messianic or eschatological text.36 Even if we do not accept this claim, it is worth noting that, David is also mentioned in connection with the Messiah who will come from David’s House (see Kuzari 3:19, 3:65, 3:73). In Kuzari 3:73, Halevi expounds: […] Still, some of them are obviously impossible, but their aim becomes clear with the slightest reflection. An example would be their statement: Seven things were created before the world: The Garden of Eden, the Torah, the righteous, Israel, the Throne of Glory, Jerusalem, and the Messiah, son of David,37 which corresponds to the saying of the learned, “What is first in terms of thought is the last in terms of action.”38 Now, since the intention of {wisdom in the creation of this world was the Torah, which is the very embodiment} of wisdom, while those who carry it are righteous, and the 34

For Halevi’s lengthy discussion of Psalm 104 and his view that it recapitulates the description of creation in Genesis 1–2, see Halevi, Kuzari 5:10. 35 Halevi calls the Land of Israel “the gates of Heaven,” and generally uses the Arabic term al-Šām to denote it. 36 See Dinburg (Dinur), “The Immigration of Rabbi Judah Ha-Levi”; Schwartz, “The Messianic Idea.” For an argument that it is a mystical treatise, see Wolfson, “Merkavah Traditions.” Cf. also Lobel, Between Mysticism and Philosophy. 37 See b. Pesaḥim 54a; b. Nedarim 39b; Genesis Rabbah 1:4. Cf. Albeck and Theodor (eds.), Midrash Bereschit Rabba 6. 38 Cf. Aristotle, On the Soul, III:10, 433a, 16–17.

David in Medieval Jewish Thought


Throne of Glory dwells among them, and [since,] in reality, the righteous belong only to the choicest [offspring of Adam] (Ar. ṣafwa),39 namely, Israel, and only the most distinguished locale is appropriate for them, namely Jerusalem, and [since] only the noblest of human beings may arrange them in the proper order, namely the Messiah, son of David, and [since] their natural propensity as well as their life’s journey are directed towards the Garden of Eden, it was necessary to assume that these things were already created in potentiality, before the world itself was actually created. Citing an old rabbinic midrash, Halevi discusses what he considers to be the most important (interrelated) ideas of Judaism: namely the three physical or material concepts of the Torah, the people of Israel, and the holy land – with Jerusalem and the Temple as its epicenter, or the geographic holy of holies; as well as the three more spiritual or temporal notions of creation, revelation, and redemption, the last of which relates back to the lost Garden of Eden and is epitomized in the figure of the Messiah, son of David. As a result, David once again appears at the center of an important ideological discussion, related to the key notions and fundamental subjects of the entire treatise. Now, it is important to note that all the above-mentioned ideas were negotiated throughout the Middle Ages. Jewish exegetes, thinkers, and sages of different denominations pondered the following questions: What does divine revelation include, in other words, what is the Torah – solely the Written or also the Oral Law? What should be the basis of religious legislation (Heb. hălāḵā) – the Pentateuch alone, or perhaps the entire Hebrew Bible? Who is allowed to interpret Scripture and what is its legitimate, binding interpretation? Who are to be counted as the people of Israel – only the Rabbanites or also the Karaites? How about the converts – are they to be considered part of the people of Israel? And if so, should they be treated in every respect on equal terms with the native-born Jews? Is it necessary to live in the holy land or perhaps is it equally possible to lead a truly Jewish life in the diaspora?40 Is the Temple desirable, necessary even, for the proper fulfilment of divine commandments and leading an exemplary religious life, or did the liturgical cult and individual prayers replace it? Also, how should we understand creation – was it really ex nihilo, or perhaps more in line with the neo-platonic concepts of emanation? 39 40

On the Shiʿite concept of ṣafwa, see above, n. 17. On the Rabbanite sages’ opposition to emigration to Palestine, discussed in the context of Karaite call for the return to the Land of Israel, see, e.g., Erder, The Karaite Mourners of Zion, 416, and further bibliography there.



How to defend the notion of divine creation in face of the Aristotelian idea of the eternity of the world? And finally, should we patiently wait for the ultimate redemption or rather actively engage in ushering it in? In The Book of the Kuzari, Halevi takes a stand – to be sure, not always in agreement with the mainstream Rabbanite position – in this important ideological debate, not infrequently invoking the character of David when addressing these paramount issues as an instrument for conveying his own ideas. 4

Additions: Instrumentalization

So far we have seen what Halevi omitted and what he preserved and emphasized (or over-emphasized) from the biblical character of David. Nevertheless, for our current discussion it is even more interesting to explore what he added to the biblical depiction of David. Already the title of the work – Kitāb al-radd – suggests that it is a polemical treatise. The question is, however, against whom does it polemicize?41 4.1 Anti-philosophical Polemics Some scholars have considered The Book of the Kuzari as an essentially antiphilosophical treatise.42 Even if such an interpretation may appear too farfetched, it certainly includes polemical pronouncements directed against specific philosophical currents or schools and trends, as well as selected individual philosophers. In one such pronouncement David is mentioned. In Kuzari 5:8 we read: […] That’s the argument [with which we could refute the proponents of chance]! And [it would be] all the more [successful, if it were combined] with our apprehending some of the wisdom inherent in many of those things and [understanding] why they are needed, as has been explained in Aristotle’s book, On the Utility of the Various Kinds of Animals¸ and Galen’s book, On the Utility of the Limbs, and in other works besides those which are concerned with the wonders of [divine] wisdom. In the same way, it becomes clear that domestic animals like sheep, cattle, horses, and asses exist on account of man’s need for them because they are not suited 41 42

For an argument that the main purpose of the treatise was an apologetic defense of Judaism, see, e.g., Levinger, “The Kuzari”; Schweid, Reason and Analogy. See Husik, A History; Strauss, “The Law of Reason.” For an argument that Halevi’s Kuzari is essentially a philosophical treatise (devoted to divine attributes), see Neumark, Essays.

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to be wild, but rather to dwell in a settled place for the benefit of human beings. In addition, everything that David, peace be upon him, alluded to, when he said, How great are your works, O YHVH!,43 is [alluded to] for the purpose of refuting the argument of Epicurus the Greek, who used to think that the world came into being by chance. In this passage, Halevi invokes David to serve his own (anti-philosophical) purposes, by depicting this biblical character as an anti-Epicurus polemicist, despite the fact that, chronologically speaking, the Greek philosopher lived many centuries after the biblical king (fourth–third c. BCE; 340–270 BCE). 4.2 Anti-Karaite Polemics A more common (and dominant) conviction, however, is that The Book of the Kuzari was chiefly written as an anti-Karaite polemic.44 It seems to be confirmed by a letter found in the Cairo Genizah, where Halevi admits to having written it “in response to the request (or ‘demand’) of one of those who embraced heresy (Heb. mīnūt).”45 In a nutshell, the most conspicuous allegations against the Karaites – and at the same time the main bone of contention between them and the Rabbanites – concern two interrelated subjects: Scripture (and its interpretation), and calendar. Now, if we check The Book of the Kuzari with reference to these two much disputed issues, we shall see that David appears in crucial moments of Halevi’s discussion of the subjects. 4.3 The Torah As to the first allegation, the Karaites did not recognize the binding nature of the Rabbinic tradition, replacing it – at least at the formative stage of the 43 Psalms 104:24. 44 See, e.g., Baneth, “Some Remarks”; Friedman, “Judah Ha-Levi”; Goitein, “The Biography.” For an argument that at least the entire third chapter of the treaties may be considered an anti-Karaite polemic, see Astren, Karaite Judaism, 198, n. 51 (“[…] all of part 3 can be read as an anti-Karaite argument”). Cf. Schweid, Reason and Analogy. 45 ‫וכאן סבבה טלבה אחד מנתחלי אלמנות בבלאד אלרום סאלני פי אגראץ׳ פארסלתה‬ ‫אליה ת׳ם גחדתה ובאלאג׳תמאע תראה אנת‬. See Ms. Jewish Theological Seminary of America, ENA NS 1, fol. 5 (L no. 41, “list 4”), plate 7. For its edition and Hebrew translation, see Goitein, “Autographs,” 409 (Ar. and Heb.). English translation after Friedman, “Judah Ha-Levi,” 161. See also Fleischer and Gil, Yehuda Halevy, 324–326 (Heb. and Ar.). Cf. Baneth, “Some Remarks,” 297ff (Ar.), 302ff (Heb.); Friedman, “Judah Ha-Levi,” 158. Goitein, “The Biography,” 46–48; Goitein, Friedman, India Traders, par. 204. Cf. Goitein, A Mediterranean Society, vol. 5, 464–465; idem, Letters, s. 337; Schirmann, A History of Hebrew Poetry and Drama, vol. 1, 321 (Heb.).



movement’s development (in the ninth through the eleventh centuries) – with reason as the chief means for acquiring the proper understanding of Scripture. Accordingly, until the eleventh century, when the Karaites eventually established their own alternative tradition (Heb. haʿataqā, sevel ha-yĕrūshā), they promoted individual rational inquiry into the Law, offering alternative exegetical solutions and halakhic rulings, instead of relying on authoritative interpretations of the Sages.46 Halevi discusses the Karaites’ rejection of the Oral Torah, arguing that Karaism emerged as a result of misinterpretation or misunderstanding of David’s instruction given to his son, Solomon, when he said “know the God of your father and serve Him” (1 Chronicles 28:9). In Kuzari 5:21, he asserts: […] So, too, [you should] put aside what the Karaites cite as proof [for their misleading claims] in David’s charge, peace be upon him, to his son, And now, my son, Solomon, know the God of your father and serve Him,47 as well as the inference they draw from it that one needs true knowledge of God [first], and [only] then does worshipping Him become obligatory. On the contrary, he urged only that [Solomon] faithfully follow the tradition (Ar. taqlīd) of his father and his ancestors with regard to belief in the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,48 whose providence had accompanied them and who fulfilled His promises to them regarding the great multitude of their descendants, the inheritance of Syro-Palestine (Ar. al-Šām), the indwelling of the Divine Presence (Ar. Sakīna) [among them], and other things besides these. According to this passage, the Karaites’ “sin,” and the reason for the split between them and the Rabbanites, comes down to an intellectual mistake in Bible interpretation; they simply failed to properly understand the prophet’s words. While David had the tradition of the ancestors (Ar. taqlīd) in mind, the Karaites wrongly took it to mean individual rational inquiries aimed at acquiring the knowledge of God (Ar. maʿrifat Allāh) as a prerequisite of religious practice (Ar. ibāda).49 Thus, Karaism is construed as a consequence of 46

The difference between the Karaite and the Rabbanite conceptions of tradition is that, in contrast to the latter, the former is not considered to have been revealed by God, representing a consensus of Karaite sages (Ar. iǧmāʿ; Heb. ʿēdā, qibūṣ). See Zawanowska, “Haʿataqa.” 47 1 Chronicles 28:9. 48 Cf. Exodus 3:6, 15; 4:5. 49 For an argument that this biblical verse, together with Deuteronomy 4:39 (“Know therefore this day and keep in mind that the Lord alone is God”) “served the Karaites as slogans

David in Medieval Jewish Thought


an exegetical mistake stemming from a misunderstanding of the intended meaning of Scripture, and resulting in a rebellious rejection of the teaching of the sages, as well as individualistic over-intellectualism.50 Halevi manages here to kill two birds with one stone by addressing at once the issue of the Karaites’ rejection of the Oral Torah and their anarchistic individualism in Bible interpretation, which the author both deplored and opposed as inevitably leading to heresy (Heb. mīnūt) in the literal (etymological) sense of this word, that is disintegration of the Jewish community.51 In any event, this passage encapsulates the essence of the split between Rabbanites and Karaites, revolving around the polarizing categories of tradition and reason, and which, as I have argued elsewhere, is analogous to the Muslim division into ahl al-ḥadīṯ and ahl al-ra‌ʾy.52 The Karaites are construed as intellectual individualists and anarchists, while the lack of obedience to religious authorities is understood as their main fault. In a different place, in Kuzari 3:39, Halevi admonishes: […] We are ordered to obey the authorized judge in every generation, just as it says, [… and appear] before the […] judge in charge at that time, and present your problem. When they have announced to you the verdict in the case, you shall carry out the verdict that is announced to you from the place that YHVH chose, observing scrupulously all their instructions to you.53 Then it adds, Should a man act presumptuously and disregard the priest, etc., […] That man shall die. Thus you will sweep out evil from your midst.54

to express the doctrine that knowledge of the articles of faith must precede performance of the commandments, cognition comes before practice,” see Ben-Shammai, “Major Trends,” 346. 50 For an argument that, “according to Halevi, the fact that Karaites try harder [i.e., they use iǧtihād] is a sign of their ultimate weakness,” see Lasker, Judah Halevi and Karaism, 118–119; idem, From Judah Hadassi, 148. For Halevi explicitly admitting elsewhere that the Rabbanites also practice iǧtihād, see above, a passage from Kuzari 3:47 cited in n. 1225. 51 In Kuzari 3:49 we read: “[…] they [= the Karaites] have ended up exercising arbitrary judgement out of their ignorance of those things changing the revealed Law (Ar. muġayyarīn fī al-šar‘a), and bringing about heresy (Ar. musabbabīn li-’l-mīnūt). By this I mean the proliferation of religious creeds (Ar. maḏāhib), which is the root cause of the religious community’s corruption (Ar. aṣl fisad al-milla) and its departure from the principle of one Torah and one law (Numbers 15:16). […] It goes so far that in a house of ten people, there will be ten religious creeds!” Cf. Zawanowska, “The Art of Ambiguity.” 52 See Zawanowska, “Reconstructing the Past.” 53 Deuteronomy 17:9–10. 54 Deuteronomy 17:12.



Scripture associated disobeying the priest and the judge with the very greatest crimes, when it says, Thus you will sweep out evil from your midst.55 At face value, according to Halevi, obedience to traditional religious authorities, that is the sages, is required under penalty of the most severe punishments. And yet, his statement appears to be a double-edged sword, for it appears that the religious authorities to whom one should submit are only those who announce their verdicts “from the place that YHVH chose”, that is those who are active in Palestine. Nonetheless, if it were so, it would again testify to Halevi’s Palestinocentrism as well as his ingeniously subversive use of biblical verses wherein an apparent critique of the Karaites in fact undermines the validity of the Rabbanites’ claim for religious authority. The Calendar 4.4 As to the second allegation, another major point of disagreement and divergence between the Rabbanites and Karaites in the Middle Ages was the calendar.56 It is difficult to overestimate its role in the life of any religious community, as it serves to define the rhythms of its liturgy and worship, while different calculations may lead to most serious consequences, such as festivals being celebrated at different times. It is, therefore, no wonder, that since antiquity not only has the calendar been at the heart of many fervent religious debates, but not infrequently it has also caused rifts and divisions, bringing about the emergence of new sects or movements. While Rabbanite Jews used a pre-calculated calendar based on astronomical computations and settled schemes, the Karaites did not accept this fixed calendar and proposed an alternative, lunar one, based on the direct observation of nature (the stage in the ripening of barley grain, called aḇiḇ) and celestial bodies (especially the sightings of the new moon, called mōlād). Given the importance of the calendar itself and the role it played in religious debates, both sides had to somehow justify their respective decisions to rely on their chosen method. The Karaites claimed their reliance on the text of Scripture in this respect. The Rabbanites, however, could not do so. In consequence, many different theories arose in the Rabbanite milieu with regard to the calendar’s origin. Saʿadya Gaon (d. 942) went as far as to claim that it was revealed already to Moses (!) at Mount Sinai, as part of the Oral Law.57 However, at least since the thirteenth 55 Deuteronomy 17:7. 56 On the history of the Jewish calendar, see the seminal work by Stern, Calendar and Community. 57 See Seewald, Kitāb al-radd. Cf. Poznański, The Anti-Karaite Writings, 270–271.

David in Medieval Jewish Thought


century, a more commonly accepted view (first formulated by Rav Hayye Gaon in the early eleventh century), held that it was introduced by Hillel b. Judah, a fourth-century rabbi who was considered to be of Davidic lineage.58 The idea of connecting the calendar with the House of David is endorsed also by Halevi, who nonetheless introduces a significant innovation to the discussion of the origins of the Jewish calendar, proposing a completely new, as-yet unknown, suggestion with regard to its dating.59 In Kuzari 2:64, Halevi expounds: […] With regard to knowledge of the spheres and their revolution, what became the science of intercalation is only one of its results. Moreover, the greatness of the basic principle of intercalation is known,60 and so is all that became firmly established because of it for this people, which is weak in terms of matter, but strong in terms of form. And how could this not be so, when it is not even noticed among the peoples because of its paltry size, despicable condition and dispersion? Yet the remnants of the divine Law organized them in such a way that by means of it they came to be as one. One of the most extraordinary of these remnants is the intercalation procedure, employed in accordance with the roots that have been passed down from the House of David concerning the lunar cycle, which has not proved to be faulty for twelve hundred years, while the observations of the Greek astronomers and others besides them have proved to be faulty and have also requires correction and supplementation after only a hundred years. This procedure remained sound because of its association with prophecy.61 If a distortion of even a minute had been associated with the original calculation, it would surely have become a scandal today because of the discrepancy that would have existed between the mathematical calculation of the new moon (Heb. mōlād) and the sighting of the new moon. Similarly, there is no doubt that they had scientific knowledge of the solar cycle as well as other cycles pertaining to the stars. 58


60 61

See Stern, Calendar and Community, 2001, 175–179. We read there “The theory that became dominant in the 13th century (but was first voiced by Hayye Gaon; early eleventh century) was an attribution of the calendar to a Hillel b. Judah in 358/9 CE. This Hillel is identified in later sources as a patriarch of the House of Hillel the elder, who is given Davidic lineage in the Talmud.” I am grateful to Prof. Stern for consulting on this passage with me. In a private communication, Prof. Sacha Stern admitted that there were “countless medieval theories about who instituted the rabbinic calendar.” And yet, surprisingly enough, in his detailed overview of different theories there is none resembling the one proposed by Halevi. See Stern, Calendar and Community, 175–179. Cf. t. Sanhedrin 2; b. Roš Haššanah 19b–20b; b. Sanhedrin 6b–13b. Cf. Exodus 12:2.



Thus, according to Halevi, the fixed calendar dates “twelve hundred years.”62 The key question, however, is how to count this “twelve hundred years”: from the author’s (Halevi’s) own time (eleventh–twelfth century), or from that of the Khazar king who is believed to have converted to Judaism (eighth–ninth century). If counted from Halevi’s own times, the fixed calendar would have been introduced, in the author’s view, in the first century BCE or CE. Thus, it would give us approximately the time of Hillel the Elder (110 BCE–10 CE), associated with Davidic lineage already in the Talmud.63 If it were so, the emergence of Karaism and the appearance of the fixed calendar would concur in time. Yet, it seems more plausible to me to assume that Halevi was not anachronistic, and that the “twelve hundred years” should be counted back from the time of the Khazar king in the treatise. In this case, the pre-calculated calendar appeared, in the author’s view, as early as in the fourth-third century BCE, at the time when, according to Halevi, revelation had not yet ceased.64 I am inclined toward the second view. It significantly strengthens the position of the Rabbanite calendar by implicitly suggesting that it was of divine origin, being revealed through the prophets. To prove that the calendar was not invented but revealed, Halevi needed to date it to the times when prophecy was still with the children of Israel. Hence, it would be a polemical statement, formulated in disagreement with what was to become the dominant Rabbanite view. Halevi’s narrative is original when compared with (numerous) other existing theories in that it dates the calendar to much earlier times than the most commonly accepted views by about eight centuries (in fact, only Saʿadya proposed an earlier dating). In addition, while Halevi dates the origins of Karaism 62 63


Another time, when Halevi mentions David (or more precisely the latter’s House, bēt David) in connection with the calendar is Kuzari 4:29, he again emphasizes that the knowledge of the calendar “has not turned out to be faulty up to this very moment.” Cf. b. Roš Haššanah 25a; b. Berakot 10a; b. Baba Meṣiʿa 59b; b. Sanhedrin 89a. This view is attested to in Arabic sources. In his Calendar and Community, Stern expounds: “Al‐ Biruni (c. 1000 CE) writes that some Rabbanites date the institution of the fixed calendar to approximately 200 years after Alexander the Great; whereas according to other Rabbanites, it was instituted after the destruction of the Second Temple by one Eliezer b. Paruaḥ. This name is unknown in rabbinic literature, but there are some grounds for accepting it as a genuine Rabbanite tradition. Indeed, the name b. Paruaḥ is found in 1 Kings 4:17 as Solomon’s governor ‫נציב‬‎ of the region of Issachar; the tribe of Issachar is associated, in rabbinic literature, with calendar reckoning, and the term ‫נציב‬‎, according to the Babylonian Talmud (b. Sanhedrin 12a), was used by the calendrical court as a code word for ‘month’. In a rabbinic context, therefore, the name b. Paruaḥ has clear calendrical connotations.” Parenthetically, in The Book of the Kuzari, Halevi avers that Hillel the Elder was “of the Davidic seed.” See Halevi, Kuzari 3:65. According to Halevi, the prophecy ended in the year 312 BCE. See Halevi, Kuzari 3:67.

David in Medieval Jewish Thought


to the first century BCE (the time of the conflict between the Hasmonean ruler and the Sadducees on the one hand, and the Pharisees on the other), he generally admits that the origins of heresy and divisions or schisms in Israel date to earlier times – the crucial period in Israel’s history when prophecy ended. Thus, the emergence of the pre-calculated calendar would concur in time with the most important moments in the nation’s life when it still resided in Palestine, and it is mentioned by Halevi in connection to the House of David. Parenthetically, this could be construed as bearing further testimony to the fact that the author was suspicious with regard to the oral traditions that originated outside of the Land of Israel, after the end of prophecy. 4.5 Anti-Rabbanite Polemics Although Halevi seems critical of some of the Karaites’ views and ideas, as we have seen, the Karaites are by no means the only target of his polemics, nor are they too harshly criticized by him. With respect to some matters, he even seems to take a pro-Karaite position, and as if this were not enough, he occasionally gives voice to anti-Rabbanite opinions as well. We have seen it in the case of his Palestinocentric views, which implicitly undermined the authority of the Rabbanite religious leadership remaining in the diaspora. Another apt example of Halevi’s critique of the Rabbanite Jews in this respect may be adduced from Kuzari 2:22, where he declares: […] There is also their [= the sages’] saying that a person should always live in the Land of Israel, even in a city that is predominantly gentile; and he should not live outside of the Land, even in a city that is predominantly Jewish, because whoever lives in the Land of Israel is like someone who has a God, while whoever lives outside of the Land is like someone who has no God. It says the same thing in the words of David, “For they have driven me out today so that I cannot share in YHVH’s possession, saying ‘Go worship other gods.’ ”65 This means that everyone who lives outside the Land [of Israel] is like someone who practices idolatry.66 In this passage, Halevi cites classical Jewish sources in which David’s words feature as a proof-text in support of the idea that living outside of the Land of Israel is tantamount to idolatry. Thus, the author once again offers a subversive reading of a rabbinic text, which he employs to undermine (or even reject altogether) the legitimacy of the Rabbanite way of life in the diaspora and to 65 See b. Ketubbot 110b. Cf. 1 Samuel 26:19; b. Sanhedrin 41a. 66 See t. ʿAbodah Zarah 5; b. Ketubbot 110b.



call for the return to Palestine. By doing so, he – inadvertedly or avertedly – promotes Karaite ideas, by combatting those of the Rabbanites with their own weapon, a citation taken from the corpus of texts considered sacred in Rabbanite Judaism (i.e., the Oral Torah). 5


In contrast to Bible exegetes, medieval Jewish philosophers were generally not much interested in biblical literary narratives and historical reports. Little wonder, therefore, that the character of King David was not very popular in their writings, and if he was referred to, it was usually done in a conventional fashion. Accordingly, and notwithstanding a relatively frequent evocation of his name in The Book of the Kuzari, David’s literary and historical dimension is absent in Halevi’s treaties. I called this first major trend de-biblicization. Only certain aspects of this biblical character’s depiction remain and are emphasized or even over-emphasized, namely, those aspects that: (1) contribute to creating his positive image; and (2) accord with the key themes of the treatise, underscoring or illustrating the author’s main points. As a result, not only does the portrayal of David become idealized, preserving little if anything in common with its biblical prototype (he is made into a perfectly wise sage, a model of religious piety and righteousness, as well as a brilliant poet and musician), but also it is instrumentalized, serving as a means of conveying Halevi’s own ideas, including his polemical forays directed against philosophers, Karaites, and Rabbanites. To this end, the author exhibits no qualms about expanding the biblical representation of David and enriching it with new elements, implicitly suggesting that this expansion reflects actual truths about this figure that were deliberately passed over in silence by Scripture. Interestingly, to prove his claim, he enlists a Karaite concept of the biblical mudawwin, as a person responsible for the omission of information irrelevant and unknown to the masses. Accordingly, the second major trend in Halevi’s approach to David can be called instrumentalization, inasmuch as the biblical figure conveniently serves the author of The Book of the Kuzari as an instrument to underline what the latter considered to be the chief values and most important legacy of Judaism, namely: the Hebrew Bible (David as one of its authors); the Hebrew language (David as the author of the Psalms); the Chosen People with their unique gift of Prophecy (David as prophet); the Land of Israel with the Temple in Jerusalem as its “holy of holies” (David as responsible not only for providing the plans of the Temple, but also for establishing the cultic ritual in it). In addition, the

David in Medieval Jewish Thought


figure of David is used for polemical purposes – as a vehicle for transmitting Halevi’s constructive critique of contemporary Jewish society as a whole. His claim that the Law should be declared from Palestine may serve as an example here. In the light of the above, I cannot agree with Leo Strauss who claimed that the “book is devoted to the defense of the Jewish religion against its most important adversaries in general, and the philosophers in particular.”67 Nor is it, in my view, a specifically anti-Karaite work. I argue instead that Halevi’s treatise is rather a reflection of an internal Jewish, cross-sectoral debate over the question of how to repair or heal (nota bene the author was a physician by profession) and improve the entire Jewish nation – Rabbanites and Karaites alike – and bring about their re-unification, thereby restoring Judaism to its former glory. This may, in turn, have a messianic (eschatological) purpose, namely, to usher in the ultimate redemption. Accordingly, the despised religion (Ar. al-dīn al-ḏalīl) of the title may refer to the faith of all the Jews, including Karaites, who, according to Halevi, in some respects should be admired and emulated, while in others require rectification, just as do the representatives of mainstream Judaism. As we have seen, in some respects Halevi was very close to the Karaite positions, for example, in his admiration of the Bible and the Hebrew language in which it was written, as well as his conviction about the paramount importance of the Land of Israel (“Palestinocentrism”), and the Temple in Jerusalem.68 In addition, the story of his life proves that his Zionism was not (only) a theoretical idea borne out in more or less conventional, poetical expressions of longings to the holy land; rather, just like the Karaite Mourners of Zion, he decided to put this ideal into practice by making the decision (highly surprising to his contemporaries) to leave his former life in al-Andalus behind and set out for Palestine, occupied at the time by the Crusaders. Furthermore, his notion of the binding nature of only that part of the corpus of the Oral Law that was revealed in the Land of Israel and, in consequence, his implicit undermining of the authority of the Jewish religious leadership in the diaspora, to some extent concurred with the Karaites’ view of the “shepherds of the exile” (and, as a result, invited a polemical response on the part of Abraham ibn Daʿud). Moreover, Halevi’s idea of the selected, chosen elite (Ar. ṣafwa) who are committed to 67 68

See Strauss, “The Law of Reason,” 50. On the paramount importance of the Land of Israel in the Karaite doctrine in general, and its extremist branch in particular, see Erder, The Karaite Mourners of Zion. For a number of other similarities between Halevi and the Karaites, see Lasker, Judah Halevi and Karaism, 115–118; idem, From Judah Hadassi, 145–147; Zawanowska, “Where is Anan.”



transmitting knowledge in secrecy, also resembles, at least to some extent, the Karaite conception of the righteous remnant which ­preserves – sometimes clandestinely – and teaches the true Torah (Heb. šĕʾerīt). Finally, from other sources than The Book of the Kuzari we learn that he held the Karaites in high esteem, calling them “God-fearing sons of Scripture” and “friends of God,” and wishing them that they may strengthened, since, in his view, there was none like them among the nations.69 In support of his arguments, Halevi draws upon a wide array of sources and ideas – including Karaite ones – which he subjects to novel, often subversive, readings and unexpected interpretations (e.g., he asserts that the Rabbanite sages practice iǧtihād, the hallmark of Karaism, and that the Rabbanite exilic way of life was tantamount to idolatry). All this demonstrates that the author negotiated the chief values of Judaism (e.g., revelation vs. reason; oral tradition vs. Scripture; Land of Israel vs. diaspora; individuals vs. community; Jewish people vs. Gentiles), partaking thereby in lively discussions that took place throughout the Middle Ages in all monotheistic traditions over their respective central ideas and formative concepts, which resulted in the crystallization of their distinctive traits as we know them today. It also proves Halevi’s genuine originality and his ingenious as well as bold innovativeness, which occasionally required him to obfuscate the intended meaning of his message by means of understatements and purposefully ambiguous expressions, as if to diminish the intensity of his polemical outbursts. Accordingly, as I argue elsewhere, when the thrust of the author’s criticism was directed against his Rabbanite brethren, not infrequently he veiled it under a deft cover of anti-Karaite polemics. In all this, David plays a central role in Halevi’s treatment of the aforementioned fundamental subjects discussed in the treatise. To mention just two additional examples, the exegetes’ misunderstanding of David’s words to Solomon, know the God of your father and serve Him, as referring to the necessity of acquiring knowledge of God prior to His worship, instead of reliance on tradition, is placed at the origin of the schism between the Rabbanites and Karaites, while another major factor that brought about the split, namely the calendar, is associated with (and passed through) David’s House, via Hillel b. Judah. To conclude, my analysis of Halevi’s portrayal of the figure of David has served as a tool for investigating the broader question of the author’s purpose in writing of The Book of the Kuzari and thereby also his attitude to the Jewry 69 ‫ֹמוכם‬ ֶ ‫ ְּביַ ַען ֵאין ְּב ָכל ַע ִּמים ְּכ‬/ ‫יכם‬ ֶ ‫יכם … ִחזְ קּו וְ ַאל יִ רּפּו יְ ֵד‬ ֶ ֵ‫יְ ֵר ֵאי ֵאל ְּבנֵ י ִמ ְק ָרא ְבנ‬. See Ratzhabi, “New Poems.” Cf. Yahalom, Yehuda Halevi, 64.

David in Medieval Jewish Thought


of his time, all the representatives of which, as I have tried to demonstrate, he critically examined with the aim of repairing and restoring their former unity. Bibliography

Primary Sources

Abraham ibn Daud. Sēp̄ er ha-Qābālā – see Cohen, Gerson D. (ed. and trans.). A Critical Edition with a Translation and Notes of the Book of Tradition (Sefer ha-Qabbalah) by Abraham ibn Daud. Albeck, Chanoch, and Theodor, Julius (eds.). Midrash Bereschit Rabba. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1912–1929. Cohen, Gerson D. (ed. and trans.). A Critical Edition with a Translation and Notes of the Book of Tradition (Sefer ha-Qabbalah) by Abraham ibn Daud. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1967. Davidson, Israel (ed.). Book of the Wars of the Lord [Sefer Milḥamot Ha-Šem]: Containing the Polemics of the Karaite Salmon ben Yeruḥam against Saadia Gaon [in Hebrew]. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society Press, 1934. Hawary, Muhammad (ed.). The Differences Between the Karaites and the Rabbanites in the Light of Genizah MSS [in Arabic]. Cairo: Dar El Zahraa, 1994. Midrash Bereschit Rabba – see Albeck, Chanoch, and Theodor, Julius (eds.). Midrash Bereschit Rabbah. Saʿadya Gaon. Kitāb al-radd ‘ala ‘Anan – see Seewald, Yudah. Kitab ar-radd ‘ala ‘Anan. Salmon ben Yeruḥam. Book of the Wars of the Lord – see Davidson, Israel (ed.). Book of the Wars of the Lord. Seewald, Yudah. Kitāb al-radd ‘ala ‘Anan (Sēp̄ er ha-haḫḫašah ‘al ‘Anān) le-RaSaG (Saʿadya Gaon’s Book of Refutation of ‘Anan) [in Hebrew]. In Kōḇēṣ ḥiṣē giborīm, vol. 9, 1–80. New York: Machon Plitat Sofrim, 2016 (Nisan 5776). Yehudah Halevi. Kitāb al-radd wa-’l-dalīl fī al-dīn al-ḏalīl (The Book of Refutation and Proof on Behalf of the Despised Religion). Ms. Cambridge, T.-S. Arabic N.S. 308.86. Yehudah Halevi. Kitāb al-ḥujja wa-al-dalīl fī naṣrat al-dīn al-ḏalīl (The Book of Sign and Proof of the Victory of (or “in Support of”) the Despised Religion). Ms. Oxford, Bodleiana, Poc. 284. Yehudah Halevi. The Book of Refutation and Proof on the Despised Faith (The Book of the Khazars), edited by David Tzvi Baneth and Haggai Ben-Shammai [in Hebrew]. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1977. Yehudah Halevi. The Book of the Kuzari, translated by Barry S. Kogan and Lawrence V. Berman, manuscript provided by the authors.



Secondary Literature

Astren, Fred. Karaite Judaism and Historical Understanding, Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2004. Baneth, Dov Zvi (David Hartwig). “Some Remarks on the Autographs of Yehudah Hallevi and the Genesis of the Kuzari” [in Hebrew]. Tarbitz, 26 (1957), 297–303. Ben-Shammai, Haggai. “On mudawwin – the Editor of the Books of the Bible in JudaeoArabic Exegesis.” In Rishonim ve-Achronim: Studies in Jewish History presented to Avraham Grossman, edited by Joseph Hacker, Benjamin Z. Kedar, and Joseph Kaplan [in Hebrew]. Jerusalem: the Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History, 2009, 73–110. Ben-Shammai, Haggai. “Major Trends in Karaite Philosophy and Polemics in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries.” In Karaite Judaism: A Guide to its History and Literary Sources, edited by Meira Polliack [Handbook of Oriental Studies, vol. 73]. Leiden: Brill, 2003, 339–362. Berger, Michael S. “Toward a New Understanding of Judah Halevi’s Kuzari.” The Journal of Religion, 72/2 (1992), 210–228. Dinburg (Dinur), Ben-Zion. “The Immigration of Rabbi Judah Ha-Levi to the Land of Israel and the Messianic Fervor of his Day” [in Hebrew]. In Struggle of Generations, edited by Ben-Zion Dinburg (Dinur). Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1975, 232–236. Erder, Yoram. The Karaite Mourners of Zion and the Qumran Scrolls. Translated into English by Yaffah Murciano. Turnhout: Brepols, 2017. Erder, Yoram. Methods in Early Karaite Halakha [in Hebrew]. Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuhad, 2012. Erder, Yoram. “Second Temple Period Sectarian Polemic Concerning the Half-Shekel Commandment in Light of Early Karaite Halakhah” [in Hebrew]. Megillot: Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls, 8–9 (2010), 3–28. Fishman, Talya. Becoming the People of the Talmud: Oral Torah as Written Tradition in Medieval Jewish Cultures. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011. Fleischer, Ezra, and Gil, Moshe. Yehuda Halevy and His Circle [in Hebrew]. Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies, 2001. Friedman, Mordechai A. “Judah Ha-Levi on Writing the Kuzari: Responding to a Heretic.” In “From a Sacred Source”: Genizah Studies in Honour of Professor Stefan C. Reif, edited by Ben Outhwaite and Siam Bhayro [Cambridge Genizah Studies Series, vol. 1], 157–169. Leiden: Brill, 2010. Goitein, Shelomo Dov. Letters of Medieval Jewish Traders. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973–1974. Goitein, Shelomo Dov. A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza, 6 vols. Berkeley – Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967–1993; corrected edition 2000.

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Goitein, Shelomo Dov. “The Biography of Rabbi Judah ha-Lewi in the Light of the Cairo Geniza Documents.” Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, 27–29 (1958–1961), 41–56. Goitein, Shelomo Dov. “Autographs of Yehuda Halevi” [in Hebrew]. Tarbitz, 25/4 (1956), 393–412. Goitein, Shelomo Dov, and Friedman, Mordechai A. India Traders of the Middle Ages: Documents from the Cairo Geniza (“India Book”) [Études sur le judaïsme médiéval, vol. 34]. Leiden: Brill, 2008. Goldstein, Miriam. Karaite Exegesis in Medieval Jerusalem. The Judeo-Arabic Pentateuch Commentary of Yusuf ibn Nuh and Abu al-Faraj Harun. Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2011. Gryczan, Barbara. “David as Warrior, Leader, and Poet in Medieval Hebrew Poetry of al-Andalus: Shmuel ha-Nagid’s Self-portrait as ‘the David of His Age.’” (In this volume). Husik, Isaac. A History of Medieval Jewish Philosophy. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1946. Krinis, Ehud. God’s Chosen People. Judah Halevi’s Kuzari and the Shīʿī Imām Doctrine, translated into English by Ann Brener, Tamar Liza Cohen [Cultural Encounters in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, vol. 7]. Turnhout: Brepols, 2014. Krinis, Ehud. “The Arabic Background of the Kuzari.” Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy, 21/1 (2013), 1–56. Krinis, Ehud. The Legitimist Inheritance Question and the Formation of the Idea of the Chosen People in Judah Halevi’s Sefer HaKuzari. In Spiritual Authority: Struggles over Cultural Power in Jewish Thought, edited by Haim Kreisel, Boaz Huss, and Uri Ehrlich, 47–70 [in Hebrew]. Beer-Sheva: Ben Gurion University Press, 2009. Lasker, Daniel L. From Judah Hadassi to Elijah Bashyatchi. Studies in Late Medieval Karaite Philosophy [Supplements to the Journal of Jewish Though and Philosophy, vol. 4]. Leiden – Boston: Brill, 2008, 143–144. Lasker, Daniel L. Judah Halevi and Karaism. In From Ancient Israel to Modern Judaism: Intellect in Quest of Understanding: Essays in Honor of Marvin Fox, edited by Jacob Neusner, Ernest S. Frerichs, and Nahum M. Sarna. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1989, 111–125. Levinger, Jacob. “The Kuzari and its Significance” [in Hebrew]. Tarbitz, 40 (1971), 742–782. Lobel, Diana. Between Mysticism and Philosophy: Sufi Language of Religious Experience in Judah Ha-Levi’s Kuzari [SUNY series in Jewish Philosophy]. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2000. Neumark, David. Essays in Jewish Philosophy. Cincinnati: Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1929.



Polliack, Meira. “Karaite Conception of the Biblical Narrator (Mudawwin).” In Encyclopaedia of Midrash, edited by Jacob Neusner and Alan J. Avery-Peck, vol. 1, 350–374. Leiden: Brill, 2005. Poznański, Samuel. “The Anti-Karaite Writings of Saadiah Gaon.” Jewish Quarterly Review, o.s., 10 (1898), 238–276; repr. in Karaite Studies, edited by Philip Birnbaum, 89–127. New York: Hermon Press, 1971. Ratzhabi, Jehudah. “New Poems of R. Yehudah Halevi” [in Hebrew]. Sinai, 113 (1993), 1–13. Sasson, Ilana. “The mudawwin revisited: Yefet ben Eli on the composition of the Book of Proverbs.” Journal of Jewish Studies, 67(2) (2016), 327–339. Schirmann, Yefim (Hayim). A History of Hebrew Poetry and Drama: Studies and Essays [in Hebrew], 2 vols. Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1980. Schwartz, Dov. “The Messianic Idea in the Thought of Rabbi Judah Halevi and its Interpretation by Provencal Commentators on the Kuzari” [in Hebrew]. Sefunot, 21 (1993), 11–39. Schweid, Eliezer. Reason and Analogy [in Hebrew], 37–79. Ramat Gan: Massadah Press, 1970. Shear, Adam. The Kuzari and the Shaping of Jewish Identity, 1167–1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Simon, Uriel. Four Approaches to the Book of Psalms: From Saadiah Gaon to Abraham ibn Ezra, translated into English by Lenn J. Schramm [SUNY Series in Judaica]. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1991. Stern, Sacha. Calendar and Community: A History of the Jewish Calendar, 2nd century BCE–10th century CE. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Strauss, Leo. “The Law of Reason in the Kuzari.” Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, 13 (1943), 47–96. Wechsler, Michael G. The Arabic Translation and Commentary of Yefet ben ‘Eli the Karaite on the Book of Esther [Karaite Texts and Studies, vol. 1, Études sur le judaïsme medieval, vol. 36]. Leiden: Brill, 2008. Wolfson, Elliot R. “Merkavah Traditions in Philosophical Garb: Judah Halevi Reconsidered.” Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, 57 (1990– 1991), 179–242. Yahalom, Joseph. Yehuda Halevi. Poetry and Pilgrimage. Jerusalem: The Hebrew University Magness Press, 2009. Zawanowska, Marzena. “Reconstructing the Past and Conceptualizing the Jewish ‘Other’: How the Babylonian Geonim Contributed to the Creation of the Founding Myth of Karaism.” History of Religions, forthcoming. Zawanowska, Marzena. “The Art of Ambiguity: The Karaites as Portrayed in Judah Halevi’s Book of the Kuzari.” AJS Review, 1(45) (2021), 1–24.

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Zawanowska, Marzena. “Introduction. Yehudah ha-Levi and His Book of the Kuzari” [in Polish]. Kwartalnik Historii Żydów – Jewish History Quarterly, 2(266) (2018), 225–232. Zawanowska, Marzena. “Where is Anan? Yehudah ha-Levi and His Innovative Reconstruction of the Origins of Karaism. The Book of the Kuzari, chapter III, 64–67 – a Translation and Interpretation Attempt” [in Polish]. Kwartalnik Historii Żydów – Jewish History Quarterly, 2(266) (2018), 233–289. Zawanowska, Marzena. “Was Moses the mudawwin of the Torah? The Question of Authorship of the Pentateuch According to Yefet ben ʿEli.” In Studies in JudaeoArabic Culture: Proceedings of the Fourteenth Conference of the Society for JudaeoArabic Studies, edited by Haggai Ben-Shammai, Arad Dotan, Yoram Erder and Mordechai A. Freidman, 7*–35*. Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University Press, 2014. Zawanowska, Marzena. “Haʿataqa.” In Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World, edited by Norman A. Stillman, Phillip Isaac Ackerman-Lieberman et al., vol. 2, 189. Leiden – Boston: Brill, 2010.

chapter 7

Saint Louis as a New David and Paris as a New Jerusalem in Medieval French Hagiographic Literature Jerzy Pysiak 1

Introduction: The French Royal Ideology and Its Byzantine Background

From the time of the royal anointing of Pepin the Short (751 and 754), intentionally fashioned after (or interpreted as) the biblical anointing of the prophets and kings of Israel, David becomes an ideal model for the kings of the Franks. According to Earlier Annals of Metz Charlemagne was anointed thrice: as a child and heir presumptive with his father, Pepin the Short, and younger brother Carloman in 754; after Pepin’s death in 768 as one of the two kings of Franks; finally after Carloman’s retirement to the monastery, when he became the one and only king of the entire Frankish Kingdom in 771.1 The Annalist does not compare Charlemagne directly to David, but the parallel seems to be manifest: David was also administered with triple anointment: the first one while still a boy, during Saul’s reign; the second as a king of Judah, and eventually as a king of Israel, uniting all the tribes of Israel.2 While in their literary correspondence the intellectuals from the Carolingian court – indulging in a kind of intellectual game – used to assign each other literary surnames borrowed from ancient Roman poets, Charlemagne was called by the name of David. Yet, for Alcuin of York, Charlemagne’s close advisor and one of the founders of the Carolingian royal ideology (he himself used to be called Flaccus), David is not indeed the king’s surname. In effect, Charlemagne is a modern-day David and this similarity between the Carolingian emperor and King David is justified by the analogy of the task assigned to both monarchs: like the king of Israel, Charlemagne was supposed to be responsible for the purity of the Church and of the divine worship in order to ensure the salvation of his subjects. Incidentally, for similar reasons, Charlemagne was also considered a new Josiah, the pious king of Judah who restored both the Temple and the Law to 1 Annales Mettenses priores, pp. 45–46, 56 and 57 ff. 2 1 Samuel 16:13; 2 Samuel 2:4 and 5:3. © Jerzy Pysiak, 2021 | doi:10.1163/9789004465978_009 This is an open access chapter distributed under the terms of the CC BY-NC 4.0 license.

Saint Louis as a New David and Paris as a New Jerusalem


their former glory. In addition, it was thought that the people of Franks had replaced the Jews as the people of God (according to Saint Peter all christians are the new Chosen People: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people”),3 while their kingdom became the new Promised Land; consequently, their king had to be a new David.4 If Charlemagne used to be compared to King David in texts, his grandson, Charles the Bald, king of West Francia (r. 840–877, emperor from 875) was often portrayed as David – King and Psalmist – in the illuminated manuscripts offered to him (Figure 7.1).5 Charles the Bald was also the most prominent “architect” of the royal cult of saints and relics in the early mediaeval Latin Europe, participating in numerous rituals, especially in translations of relics.6 This kind of pious activity was undoubtedly an intentional imitation of the Byzantine emperors. As a result of the supposed Constantine’s translations of the relics of the Passion and of the apostles, Constantinople had already become a sacrosanct imperial capital by the sixth century. Under Justinian the ecclesiastical authors began to call the metropolis “the New Jerusalem.”7 During the reign of 3 vos autem genus electum regale sacerdotium gens sancta populus adquisitionis, 1 Peter 2:9 (English text after King James Bible). 4 See Prologus Legis Salicae, 2–10; Alcuini sive Albini Epistolae, no 41, 84; Graboïs, “Un mythe fondamental”; Michałowski, “Religious Foundations of the Monarchy,” 10–20; idem, “The Problem of Language,” 37–39; Kantorowicz, Laudes Regiae, 53–54 and ff.; Folz, Le Couronnement impérial de Charlemagne, 97–99, 118–120; Garrisson, “The Franks as the New Israel?; Le Goff, Saint Louis, 388–390. For Charlemagne as a new Josiah, see Admonitio generalis, 55–56. For a discussion of the notion of the “Chosen People” in the early medieval West, see also Conor O’Brien, “Chosen Peoples and New Israels.” O’Brien argues that the use of the notion of “New Israel” or the “new Chosen People” does not intend to emphasise Frankish ethnic superiority over other peoples; rather it has universalising meaning. He concludes (p. 1006) that “The Carolingians did not think that the Franks were the chosen people or had replaced Old Testament Israel – at least not in any straightforward sense.” In addition, O’Brien suggests (pp. 1007–1008) that “that function was to assert Christian identity as much as ethnic identity, to link a specific group of Christians to the universal church, and to draw authority and legitimation for that group (or, more usually, its rulers) from participation in the church. (…) Traditional uses of the chosen people and New Israel topos prioritize ethnicity and distinction, whereas the evidence studied in this article suggests that the language of election and Israel was essentially ecclesiological and universalizing.” 5 See Robert Deshman, “The Exalted Servant,” 406 ff.; Diebold, “The Ruler Portrait of Charles the Bald”; Dutton, and Kessler, The Poetry and Paintings, 42–44, 64, 81–85, 96–99; Garipzanov, The Symbolic Language, 224–228, 245–254; Schutz, The Carolingians in Central Europe, 65–73, 243–259; Steger, David rex et propheta. 6 See Michałowski, The Gniezno Summit, 119–127; Pysiak, The King and the Crown of Thorns, 160–166. 7 See Bozóky, La politique des reliques, 94–96; Dagron, Constantinople imaginaire; idem, Naissance d’une capitale; idem, Empereur et prêtre, s.v. David; Flusin, “Construire une nouvelle Jérusalem”; Klein, “Constantine, Helena, and the Cult of the True Cross”; idem, “Sacred Relics



figure 7.1 Charles the Bald as King David; Biblia Viviana, Tours, ca. 845–846, BnF Ms. Latin 1, fol. 215v (detail) Courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France

Saint Louis as a New David and Paris as a New Jerusalem


emperor Heraclius (r. 610–641) this view became an intrinsic element of the Byzantine political theology, owing to the translating activity of the ruler – chiefly facilitated by the wars waged by the Empire. In 626, the relics of the Passion, kept until that time in Jerusalem, got into the hands of the Persians. The Holy Cross, as well as other Passion relics, were retrieved by Heraclius in 629, and solemnly introduced first to Constantinople, and then returned to the Holy City. The ceremonial entry of the True Cross into Jerusalem was commemorated in the liturgical memory by the anniversary feast – the Exaltation of the Holy Cross – established in its honour on September the fourteenth. In 635, when another invasion in the East was feared, the emperor decided to move the Passion relics again to Constantinople. Until the end of the Middle Ages, in both Greek and Latin traditions Heraclius became a symbolic figure of a “monarch – translator”: Heraclius’s translation was presented as an imitation of Christ’s entry to Jerusalem or of David’s bringing of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. The emperor was depicted as a pious ruler enhancing the cult of the Passion and its relics, most notably the Holy Cross.8 Due to the loss of the Holy Land conquered (in 637–638) by the Arabs, the relics had to remain in Constantinople. Consequently, the imperial capital began again to be considered “the New Jerusalem.”9 Yet, not only Heraclius, but also his successors consistently translated new relics to Constantinople. From the seventh century onwards, Heraclius’s memory became inextricably linked with the legend of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and in this form it was appropriated by the Western tradition. Two major texts, Sermo de Exaltatione Sanctae Crucis and Reversio Sanctae Crucis, seem to have been popular in the West in the eighth century. The latter, for a long time has been attributed to Rabanus Maurus (ca. 780–856). In his Homily LXX, recounting the retrieval of the Holy Cross from the Persians by Heraclius and its triumphant entry to Constantinople and Jerusalem, the author confirms the and Imperial Ceremonies,” 88–89; Orselli, “Simboli della città cristiana.” Cf. Mergiali-Sahas, “Byzantine Emperors and Holy Relics.” Briefly on Jerusalem in the ideology of the Eastern Empire and the rulers of the Latin West until the Carolingian times, see Gabriele, An Empire of Memory, 73–78. 8 See Baert, A Heritage of the Holy Wood, 133–193; Sommerlechner, “Kaiser Herakleios” (both with extensive bibliographies). See also Bozóky, La politique des reliques, 97–99; Dźwigała, “Constantine, Helena and Heraclius”; Flusin, “Les reliques de la Sainte-Chapelle”; Frolow, “La Vraie Croix”; idem, “La relique de la Vraie Croix.” See also Pysiak, The King and the Crown of Thorns, 152–153. 9 See Borghi, In viaggio verso la Terrasanta; idem, “In viaggio verso la Terrasanta”; Ousterhout, “The Church of Santo Stefano”; idem, “Santo Stefano e Gerusalemme”; Sorbelli, “La ‘Santa Jerusalem’ Stefaniana.”



figure 7.2 Agnolo Gaddi (ca. 1350–1396), Heraclius introducing the Holy Cross to Jerusalem, Florence, Basilica di Santa Croce, Leggenda della Vera Croce WIKIPEDIA COMMONS

Western reception of the Byzantine pattern of the royal translation of relics10 and reveals that the idea of the “translation of Jerusalem” was largely accepted in the Latin West.11 A good example of such a “translation of Jerusalem” motif in the Latin Church may be adduced from the group of sacral buildings of San Stefano in Bologna, erected between the eighth and the eleventh centuries, and called in medieval sources “Hierusalem Bononiensis.” The Church of Santo Sepulcro there includes the only known Western replica of the Chapel of



See Rabanus Maurus, Homiliae, LXX: Reversio sanctae atque gloriosissimae crucis Domini, coll. 131–134. Stephan Borgehammar argues that “Reversio Sanctae Crucis as we have it was composed between the end of the seventh century and c. 750, using material from the 630s.” See Borgehammar, “Heraclius Learns Humility,” 148–160, esp. 159. For a critical edition of the Latin text with English translation, see ibidem, 180–191. On the idea of “translation of Jerusalem” in the medieval West, see Manikowska, “Translatio of Jerusalem to Wroclaw”; eadem, Jerusalem – Rome – Compostela, 310–339 (both with a list of the most valuable monographs on that subject); Gabriele, An Empire of Memory, 79–84.

Saint Louis as a New David and Paris as a New Jerusalem


the Confession built over the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem by Constantine IX Monomachos (r. 1042–1055).12 Each translation of relics was seen by the mediaeval Church as a repetition of the entry of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.13 Consequently, every city or monastery where relics were brought could be seen by contemporary authors as a new Jerusalem and the one who was carrying them in as a new David. In addition, the moral virtues of a king could make him worthy of being compared to David. Reporting on Charles the Bald’s participation in the translation of the body of Saint Germanus in Auxerre at the feast of Epiphany of 860, whilst Louis the German invaded the West Frankish Kingdom, Hericus of Auxerre eagerly equates the king of West Francia with David. In his view, Charles the Bald, assaulted by his older brother who coveted the throne, and betrayed by his own men, entrusted himself to God. By doing so, the sovereign proved to be “the most gentle and advised king, always deserving to be compared to David’s modesty both in the art of war and peace.” The author emphasizes that relying on Saint Germanus’s protection while proceeding to transfer the saintly body from the old to the new sepulchre by himself, Charles the Bald was not even succoured by bishops who only assisted the ritual standing outside of the Saint’s grave.14 Subsequently, the Capetian kings were also described as David’s new earthly embodiment. Robert II the Pious (r. 996–1031) was equated to king David by Helgaud of Fleury. The author of Epitoma Vitae Regis Rotberti Pii describes Robert’s virtues and righteousness as well as the royal sin and ensuing penitence along similar interpretative lines (e.g., Robert II’s union with his second wife, queen Berthe of Blois, considered incestuous, is compared to David’s affair with Bathsheba).15 Louis VII (r. 1137–1180) was called a novus David by numerous French and even Anglo-Norman authors: the abbots of Saint-Denis Suger and Odon of Deuil, as well as Étienne of Tournai, Walter Map and Serlon de Winton.16 While Robert the Pious and Louis VII were compared to David 12

13 14 15 16

See Frolow, La relique de la Vraie Croix, 76–92; Klein, “Constantine, Helena, and the Cult of the True Cross,” 31–59; Klein, “Sacred Relics and Imperial Ceremonies,” 88–89; Orselli, “Simboli della città cristiana”; Sommerlechner, “Kaiser Herakleios”; Mergiali-Sahas, “Byzantine Emperors and Holy Relics.” See Hahn, Strange Beauty, pp. 23–24 See Hericus Antissiodorensis monachus, Miracula sancti Germani Antissiodorensis episcopi, col. 1254. See also Michałowski, The Gniezno Summit, 117–125, 148–152; Pysiak, The King and the Crown of Thorns, 160–163. See Helgaud de Fleury, Vie de Robert le Pieux, 58, 60, 72, 92–96, 100, 104, 138. See also Graboïs, “Un mythe fondamental,” 22–24 and nn. 48, 51. See Graboïs, “Un mythe fondamental,” 24–27.



or named a “new David” as a result of their piety – thus for their personal qualities – under the reign of Philip IV the Fair (r. 1285–1314), the Carolingian model of the sacred Davidic kingship reappears in a political context.17 In 1300, during the ongoing and escalating conflict with the pope Boniface VIII, the Norman Dominican Guillaume de Sauqueville preached at the royal court, before Philip himself, a sermon Hosana filio David. The preacher affirmed that the king of France was “a son of David” – hence, a new David – as a consequence of his heavenly anointment and his thaumaturgical power of healing scrofula, and therefore he enjoyed the full sovereignty over the Papacy, as well as the Empire.18 Aryeh Graboïs, however, argues that in the course of the thirteenth century the Davidic vision of French kingship was gradually replaced by the idea of “the most Christian king” of France. This title had initially been attributed to Louis VII by the pope Alexander III in 1163, and was subsequently used by all kings of France until 1789.19 Surprisingly, in his otherwise excellent study on the use of Davidic paradigm in the Frankish and French kingdom, the author overlooked the case of Saint Louis’s reign, and the latter’s fervent devotion to relics which made him a “new David” in a particular way. Charles the Bald’s and Charlemagne’s zeal mentioned above was intentionally imitated by several later rulers, chiefly in the Holy Empire and France until the thirteenth century.20 Amongst Capetian kings, Saint Louis (r. 1226–1270) was not only the most active and passionate promoter of adoration of saints and relics, but also an enthusiast of the memory of the Carolingians. The three translations of the Crown of Thorns and other Passion relics (in 1239, 1241, and 1242), as well as the royal liturgy associated with them, undoubtedly show his intention to repeat Charlemagne’s gesture as presented in French historical and hagiographical writings from the eleventh through thirteenth centuries.21 The king also fully accepted the burden of guiding his subjects to salvation, considering them a new Chosen People.22 Thanks to the bringing of the Crown of Thorns to his

17 18 19 20

21 22

See Strayer, “The Holy Land, the Chosen People”; Graboïs, “Un mythe fondamental,” 29–30. The sermon was edited in Strayer, “The Holy Land, the Chosen People,” 311–314 (1971). See Graboïs, “Un mythe fondamental,” 28. See Michałowski, The Gniezno Summit, 119–127; Petersohn, “Saint Denis – Westminster – Aachen”; Petersohn, “Kaisertum und Kultakt in der Stauferzeit”; Ehlers, “Politik und Heiligenverehrung in Frankreich”; Pysiak, The King and the Crown of Thorns, 166–176, 266–278. See Pysiak, The King and the Crown of Thorns, 76–135. See Le Goff, Saint Louis, 216–243, 291–292, 642–672.

Saint Louis as a New David and Paris as a New Jerusalem


Kingdom, he was seen by hagiographers as the one who made France a new Promised Land and Paris a new Jerusalem. One could therefore expect that hagiographical writings relating Saint Louis’s translation of the Crown of Thorns, as well as his hagiographical Lives (he was canonized by the pope Boniface VIII in 1297) would enthusiastically present him as a contemporary king David and a faithful follower of the biblical model. And yet, this is not the case. Amongst historical and hagiographical writings, describing Saint Louis interchangeably as a new Charlemagne, Heraclius or Josiah,23 only one source text, by a Franciscan author – Gerard of Saint-Quentin – and not a very widely known one, depicts the king as a new David. 2

Historical and Hagiographical Sources on Saint Louis’s Translation of Relics

The ingress of the Crown of Thorns to Paris took place on the 18th or 19th of August 1239.24 The first author to report on the Holy Crown’s translation was the archbishop of Sens, Gautier Cornut. In his De susceptione Coronae Domini25 he recounts that Saint Louis, carrying the relic from Vincennes castle on his own shoulders was greeted by an exclamation from the gathered crowd: “Blessed is the one who comes in God’s glory and thanks to whose rule (Lat. ministerium) the Kingdom of France has been glorified by the presence of such a great treasure.”26 In the fields of Parisian suburbs, near the Abbey


See ibidem, 388–401; The Sanctity of Louis IX, 44–49, 49–50. On the Lives of Saint Louis by Geoffrey of Beaulieu and on Louis as a new Josiah, see ibidem, 69–73, 87, 96, 111, 126–127. On the Lives of Saint Louis by William of Chartres, see 131–132. Cf. Pysiak, “Saint Louis.” See also Gaposchkin, The Making of Saint Louis, 111–112, 130; Pysiak, The King and the Crown of Thorns, 370–371, 393–396, 459. 24 Fernand de Mély (Exuviae, III, 273–274) opts for August 19th. Jannic Durand (“La translation des reliques impériales,” 39) believes that the relic was brought to Vincennes on August 18th and its solemn translation to Paris took place on the next day (Friday, August 19th). For a similar view, see Charansonnet, and Morenzoni, “Prêcher sur les reliques de la Passion,” 63–64. 25 See Gautier Cornut, De susceptione Coronae Domini, 26–32. Cf. Gaposchkin, “Between Historical Narration”; Pysiak, The King and the Crown of Thorns, 317–327, 334–340 and 387–429. 26 Omnium voce laudatur dicentium: “Benedictus qui venit in honore Domini, cuius ministerio regnum Franciae tanti praesentia muneris exaltatur!” See Gautier Cornut, De susceptione Coronae Domini, 31.



of Saint-Antoine-des-Champs,27 a special high pedestal had been built where the Crown of Thorns was displayed, surrounded by other relics (most probably previously brought from Paris to welcome the Crown of Thorns), so that the populace could behold it before it was brought into the town. The relic, accompanied by the bishops and monks from the Parisian monasteries, and probably enclosed in a golden lipsanotheca,28 was shown to the faithful. In addition, a sermon was given explaining what joy it was to everyone.29 Then, Louis IX and the eldest of his brothers, Robert, count of Artois, barefoot and dressed in humble tunics, carried the Crown of Thorns into the town on a specially executed feretory.30 They walked at the very end of a pageant formed by prelates, monks, and lay clergy, and accompanied by knights and barons. The Crown was first taken to Notre-Dame Cathedral and, having sung the lauds in honour of Our Lady, the procession with the Holy Crown continued to the royal palace (Palais de la Cité). The relic was solemnly deposited in the royal oratory of Saint Nicholas.31 As the news of the ceremony spread far beyond Paris, people began to gather at the Fields of Saint-Antoine where the ostensio of the Crown of Thorns had been performed, in order to venerate the place where the Holy Crown had stayed and they kissed the pedestal on which the relic had been displayed. According to Gautier Cornut, numerous miracles took place there thanks to the saintly power of the holy diadem (Lat. sacri diadematis) and the fervent faith of the devout people.32 This is how Gautier Cornut’s account 27

The Abbey of Saint-Antoine-des-Champs, established in 1198 by Foulques de Neuilly as a hermitage intended to return fallen women to virtuous life. In 1204 the Cistercian rule was adopted there and from 1229 the monastery was under protection of Louis IX and became a royal abbey. See Bonnardot, L’Abbaye royale de Saint-Antoine-des-Champs; Émile Raunié, Abbaye royale de Saint-Antoine-des-Champs; Szollosi, Les moniales de SaintAntoine-des-Champs. 28 This seems to be indicated by the word loculus used by Gautier Cornut, which he used earlier to denote the golden lipsanotheca. 29 Octava die, extra muros, juxta ecclesiam B. Anthonii, in campi planitie construitur eminens pulpitum, astantibus pluribus praelatis, ecclesiarum conventibus indutis sericis, exhibitis sanctorum pignoribus, in tanta populorum frequentia quantam Parisius exierit. Monstratur loculus ex pulpito, diei felicitas et causa gaudii praedicatur. See Gautier Cornut, De susceptione Coronae Domini, 31. 30 The fact that such a procession feretory (Lat. archa ferrata) was made is confirmed by the royal accounts. See Itinera, Dona & Hernesia Ludovici IX, 601. 31 Post haec intra muros civitatis infertur a rege et fratre suo, discalciatis ut prius, et praeter tunicas vestimentis depositis. Omnes etiam praelati cum clericis et viris religiosis, necnon et militibus, nudis pedibus antecedunt. […] In potificalem ecclesiam beatae Virginis inducitur, ubi persolutis Deo et beatissimae Matri ejus devotis laudibus, cum thesauro nobili solemniter ad regis palatium revertuntur. Collocatur in capella regia beati Nicolai cum multo gaudio Domini corona. See Gautier Cornut, De susceptione Coronae Domini, 31. 32 […] per virtutem sacri diadematis et propter devotionem fidelium. See ibidem.

Saint Louis as a New David and Paris as a New Jerusalem


ends. Another hagiographer, Jacques de Dinant reports in addition that the town was decorated with silks, carpets and canopies and that all over Paris one could smell the incense and hear the bells, as well as the sounds of musical instruments (Lat. cymbalis et campanis) and hymns sung in the organum style.33 Another account of the event was written several years later by a Franciscan author, Gerard of Saint-Quentin. It was composed after Sainte-Chapelle had been consecrated (1248), which event is not mentioned either by Gautier Cornut or Jacques de Dinant. Despite the fact that Gerard’s account relates the course of the translation in much less detail than the booklet by the archbishop of Sens, it offers several details of the ideological interpretation of the translation liturg absent from the writings of Gautier and Jacques. Gerard describes only the ritual of translation performed in Paris (ignoring the entry of the Crown of Thorns to Sens on August 11th and the liturgy celebrated there – described in minute detail by Gautier Cornut – the archbishop of the city). He also makes no mention of any earlier events (acquisition of relics from the Latin emperor Baldwin II and their purchase from Venetian moneylenders), nor provides any dates. Nevertheless, we learn from his text that the day of the relics’ translation to Paris and their public display (Gerard unquestionably means the ostensio outside the Saint-Antoine’s Gate described by Gautier Cornut) had been chosen by Louis IX himself. The author reports that on that occasion, not only the people of Paris, but also those from all over the kingdom flocked there; the bishops wearing the pontifical gowns arrived from various towns, as well as the monks and lay clergy from Paris and the neighbouring churches and monasteries. Among those present at the ostensio was Louis IX – depicted as “our David, not mounted on a precious and tall horse wearing rich tackle, but walking on his own bare feet to joyfully introduce the Lord’s Ark to his town, Paris.”34 According to Gerard, after everyone had come to the place where the Crown of Thorns was to be demonstrated, a sermon was delivered to the people, calling them to renounce old sins and to avoid new ones in the future. Later, the relic was carried around the pedestal so that everyone could see it.35 Subsequently, the king placed the relic on his own shoulders, brought it to Paris and – following the procession of the lay and ecclesiastical clergy, the rich and the poor, singing lauds and hymns, illuminated by countless 33 See Iacobus de Dinant, Excerpta e Tractatu de translatione beatae Genovefae virginis, 141. 34 […] adest inter eos et noster David rex Ludovicus, non precioso et eminente equo subvectus, non phaleris adornatus, sed pedes incedens et discalciatis pedibus, quasi archam Domini in civitatem suam Parisiensem cum gaudio mox ducturus. See Gerard de Saint-Quentin, Translatio Sancte Corone Domini Ihesu Christi, 105. 35 Finita itaque predicatione, pretiosissima illa margarita ut ab omnibus videri valeat honorifice per loci ambitum circumfertur. See ibidem.



candles – carried the Crown of Thorns to the royal palace to have it stored in a magnificent basilica (Sainte-Chapelle) built by the king soon afterwards.36 The last author describing the translation who may with certainty be considered contemporary to the events (though not an eyewitness) is the English Benedictine monk, Matthew Paris. His account, however, does not contribute much; he merely states that the relic was solemnly introduced to Paris in a procession to the sound of the bells, and reverently deposited in the chapel royal.37 3

Homiletical Interpretation of Saint Louis as New David and Paris as New Jerusalem

Now, it behoves us to analyse in greater detail De susceptione Coronae Domini.38 In its homiletical part, the author of this text encourages the Church of Gaul and all the French people to thank God for having bestowed such a marvellous treasure on the Kingdom.39 The Crown which Christ, the head of the Christian Church (Lat. caput nostrum), allowed to be put on His head for the sake of the salvation of humanity, God has this day and age given to the French

36 Quibus ita gestis, universis clericorum ac religiosorum choris precedentibus ac civitatem Parisiensem cum cantu et hympnis ingredientibus, necnon et ceteris tam nobilibus quam aliis qui turmatim advenerant cum luminarium multiplicitate et laudum immensitate comitantibus, rex ipse discalciatus incedens, et Coronam dominicam in humeris suis gestans, humiliter et devote subsequitur, sicque cum plausu omnium ad ipsius regis palatium deportatur ubi in edificata non multo post per eundem regem basilica, precioso scemate constructa, honorifice reservatur. See ibidem. 37 See Matthew Paris, Chronica majora, IV, 75–76. 38 In her brilliant paper, Cecilia Gaposchkin argues that De susceptione Coronae Domini (until recently attributed to Gautier Cornut in its entirety) is in fact composed of two originally separate texts: a “historical” one, authored by Cornut, and a homiletical one, composed by an unknown author not before August 1242 (the date of the last of three translations of the Passion relics to Paris), but certainly before Saint Louis’s death (1270). According to Gaposchkin, these two texts were merged into a single account “sometimes in the thirteenth century.” In the following part of my paper, I will present and analyse the hortatory part of De susceptione. Until recently, it has widly been considered a sermon, but Gaposchkin convincingly demonstrates that it is much more likely that it was written as liturgical lections. See Gaposchkin, “Between Historical Narration,” 93–110, esp. 113– 120. For a new edition and English translation of Cornut’s original text, see Gaposchkin, “Between Historical Narration,” 121–139. 39 Gratias tibi Deus cuius immensa bonitas […] terram nostram incomparabili thesauro ditavit, genti et regno quasi summum post multos accumulavit honorem! Laetetur in iis sacris solemnis Ecclesia Gallicana, et tota gens Francorum. See Gautier Cornut, De susceptione Coronae Domini, 27.

Saint Louis as a New David and Paris as a New Jerusalem


people.40 As Christ chose the Promised Land to show mankind the Mystery of Redemption, we read in the account of the sermon, so He chose Gaul to show the triumph of the Passion, in order that the whole world, from the East to the West, could venerate the Saviour.41 France was distinguished in this way owing to the religious fervour of king Louis IX42 whose rule (Lat. imperium) has been legitimized in the greatest and most powerful way possible: namely, it was confirmed by God himself, who deigned to crown France and its king with the crown He had worn Himself.43 That is why king Louis has to be obeyed – such is the apostolic order.44 When participating in the translation of the Crown of Thorns, or in the annual feast celebrated in its commemoration, or even having the privilege of looking at this salvific relic, the faithful should imagine Christ crowned with the Crown of Thorns, considering the words of the Song of Solomon: “[…] Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, and behold king Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart.”45 The reign of Louis IX, understood as a royal service (Lat. ministerium), brought great joy thanks to obtaining this magnificent relic, which, according to the text, was known well to the crowds of the faithful who came to the translation ceremony.” Louis IX, in turn, is reported to have believed that the entire merit was owed to the special grace of God. Christ wished His crown to be specially venerated by the faithful on Earth because when He comes back for the Last Judgement, he will wear it again

40 Haec est illa praeclara festivitas, in qua missum sibi a Domino pretiosissimum munus Francorum terra suscepit, illam videlicet sacrosanctam spineam Coronam, quam caput nostrum, Dominus Iesus Christus, pro nobis factus obediens Patri usque ad mortem crucis, tempore Passionis ipsius, venerando capiti suo per manus impiorum permisit imponi. See ibidem. 41 Sicut igitur Dominus Iesus Christus ad suae Redemptionis exhibenda mysteria terram promissionis elegit, sic ad Passionis suae triumphum devotius venerandum nostram Galliam videtur et creditur specialiter elegisse, ut ab ortu solis ad occasum laudetur nomen Domini, dum a climate Greciae, quae vicinior dicitur Orienti, in Galliam, partibus Occidentis contiguam et confinem, ipse Dominus ac redemptor noster suae sacratissimae Passionis sancta transmitteret instrumenta. See ibidem. 42 Honoratum enim gestis insignibus per multa tempora regnum Franciae, tempore nostro, per sedulam regis Ludovici, necnon et religiosae matris suae Blanchae vigilantiam. See ibidem, 27–28. 43 [Deus] Corona capitis sui cum multa gloria et honore multiplici dignatus est coronare. See ibidem, 28. 44 Verum, quia regis ad hoc accessit imperium, cui, tanquam praecellenti, secundum apostolum oportet obedire. See ibidem. 45 Egredimini & videte, filie Syon! Regem Salomonem in diademate quo coronavit eum mater sua (Song of Songs [Canticle] 3:11) (English text after King James Bible).



to show everyone his royal insignia.46 Louis IX rejoiced that God had chosen his very kingdom, Gaul, where – thanks to God’s grace – the faith blossoms stronger than elsewhere and the mystery of Salvation is venerated in the most pious way, to demonstrate to the human eyes this great treasure and honour.47 As De susceptione uses the word praeelegerat, one may venture an eschatological interpretation of his discourse: God had chosen Gaul as a country where the work of Salvation is to be ultimately performed at the end of times. The author of De susceptione evidently aims at a sanctification of the whole France as the new Promised Land and its inhabitants as the new Chosen People. This is suggested by the statement that Gaul “had been chosen” by God as the place where Christianity was particularly ardent. The choice of Gaul as the place where the Passion insignia were revealed – including the Crown of Thorns which is to be venerated in France until the end of this age, Christ’s Second Coming, and the Final Judgement – is also a sign of His grace. In this way France becomes the New Israel: Like He chose the Promised Land to reveal the mystery of Redemption, as it can be seen and should be believed, so Our Lord, Jesus Christ, has chosen our Gaul in order that the triumph of His Passion be piously venerated there, so that the Lord’s name be praised from the East to the West. For Our Lord and Saviour brought the holy signs of His Passion from Greece which, as it is said, neighbours with the East, to Gaul, which neighbours with the West. And so, thanks to the participation in this honour, He made these two countries equal.48 Finally, one should note that in De susceptione the Crown of Thorns is directly identified with the royal diadem. When Cornut describes the miracles that 46 His auditis, rex prudenter intelligens id a Domino fieri, gavisus est in hoc quod ille qui Coronam eandem pro nobis gesserat in opprobrium, volebat eam a suis fidelibus pie et reverenter honorari in terris, donec ad iudicium veniens eam suo rursus imponeret capiti iudicandis omnibus ostendam. See ibidem, 29. 47 Gaudebat igitur quod ad exhibendum honorem huiusmodi suam Deus praeelegerat Galliam, in qua per ipsius clementiam fides viget firmiter, et cultu devotissimo salutis nostrae mysteria celebrantur. See ibidem. 48 Sicut igitur Dominus Jesus Christus ad suae redemptionis exhibenda mysteria terram promissionis elegit, sic ad passionis suae triumphum devotius venerandum nostram Galliam videtur et creditur specialiter elegisse, ut ab ortu solis ad occasum laudetur nomen Domini, dum a climate Greciae, quae vicinior dicitur Orienti, in Galliam, partibus Occidentis contiguam aut confinem, ipse Dominus ac Redemptor noster suae sacratissimae passionis sancta transmitteret instrumenta. Et sic, veluti compartitis honoribus, terrae alteri alteram adequavit. See Gautier Cornut, De susceptione Coronae Domini, 27.

Saint Louis as a New David and Paris as a New Jerusalem


God performed in the place of the ostensio of the Crown of Thorns near the church of Saint-Antoine, he specifies that they occurred thanks to the power of the holy diadem (and to the piousness of the faithful assembled there whose faith was rewarded).49 Thus the author stresses strongly the merits of Louis IX for the translation of the Crown of Thorns as well as the similarity of the king to Christ. The call with which Saint Louis was greeted when bringing the Crown of Thorns to Paris is modelled after the words uttered, according to the Gospel of Saint Matthew (Matthew 21:9), by the populace when Christ was entering Jerusalem: “Blessed is the One who comes in God’s name” (Lat. Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini). Within the context of a hagiographic description of the translation of the relics, especially as they were Christ’s relics, it may, of course, be understood as a symbolic repetition of Christ’s entrance to Jerusalem. However, the author develops the quotation from the Gospel of Matthew so that it clearly refers to king Louis and makes him into an image, almost a figure, of Christ on Earth. In the homiletical part of De susceptione, its author included also a fragment from the Gospel of Saint John, indicating its concordance with the Gospel of Saint Mark and Saint Matthew (John 19:2; Mark 15:17; Matthew 27:29), which describes clothing Christ with a purple mantle and crowning Him with the thorns. Moreover, he added the quotation from Saint Augustine’s The City of God (XVIII, 23) where it is said that in this way the prophecy of the Erythraean or Cumaean Sibyl has been fulfilled. Some of the ideological motifs present in De susceptione Coronae Domini were later developed in the description of the three translations of the Passion relics written by Gerard of Saint-Quentin, which also contains new elements, equally interesting and important for the ideology of the royal sacral power of the Capetians. When describing the translation of the Crown of Thorns, Gerard presents Saint Louis as the new David (calling him “our David, king Louis”) who brings the Crown to Paris, just like the biblical king of Israel brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.50 When describing the translation of the relics brought to Paris by the Franciscan legation in 1242, Gerard once again compares the Capetian capital to Jerusalem.51 Thus also in this account 49 […] per virtutem sacri diadematis et propter devotionem fidelium. See Gautier Cornut, De susceptione Coronae Domini, 31. 50 […] adest inter eos et noster David rex Ludovicus, non precioso et eminente equo subvectus, non phaleris adornatus, sed pedes incedens et discalciatis pedibus, quasi archam Domini in civitatem suam Parisiensem cum gaudio mox ducturus; Gerard de Saint-Quentin, Translatio Sancte Corone (Exuviae, III, 105). 51 Nec mora, congregatis ad urbem Parisiensem universis fere regni presulibus et prelatis, ipsa civitas quasi altera Iherusalem tantis oppigeranda magnalibus cum omni apparatu et decentia adornatur. See ibidem.



figure 7.3 Saint Louis going towards the Crown of Thorns; Les Grandes chroniques de France, Paris 1332–1350; British Library, Royal 16 G VI, fol. 395 Wikipedia Commons

Louis IX – as the author and performer of the translation – becomes a figure of Christ (like David before him), while Paris represents the New Jerusalem, and France – the new Israel. The topic of translation of Jerusalem to Paris thanks to the translation of the Passion relics there can also be found in the Chronica majora by Matthew Paris although it is developed there in a different way. The author adduces the example of emperor Heraclius, an emblematic figure and model of a Christian monarch embracing and organizing the cult of the Passion relics. The choice of Heraclius as the historical model of a ruler who organized the cult of the Passion relics is particularly apt, but not original; we have already seen it in Carolingian times, when Heraclius was frequently described as the one who venerated the True Cross and established the most important feast in its honour, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Lat. Exaltatio Crucis). Nonetheless, in his comparison of Louis IX to Heraclius, Matthew does not evoke the idea of establishing feasts in honour of the relics, but instead stresses the analogies between the translation ceremonies. He reports that during the translation of the Holy Cross on Good Friday in 1241, when everyone piously venerated the True Cross, the king, after having served the prescribed penance practices, following the example of “the noblest and victorious Heraclius Augustus, took [the Cross] to the city of Paris.”52 During the procession to the Parisian cathedral, in which Louis carried the relic himself, he imitated Heraclius too: 52 […] cum omnes veneranter ac devote ipsam [Crucem] adorassent, rex nudus pedes, in laneis, discinctus, capite discoperto, triduano jejunio anticipato, edoctus exemplo

Saint Louis as a New David and Paris as a New Jerusalem


[the bishops] wished that yon [i.e., the king], thanks to whose wisdom such a great glory [i.e., the True Cross] was gained [in France], wields with piousness [the True Cross] in the image of Heraclius, in the presence of the populace.53 Saint Louis is the new Heraclius and like him he brings the Holy Cross to the (new) Jerusalem for, like Heraclius, it was the king who brought the translation about. That is why, and – according to Matthew Paris this is also the opinion of the hierarchs – the king has the right to touch the True Cross and bring it to his town and temple. Matthew includes a similar description in his Historia minor.54 The descriptions of the demonstration of the relics at the suburb of Saint-Antoine where Saint Louis personally displayed the Holy Cross to the faithful assembled there, immediately brings to mind the depiction of Heraclius’s translation of the True Cross in Jerusalem. Matthew Paris mentions the cry “Behold the Cross of the Lord” (Lat. Ecce Crucem Domini) which was uttered during the ostensio by the bishops assembled around it. The same cry was said to have been heard when Heraclius was bringing the Cross to Jerusalem freed from the Persian rule. It should be added, however, that the text of Chronica majora differs from Matthew’s drawing accompanying the narrative. On the drawing the cry Ecce Crucem Domini comes out of the mouth of the king holding the relic in his own hands.55 The parallel between Heraclius and Saint Louis performing the translation of the Passion relics was certainly not accidental for Matthew and it did not concern only the king of France but served as a model situation as well. In particular, Matthew used it also with regard to the translation of Christ’s

nobilissimi triumphatoris Eraclii Augusti, versus Parisiacam urbem et usque ad ecclesiam beatae Virginis cathedralem bajulavit. See Matthew Paris, Chronica majora, IV, 90–91 (bold type: JP). 53 Et hoc circumspecto ipsis praelatis sic volentibus factum est, ut [ab] ipsi[s], quorum prudentia tanta gloria fuerat adquisita, esset etiam circumstante populo ad instar Eraclii, de quo fecimus mentionem, illo modo veneranter attrectata. See Matthew Paris, Chronica majora, IV, 91 (bold type: JP). 54 […] dominus rex Francorum Crucem Domini, quam ab imperatore Constantinopolitano B[aldewino] sibi pro maximo thesauro comparaverat, ab ecclesia Sancti Antonii nudus pedes et in laneis cum summa humilitate ac sollepmni processione portavit; edoctus exemplo Christianissimi imperatori Eraclii. See Matthew Paris, Historia minor, II, 446. 55 […] crucem ipsam in altum [rex] elevavit lacrimis abortus, incipientibus qui praesentes erant praelatis voce altissima, ‘Ecce crucem Domini’. See Matthew Paris, Chronica majora, IV, 90. The drawing is kept in Cambridge. See Corpus Christi College, Ms. 16, fol. 141r.



Holy Blood performed in 1247 by the English king Henry III.56 This monarch, too, is seen as a new Heraclius while carrying the Holy Blood in procession to Westminster Abbey. The chronicler states overtly that the king of England followed the example of both Heraclius and Saint Louis: Our Lord the King, being the most Christian ruler, taking an example of the most pious and victorious emperor Heraclius Augustus, who performed the Exaltation of the Cross, and of the contemporary king of the Franks, who honoured this very Holy Cross in Paris, as we have it described above, full of piousness and regretting his sins, on the eve of Saint Edward’s Day fasted on bread and water and took nightly vigils praying in the light of many candles, and prudently prepared himself for the celebrations on the morrow.57 Thus, Matthew views Louis IX not only as an imitator of emperor Heraclius but as an example for other monarchs to follow. The fact that the monarch played an active role in the enhancement of the cult of Passion relics makes him a contemporary Heraclius; yet, not only does he follow the example of the ancient Roman emperor but himself becomes a new example for his contemporaries. Let us return to Gerard of Saint-Quentin. In his account of the translation of Passion relics we find also another very interesting topic connected with the elevation of France, described earlier in De susceptione. Gerard continues the topic of France as the new Chosen People, i.e., by comparing the celebrations of the translation of the Passion relics to the introduction of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem by king David, and calls Paris New Jerusalem. However, he admits that God’s grace was already bestowed on the kingdom of France earlier and again it was an unquestionable merit of Louis IX: When the most Christian king, Louis […] – whose nobility of the spirit was no lesser than the perfection of his body, increased the power of his kingdom (Lat. regni imperio) and multiplied its wealth much more 56

On the translation of the Holy Blood to Westminster in 1247, see Vincent, The Holy Blood; Pysiak, “The Cult of Passion Relics.” 57 Dominus autem rex, utpote princeps Christianissimus, ab Augusto Eraclio victoriosissimo ac piissimo imperatore, crucem sanctam exaltante, et a rege Francorum tunc superstite, crucem eandem, ut praescribitur, Parisius honorante, sumens exemplum, devoto spiritu ac contrito in vigilia sancti Æ[dwardi] in pane et aqua jejunans, et nocte vigilans, cum ingenti lumine et devotis orationibus se ad crastinam sollepmnitatem prudenter praeparavit. See Matthew Paris, Chronica majora, IV, 641. Cf. Matthew Paris, Historia minor, III, 302: Revocavit enim ad memoriam historiam de imperatore Eraclio Crucem ad portas Jerusalem bajulante.

Saint Louis as a New David and Paris as a New Jerusalem


than his predecessors – was elevated by the Lord, he obeyed the commandments of the Supreme Lord in the humility of spirit, following the principles of fairness [and was] both the expander and protector of the freedom of the Church. And as it is said in the divine law: “And when the Lord gave you the cities big and strong, houses full of all the riches, and thou shalt eat and be full, beware lest thou forget the Lord”58 […], the more praiseworthy was his [Louis’s] gentleness and the more pleasing to God, his humility. […] So it came to pass that He who knew from the beginning the work of every man and who rewards everyone according to their merit, as if already approving the ways of his [life], gave him a sign of special love, which appears to be an indication of stability of his kingdom and a sufficient sign of the probable, if he perseveres in doing good, future happiness in Heaven.59 After this apology of the perfect reign of Louis IX, Gerard of Saint-Quentin begins the account of the translation of the Crown of Thorns to France. Therefore bringing the relic to the Capetian capital was not only a result of the prudence and thrift of the king who took advantage of, as it may seem, accidental circumstances to obtain such a magnificent relic, free it from the hands of the creditors and prevent Christianity from losing it, but also a consequence of king Louis’s virtues that were rewarded by God who, seeing the king’s merits, granted him and his kingdom the greatest prize. God gave Louis IX the Crown of Thorns as an indication that his state would continue to prosper and 58

Paraphrase of Deuteronomy 6:10–12: And it shall be, when the Lord thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, / And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full; / Then beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage (English text after King James Bible). 59 Cum christianissimus Francorum rex Ludovicus […] non minus animi nobilitate quam carnis generositate conspicuus, super predecessorum suorum magnificentiam dilatato regni imperio et multiplicata rerum opulentia esset a Domino sublimatus, in preceptis Altissimi ambulavit, in humilitate spiritus, justicie norma, libertatis ecclesiastice promotor pariter et patronus. Et sicut in divina lege precipitur: Cum dederit tibi Dominus civitates multas et firmas, domos plenas cunctarum opum, et comederis et saturatus fueris, cave ne obliviscaris Dominum Deum tuum […] tanto laudabilior esset ipsius mansuetudo et acceptabilior apud Dominum humilitas. […] Unde factum est ut ille qui ab inicio novit opera singulorum et unumquemque remunerat secundum suorum exigentiam meritorum, quasi vias ejus jam approbans precipue dilectionis eidem tribueret intersignum, quod et regni videbatur stabilimenti presagium, et satis probabile si perseveret in bono future beatitudinis argumentum. See Gerard de Saint-Quentin, Translatio Sancte Corone (Exuviae, III, 102–103).



a sign that, if he kept to God’s paths, the king would even become a saint (Lat. futura beatitudo). 4

Liturgical Sources on Saint Louis as New David and Paris as New Jerusalem

The first known “translation of Jerusalem” was performed in Byzantium when emperor Heraclius took the Passion relics (regained from the Persians) from Jerusalem, still threatened with a Persian invasion, to Constantinople. After the Muslim conquest of the Middle East, which took place during the following few years, the Byzantine historiography considered this “translation of Jerusalem” as a lasting result of God’s plan.60 In the tenth century, the Byzantine emperors, unable to defeat their Islamic neighbours and restore Greek rule on the territories lost by the Empire, contented themselves with the retrieval of the most precious relics which had been left in lost provinces. A new idea of the imperial triumph was conceived in Constantinople: it was the triumphal entry of relics to the imperial metropolis.61 The hagiographers recounting the translation of the Crown of Thorns, the True Cross and the other Passion relics to France, clearly refer to Byzantine tradition in their descriptions of Paris as a new Jerusalem. Gerard of Saint-Quentin says it overtly, while De susceptione only alludes to this idea. The Kingdom of France is depicted as a new Terra Promissionis chosen by God – it was there that the triumphal insignia of the Passion were to be venerated. Thus, with the translation of the Crown of Thorns, the Holy Land was translated to the West. This view can also be found in two hagiographical Lives of Saint Louis used for lections (Lat. lectiones) in the earliest liturgy of the feast of Saint Louis and in the sermons delivered on this festivity.62 Such readings come from two lectionaries probably written in ca. 1300. The former recounts the translation of the Crown of Thorns in lection seven where it briefly describes by what means the Holy Crown, the True Cross, and the Holy Lance were brought from Constantinople to France, then transferred by Saint Louis to Paris. In addition 60 61 62

See Baert, A Heritage of the Holy Wood; Bozóky, La politique des reliques; Dagron, Naissance d’une capitale; idem, Constantinople imaginaire; Flusin, “Construire une nouvelle Jérusalem”; idem, “Les reliques de la Sainte-Chapelle”; Frolow, “La Vraie Croix.” See Engberg, “Romanos Lekapenos”; Patlagean, “L’entrée de la sainte Face d’Edesse à Constantinople en 944”; Weitzmann, “The Mandylion and Constantine Porphyrogenitus.” On the sermons, especially given by cardinal Odo de Châteauroux, about the Passion relic similar in their ideological aspect with the narratives and the liturgy of the feasts in their honour, see Charansonnet and Morenzoni, “Prêcher sur les reliques de la Passion.”

Saint Louis as a New David and Paris as a New Jerusalem


it explains by what means Sainte-Chapelle was built by the saintly king in order to store the relics, in what manner the king established three liturgical feasts in their honour, and how the liturgical service was entrusted by the king to the Dominicans and Franciscans.63 We can find similar content in a sermon for the feast of Saint Louis supposedly written by Guillaume de Saint-Pathus.64 The narrative is much more detailed in a sermon for the feast of Saint Louis found in another Parisian lectionary: Fuit in diebus nostris in Francia rex christianissimus.65 A striking feature of the second sermon is the confusion of the order of the two translations. According to its author, first the True Cross was brought to Paris and only afterwards the Crown of Thorns. In the part relating the translation of the True Cross, the hagiographer equates Saint Louis bringing the Cross to Paris to David bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, and to Moses entering in the Promised Land: Thus the king, as if he were a second David playing in front of the Ark [of Covenant], carrying the priceless treasury on his shoulders, and, like as a second Moses, since reaching his [Promised] Land was sacred, having his shoes removed, walked barefoot.66 Then, passing on to the translation of the Crown of Thorns, the author presents Saint Louis performing the ostensio of the Holy Cross to his subjects and this time calls him the second Constantine.67

63 64

See Beatus Ludovicus, Capitulum VII, 124 (Lat.), 125 (Eng.). See Guillaume de Saint-Pathus, Sermon en l’honneur de Saint Louis, cap. 22, 286: Talis fuît beatus Ludovicùs, ut patet devocione ejus ad sacras reliquias et ad divinum officium. Capellam speciosissimam pro sacris reliquiis miro scemate edificavit que XL millia librarum Turonensium et amplius constituit, et thecam speciosissimam, in qua ipsas reliquias posuit, fecit, que C millibus libris Turonensium et amplius constitit. Diem anniversariam pro ipsis sollempnizari instituit, unam per Predicatores, scilicet festum Corone sacre, et aliud per fratres Minores scilicet sancte Crucis et aliarum omnium insimul. Hec fuit ejus devocio ad sacras reliquias. 65 Beati Ludovici vita partim ad lectiones partim ad sacrum sermonem parata, RHF, 167–176. See BnF, Ms. Latin 11754, BHL 5050. On liturgical sources concerning the translations of the Crown of Thorns and other Passion relics to Paris, see Pysiak, The King and the Crown of Thorns, 317–327, 334–385. 66 Rex autem, velut alter David ante archam ludens, thesaurum impreciabilem propriis gestans humeris, et velut alter Moyses, quia sacrosanctum erat quod in terram suam venerat, sublatis calciamentis pedibus incedebat nudis. See Beati Ludovici vita partim ad lectiones partim ad sacrum sermonem parata, 171. 67 Et in procinctu itineris, valefacto ecclesiae congregatae, videre potuit clerus Parisiensis alterum Constantinum, non tumore superbiae sublevatum, sed crucifixum corde, signatum



The majority of the liturgical offices and sermons for Saint Louis’s feast days were meticulously examined by M. Cecilia Gaposchkin, who initiated her research with the most widely used rhymed one, Ludovicus decus regnantium.68 Gaposchkin’s research is focused on several offices written in honour of Saint Louis: Ludovicus decus regnantium, Nunc laudare, Lauda celestis regio, Francorum rex, Exultemus omnes and Gaudeamus omnes,69 as well as on sermons composed by cardinal James of Viterbo, by Jacob of Lausanne, and finally by John of Aragon,70 a royal prince, archbishop first of Toledo, then of Tarragona and patriarch of Alexandria in the early fourteenth century, and lastly on two hagiographical Lives of Saint Louis: Gloriosissimi regis and Beatus Ludovicus, both presumably intended for liturgical use.71 According to Gaposchkin, when composing his text, the Dominican author of Ludovicus decus regnantium follows an earlier office (known in three slightly different versions: one of Cistercian origin, one of secular origin – known for being in use by secular clergy in the ecclesiatical province of Sens, especially in Paris diocese – and a Benedictine one, known from Saint-Denis and Saint-Germain-des-Prés), Lauda celestis regio,72 but expands its royal significance – the office in question was celebrated at the Royal Court, and Philip the Fair is thought to be involved in its creation.73 Already in the Cistercian office Lauda celestis regio Louis IX was compared to Josiah, Solomon, David, Manasseh, Jacob, and Ahasuerus, praising Saint Louis as being as firm as David in faith.74 In her discussion of



70 71 72 73 74

humero, nudis pedibus incedentem, gestantem in manibus dominicae Crucis ligneum. See Beati Ludovici Vita partim ad lectiones partim ad sacrum sermonem parata, 172. For the first presentation and (not exhaustive) analysis of this office from liturgical and musicological point of view, see Epstein, “Ludovicus Decus Regnantium.” For a more recent study of this text and its ideological content, see Gaposhkin, “Ludovicus Decus Regnantium.” See Gaposchkin, “Philip the Fair”; eadem, The Making of Saint Louis; eadem, “Louis IX et la mémoire liturgique”; eadem, “The monastic office for Louis IX”; eadem, Blessed Louis, the Most Glorious of Kings; eadem, “Louis IX and Liturgical Memory.” It is worth noting that Gaposchkin omitted the sermon Fuit in diebus nostris in Francia rex christianissimus (see nn. 65, 66 and 67). On David’s figure in Lauda celestis, see Gaposchkin, The Making of Saint Louis, 130, 139; 104, 106–107 (Nunc laudare); 111–112, 114–115, 117 (Ludovicus decus regnantium). Sermons by Jacob of Lausanne were edited in Gaposchkin, Blessed Louis, the Most Glorious of Kings, 227–245 (Rex sapiens); 247–299 (Videte regem Salomonem). For sermons of James of Viterbo and John of Aragon, see Gaposchkin, “Talking about Kingship.” Both of them were first published by M. Cecilia Gaposchkin. See Gaposchkin, Blessed Louis, the Most Glorious of Kings, 27–81 (Gloriosissimi regis); 159–207 (Beatus Ludovicus). See Gaposchkin, “The monastic office for Louis IX,” 71–86. See Gaposchkin, “Philip the Fair,” 53–61; eadem, “Louis IX et la mémoire liturgique,” 29–31. See Gaposchkin, “Louis IX and Liturgical Memory,” 269.

Saint Louis as a New David and Paris as a New Jerusalem


Ludovicus decus regnantium we read: “In almost every text of the office, a Psalm verse was retooled in such a way as to make Louis conform to biblical prescription and to describe Louis in the language of the Psalms. In this way Louis was compared to David, who as author of the Psalms provided the model of the sacral and saintly king. (…).” According to Gaposchkin “This technique for sacralizing Louis’s royalty was initially established in the Dominican Nunc laudare, from which a number of texts were retooled for Ludovicus decus regnantium.”75 At the same time the Benedictine version of Lauda celestis regio (from the royal Abbeys of Saint-Denis and Saint-Germain-des-Prés) exhibits more interest in emphasising the royalty of the saintly king by evoking the figures of the Old Testament kings: Louis sat on the throne of David and did the justice of Solomon,76 and his sanctity is compared to David’s humility, the mercifulness of Solomon and truthfullness of Ezechias: Louis is made magnified By miracle divine, A David in humility, With Solomon’s serenity, Ezechias’s verity, In the eyes of all mankind, A Josiah in benignity, For his people, a man of sanctity, Honour’s graces on him shine. Magnificat.77 It is also worth noting that the Benedictine version of the office Lauda celestis mentions David as the royal figure much more frequently than its Cistercian and secular versions.78 Such a point of view is obviously reiterated and extended in Ludovicus decus regnantium (the office of Dominican origin, performed at the Sainte-Chapelle, which includes an antiphon to Benedictus), which admits that Louis was David’s “twin in virtue,” while the Responsory calls Saint Louis even more glorious in humility than David himself: 75 See ibidem, 270. 76 David regni sedit in solio, Salomonis utens iudicio. See Gaposchkin, “The monastic office for Louis IX,” 73. 77 See Gaposchkin, ibidem, 85. See also Ludovicus decus regnantium: antiphon on Magnificat at Second Vespers, in Gaposchkin, Blessed Louis, the Most Glorious of Kings, 201–202. 78 See Gaposchkin, Blessed Louis, the Most Glorious of Kings, 71–86 (appendix: Lauda celestis. A comparison of three versions).



He appeared glorious, not because of the adornment of a ruler, but because he excelled unadorned, in the manner of David playing; and the authority of a ruler was not lacking in him because of this.79 If in both Jacob of Lausanne’s and John of Aragon’s sermons Louis’s sagacity makes him comparable to king Salomon,80 James of Viterbo, in his fifth sermon on Saint Louis (Thronus eius, 1308), affirms that “Louis excelled as a prince, as did David, through wisdom, which is knowledge of the divine.”81 John of Aragon’s reflections on Louis’s similarity to David seem to be more varied. In addition to the description of French heavenly royal unction, making Louis IX the true successor of David as king and God’s elected, two of John sermons (Rex qui sedet and Inveni David) are built on Psalm 88:21: “I have found David my servant, with my holy oil I have anointed him.” In this way, John links the French monarch to king David “as illustrious in activity, exceptional in humility, burning with devotion, right in justice and equity, and pious in kindness.”82 The antiphon on Benedictus in Ludovicus decus regnantium, followed by antiphons of Little Hours portrays Saint Louis as an actual David of his age: Blessed be the Lord and give him praise, Who for all of us did raise A horn he loved no less than David in his royal days, A twin to him in virtue too, Louis ruled in peace as kings should do. Thus when his rule on earth was done The goal of heaven Louis won P. Benedictus: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel

79 Gloriosus apparuit, non cultu presidentis sed cum incultus prefuit, more David ludentis; nec ex hoc sibi defuit, auctoritas regentis, English translation after Gaposchkin, “Political Ideas in Liturgical Offices of Saint Louis,” 67. See also eadem, “Louis IX and Liturgical Memory,” 272. 80 For John of Aragon’s sermon, Rex qui sedet, see Gaposchkin, “Talking about Kingship,” 158–159; eadem, Blessed Louis, the Most Glorious of Kings, 162, 184. For Jacob’s Rex sapiens, Videte regem Salomonem, see n. 70. 81 See Gaposchkin, “Talking about Kingship,” 157. 82 See ibidem, 160. On David’s figure in the sermons of Jacob of Lausanne, see Gaposchkin, The Making of Saint Louis, 120–123.

Saint Louis as a New David and Paris as a New Jerusalem


Terce Among many nations there was not a king like him, and he was beloved to his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Sext And in chains God left him not, till He brought him the sceptre of the kingdom, and power against those that oppressed him None And the Lord magnified him over all Israel: and gave him the glory of a kingdom, such as no king of Israel had before him.83 In Franciscan eyes, Cecilia Gaposchkin argues, humility is the most important trait of Saint Louis making him comparable to David. Other preachers or hagiographers abstain from making this comparison. Although they are far from neglecting humility as a truly royal virtue, they insist on a more royal model of his sanctity.84 Against this ideological background, Gerard of Saint-Quentin’s image of Louis IX appears even more striking, for his account of the Translatio Sancte Corone, together with the Lives of the saintly king, Fuit in diebus nostris rex, remain the only known hagiographical writings representing Saint Louis becoming a second king David as the performer of the translation of the Passion relics. One cannot, however, forget that Gerard’s account – contrary to other texts discussed above evoking David as Saint Louis’ biblical prefiguration – does not refer to the king’s personal sanctity, but to the translation of the Crown of Thorns and the Holy Cross. Moreover, it was composed before the canonisation of Louis IX, and there is no evidence that its writing would be related to the latter in any way. Lastly, the Psalter of Saint Louis85 should be mentioned. This masterpiece of thirteenth century illumination, decorated with 78 full-page miniatures presenting scenes from the Old Testament, beginning with the offering of Abel 83 Benedictus Dominus / qui nobis erexit / cornu, quod paulominus / a David dilexit; / hic virtute geminus, / rex in pace rexit, / quem regendi terminus / ad celos direxit. P. Benedictus. Ad Horas Minores. Ad Tertiam. In gentibus multis non erat rex similis ei et dilectus Deo suo erat et posuit Deus regem eum super Israel. Ad Sextam. In vinculis non dereliquit eum Dominus, donec afferret illi sceptrum regni et potentiam adversus eos qui eum deprimebant. Ad Nonam. Magnificavit eum Dominus super omnem Israel et dedit illi gloriam regni qualem nullus habuit ante eum rex. Cf. Luke 1:68–79; Ezekiel 13:26; Wisdom 10:14; 2 Chronicles 29:25. See Gaposchkin, Blessed Louis, the Most Glorious of Kings, 200 (Lat.), 201 (Eng.). 84 See Gaposchkin, “Talking about Kingship,” 141–145; eadem, “Political Ideas in Liturgical Offices of Saint Louis,” 68–69; eadem, Blessed Louis, the Most Glorious of Kings, 106–107, 116–117, 123. 85 See BnF, Ms. Latin 10525. Cf. Stahl, Picturing Kingship; Guest, “The People Demand a King.” According to Patricia Stirnemann, Saint Louis would never enjoy the Psalter which



figure 7.4 King David penitent, Psalter of Saint Louis, Paris, ca. 1270–1274, BnF, Ms. Latin 10525, fol. 85v

Saint Louis as a New David and Paris as a New Jerusalem


and Cain and ending with the first years of Saul’s reign, also links the king of France to David. The initial series of miniatures is followed by the calendar and another miniature representing two scenes from David’s life: the king watching Bathsheba take a bath, and subsequently kneeling before God as a contrite repentant. The latter scene is displayed on the blue background decorated with gold lily blossoms86 – another evidence that Saint Louis (or the kings of France generally) used to be identified with David. On the right bordure of the page first the words of Psalm 1 are inscribed: Beatus vir. This is the last miniature of the Psalter. It is worth noting that in contrast to David, Saul, portrayed on seven images, is not once represented on the fleurdelysé pattern. 5


The issue of the translation of Jerusalem, as well as of the Holy Land and the Chosen People to Paris87 and Gaul is well is evident in both the hagiographic narratives and liturgical sources. It echoes the Byzantine imperial ideology which originated during the period when the Jerusalem relics began to be transferred to Constantinople in Heraclius’s reign. However, in the theological and political ideology of the Kingdom of France, it evolved independently and its origins should be sought in the Carolingian age. Comparing the translation of the relics to the introduction of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem by David in general, and the translation of the Passion relics to Christ’s entering Jerusalem in particular, is a stereotypical topos of the mediaeval hagiography and its use in the recounting of the translation of the Passion relics to Paris is a common feature of hagiographical writings rather than a special one. The acts of translation – liturgical rituals of the transfer of relics to a new place of veneration – emulated the legendary finding of the Holy Cross by the mother of Constantine the Great, Saint Helena, and the deposition of its parts in imperial basilicas in Jerusalem, Constantinople and Rome. Another model to follow was the solemn introduction of the Holy Cross to Jerusalem by the emperor Heraclius, interpreted as a repetition of the entry of the Ark

86 87

would not be executed until 1274. See Thomas, and Stirnemann, Der Psalter Ludwigs des Heiligen, 37. See BnF, Ms. Latin 10525, fol. 85v. , accessed 26 January, 2021. Cf. Stahl, “Bathsheba and the Kings,” 427–434. On the foundation of the Sainte-Chapelle interpreted as a sign of the “translation of Jerusalem” to Paris, see Müller, “Paris, das neue Jerusalem?”; La Sainte-Chapelle de Paris. Royaume de France ou Jérusalem céleste?. See also Pysiak, The King and the Crown of Thorns, 397–429, 430–461.



of the Covenant by David or of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. As I have tried to argue in this paper, this medieval topos also served the ambition of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century chroniclers and hagiographers to fashion Saint Louis as a contemporary David, the pious and godly king of a New Israel – France.88 Bibliography

Primary Manuscript Sources

Printed Sources

A drawing of Matthew Paris, Chronica majora, Corpus Christi College, Ms. 16. Parisian lectionary: Fuit in diebus nostris in Francia rex christianissimus, Bibliothèque nationale de France (= BnF), Ms. Latin 11754, BHL 5050. The Psalter of Saint Louis, Bibliothèque nationale de France (= BnF), Ms. Latin 10525. , accessed 26 January 2021.

Admonitio generalis, edited by Alfred Boretius. In Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Legum sectio II, Capitularia regum Francorum, vol. 1, no. 22, 53–62. Hannover: Hahn, 1883. Alcuini sive Albini Epistolae, edited by Ernst Dümmler. In Monumenta Germaniae Historica Epistolae, Karolini aevi, vol. 4/2. Berlin: Weidmann, 1895. Annales Mettenses priores, edited by Bernhard von Simson. In Monumenta Germaniae Historica Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum separatism editi, vol. 10, Hannover – Leipzig: Hahn, 1905. Beati Ludovici vita partim ad lectiones partim ad sacrum sermonem parata, edited by Natalis de Wailly, Léopold Delisle and Charles Jourdain (BnF, Ms Latin 11754). In Recueil des Historiens des Gaules et de la France [Rerum Francicarum et Gallicarum Scriptores, vol. 23], 167–176. Paris: H. Welter, 1894. Beatus Ludovicus, edited by M. Cecilia Gaposchkin. In Blessed Louis, the Most Glorious of Kings: Texts Relating to the Cult of Saint Louis of France, translated with Phyllis B. Katz, 105–151. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2012. Épitaphier du vieux Paris, edited by Émile Raunié, 3 vols. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1890–1901. 88

For a discussion of the ideological meaning of the royal insignia and coronation robes of the Capetian kings, designed at the beginning of the thirteenth century and very likely used for the anointment of Louis IX in 1226, see Pinoteau, “La tenue de sacre de Saint Louis IX.”

Saint Louis as a New David and Paris as a New Jerusalem


Exuviae Sacrae Constantinopolitanae, edited by Paul Edouard Didier Riant (vols. 1–2) and Fernand de Mély (vol. 3). Geneva: G. Fick, 1878–79 (vols. 1–2); Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1904 (vol. 3). Gautier Cornut. De susceptione Coronae Domini, edited by Natalis de Wailly and Léopold Delisle. In Recueil des Historiens des Gaules et de la France. Rerum Francicarum et Gallicarum Scriptores, vol. 22, 26–32. Paris: Victor Palmé, 1865. Gerard de Saint-Quentin. Translatio Sancte Corone Domini Ihesu Christi a Constantinopolitana urbe ad civitatem Parisiensem, facta anno Domini MCCXLI, regnante Ludovico, filio Ludovici Regis Francorum. In Fernand de Mély, Exuviae sacrae Constantinopolitanae, vol. 3: La Croix des premiers croisés. La Sainte Lance. La Sainte Couronne, 102–112. Paris: E. Leroux, 1904. Guillaume de Saint-Pathus. Sermon en l’honneur de Saint Louis, edited by HenriFrançois Delaborde [Extrait de la “Bibliothèque de l’École des des chartes,” vol. 63]. Nogent-le-Rotrou: Daupeley-Gouverneur, 1902. Helgaud de Fleury. Vie de Robert le Pieux. Epitoma vitae regis Rotberti Pii, edited by Robert Henri Bautier et Gilette Labory [Sources d’histoire médiévale, vol. 1]. Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1965. Hericus Antissiodorensis monachus. Miracula sancti Germani Antissiodorensis episcopi, edited by Jacques-Paul Migne. In Patrologiae cursus completus. Series Latina, vol. 124, 1207–1270. Paris: Garnier frères, 1879. Iacobus de Dinant. Excerpta e Tractatu de translatione beatae Genovefae virginis, edited by Natalis de Wailly, Léopold Delisle and Charles Jourdain. In Recueil des Historiens des Gaules et de la France. Rerum Francicarum et Gallicarum Scriptores, vol. 23, 139– 142. Paris: Victor Palmé, 1876. Matthew Paris. Chronica majora, edited by Henry Richard Luard, vol. I–VII. In Rerum Brittanicarum Medii Aevi Scriptores or Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland during the Middle Ages [Rolls Series]. London – Oxford – Edinburgh – Dublin: Longman and Co. – Trübner and Co. – Parker and Co. – Macmillan and Co. – A & C Black – A. Thom, 1872–1883. Matthew Paris. [Historia minor], Historia Anglorum sive, ut vulgo dicitur, Historia minor, edited by Frederic Madden, vols. 1–3. In Rerum Brittanicarum Medii Aevi Scriptores or Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland during the Middle Ages [Rolls Series]. London: Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer, 1866–1869. Prologus Legis Salicae, edited by Karl August Eckhardt. In Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Legum Sectio I. Legum nationum Germanicarum, vol. 4/2, 3–9. Hannover: Hahn, 1969. Rabanus Maurus. Homiliae, edited by Jacques-Paul Migne. In Patrologiae cursus completus. Series Latina, vol. 110. Paris: Garnier frères, 1864. Reversio Sanctae Crucis [BHL 4178], edited and translated into English by Stephan Borgehammar. In Stephan Borgehammar, “Heraclius Learns Humility,” 180–191.



The Sanctity of Louis IX. Early Lives of Saint Louis by Geoffrey of Beaulieu and William of Chartres, edited by M. Cecilia Gaposchkin and Sean L. Field. Translated to English by Larry F. Field. Ithaca – London: Cornell University Press, 2014.

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Dźwigała, Bartłomiej. “Constantine, Helena and Heraclius in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.” In The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 1(72) (2021), 18–35. Ehlers, Joachim. “Politik und Heiligenverehrung in Frankreich.” In Politik und Heiligenverehrung im Hochmittelalter, edited by Jürgen Petersohn [Vorträge und Forschungen, vol. 42], 149–175. Sigmaringen: Thorbecke, 1994. Engberg, Sysse Gudrun. “Romanos Lekapenos and the Mandilion of Edessa.” In Byzance et les reliques du Christ. Actes de la table ronde Les reliques de la Passion, tenue à Paris, à l’occasion du XXe Congrès International des Études byzantines 19–25 août 2001, edited by Jannic Durand and Bernard Flusin [Monographies, vol. 17], 123–142. Paris: Centre de recherche d’histoire et civilisation de Byzance, 2004. Epstein, Marcy J. “Ludovicus Decus Regnantium: Perspectives on the Rhymed Office.” Speculum, 53 no. 2 (1978), 283–334. Flusin, Bernard. “Construire une nouvelle Jérusalem: Constantinople et les reliques.” In L’Orient dans l’histoire religieuse de l’Europe. L’invention des origines, edited by Mohammad Amir Moezzi and John Scheid [Bibliothèque de l’École pratique des Hautes Études, Section des Sciences religieuses, vol. 110], 51–70. Turnhout: Brepols, 2000. Flusin, Bernard. “Les reliques de la Sainte-Chapelle et leur passé impérial à Constantinople.” In Le trésor de la Sainte-Chapelle, edited by Jannic Durand and Marie-Pierre Laffitte, 20–33. Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2001. Folz, Robert. Le Couronnement impérial de Charlemagne. Paris: Gallimard, 1964. Frolow, Anatole. “La relique de la Vraie Croix.” Archives de l’Orient chrétien, 8 (1965), 76–92. Frolow, Anatole. “La Vraie Croix et les expéditions d’Héraclius en Perse.” Revue des Études Byzantines, 11 (1953), 88–105. Gabriele, Matthew. An Empire of Memory. The Legend of Charlemagne, the Franks, and Jerusalem before the First Crusade. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Gaposchkin, M. Cecilia. “Between Historical Narration and Liturgical Celebrations: Gautier Cornut and the Reception of the Crown of Thorns in France.” Revue Mabillon, n.s. 30 [= 91] (2019), 91–145. Gaposchkin, M. Cecilia. Blessed Louis, the Most Glorious of Kings: Texts Relating to the Cult of Saint Louis of France, translated with Phyllis B. Katz. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2012. Gaposchkin, M. Cecilia. “Louis IX and Liturgical Memory.” In Memory and Commemoration in Medieval Culture, edited by Elma Brenner, Meredith Cohen and Mary Franklin-Brown, 261–278. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2013. Gaposchkin, M. Cecilia. “Louis IX et la mémoire liturgique.” Revue d’histoire de l’église de France, 95 (2009), 23–34. Gaposchkin, M. Cecilia. “Ludovicus Decus Regnantium: the Liturgical Office for Saint Louis and the Ideological Program of Philip the Fair.” Majestas, 10 (2003), 27–90.



Gaposchkin, M. Cecilia. The Making of Saint Louis. Kingship, Sanctity, and Crusade in the Later Middle Ages. Ithaca – London: Cornell University Press, 2008. Gaposchkin, M. Cecilia. “The monastic office for Louis IX of France: Lauda Celestis Regio.” Revue Mabillon, n.s., 20 [= 81] (2009), 55–86. Gaposchkin, M. Cecilia. “Philip the Fair, the Dominicans, and the liturgical Office for Louis IX: New perspectives on Ludovicus Decus Regnantium.” Plainsong and Medieval Music, 13 no. 1 (2004), 33–61. Gaposchkin, M. Cecilia. “Political Ideas in Liturgical Offices of Saint Louis.” In Political Plainchant?: Music, Text and Historical Context of Medieval Saints’ Offices, edited by Roman Hankeln [Wissenschaftliche Abhandlungen, vol. 91], 59–80. Ottawa: Institute of Mediaeval Music, 2009. Gaposchkin, M. Cecilia. “Talking about Kingship when Preaching about Saint Louis.” In Preaching and Political Society: from Late Antiquity to the End of the Middle Ages/ Depuis l’Antiquité tardive jusqu’à la fin du Moyen Âge, edited by Franco Morenzoni [Studies on Patristic, Medieval, and Reformation Sermons and Preaching, vol. 10], 135–172. Turnhout: Brepols, 2013. Garipzanov, Ildar H. The Symbolic Language of Royal Authority in the Carolingian World (c.751–877) [Brill’s Series on the Early Middle Ages, vol. 16]. Leiden: Brill, 2008. Garrisson, Mary. “The Franks as the New Israel? Education for an Identity from Pippin to Charlemagne.” In The Uses of the Past in the Early Middle Ages, edited by Yitzak Hen and Matthew Innes, 114–161. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Graboïs, Aryeh. “Un mythe fondamental de l’histoire de France au Moyen Âge: Le « roi David » précurseur du « roi très chrétien ».” Revue Historique, 287 no. 1 (1992), 11–31. Guest, Gerald B. “The People Demand a King: Visualizing Monarchy in the Psalter of Louis IX.” Studies in Iconography, 23 (2002), 1–27. Hahn, Cynthia. Strange Beauty (Issues in the Making and Meaning of Reliquaries, 400– circa 1204). University Park: Penn State University Press, 2012. Kantorowicz, Ernst Hartwig. Laudes Regiae. A Study in Liturgical Acclamations and Medieval Ruler Worship. Berkeley – Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1946. Klein, Holger A. “Constantine, Helena, and the Cult of the True Cross in Constantinople.” In Byzance et les reliques du Christ, edited by Jannic Durand and Bernard Flusin [Centre de Recherche d’histoire et civilisation byzantine. Monographies, vol. 17], 31–59. Paris: Association des amis du Centre d’histoire et civilisation de Byzance, 2004. Klein, Holger A. “Sacred Relics and Imperial Ceremonies at the Great Palace of Constantinople.” In Visualisierungen von Herrschaft. Frühmittelalterliche Residenzen Gestalt und Zeremoniell, Internationales Kolloquium, 3./4. Juni 2004 in Istanbul, edited by Franz Alto Bauer [Byzas, vol. 5], 79–99. Istanbul: Ege Yayınları, 2006.

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La Sainte-Chapelle de Paris. Royaume de France ou Jérusalem céleste? Actes du colloque (Paris, Collège de France, [6–8 décembre] 2001), edited by Christine Hediger. Turnhout: Brepols, 2007. Le Goff, Jacques. Saint Louis. Paris: Gallimard, 1996. Manikowska, Halina. Jerusalem – Rome – Compostela. Peregrinationes Majores at the End of the Middle Ages [in Polish]. Wroclaw: Wroclaw University Press, 2008. Manikowska, Halina. “Translation of Jerusalem to Wroclaw.” In Church – Culture – Society. Studies in Medieval and Modern History, edited by Stanisław Bylina, Ryszard Kiersnowski, Stefan K. Kuczyński, Henryk Samsonowicz, Józef Szymański and Hanna Zaremska, 63–75 [in Polish]. Warsaw: Semper, 2000. Mergiali-Sahas, Sophia. “Byzantine Emperors and Holy Relics. Use and Misuse of Sanctity and Authority.” Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik, 51 (2001), 41–60. Michałowski, Roman. “Religious Foundations of the Monarchy in the Early Middle Ages” [in Polish]. Kwartalnik Historyczny, 105, no. 4 (1998), 1–32. Michałowski, Roman. “The Problem of Language in the Western European Ideology of Royal Power.” In Economy, People, Power. Studies Offered to Juliusz Łukasiewicz on the Occasion of his 75th Birthday, edited by Michał Kopczyński and Antoni Mączak, 39–48 [in Polish]. Warsaw: Krupski i S-ka, 1998. Michałowski, Roman. The Gniezno Summit. The Religious Premises of the Founding of the Archbishopric of Gniezno [East Central and Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 450–1450, vol. 38]. Leiden – Boston: Brill, 2016. Müller, Matthias. “Paris, das neue Jerusalem? Die Ste-Chapelle als Imitation der Golgatha-Kapellen.” Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 69 (1996), 325–336. O’Brien, Conor. “Chosen Peoples and New Israels in the Early Medieval West.” Speculum, 95, no. 4 (2020), 987–1009. Orselli, Alba Maria. “Simboli della città cristiana fra tardoantico e medioevo.” In La città e il sacro, edited by Franco Cardini, 419–450. Milano: Credito Italiano, 1994. Ousterhout, Robert G. “The Church of Santo Stefano: A ‘Jerusalem’ in Bologna.” Gesta, 20, no. 2 (1981), 311–321. Ousterhout, Robert G. “Santo Stefano e Gerusalemme.” In Stefaniana. Contributi per la storia del complesso di S. Stefano in Bologna, edited by Gina Fasoli [Documenti e studi Deputazione di Storia Patria per le Province di Romagna, vol. 17], 131–158. Bologna: Presso la Deputazione di Storia Patria, 1985. Patlagean, Évelyne. “L’entrée de la sainte Face d’Edesse à Constantinople en 944.” In La religion civique à l’époque médiévale et moderne (chrétienté et islam), edited by André Vauchez [Collection de École Française de Rome, vol. 13], 21–35. Rome: École Française de Rome, 1995. Petersohn, Jürgen. “Kaisertum und Kultakt in der Stauferzeit.” In Politik und Heiligenverehrung im Hochmittelalter, edited by Jürgen Petersohn [Vorträge und Forschungen, vol. 42], 101–146. Sigmaringen: Thorbecke, 1994.



Petersohn, Jürgen. “Saint Denis–Westminster–Aachen. Die Karlstranslation von 1165 und ihre Vorbilder.” Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters, 31 (1975), 420–454. Pinoteau, Hervé. “La tenue de sacre de Saint Louis IX roi de France. Son arrière-plan symbolique et la « renovatio regni Juda ».” In Vingt-cinq ans d’études dynastiques, edited by Hervé Pinoteau, 447–504. Paris: Éditions Christian, 1982; first published in Itinéraires, 162 (1972), 120–166. Pysiak, Jerzy. “The Cult of Passion Relics in the Ideology of Royal Power in France and England in the 13th Century: Saint Louis and Henry III.” In Sacrum. Image and Function in Medieval Society, edited by Aneta Pieniądz-Skrzypczak, Jerzy Pysiak [Aquila Volans, vol. 1], 290–303 [in Polish]. Warsaw: Warsaw University Press, 2005. Pysiak, Jerzy. The King and the Crown of Thorns: Kingship and the Cult of Relics in Capetian France. Bruxelles – New York – Oxford – Warsaw – Wien: Peter Lang, 2020. Pysiak, Jerzy. The King and the Crown of Thorns. The Cult of Relics in Capetian France [Aquila Volans, vol. 2] [in Polish]. Warsaw: Warsaw University Press, 2012. Pysiak, Jerzy. “Saint Louis: A Hagiographic Portrait of an Ideal Ruler” [in Polish]. Kwartalnik Historyczny, 103, no. 4 (1996), 57–86. Raunié, Émile. “Abbaye royale de Saint-Antoine-des-Champs.” In Épitaphier du vieux Paris, vol. 1, 127–145. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1890. Schutz, Herbert. The Carolingians in Central Europe, Their History, Arts and Architecture: A Cultural History of Central Europe, 750–900 [Cultures, Beliefs, and Traditions, vol. 18]. Leiden: Brill, 2003. Sommerlechner, Andrea. “Kaiser Herakleios und die Rückkehr des heiligen Kreuzes nach Jerusalem. Überlegungen zu Stoff– und Motivgeschichte.” Römische Historische Mitteilungen, 45 (2003), 319–360. Sorbelli, Albano. “La ‘Santa Jerusalem’ Stefaniana.” L’Archiginnasio. Bollettino della Biblioteca Comunale di Bologna, 35 (1940), 14–28. Stahl, Harvey. “Bathsheba and the Kings: The Beatus Initial in the Psalter of Saint-Louis (Paris, BNF, ms lat. 10525).” In The Illuminated Psalter. Studies in the Content, Purpose and Placement of its Images, edited by Frank O. Büttner, 427–434. Turnhout: Brepols, 2001. Stahl, Harvey. Picturing Kingship. History and Painting in the Psalter of Saint Louis. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008. Steger, Hugo. David rex et propheta. König David als vorbildliche Verkörperung des Herrschers und Dichters im Mittelalter, nach Bilddarstellungen des achten bis zwölften Jahrhunderts [Erlanger Beiträge zur Sprach– und Kunstwissenschaft, vol. 6]. Nürnberg: Verlag Hans Carl, 1961. Strayer, Joseph Reese. “The Holy Land, the Chosen People, and the Most Christian King.” In Action and Conviction in Early Modern Europe. Essays in Memory of E.H. Harbison,

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edited by Theodore K. Rabb and Jerrold E. Seigel. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969, 3–16; reedited in Medieval Statecraft and the Perspectives of History. Essays by Joseph R. Strayer, edited by John F. Benton and Thomas N. Bisson, 300–314. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971. Szollosi, Vanessa. Les moniales de Saint-Antoine-des-Champs au XIIIe siècle, Ph.D. dissertation submitted at the École Nationale des Chartes, 2007. Thomas, Marcel, and Stirnemann, Patricia. Der Psalter Ludwigs des Heiligen: MS lat. 10525 der Bibliothèque nationale de France [Glanzlichter der Buchkunst, vol. 20]. Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, 2011. Vincent, Nicholas. The Holy Blood. King Henry III and the Westminster Blood Relic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Weitzmann, Kurt. “The Mandylion and Constantine Porphyrogenitus.” Cahiers archéologiques, 11 (1960), 163–184.

chapter 8

David and Jonathan as a Paradigm of Male Friendship in Medieval Latin Literature Ruth Mazo Karras Friendship between two men was commonly thought in the ancient and medieval worlds to be different in nature from that which could exist between a man and a woman.1 It is not, as one might immediately think, that it was different because it was less likely to lead to suspicion of sexual involvement than friendship between a man and a woman might. In fact, the question of sexual involvement did not come up in formal discussions of friendship, and the line between friendship and love was very blurry indeed. Of course, the relationship of love to marriage in the Middle Ages was not the same as today either. Instead we often see bonds of friendship discussed in the same terms as bonds of marriage, and using identical terms, terms which were also used for romantic love and for familial relationships. But friendship between two men was considered quite different than that between a man and a woman, for reasons which differed in Christian and Jewish society. Retellings of, or references to, the story of David and Jonathan provide a particularly good opportunity to examine the nature of friendship as it was understood in the Middle Ages. The story was a well-known and exemplary one in both Jewish and Christian culture, and we are thus able to look at it cross-culturally. I focus here on the central Middle Ages, mainly the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, in part because I have dealt elsewhere with iterations of this story in the later Middle Ages and in part because this period saw the emergence of a great deal of writing on friendship in Christian Western Europe, as well as awareness by Christian and Jewish intellectuals of each other’s work.2

1 This chapter contains material that appears in slightly different form in Chapter 2 of Ruth Mazo Karras, Thou Art the Man: the Masculinity of David in the Christian and Jewish Middle Ages (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021). Used by permission of the University of Pennsylvania Press. 2 See Karras, “David and Jonathan: A Late Medieval Bromance.” On intercultural contact, see Baumgarten, Karras, and Mesler, “Introduction.”

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | doi:10.1163/9789004465978_010

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David and Jonathan’s Friendship in the Bible

The Jewish and Christian traditions of friendship developed somewhat differently. Christians wrote more explicitly on the subject than did Jews and did so within the context of the monastery. There was therefore an institutional framework other than that of marriage and of treaty within which male friendships could be understood. Judaism, of course, had its own institutions for prayer and study, and it is precisely within this context that male friendship was often discussed: the study partner (Heb. ḥāḇer) who can better help a man understand Torah. Even so, however, this study was not as regulated and organized as was life within the monastery, nor were women explicitly excluded from the lives of the participants. The story of David and Jonathan was thus interpreted in a less exclusionary context within the Jewish tradition. The book of Samuel presents David and Jonathan’s friendship as a combination of emotional bond and formal agreement. When they first meet after David’s defeat of Goliath, “Jonathan’s soul became bound (‫ נקשרה‬/ niqšĕrā) to the soul of David; Jonathan loved (‫ ויאהבהו‬/ vay-yeʾĕhāḇēhū) David as himself” (1 Samuel 18:1). Because of this love they made a pact (‫ ברית‬/ brīt) (1 Samuel 18:3) and Jonathan gave David clothing and weapons, a gift which has been interpreted as a sign of patronage by a figure of higher status, and the bond as a political one.3 In the Latin Vulgate, the word for this love is dilectio, which Thomas Aquinas would explain in the thirteenth century (not in reference to this passage specifically) as involving more of an element of rationality than amor, which is a passion but at the same time more godlike.4 The pact or covenant is a foedus, the term from which we derive “federated.” The binding of the souls in Latin is conglutinata, an evocative term of attachment. On the whole, however, the passage would probably have evoked in medieval Christians and Jews both the idea of loyalty more than emotional attachment. Later in 1 Samuel the relationship is described both in somewhat more emotional terms – Jonathan “delighted in” (‫ חפץ ב‬/ ḥāp̄ ēṣ b-) David (diligebat in the Vulgate, from the same root as dilectio) (1 Samuel 19:1) and also “made a covenant” (‫ יכרת‬/ vay-yiḵrōt) with the House of David (1 Samuel 20:16; again the Latin is foedus, even though the Hebrew 3 On the political nature of the bond, see among others Tull, “Jonathan’s Gift,” 134–135. 4 See Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 1.2:26:3:4, 128–130: “Whether amor is the same as dilectio”: no, dilectio is a type of amor that relates to the will and rational nature, not to simple desire or passion. Amor may actually be more divine. “Whether amor may conveniently be divided into the love of friendship and the love of concupiscence”: the love of friendship is when one loves someone for himself, whereas the love of concupiscence is when one loves for the sake of something. Cf. discussion below about Avot commentaries. The love of concupiscence cannot be true friendship.



term translated is different). When the two meet in order for Jonathan to tell David of Saul’s great anger and the need to flee, they kiss and weep together (1 Samuel 20:41) and Jonathan refers to their having sworn an oath (‫ נשבענו‬/ nišbʿanū) (1 Samuel 20:42; Lat. juravimus). The text that has been interpreted as the most intense expression of emotional involvement is David’s lament for Jonathan at the beginning of 2 Samuel. David learns of the death of both Saul and Jonathan, and composes a song mourning for both of them. “I grieve for you, my brother Jonathan, you were most dear (‫ נעמת‬/ nāʿamtā) to me. Your love (‫ אהבתך‬/ ʾahaḇātḵā) was wonderful to me more than the love of women” (2 Samuel 1:26). This is but one phrase in a longer song (nine verses) in which parts refer only to Saul and parts to both, but this is the phrase that will be important to us here. The Latin has “amabilis super amorem mulierum” and by the central Middle Ages most manuscripts of the Vulgate were adding a phrase, probably originally a gloss, that said that “as a mother loves (Lat. amat) her only son, thus I have loved (Lat. diligebam) you.” Biblical scholars have commented extensively on the relationship between David and Jonathan, which has become important in contemporary religious thought as a prototype for male love and pair bonding.5 Without entering into the debate as to whether the biblical David and Jonathan can be construed as lovers or not, we can say that it is clear that the story as it came down to medieval interpreters was understood as a model of ideal friendship, and that it included both a covenantal aspect – a deliberate choice to make an alliance that entailed loyalty, whether understood as between equals or between a superior and an inferior – and an aspect involving intimate feeling. But we cannot assume that feeling expressed in a biblical text corresponds to how we experience emotion today; in a face-to-face society with very different conceptions of public and private, friendship and alliance were kindred concepts. It should also be clear that the application of the term “friendship” to this relationship is a modern one; the language used in the original text, or the text as received in the Middle Ages, was that of love. That does not mean we cannot speak of “friendship” in this context, and I will continue to do so. 2

Medieval Christian Friendship

When we see David and Jonathan explicitly invoked in Christian writing in the central Middle Ages as a model of actual friendship (as opposed to allegorical 5 See Olyan, “ ‘Surpassing the Love of Women’.” See further references in Karras, “David and Jonathan.”

David and Jonathan as a Paradigm of Male Friendship


use, which was quite common) it is usually within the monastic context. This is not the only place where a discourse of friendship can be found. As Stephen Jaeger has shown, the courts of both secular and ecclesiastical nobles made use of such a discourse. The friendship of one courtier for another (for friendship and love are not sharply distinguished here) was an integral part of the social system and a way of including them in a hierarchical as well as horizontal network. This did not make the love, or what Jaeger calls “passionate male friendship,” false or part of a façade only; it was part of the way aristocrats constructed and expressed their social relations.6 David and Jonathan could certainly be deployed in this context, as Jaeger demonstrates. Dhuoda, a Frankish noblewoman writing a guide for her son in the 840s, suggested that her son should be a loyal servant, as David was; this loyalty was equated with “extreme love.”7 The Cambridge Songs, from the German imperial court before the mid-eleventh century, refers to Jonathan being drawn to David because of his great virtus, a Latin term which can be understood either in the Roman sense as “manliness,” or in Christian terms as “virtue.”8 The idea of friendship as promoting good moral behavior, and of choosing a friend on the basis of the qualities of character he displays, will appear, as we will see, in both Christian and Jewish contexts, but was far from unique to them. Aristotle offered a typology of friendship, suggesting that it could be based on mutual advantage, on enjoyment of each other’s company, or on virtue, mutually admired between two men of approximately equal status. Cicero brought religion into the picture, calling friendship an “identity of feeling about all things human and divine, as strengthened by mutual good will and affection.”9 However, he suggested that a friend be chosen on a rational basis; this rationality did not replace emotion, but went along with it. The juxtaposition of a feeling of two people about each other with a decision to harness their interest together, as posited by Cicero, continued to characterize medieval Christian approaches. Both the emotion and the rational decision were to be based on the virtue of the other friend or beloved, and thus selfless. David and Jonathan could also be used, either explicitly or in the background, to provide a context for emotional or emotional/political friendships. When Roger of Hoveden tells us that Philip Augustus of France loved Richard 6 7 8 9

See Jaeger, Ennobling Love, 14. See Jaeger, Ennobling Love, 43; Dhuoda, Manuel, 3:8, 166. See Jaeger, Ennobling Love, 55; The Cambridge Songs 82, 158–159. See Cicero, De amicitia, 6:20–22, 130–131. A good discussion of Cicero and his medieval influence is to be found in Hermansson, Bärande band, in which the author argues that medieval friendship was largely hierarchical but that that should not mean it was less “real” somehow than modern. On the historiography of medieval friendship, see Bray, The Friend, 35–41.



Duke of Aquitaine, the future Richard I of England, “as his own soul,” there is likely an allusion here to David and Jonathan, particularly because Richard’s father, Henry II, can be seen as playing the part of Saul, very concerned about his son’s relationship with someone who might be a political rival.10 3

David and Jonathan in the Monastery

Most use of David and Jonathan’s friendship in the Christian Central Middle Ages, however, came in a monastic context.11 Monks had to think about a way of developing close relationships with their fellows that did not disrupt the overall communal life of the monastery (and some were also concerned with the possible carnal implications). The Cistercian order, founded in France in the early twelfth century, was particularly concerned about friendship within the monastery. They built on the Ciceronian understanding of friendship by emphasizing the shared religious faith between two friends. Spiritual friendship, a mutual love that urged both toward the love of God, found other biblical referents, notably the love between Jesus and John. However, David and Jonathan were not absent from such thoughts. The English Cistercian Baldwin of Forde, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1185–1190, wrote a tract on love and friendship, using caritas (yet another term for love), in which he developed a taxonomy of love. His examples were mostly drawn from the Hebrew Bible, for all varieties: the natural love of parents for children was represented by Jacob’s love for Joseph or David’s for Absalom; David and Jonathan represented social love (Lat. amor socialis), which Baldwin equated with bonds of friendship (Lat. amicitiae foedera). Here is a use of the Ciceronian amicitia coupled with the term amor which the Vulgate uses for the “love of women” which David’s love for Jonathan excelled. Other types of love in the taxonomy included conjugal love; incestuous love (Amnon’s love for Tamar and Shechem’s love for Dinah), vain love (the love of the things of this world) and holy love of God. This taxonomy equates friendship and love; friendship, though not in any way sinful, can arouse deep emotion.12 Alain of Lille, a non-monastic twelfth-century author, created a similar taxonomy: in his philological work, he gives David’s statement of Jonathan’s love “surpassing the love of women” as his example of the type of love that is a “natural feeling” (Lat. affectio naturalis), as opposed to love that is “cupidity,” 10 11 12

See Jaeger, Ennobling Love, 1–12 and 243 n. 4. For a detailed work on this, see McGuire, Friendship and Community. See Baldwin of Forde, Tractate 14, PL 204:539C; trans. Bell, 2:141–142.

David and Jonathan as a Paradigm of Male Friendship


“charity,” or love of the Holy Spirit or Christ.13 The most prominent Cistercian to write about friendship was Aelred of Rievaulx, also English and a generation older than Baldwin of Forde. He had a similar emphasis on same-sex affection as a natural form. Aelred’s treatise De spirituali amicitia (On Spiritual Friendship) celebrated friendship between men, indeed between monks, adapting Cicero to a type of friendship that “must begin in Christ, continue with Christ, and be perfected in Christ.”14 In other words, true spiritual friendship must be a part of true religion. Aelred, in describing his own personal life and in what he permitted among the monks in his monastery, was a proponent of love between men, although he stressed that it was not a carnal love. His attitude was not typical, particularly in using language to describe relationships between men that might have been used to describe marriage.15 Yet although Aelred could describe his own relationships in quite emotional terms, when he turned to David and Jonathan he focused not on feeling but on virtue, particularly the selflessness of their love. He suggested that “the worthy covenant consecrated between David and Jonathan, with no hope of future gain but with contemplation of virtue, benefited both,” a formulation that draws from Cicero.16 When Jonathan defends David against abuse from Saul, Aelred explains that Saul was jealous, but “this youth, supreme in love, reverences the rights of friendship. Unflinching in the fact of threats and unmoved by insults, unmindful of fame but mindful of kindness, he despises a kingdom for the sake of friendship.”17 It is not the emotional relationship between the two but the disinterested nature that is worth mentioning: Jonathan was willing to give up a great deal in terms of worldly status for his friendship. Philip of Harveng, a member of the Premonstratensian order (d. 1193), implied not only that Jonathan was giving up worldly status but also that this was a sign of Christian charity toward others as well as disinterestedness. He suggested that what was notable about Jonathan’s love for David was that they were not equal, one being the king’s son and the other a shepherd; the emphasis was not on a bond between two individual men, or on David’s particular virtues, but rather that a Christian should love his neighbor, even “a harpist coming from the field.”18 Peter of Blois, a Paris theologian in the latter half of the twelfth century, in a tract that owes much to Cicero and Aelred, also wrote about David and 13 14 15 16 17 18

See Alan of Lille, Distinctiones Dictionum Theologicalium, s.v. amor, PL 210:699B. See Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, 1:10, 57. See McGuire, Brother and Lover, esp. 105–118. See Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, 2:64, 85; Cicero, De amicitia 9:30, 140–143. See Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, 3:94, 112. See Philip of Harveng, Letter 13, PL 203:100D.



Jonathan in the context of friendship. He argued that love should be rational and based on virtue, as it was in Jonathan’s case – here Jonathan is not struck by a sudden bolt of love but chooses David for his good characteristics. The self-interested choice, following David’s preferment, would have been for Jonathan to envy him rather than protecting him. A friendship like this, not based on advantage, is true and stable, and promotes equality (Lat. aequali­ tate fovetur) – an equality which Cicero suggests all friendship should aim at. David and Jonathan’s love was “social” as opposed to fraternal or conjugal, other praiseworthy kinds of human love.19 Cicero and the medieval Christian authors all recognize the relationship, etymological and conceptual, between love (Lat. amor) and friendship (Lat. amicitia).20 But through all of them, it is male friendship that is being discussed. Aristotle was willing to allow friendships between men and women, keeping in mind that the man had superior capacity and the two did not get the same things out of friendship.21 The medieval authors who drew on him did generally not discuss the question, they for the most part simply assumed that only men were involved. Women were certainly not absent from the courtly milieu, but they were not expected to be involved in the same relationships of loyalty and friendship, and the love in which they were expected to engage was of a different sort. Women were absent from the male monastery. There are, true, examples of male confessors or spiritual advisors writing to or about their female advisees in terms expressive of love; Goscelin of Bracelond and Eve of Wilton provide the best example.22 These friendships with women had no place in the monastery because monks (and nuns, in their own monasteries) were excluded or exempted from marriage. Indeed, Dyan Elliott suggests that we should read these “alternative intimacies” like that of the confessor and the penitent as taking the place of marriage. Some love poetry between men and women also looked to marriage, although in the twelfth century it was not focused there. The idea behind the “courtly love” complex is that the love of a woman is supposed to ennoble a man, although there is much scholarly debate over how much this poetry reflected social norms and practices and how much it simply relied on the

19 20 21 22

See Peter of Blois, “De amicitia christiana,” chs 19 and 8, in Opuscula 3:155–57 and 3:140. See Cicero, De amicitia, 8:27, 138; 11:33, 146. See Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 8:7–11. See McGuire, Friendship and Community, 202; Elliott, Bride of Christ, 151–152, 164–167 on Eve and Goscelin, and passim for other cases.

David and Jonathan as a Paradigm of Male Friendship


repetition of tropes.23 To this extent, the love of a man for a woman could be seen as a parallel to the “ennobling love” between men of which Jaeger writes. But the difference is that the love of one man for another, or of a religious man for his spiritual daughter, did not look to consummation. In those cases where it did – where it was thought to be “carnal” – it raised concerns. This does not mean that love between men was not erotic, but it was also tightly interwoven with the idea of virtue and therefore at least in theory excluded sexual consummation, although it did not exclude touching and kissing, if done in a non-concupiscent way. Desire, even fervent desire, could exist within such friendships. But even in treatises on male love of women, as Jaeger explains: […] the point is not to renounce desire, but to stoke it and inflame the lovers, to maximize desire so that the victory over it will appear all the greater. […] Of course it is natural to consummate desire brought to the border of consummation. But in a society that saw the contest against nature as an essential part of moral training, what is natural is vulgar.24 This outlook toward love is characteristic of a certain type of literature, and it is not clear what its relation is to practice; Jaeger argues that this view is transformed later in the twelfth century with the rise of “courtly love.” He posits that the ethical aspects of courtly love can only exist because of the male-male love of the earlier Middle Ages. But within the secular world male-female love was supposed to lead to marriage, reproduction, the establishment or continuation of a dynasty, while in the monastic world such love, in the few cases where it could exist, needed to remain chaste in physical terms, regardless of how emotionally intimate it might be.25 4

Male-Male Love in the Middle Ages

Male-male love was clearly acceptable in medieval Christendom.26 Despite efforts to “queer” medieval texts, it seems clear that if this love were to be 23 24 25 26

See Burns, “Performing Courtliness.” See also Cheyette, “Women, Poets, and Politics,” on the real-world impact of the language. See Jaeger, Ennobling Love, 121. See Karras, “Friendship and Love.” A great deal has been published about Aelred of Rievaulx and Christina of Markyate since 1988, but I stand by this analysis for the most part. See recently Linkinen, Same-Sex Sexuality; Karras, Sexuality in Medieval Europe, 197–207.



carnally expressed, it had to be very discreet, to say the least. Highly emotional expressions of friendship could place it above marriage in priority – the story of Amis and Amiloun, known in Latin and a variety of vernaculars throughout the Middle Ages, is an example.27 The swearing of an oath between brothers could be considered in some ways equivalent to a marriage – indeed, the term “wedden,” which comes from a root meaning “pledge,” was used for both in Middle English.28 A now famous tombstone of Sir John Clanvowe and Sir William Neville, two English knights who died in Constantinople in 1391 and were buried together, shows their arms quartered as was often done when the descendants of two important families married. A chronicle tells us that Clanvowe and Neville were “sworn brothers” and the tombstone depicts them kissing.29 This sort of passionate love, with nothing said about sexual consummation, can be found also between men and women in the biographies of saints. But there was no legitimate sexual union for men, as there could be for men and women. Peter Dronke suggests that a major ethicist of the Middle Ages, Peter Abelard (1079–1142) thought of David and Jonathan as being sexually involved, based on his reading of Abelard’s overwrought version of David’s lament for Jonathan. Abelard, an accomplished poet, composed a series of six planctus or laments based on biblical figures, the last of which is a lament of David for Saul and Jonathan. It expresses deep emotions such that Dronke suggests: […] that the griefs and longings which here emerge with the greatest intensity, and which move furthest beyond the Old Testament narratives that the songs take as points of departure, have true, and disconcerting, counterparts in the autobiographical Historia calamitatum, and in the correspondence of Abelard with Héloïse.30 Abelard and Heloise, of course, had a sexual relationship and married, although after Abelard’s subsequent castration they both took monastic vows.31 The emotionality Dronke mentions is more overt in the lament of Dinah for Shechem – a couple whose relationship in the Bible was clearly sexual – but even in the lament for Jonathan, Abelard introduces material about love 27 28 29 30 31

See Bray, The Friend, 39; Winst, Amicus und Amelius. See s.v. “wedden,” in Middle English Dictionary (MED) , accessed 29 October 2016. See Puff, “Same-Sex Possibilities.” See Dronke, Poetic Individuality, 117. See Clanchy, Abelard; Mews, Abelard and Heloise. Both studies give good analyses of Abelard’s work and his relationship with Heloise.

David and Jonathan as a Paradigm of Male Friendship


and longing which is not in the biblical text. Although it is a version of David’s “Song of the Bow,” his lament for David and Saul in 2 Samuel 1, and it does deal with Saul, Abelard’s lament emphasizes Jonathan a great deal more. Here it is David who wishes to be undivided from Jonathan in death, whereas in the Bible it is Saul and Jonathan who were not divided. David refers to the “quae peccata, quae scelera nostra sciderunt viscera,” “What sins, what crimes have sundered our innermost parts,” which Dronke explains as “a shared agony of guilt.”32 This could possibly be a reference to physical aspects of love, expressing a feeling similar to the shame and remorse which Abelard said he felt in addition to grief when he and Heloise were parted and the “vile corruption” he later regretted.33 But it could also be translated as “What sins and wickednesses separate our hearts,” in other words “What horrible things have happened that have caused us to be apart,” evils not necessarily committed by the two of them. Abelard’s planctus for Samson mentions David along with Solomon and Adam as having been, like Samson, brought low by their desire for women, suggesting it is unlikely that Abelard understands David’s main sexual sin as having been with Jonathan. But he nevertheless understands this to be one of the great histories of passion in the biblical tradition, and the verse reaches a level of passion not found in Abelard’s letters to Heloise but only hers to him. Juanita Feros Ruys, the most recent editor and translator, suggests, indeed, that the planctus uses erotic language to create an ungendered love, a non-sexual version of pure intimacy of souls, which Abelard offered to Heloise.34 5

Jewish Writers on David and Jonathan

In Christianity, then, the deep and intimate love between two men could parallel that which would be found in a marriage, or even go beyond it. That does not mean that Christianity denigrated marriage, although some Christian writings suggested that celibacy was far better.35 But David and Jonathan were used as the epitome of true friendship/love, and David’s relationships with the various women in his life were not, although his relationship with Michal 32 33 34 35

See Feros Ruys, The Repentant Abelard, 255; translation, 265; Dronke, Poetic Individuality, 116; Kearney, “Peter Abelard’s Planctus,” 269. The author of the latter work suggests that David is referring here to his own sins against Saul or more likely Saul’s against him. See Abelard, Historia Calamitatum, 184. Trans. Levitan, The Letters 20 and 13; Letter 4, ed. Muckle, “The Personal Letters,” 89, trans. Levitan, 94–95. See Feros Ruys, The Repentant Abelard, 78–79, 87–90. See Karras, “The Reproduction of Medieval Christianity.”



would become more prominent in later medieval retellings.36 Jewish writers in the Middle Ages had a ready-made taxonomy of love (‫ אהבה‬/ ʾahăḇā) (rather than friendship) in the tractate Pirqe Avot. This is the context in which the relation between David and Jonathan was most commented upon in the medieval period. There is remarkably little midrash on the David and Jonathan story as compared to other parts of David’s life. Pirqe Avot, however, was a widely used ethical text, even outside of its Talmudic context – it contained hardly any halakhic material, and there is no Gemara on it – and was commented upon a great deal, especially in Sefarad in the later Middle Ages.37 The more elaborated version in Avot de-Rabbi Natan – one of the minor Talmudic tractates, an expansion and commentary on Pirqe Avot which was likely based on an earlier version than that incorporated in the Mishnah – was commented on largely in the later Middle Ages.38 I will focus here on commentaries from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, roughly the same chronological frame as the Christian sources discussed above, which are based on the Pirqe Avot. The tractate makes extensive use of the technique of oppositions: “Three who eat at one table and do not speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten of idolatrous sacrifices […] but three who eat at one table and speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten at God’s table” (Avot 3:3) The reference to David and Jonathan is similar. Most of Chapter 5 consists of lists, but 5:16 returns to the oppositional technique: “Any love (‫ אהבה‬/ ʾahăḇā) that is dependent on something – when the thing ceases, the love also ceases. But a love that is not dependent on anything never ceases. What is a love that is dependent on something? The love of Amnon and Tamar. And one that is not dependent on anything? The love of David and Jonathan.”39 The love of Amnon for Tamar, of course, was an incestuous one that culminated in rape. The thing on which it depended must be seen to be Amnon’s sexual desire, and perhaps Tamar’s purity as well; once the former had been achieved and the later obliterated, the love no longer existed. David and Jonathan’s love, hence, must be understood as not depending on sexual 36 37 38 39

See Karras, “David and Jonathan.” See Dan, Hebrew Ethical and Homiletical Literature, 146–166. The version generally used for commentary was Pirqe Avot, which consisted of the Mishnaic tractate plus additional chapters. Based on the authorities cited, the tractate is not likely to be later than the fourth century, although the versions that come down to us are later. See Goldin, “Introduction to The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan,” xxi. The numbering varies in editions of Pirqe Avot. I have used the standard Vilna edition, in which this passage appears as 5:16, but in commentaries that use different numbering, I have cited according to the numbering they use. See The Minor Tractates, 28.

David and Jonathan as a Paradigm of Male Friendship


desire. But it could not depend on the other aspects often cited either: mutual admiration of military prowess, or mutual interest as expressed in an oath or covenant. The contrast between these two loves may be read in the context of two other passages found in the first chapter of Pirqe Avot; 1:5 cites Yossi b. Yochanan saying that one should not converse too much with women, even one’s own wife: “A man who converses too much with a woman causes evil to himself, abandons the Torah, and, in the end, inherits Gehenna.”40 The following passage, 1:6, has Joshua b. Perachya advising: “Get for yourself a teacher, acquire for yourself a friend, and give every person the benefit of the doubt.”41 This word for “acquire” (‫ )קנה‬may also be translated “purchase.” The way these two passages are juxtaposed – do not talk too much to women, acquire a friend – may suggest that we should read the contrast in 5:15 as the contrast between a love between a man and a woman and a love between two men. Eyal Levinson reads the passage in just this way.42 But the contrast must be much more than that. Amnon and Tamar’s relationship is not that of lover and beloved, or husband and wife, but of rapist and victim; it is not likely that this can be made to stand for all love between men and women. And the use of “love” instead of “friendship” here should also make us wonder about the relationship of the passages. A look at some of the medieval commentaries can help further explicate this. The major medieval commentaries on Pirqe Avot are in fundamental agreement on the meaning of 5:16, although they take it in different directions. Rashi (or the Avot commentary attributed to him) is much briefer in his comments on 1:6, understanding it clearly as referring to study: some explain “a friend” as referring to books, others say it is good because two are better than one (Ecclesiastes 4:9).43 He does not comment on the David and Jonathan passage. In his assumption that the friend is to be a study partner – and in the reference to Ecclesiastes – Rashi seems to be relying on the Avot de-Rabbi Natan, which explains that “This teaches that a man should get a companion for himself, to eat with him, drink with him, study Scripture with him, study Mishnah with him, sleep with him, and reveal to him all his secrets, the secrets of the Torah and the secrets of worldly things.”44 Thus rather than an Aristotelian image of friendship based on intimacy or on virtue, Rashi follows the more exclusively 40 41 42 43 44

See ibidem, 9. See ibidem, 9. See Eyal Levinson, “ ‘For My Soul Desires You.” See Rashi’s commentary, in Minor Tractates, 9. See The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan, 8 (trans. Goldin, 50; original in Avot, 36).



Jewish one of a friendship based on study of the halakha. A commentary on Pirqe Avot that comprises part of the one manuscript of the Maḥzor Vitry, compiled by Simhah b. Samuel of Vitry, a pupil of Rashi (and with the commentary based on that by Jacob b. Simson, another member of Rashi’s school) also understands this passage in terms of study.45 The passage about Amnon and Tamar, David and Jonathan echoes Maimonides’ explanation of friendship based on attraction (not the latter’s explanation of this passage): it glosses “depends on something” as “on his own attraction and not because of closeness,” contrasting two types of friendship based on pleasure and on intimacy or trust: “His love is not for the sake of his own pleasure but because of closeness, or because of the good things that are in it. This thing does not cease, so the love does not cease.” Amnon is explicitly said to have loved Tamar because he desired to have sex with her. David, on the other hand, “said when he mourned him: your love was wonderful to me beyond the love of women.”46 There is a clear contrast between the carnality of Amnon’s love and the purity – because different from that of women, citing 2 Samuel 1:26 – of David and Jonathan’s. Maimonides, however, not surprisingly, takes a more philosophical tone: “those material causes will cease and pass away. And its passing is necessary with the passing of its cause. And from this, if the cause of love is a divine thing, that is true knowledge, it is not possible that it will ever pass away, because its cause exists permanently.”47 The worldly desire of Amnon for Tamar is inevitably transient; the discussion of material versus divine causes is highly Aristotelian. Also Aristotelian is the commentary on 1:6, where Maimonides highlights the choice of the term ‫“( קנה‬acquire,” “purchase”) and suggests it is important to have a friend to learn with, even if one has to pay. The Hebrew version of Maimonides – translated by the medieval Provençal scholar Samuel Ibn Tibbon (ca. 1150–1230) from the original Arabic, and widely used in medieval Europe – shifts from the term ‫ חבר‬/ ḥāḇer used in the first part of 1:6 to the word ‫ אוהב‬/ ʾōhēḇ or one who loves, although the Arabic word that Maimonides used, ‫ צדיק‬/ ṣaddīq, would normally be translated as “friend,” with connotations of a “true or sincere friend”;48 thus, while speaking in the context of a 45 46 47


See Commentary zu den Sprüchen der Väter, 8–9. See ibidem, 87. See Moses Maimonides, Perush ha-Rambam le-Avot, 5:15, 203. Translation is mine, but see also Pirkei Avot with the Rambam’s Commentary, 140–141. On Maimonides’ ethical works generally, and the manuscripts of Avot commentary and other works, see Gorfinkle, “Introduction to Maimonides, Eight Chapters.” See s.v. ṣadīq, in Lane, Arabic English Lexicon, 1668, , accessed 27 November 2016. Thanks to Dr. Oded Zinger for bringing this reference to my attention.

David and Jonathan as a Paradigm of Male Friendship


Mishnah about friendship, he includes the higher emotion of love.49 Rambam classifies the types of ‫ אוהב‬/ ʾōhēḇ according to the Aristotelian categories of friendship: for benefit, for attraction, and for higher things.50 The first involves mutual self-interest. The third is the praiseworthy type of friendship, as with the friend that the Mishnah directs one to acquire, one in which both partners have as a goal the realization of the good. The second is the more problematic. Again, it is divided into two parts. It may be based on pleasure or on trust. That based on pleasure is “the love of men for women and what follows from that.”51 This is where Amnon’s love for Tamar would fall. It is not clear how Rambam would categorise David’s and Jonathan’s love, whether as a question of attraction based on trust and perfect confidence, or whether as one based on improvement, what we might call virtue. It is likely, however, that it would be the former. David and Jonathan are referred to in terms which imply a loving attachment, not just as companions and study partners, but in Maimonides this is also true of the friend of 1:6, who moves from ḥaver to ohēv. Rabbenu Yonah Girondi, an anti-Maimonidean in that he supported the traditional study of Talmud as opposed to philosophical rationalism, agreed that friendship was largely about study, but he also attributed a component of emotional intimacy to it, and implied the Maimonidean distinction (although he did not quote Maimonides) between an attachment based on trust and intimacy and one based on virtue. He makes the worldly love vs love of the divine a much more fundamental issue than the love of the individuals referred to in 5:16: “When people assemble in order to gain honor at each other’s expense, their love for one another will eventually disappear, because its basis is transitory. […] The love of those who assemble for the sake of Heaven is not dependent on transitory factors.”52 He cites the love of David and Jonathan as being specifically for the sake of Heaven. This phrase, ‫[ל]שם‬ ‫ שמים‬/ [l-]šēm šāmayim, appears in Pirqe Avot itself in 5:17, in a discussion of which quarrels are for the sake of Heaven (Hillel and Shammai) and which are not. But the fact that David and Jonathan’s love is for the sake of Heaven

49 50 51 52

See Perush, ed. Rabinowitz, 14. The edition of Shilat, 8–9, gives ‫חבר‬, but that is not what appears in the manuscripts and editio princeps: British Library, Ms. Add 14673, fol. 126v; Perush ha-Mishnah: Avot, fol. 19r. See Seeman, “Maimonides and Friendship.” See also Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 3, 145–147. See Perush, ed. Rabinowitz, 1:6, 13. This passage is often translated as “a man and a woman in marriage,” but it does not actually say that. See Gerondi, Perush al Masechet Avot, 5:16, ed. Kashar and Blacherovitz, 91; trans. Sedley, 363.



implies that it is a type of virtue friendship, or for mutual improvement, and would seem to rule out the idea of personal passion. This relationship between David and Jonathan, then, does not correspond easily with any of the reasons that Rabbenu Yonah presents for acquiring a friend in 1:6. He gives three. First, for study together; second, for the sake of mitzvot, as each will reprove the other when he sins and thereby promote each other’s virtue; and third, for advice, from someone whose loyalty and discretion you can trust entirely.53 The first two of these could be considered for the sake of Heaven; the third, perhaps not. Rabbenu Yonah does not juxtapose the David and Jonathan passage with the friendship passage as clearly as, for example, the Mahzor Vitry; the same language is not used. It is friendship in 1:6 and love in 5:16, without overlap (Gerondi does use the word ‫ אוהבים‬/ ʾōhăḇīm once in 1:6, when referring to those to whom a friend will not tell secrets, not to the friend who has been entrusted with those secrets).54 It is clear enough, however, that despite the different language for friendship and love, David and Jonathan’s love could be categorized within the Ciceronian or Aristotelian model of friendship as one of improving virtue. Rabbeinu Yonah also confronts directly the ambiguity in “acquire/buy yourself a friend”: “if you cannot find a friend for free, you should acquire him with money. Use your assets to obtain a good friend, or else acquire him through kind words and gentle language.”55 It is possible to fit David and Jonathan into this context – Jonathan presenting David with clothing and armor after he has killed Goliath, for example – but it is not altogether clear that Yonah meant to bring these passages together. But he is only trying to explain an anomaly in the text, not to make all friendship negotiable. All the Jewish writers, but Yonah especially strongly, contrasts male friendship with relationships with women. The latter are unavoidably sexual because of the yēṣer ha-raʿ.56 There is no whiff of concern about temptation to sin emerging in relationships between two men, either in the case of David and Jonathan or in general. In that sense, although the comparison between Amnon/Tamar and David/Jonathan is not just a comparison between male and female love, there is a hint that the former is what talking to a woman can inevitably lead to. Friendship with a man, it would seem, cannot. In both Christianity and Judaism the line between “love” and “friendship” is not as sharp as it would be today. Christian writers move easily among amor, 53 54 55 56

See Gerondi, Kashar and Blacherowitz ed., 8; trans. Sedley, 33–34. See Gerondi, Kashar and Blacherowitz, ed., 8; trans. Sedley, 33. See Gerondi, Kashar and Blacherowitz ed., 8–9; trans. Sedley, 35. See Gerondi, Kashar and Blacherowitz ed., 6–7; trans. Sedley, 28–32.

David and Jonathan as a Paradigm of Male Friendship


amicitia, and dilectio. Jewish authors can equate ḥāḇer and ʾōhēḇ. It is, of course, in no way surprising that the commentaries on Pirqe Avot focus on David and Jonathan’s love being in pursuit of a higher good, God or divine truth. This is, after all, an ethical text, advice to how to live, and striving for God is at the center; the passages about study, too, envision not study as an end in itself but as a way to better understand God’s commandments. Nonetheless whether love or friendship, what these commentaries envision is not highly emotional. The Christian texts, too, see male-male love as a way of approaching God, a figuration of the love of God; like the Avot commentaries they remove David and Jonathan’s relationship from the fleshly realm. Yet, they posit a more emotionalized love of God – something we might find within Jewish mystical traditions, but which in Christianity became more mainstream. The friendship of David and Jonathan could thus become more passionate without ever leaving the realm of the religious and acceptable. Bibliography Aelred of Rievaulx. Spiritual Friendship. Translated into English by Lawrence C. Braceland [Cistercian Fathers Series, vol. 5]. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2010. Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica, edited by Petrus Caramello. Turin: Marietta, 1952. Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics, edited and translated into English by Roger Crisp. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Avot de-Rabbi Natan in the Edition of S.Z. Schechter, edited by Menahem Kister. New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1996–97. Baldwin of Forde. Tractate 14, edited by J.P. Migne. Patrologiae latinae cursus completus [Series latina, vol. 204]. Paris, 1841–1855. Baldwin of Forde. Spiritual Tractates. Translated into English by David M. Bell. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 2001. Baumgarten, Elisheva, Ruth Mazo Karras, and Katelyn Mesler. “Introduction.” In Entangled Histories: Knowledge, Authority, and Jewish Culture in the Thirteenth Century, edited by Elisheva Baumgarten, Ruth Mazo Karras, and Katelyn Mesler, 1–20. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017. Bray, Alan. The Friend. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. Burns, E. Jane. “Performing Courtliness.” In The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe, edited by Judith M. Bennett and Ruth Mazo Karras, 396–411. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. The Cambridge Songs (Carmina Cantabrigiensia), edited and translated into English by Jan Ziolkowski. Tempe, AZ: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1998.



Cheyette, Frederic L. “Women, Poets, and Politics in Occitania.” In Aristocratic Women in Medieval France, edited by Theodore Evergates, 138–317. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999. Cicero. De amicitia. In De senectute, De amicitia, De divinatio. Translated into English by William Armistead Falconer, 108–211. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1923. Clanchy, Michael T. Abelard: A Medieval Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. Commentary zu den Sprüchen der Väter aus Machsor Vitry, edited by Abraham Berliner. Frankfurt: J. Kauffmann, 1897. Dan, Joseph. Hebrew Ethical and Homiletical Literature: The Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period [in Hebrew]. Jerusalem: Keter, 1975. Dhuoda. Manuel pour mon fils, edited by Pierre Riché. Translated into French by Bernard de Vregille and Claude Mondésert [Sources Chrétiennes, vol. 225 bis]. Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1976. Dronke, Peter. Poetic Individuality in the Middle Ages: New Departures in Poetry 1000– 1150, 2nd ed. London: Westfield College, 1986. Elliott, Dyan. The Bride of Christ Goes to Hell: Metaphor and Embodiment in the Lives of Pious Women 200–1500. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012. The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan. Translated into English by Judah Goldin [Yale Judaica Series, vol. 10]. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1955. Gerondi, Jonah. The Commentary of Rabbeinu Yonah of Gerona on Chapters of the Fathers. Translated into English by David Sedley. Jerusalem: TorahLab, 2007. Gerondi, Jonah. Pērūsh Rabenu Yōnah mī-Gerondī ‘āl Maśeḫet Abot, edited by Moshe Shlomo Kasher and Ya’akov Blekherovits. Jerusalem: Mekhon Torah Shelemāh, 1965–66. Goldin, Judah. “Introduction to The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan.” In The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan. Translated into English by Judah Goldin [Yale Judaica Series, vol. 10], xvii–xxvi. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1955. Gorfinkle, Joseph I. “Introduction to Maimonides, Eight Chapters.” In Moses Maimonides. The Eight Chapters of Maimonides on Ethics. Translated into English by Joseph I. Gorfinkle, pp. 1–33. New York: Columbia University Press, 1912. Hermansson, Lars. Bärande band: Vänskap, kärlek och brödraskap I det medeltida Nordeuropa, ca 1000–1200. Lund: Nordic Academic Press, 2009. Jaeger, C. Stephen. Ennobling Love: In Search of a Lost Sensibility. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999. Karras, Ruth Mazo. “David and Jonathan: A Medieval Bromance,” in Rivalrous Mascu­ linities, ed. Ann Marie Rasmussen (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2019), 151–173.

David and Jonathan as a Paradigm of Male Friendship


Karras, Ruth Mazo. Sexuality in Medieval Europe: Doing Unto Others, 3rd ed. Abingdon: Routledge, 2017. Karras, Ruth Mazo. “The Reproduction of Medieval Christianity.” In The Oxford Handbook of Gender and Christian Theology, edited by Adrian Thatcher, 271–286. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Karras, Ruth Mazo. “Friendship and Love in the Lives of Two Twelfth-Century English Saints.” Journal of Medieval History 14 (1988), 305–320. Kearney, Eileen. “Peter Abelard’s Planctus ‘Dolorum solatium’: A New Song for David.” In Rethinking Abelard: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Babette S. Hellemans, 253–281. Leiden: Brill, 2014. Lane, Edward William. Arabic English Lexicon. London: Williams and Norgate, 1863. Levinson, Eyal. “‘For My Soul Desires You and My Love For You Is Eternal’: Male Friendship in Medieval Ashkenaz.” In Friendship in Jewish Culture, History, and Religion, edited by Lawrence Fine, 1–13. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2021. Linkinen, Tom. Same-Sex Sexuality in Late Medieval English Culture. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2015. Maimonides, Moses. The Eight Chapters of Maimonides on Ethics. Translated into English by Joseph I. Gorfinkle. New York: Columbia University Press, 1912. Maimonides, Moses. Pērūsh ha-Rambam le-‘Abot, edited by Mordechai Rabinowitz. Jerusalem: Mosad ha-Rav Qūq, 1961. Maimonides, Moses. Pērūsh ha-Rambam le-‘Abot, edited by Yitzchak Shilat. Ma’ale Adumim: Shilat, 1998. Maimonides, Moses. Pērūsh ha-Mīshnāh: ‘Abot, Soncino: Soncino, 1485. Middle English Dictionary. , accessed 29 October 2016. McGuire, Brian Patrick. Brother and Lover: Aelred of Rievaulx. New York: Crossroad, 1994. McGuire, Brian Patrick. Friendship and Community: The Monastic Experience 350–1250, 2nd ed. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010. Mews, Constant J. Abelard and Heloise. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. The Minor Tractates of the Talmud. Vilna: Romm, 1900. Olyan, Saul M. “‘Surpassing the Love of Women’: Another Look at 2 Samuel 1:26 and the Relationship of David and Jonathan.” In Authorizing Marriage? Canon, Tradition, and Critique in the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions, edited by Mark D. Jordan, 7–16. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006. Peter of Blois. “De amicitia christiana.” In Opuscula, edited by John Allen Giles, 130– 166. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1846.



Pirkei Avot with the Rambam’s Commentary. Translated into English by Eliyahu Tougher. New York: Moznaim, 1994. Puff, Helmut. “Same-Sex Possibilities.” In The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe, edited by Judith M. Bennett and Ruth Mazo Karras, 279–295. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. Ruys, Juanita Feros. The Repentant Abelard: Family, Gender, and Ethics in Peter Abelard’s Carmen ad Astralabium and Planctus. New York: Palgrave, 2014. Seeman, Don. “Maimonides and Friendship.” Jewish Studies, and Internet Journal, 13 (2015), 1–36. Tull, Patricia K. “Jonathan’s Gift of Friendship.” Interpretation, 58 (2004): 130–143. Winst, Silke. Amicus and Amelius: Kriegerfreundschaft und Gewalt in mittelalterlicher Erzähltradition. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2009.

part 2 The Psalter of David in Monotheistic Traditions

chapter 9

David the Prophet in Saʿadya Gaon’s Commentary on Psalms and Its Syriac and Karaite Contexts Arye Zoref 1


The influence of Syriac Bible commentaries on Judeo-Arabic exegesis has been widely recognized, mainly thanks to Sarah Stroumsa’s research on the subject.1 Over the last few years, several scholars have demonstrated that Rav Saʿadya Gaon, the great rabbinic master of the tenth century, was influenced by Christian-Syriac scholarship in several respects, most notably in his introductions to biblical commentaries,2 his description of the creation of Adam,3 and his discussion of the resurrection.4 Saʿadya sometimes professed his objection to Christian ideas and argued against them. Yet, even in those cases, he demonstrated his familiarity with Christian ideas.5 How did Saʿadya come into contact with Syriac scholarship? There is no doubt that in his time there were oral theological debates between Jews and Christians, as we learn from the fact that another Jewish master, Rav Hai Gaon, consulted with the Syriac Nestorian Catholicos about the meaning of a verse from Psalms.6 Christian thinking influenced the Gaon’s ideas, as well as his style. One can assume, therefore, that Saʿadya read Syriac sources, or, perhaps, their Arabic adaptations.7

1 See Stroumsa, “Syriac Influence.” This publication was prepared within the framework of the research project “The Davidic Narratives and David’s Portrayal in Medieval Jewish Translation and Exegesis, A Comparative Approach” supported by the Israel Science Foundation (ISF No. 321/17; PI: Meira Polliack, Department of Biblical Studies, Tel-Aviv University). 2 See Stroumsa, “Literary Model.” 3 See Bashir, Angelology and Humanism, 207–215. 4 See Moss, “Fish eats Lion.” 5 See Schlossberg, “Saadia’s polemics,” 247. It is noteworthy that Saʿadya sometimes describes Christian ideas in a manner that is not entirely accurate, because his intention is not to describe Christian theology, but to reject it’s approach. See Stroumsa, Saadia, 17. 6 See Ibn ʿAqnin, Revelation of Secrets, 494. 7 See Moss, “Fish eats Lion,” 512; Stroumsa, “Literary Model,” 194.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | doi:10.1163/9789004465978_011



Rina Drory suggests that the style and structure of Judeo-Arabic Bible commentaries, including their introductions, were influenced by Syriac models.8 Indeed, the way Saʿadya describes in the introductions to his commentaries the central themes of the biblical book in question is very similar to the manner of writing adopted by Syriac commentators. In her discussion of the Gaon’s introductions to his biblical commentaries, Stroumsa discusses in particular his introduction to the Book of Psalms. Saʿadya maintains there that the Book of Psalms’ central theme is divine speech and lists ten types of divine speech, providing examples for each from the Psalms. Stroumsa points out the similarity between Saʿadya and Syriac commentators on this subject. The Syriac Nestorian commentator Ishodad of Merv (ninth century) likewise claims that there are ten kinds of divine speech, all of which can be found in the Book of Psalms. The Syriac Jacobite commentator Moshe Bar Kepha (end of the ninth century) states that every biblical book has one or two themes, while the Book of Psalms contains all the themes.9 In this paper I will try to demonstrate that Syriac influence on Saʿadya’s commentary on Psalms was not only a matter of style, namely, the incorporation of a prolegomenon, but that the way the Gaon shapes his two introductions to the Psalms and in his exegetical approach to this biblical book he shows the influence of Syriac commentaries. The article examines the manner in which Saʿadya made use of Syriac ideas, which of them he accepts and which he rejects, and how these ideas are incorporated into his exegetic approach. The article will be based principally on a comparison of Saʿadya’s two introductions to Psalms with those of Ishadad of Merv and Moshe Bar Kepha. R. Yosef Qafiḥ, the editor of the printed edition of Saʿadya’s commentary on the Psalms, claims that the Gaon had initially written a relatively short introduction to his translation of the Book of Psalms. Later, he decided to add a commentary to the translation. At an even later stage, he decided that he must further clarify his approach involving another longer, more detailed introduction and a revised commentary in which he reinterpreted the first four Psalms in a longer and more detailed fashion. The later introduction and commentary on the first four Psalms were placed in the manuscripts before the earlier short introduction.10 An analysis of Saʿadya’s approach to the Psalms can be found in Uriel Simon’s book.11 Ishodad’s of Merv commentary was published by Ceslas 8 9 10 11

See Drory, Models and Contacts, 137–138. See Stroumsa, “Literary Model,” 200–201. See Saʿadya, Psalms, 9–10. For the short introduction, see ibidem, 51–53. For the long introduction, see ibidem, 17–38. See Simon, Four Approaches, 13–54.

David the Prophet in Sa ʿ adya Gaon ’ s Commentary on Psalms


Van Den Eynde.12 Moshe Bar Kepha’s introduction was published by Gustav Diettrich, without naming the author. Many sections are missing, because Diettrich had only one manuscript at his disposal.13 Jacques Vosté found another manuscript, which confirmed that the author of the introduction was Moshe Bar Kepha. Using this manuscript, he completed the missing sections.14 One must not necessarily assume that Saʿadya had read the writings of either Ishodad or Moshe Bar Kepha. The striking similarity between Ishodad’s and Moshe Bar Kepha’s introductions (although it can be partly explained, if we assume that Moshe Bar Kepha used Ishodad’s commentary) leads to the conclusion that introductions to the Book of Psalms were an established genre in Syriac literature, with quite fixed patterns. It can be assumed that in the Gaon’s day there were already many works of that sort, by Nestorians and Jacobites, and that Saʿadya had read works of that sort, or learned of their content in some other way, possibly through oral informants. 2

Styles of Speech

In his second (short) introduction to the Psalms Saʿadya specifies ten styles of human speech: Commanding justice, forbidding wrongdoing, encouraging (reward) and threatening (punishment), reporting about the righteous so that people will aspire to be like them, reporting about the wicked so that people will aspire not to be like them, speaking as a master talks to his slave, and as a slave talks to his master, telling parables and recounting about events. These styles and others like them are what people use [in their speech] because they find them suitable to convey their message to other peoples’ minds. We have no need to give examples for each style from everyday use, because they are clear and well known. I also will not bring examples from other books of the Scriptures; it is enough that I will bring examples from the book that I intend to comment on.15 The Syriac authors make similar statements, albeit they discuss the themes of biblical books, rather than the styles of speech. Ishodad says: 12 13 14 15

See Ishodad, Psalms. See Diettrich, Jakobitische Einleitung. See Vosté, “Bar Kepha.” See Saʿadya, Psalms, 51.



The Scriptures are divided into ten themes, as I have mentioned in the introduction to the commentary on Genesis; each book of the Scriptures contains one of the themes. The Book of Psalms, on the other hand, contains all the themes of the Scriptures.16 Moshe Bar Kepha further elaborates this idea. He explains that the Book of Psalms contains all the themes of the Scriptures.17 He also specifies the ten themes of divine speech: God’s incarnation – i.e., His transformation into a human being – (theology), prophecy, prayer, warning, reproach, complaint, thanksgiving, story, covenant, judgment and punishment.18 Later, he mentions a slightly different division of the themes: reflection, study, warning, reproach, complaint, prayer, story, threat, sign, and visions of the future (prophecy). Moshe Bar Kepha goes on to demonstrates how these themes appear in the Scriptures in general and in the Book of Psalms in particular. Syriac writers received these ideas from Greek Church fathers. Athanasius of Alexandria (fourth century) says in his letter to Marcellinus that the Book of Psalms contains all the themes mentioned in the Scriptures. He also specifies the different themes and demonstrates how they appear in the Book of Psalms, albeit in a slightly different manner than Moshe bar Kepha.19 Sections of Athanasius’ letter, translated into Syriac, can be found in several manuscripts of the Syriac translation of the Book of Psalms as part of the exegetical introduction preceding the translation. This is how Athanasius’ ideas found their way into Syriac scholarship.20 Saʿadya also speaks of ten styles of speech, but his list is different from those proposed by Moshe Bar Kepha. The first list that Moshe Bar Kepha presents was certainly of no use to Saʿadya, because of its obvious Christian nature. The second one could have been useful, but it dealt specifically with divine speech (that is why we can find prophecy in it). The Gaon wanted a list that would deal with speech in general, both divine and human. Therefore, he prefers a list that includes the speech of a master to his slave and a slave to his master, which can be interpreted as a conversation between two human beings as well as a conversation between man and God.21 However, he decides that there is 16 17 18 19 20 21

See Ishodad, Psalms, 4. See Vosté, “Bar Kepha,” 220. See Diettrich, Jakobitische Einleitung, 9. See Athanasius, Life of Antony, 102, 113. See Stewart, Psalms and Prayer, 55–57. Division into ten styles of speech can also be found in Arabic grammar, but there the list is quite different than Saʿadya’s list. Cf. al-Suyūṭī, ʿUlūm al-Qurʾān, II, 130. It is possible that Saʿadya compiled the list himself, for his own purposes.

David the Prophet in Sa ʿ adya Gaon ’ s Commentary on Psalms


no need to give examples from other books of Scripture, as Moshe Bar Kepha had done; examples from the Book of Psalms are enough. In his first (long) introduction Saʿadya presents a different list, containing only five styles of speech: vocative, interrogative, narrative, imperative and request. Each of the five categories is divided into sub-categories.22 A similar division of the styles of speech into five can be found also in Arabic grammars.23 However, the division of the five styles of speech into sub-categories was probably developed by the Gaon. This allowed him a more flexible division of the styles of speech that suited his exegetical purpose. The first introduction is longer than the second, and Saʿadya there cites examples for each sub-category from other books of the Bible as well as the Book of Psalms. Although Saʿadya and the Syriac commentators both distinguish different categories (themes, or styles of speech) in the biblical text they do so for different purposes. The Syriac commentators mention that the Book of Psalms contains all the major scriptural themes in order to stress the importance of the Psalms, and especially their major role in Syriac liturgy. Ishodad asks: why was the church ordered to use only the Psalms of David?24 In order to answer this question Ishodad underscores the importance of Psalms, as the book that contains all the themes of the Scriptures. Moshe bar Kepha, after listing the different themes that appear in the Book of Psalms, declares that a man can only be appointed as a cantor or a priest if he is well versed in the Psalms.25 Saʿadya, on the other hand, specifies the styles of speech and demonstrated their existence in the Book of Psalms for a very different reason. He wants to stress that although the Psalms contain different styles of speech, the speaker is always one and the same, namely, God. In his second introduction, the Gaon asserts: I need to present this in the introduction so that the reader of this book is not inclined to read it as [a collection of] separate sections, and [so that the reader wouldn’t be inclined] to think that the words that are said in the name of the slave [i.e., the human being] are the words of the slave and not of his Master [i.e., God].26

22 23 24 25 26

See Saʿadya, Psalms, 18. Cf. al-Suyūṭī, ʿUlūm al-Qurʾān, II 130. See Ishodad, Psalms, 4. See Diettrich, Jakobitische Einleitung, 25–27. See Saʿadya, Psalms, 53.



It is possible that on this subject, Saʿadya was influenced by rhetorical and stylistic theories in Islamic literature. Muslim masters of rhetoric claimed that the speaker in the Qurʾān is always God, even when He is spoken of in the third person. There is only a small number of exceptions, in which God quotes the word of Prophet Muḥammad and his companions, or the words of the angels.27 It is also noteworthy that the Muslim version of Psalms, a pseudo-epigraphic work of the twelfth or thirteenth century, combines some verses from the Book of Psalms with materials from Islamic literature.28 It is built as a series of speeches, or sermons, in which God addresses David. It demonstrates the Islamic perception that all the books of the Scriptures are the words of God addressed to his prophets.29 3

Psalms as a Prophecy

Saʿadya stresses that all verses of Psalms are the words of the Master, i.e., God, directed to his servants, i.e., human beings, despite some verses which may seem to be the words of human beings addressed to God. The Gaon mentions this principle in his first introduction: I saw it fit to mention this thing in the introduction […] because I have seen that some people of our nation wrongly believe that David said the words of this book [i.e., the Psalms] on his own accord. I think that the cause of this mistake is that you find many prayers in it; that made them think you cannot ascribe it to God, but to human beings. They were especially inclined to make this mistake because they use Psalms in their prayers.30 Scholars have recognized that Saʿadya’s words are a polemic against the Karaite perception of the Book of Psalms. The idea that David pronounced the words of the Book of Psalms “on his own accord” is suggested by some Karaites, for example Yefet ben ʿEli (the second half of the tenth century until the beginning of the eleventh). He believed that some parts of the Bible were written by those who had been invested with divine inspiration (Ar. ilhām), which is a 27 28 29 30

See Abdel Haleem, “Grammatical Shift,” 145. On Muslim reception of the Book of Psalms, see in this volume Vishanoff, “Images of David.” See Vishanoff, “Nations Rage,” 152–154. See Saʿadya, Psalms, 24.

David the Prophet in Sa ʿ adya Gaon ’ s Commentary on Psalms


form of prophecy, different from direct divine revelation (Ar. waḥī).31 Saʿadya’s claim that the Book of Psalms is not a book of prayers is designed to counter the Karaite claim that the Book of Psalms is the ultimate prayer book for the Jewish people, and that these are the only prayers that are fit for every generation. The Karaites believed that there was no need for other prayers and one was not allowed to use other prayers.32 The comparison between Saʿadya and the Syriac authors shows that both the Gaon and his Karaite rivals relied on the Syriac authors. Even so, each developed a completely different approach to the Book of Psalms. The Karaite perception of the Book of Psalms as the ultimate prayer book, indeed the only permitted prayer book, is similar to the position of Syriac commentators on the Book of Psalms. We have already mentioned that Ishodad states that the church was ordered to use only David’s Psalms. Ishodad explains that God knew in advance that the heretics would write their own hymns filled with heresy. Therefore He decided that only the Book of Psalms could be used.33 Moshe bar Kepha presents this as an accusation directed at the Syriac church by idol worshipers: “why do you neglect all the [other] Scriptures and use only the Book of Psalms for prayer?”34 Moshe Bar Kepha denies this accusation. He claims that Syriac Jacobites do not use the Book of Psalms for prayer, and that they only have one prayer, “our father in heaven,” the prayer that Jesus himself used.35 They employ the Book of Psalms as a song of praise for God, and a song of praise is, by its very nature, close to prayer. Moshe Bar Kepha ostensibly denies the accusation, but in fact he admits that Syriac liturgy is based on Psalms. In another place he mentions that believers should recite Psalms throughout their lives.36 One can assume that the Karaite perception of the book of Psalms as the only legitimate prayer book was influenced by Syriac notions.37 Saʿadya, naturally, could not accept this principle, because rabbinic law demands the use of other prayers beside the Book of Psalms. 31 32 33 34

35 36 37

See Ben-Shammai, “Polemical Element,” 131, 138. See Simon, Four Approaches, 58, 71. Cf. Salmon, Psalms, 186; Yefet, Psalms, 9. See Ishodad, Psalms, 4–5. See Diettrich, Jakobitische Einleitung, 83. Moshe Bar Kepha attributes this accusation to idol worshipers (Syr. ḥanpā), by which he probably means Christians from other churches, because an accusation of “neglecting the Scriptures” only makes sense in a discussion between people who share the same Scriptures, i.e., people of the same religion. See Mathew 6:9–13. Luke 11:2–4. Diettrich, Jakobitische Einleitung, 23. The Karaites rejected Rabbinic law and Rabbinic prayers, and insisted that one must rely only on the Bible. Therefore, they had to develop prayer based on the Bible, and they used a model that was familiar to them, that is Syriac prayer.



Saʿadya stresses strongly that David was a prophet, and that all of the Psalms are prophecies sent directly by God; David did not say anything on his own accord. The Syriac commentators debate the question: was David a prophet? Ishodad says: Some stupid people, some of whom are Jews and some who are not, say that David was not a prophet, but a sage. They rely on the fact that David never said: “the word of God came to me” or “[His] vision [came to me],” as other prophets did […]. Also, David is never reported to have been sent as a messenger [by God], as Moses was sent to the Egyptians, and other prophets to their nations. On the contrary, the prophets Nathan and Gad were sent to him [i.e., David] from time to time by God, speaking about various events that happened in his life-time. Even when he wanted to ask God a question, Abiathar did it on his behalf.38 Moshe Bar Kepha also attributes similar opinions to the Jews. Ishodad vehemently rejects these notions and claims that David was a prophet, indeed greater than all the prophets of his time: To the people who say this nonsense we respond: David was an ocean of prophecy. Indeed, other prophets brought the word of God to him regarding some insignificant events in his lifetime. However, regarding larger issues and events of the future David was pronouncing them [i.e., the words of God], while Nathan and his companions were far from grasping them. There are different levels of the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is as if David was standing on a high mountain of divine knowledge, and from there he could see all events, past and future, just like Moses saw the promised land. When singing with his harp he could allude to the rivers of Babylon, and he saw with his own eyes Christ and his grace, [as well as] the resurrection and the judgment that will befall the nations. It is not mentioned that the word of God, or [His] vision came to him, or anything of this sort, because he was not sent to covey his message to others; in that case he would have needed to tell them: “So said the Lord.” The reason for this is that his prophecy was not meant for his time, but for future generations.39

38 39

See Ishodad, Psalms, 6–7. See Ishodad, Psalms, 7.

David the Prophet in Sa ʿ adya Gaon ’ s Commentary on Psalms


Ishodad points out that indeed David did not use prophetic expressions in the Book of Psalms, but in the Book of Samuel it is clearly stated: The inspired utterance of David son of Jesse, the utterance of the man exalted by the Most High, the man anointed by the God of Jacob, the hero of Israel’s songs. The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me, his word was on my tongue. 2 Samuel 23:1–2

This, Ishodad argues, shows that David was indeed a prophet. Moshe Bar Kepha also maintains that David was a prophet, and that the Book of Psalms is a prophecy predicting the life of Jesus, as Jesus himself had asserted, as well as the apostles Paul and Peter.40 Ishodad and Moshe Bar Kepha both testify that the notion that David was not a prophet was held by Jews; Ishodad says that there were also non-Jews (i.e., Christians) who entertain that view. It is reasonable to assume that indeed there were Jews who so believed, since David is not depicted as a prophet in the books of Samuel and Kings, as Ishodad and Moshe bar Kepha rightly point out. Nevertheless, both Syriac commentators insist that David was a prophet. It is clear that one of the reasons for this is that they believed that some sections of the Book of Psalms describe Jesus’ life. If so, it must be a prophecy predicting the future. Another reason was the importance of Psalms in Syriac liturgy, which was justified by the argument that the Book of Psalms summarizes the message of the entire Bible, including the Prophets. These two reasons certainly did not appeal to Saʿadya, who did not believe in the divinity of Jesus and did not consider the Book of Psalms to be a book of prayer. Yet, the Gaon nevertheless insists that David was a prophet, and that all the words of the Book of Psalms were words of prophecy, contrary to what many Jews believed. Hence, similarly to the Syriac commentators, Saʿadya maintains that David had prophetic revelations. Indeed, God inspired him with Psalms which discussed events that took place hundreds of years later, e.g., the destruction of the Temple. In his commentary on Psalms 79, “O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple,” Saʿadya states: “God is telling him in advance what He knew was going


See Diettrich, Jakobitische Einleitung, 69. For the use of verses from Psalms in the New Testament, see Acts 4:24; 13:33, Hebrews 1:5, Revelation 19:24, and other places. David is clearly depicted as a prophet in Acts 2:30: “Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne.”



to happen, i.e., the destruction of the Temple […] He mentioned it before it happened and reported it to his prophet David.”41 Thus, Saʿadya embraces the notion that David was a prophet, but he strongly objects to the way some of the Syriac commentators describe David’s prophetic ability. Ishodad insists that David was a prophet, but he acknowledges the difference between David’s prophecy and that of the other prophets. He claims that David did not receive a new revelation every time he pronounced a Psalm. Instead, he received a revelation once and aided by this revelation he could create new Psalms again and again: When he was anointed by Samuel, he was given the knowledge of future events from the Holy Spirit, and he did not say every new psalm through a new revelation, but he was like a man who was given a chamber of treasures [taking out one each time], sometimes prophesing and sometime issuing warnings, etc.42 Ishodad explains that David could create a psalm at any time, because his words relied on the Holy Spirit that he possessed from the moment he was anointed.43 All his Psalms were said through the Holy Spirit, but there were several different kinds of Psalms: some were prophecies of the future, some were Psalms of wisdom, and some were based on his own personal experiences, as in the Psalms he wrote about events in which he was involved.44 This concept was probably not accepted by all Syriac commentators. Moshe Bar Kepha maintains that the Holy Spirit moved David’s tongue in the same manner that a scribe moves his pen; as David himself describes it: “my tongue is the pen of a ready writer” (Psalms 45:2). Therefore, David never said “so said the Lord” like other prophets, because his words were the words of God himself.45 This perception of David’s prophetic ability is different to that of Ishodad. Ishodad’s approach, according to which David received a one-time revelation through which he could say a psalm whenever he wished, is somewhat similar to that of the Karaite Yefet ben ʿEli. The latter claims that some parts of the Bible, and especially biblical poetry, were not written through direct divine revelation. Rather, divine inspiration (Ar. ilhām), the Holy Spirit, enabled the prophet to utter words of prophecy that were not a word-by-word repetition 41 42 43 44 45

See Saʿadya, Psalms, 189. See also Simon, Four Approaches, 26–27. See Ishodad, Psalms, 6. This is probably how he interpreted the biblical phrase “and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David” (1 Samuel 16:13). See Ishodad, Psalms, 7–8. See Diettrich, Jakobitische Einleitung, 71.

David the Prophet in Sa ʿ adya Gaon ’ s Commentary on Psalms


of the divine message.46 Ishodad does not consider this to be an inferior form of prophecy. To the contrary, in his eyes this shows that the quality of David’s prophecy was superior to that of other prophets. Yefet, on the other hand, considers divine inspiration as a legitimate form of prophecy, given to Moses and other prophets, but inferior to the prophecy in which the commandments were given to Moses, which was “mouth to mouth” prophecy. Yaʿqūb al-Qirqisānī, a Karaite contemporary of Saʿadya, also mentions this notion, although (apparently) he does not accept it.47 Yefet presents his understanding of David’s prophecy at the end of his commentary on Samuel, when commenting on the story of Araunah’s threshing floor. He declares there that David was not a messenger (Ar. rasūl), i.e., a prophet who conveys the commandments of God. In his view, David was merely a poet (Heb. mĕšōrēr), albeit a poet writing under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, God did not need to perform miracles through him in order to prove that he was a prophet.48 Saʿadya rejects this approach in all its forms, and states that it is impossible to claim that David composed Psalms on his own accord. Furthermore, not only does the Gaon claim that David was a prophet, but he also insists that the very words of the Book of Psalms were revealed to him through direct divine revelation (Ar. waḥī). Saʿadya thus accepts the opinion of Syriac commentators that David was a prophet, but he objects to the manner in which Ishodad described David’s prophecy (even though Ishodad had developed his concept in an attempt to defend David’s prophetic ability and its supremacy over that of other prophets). In Saʿadya’s view, prophecy entails delivering God’s message word for word. He refused to accept the idea that a prophet can prophesy without a direct divine revelation. Saʿadya is probably aware that some Karaites believed in prophecy through divine inspiration, and he rejects their position. He also knows that the Syriac authors ascribe a similar form of prophecy specifically to David in relation to the Psalms that he is believed to have written. Therefore, Saʿadya stresses in his introduction to the Book of Psalms that one may not ascribe such a form of prophecy to David. In the Karaite community, on the other hand, Ishodad’s approach was positively received, even though it was somewhat altered, as we can see in Yefet’s writings. While Ishodad developed the concept of prophetic inspiration to depict the prophecy of David, Yefet broadened the use of this concept to describe the prophetic nature of all the poetic passages in the Bible.

46 47 48

See Ben-Shammai, “Polemical Element,” 134. See ibidem, 130–131. See Yefet, Samuel, 423a.

220 4


Did David Write All the Psalms?

Saʿadya claims that the entire Book of Psalms was a prophecy revealed to David: The entire Book [of Psalms] is a prophecy revealed to David, as the entire nation is united in calling it the songs of David. In many places it is attributed to him, as it is said to give praise and thanksgiving, one section responding to the other, as prescribed by David the man of God.49 […] It may seem that some chapters of the book are prophecy or song of others, not David, such as Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun, Ethan and Moses and others. However, one should know that it is not as it seems; there is no part in it which does not belong to David, because some of it is attributed to two different people, as in: For the director of music, For Jeduthun, A psalm of David,50 or: For the director of music, For Jeduthun, A psalm of David, Truly my soul finds rest in God […].51 It is not God’s habit to send two prophets with the same message.52 Were all the Psalms delivered to David, or were some of them delivered to others? This question had already been discussed by the sages of the Talmud and Greek Church Fathers.53 Origen (third century) in his introduction to the commentary on the Song of Songs attributes the Book of Psalms to David. On the other hand, in some sections of an introduction to the Book of Psalms ascribed to Origen it is said that one cannot attribute all the Psalms to David.54 This question was also disputed among Syriac commentators. Ishodad, as we have seen, considers David the author of all Psalms. He claims that David had seen through prophetic vision all events, past and future, and he even attributes to David the Psalms that discuss the exile in Babylon.55 Moshe Bar Kepha has a different opinion. He mentions that some believe that David wrote all the Psalms: The Nestorian Theodore and others believe that David wrote all the Psalms. They rely on two arguments. The first is the title of the book, 49 50 51 52 53 54 55

Nehemiah 12:24. Psalms 39:1. Psalms 62:1–2. See Saʿadya, Psalms, 28. In the Talmud, R. Meir expressed a belief that all the Psalms had been delivered to David, but other Sages disagreed (b. Pesaḥim 117a). See Whealey, “Prologues,” 240, 243. See Ishodad, Psalms, 7.

David the Prophet in Sa ʿ adya Gaon ’ s Commentary on Psalms


which is The Psalms of David. The second is that many people usually call the book The Psalms of David. I reject their opinion. Against their first argument I note that the title of the book in its Hebrew version is not the same as we Syrians have. In Hebrew the title is not The Psalms of David, but The Book of Tĕhillīm. […] Against the second argument I note that not all people call it The Psalms of David. […] Other people claim that not all the Psalms belong to David. They rely on two considerations. The first is the title of the book in Hebrew, which is The Book of Tĕhillīm (the Psalms were written in Hebrew, not in Syriac). The second is based on the headings of the Psalms, which are written in their correct form in Hebrew, not in Syriac (again, Psalms were not written in Syriac). According to the headings, we know that not all the Psalms were composed by David. We maintain that some of the Psalms are David’s, and some were composed by others. Some of these other authors are mentioned by name, and others are not. Among those mentioned by name are: Moses, Solomon, Ethan, the sons of Korah, Jeduthun and Heman, who were Levites, Haggai and Zechariah and Ethan the Israeli [the Ezrahite].56 According to Moshe bar Kepha’s description, those who believe that David wrote all the Psalms rely on the “wisdom of the multitude,” or common knowledge: everyone calls this book The Psalms of David, and the name of the book in Syriac is The Psalms of David. As Moshe Bar Kepha points out, this opinion does have some corroboration from the New Testament: Psalm 2 does not have a heading and yet Peter and the other apostles attributed it to David.57 Those who objected to this view pointed out that this issue was under dispute and that one cannot appeal to popular opinion as if there were a consensus. The objectors also relied on the Hebrew version. The Jews call this book Tĕhillīm, without mentioning David in the title. Also, the Book of Psalms’ headings in the Hebrew version mention others beside David as authors of the Psalms, such as Heman, Ethan, the sons of Korah, etc. Moshe Bar Kepha could not read Hebrew and had never read the original Hebrew version of the Bible. We can clearly see this from his mention of Haggai and Zechariah as the authors of Psalms. Haggai and Zechariah do not appear in the Psalms’ headings of the Masoretic text, only in the Septuagint.58 Nevertheless, his description of the Hebrew name of the Book of Psalms and the Psalms’ headings in the Hebrew

56 57 58

See Diettrich, Jakobitische Einleitung, 33–35. See Diettrich, Jakobitische Einleitung, 43. Cf. Acts 4:25, which refers to Psalms 2:1. See Septuagint version of Psalms 148.



version is mostly accurate. This implies that he did have some acquaintance with the Hebrew text of the Psalms, even if it was at second hand.59 Saʿadya also relies on the “wisdom of the multitude”: “the entire nation is united in calling it the songs of David.” using an argument similar to that of Moshe Bar Kepha in favor of those who maintained that all the Psalms were written by David. Saʿadya claims that all members of the Jewish people call the book of Psalms The Songs of David. This argument sounds strange indeed in a Jewish context, because the name The Songs of David (Heb. Šīrē Dāvid) is not at all common in Jewish literature. This name is mentioned in Musaf prayer of the first day of the month: “the Songs of your servant David that are heard at your city” (Heb. Šīrē Dāvid ʿaḇdeḵā ha-nišmaʿim bĕ-ʿireḵā). However, it is certainly not the usual name for the Book of Psalms, and one cannot be sure that the words of the prayer refer to all the Psalms. Saʿadya was probably influenced by Syriac commentators, who relied on the Syriac name: The Psalms of David (Syr. mazmurē d-Dawid). He probably combined the appearance of the name The Songs of David in Jewish prayer with the fact that a similar name is the common name for Psalms in Syriac tradition. This apparently was the basis for his conclusion that the name of the book was The Psalms of David, which in turn he used to prove that all the psalms were composed by David.60 Moshe Bar Kepha rightfully points out that the opinion that David was the author of all the psalms was held by the Nestorians (including Ishodad), who followed Theodore of Mopsuestia, a Greek Church Father of the fourth century.61 Theodore was a prominent representative of the “School of Antioch” in Christian Bible exegesis. He maintained that narrative (historical) interpretation of the Scriptures is preferable to allegorical interpretation; his Bible commentaries had an enormous influence on the Nestorian church.62 Parts of his commentary on the Book of Psalms were preserved in their original Greek; additional sections exist in Latin and Syriac translation. 59


61 62

It is noteworthy that Moshe Bar Kepha claims that in the Hebrew version of the Bible Psalms 1 and 2 are considered to be one psalm. See Diettrich, Jakobitische Einleitung, 43. This is not so in the Masoretic text, but such an opinion is offered in the Talmud (b. Berakot 9b). It is also possible that Saʿadya was influenced by the fact that the Qurʾān attributes the Psalms to David “and we have given Psalms (Ar. zabūr) to David” (Sura 17:55) and that the name “Psalms of David” (Ar. zabūr Dāwūd) is one of the common names for the Psalms in Islamic literature. Saʿadya words “the Entire nation calls it The Songs of David” may be a euphemism, and what he meant to say was “the entire world,” i.e., members of the three religions call the book The Songs of David.” It is noteworthy that some Jacobite authorities, such as Daniel of Ṣalaḥ (sixth century) also supported this view. See Taylor, “Daniel,” 71. See Van Rooy, “Reading Historically,” 129–131; Wiles, “Theodore of Mopsuestia,” 489–495.

David the Prophet in Sa ʿ adya Gaon ’ s Commentary on Psalms


In his commentary on Psalm 119, preserved in a Syriac translation, Theodore states that the psalm was written by David, although it describes the situation of the people of Israel in the Babylonian exile. He says much the same about Psalm 143.63 We see that Theodore believes that David had foreseen events that took place hundreds of years after his time, and wrote psalms that described the situation of the generations to come. In his introduction to Psalm 37, Theodore asserts that all of David’s psalms were meant to bring benefit to human beings. David wrote different kinds of psalms, including sermons, psalms of praise, and psalms that predict future events. David knew through prophetic vision that those events would take place; he wrote psalms that would guide the people of that future generation and teach them how to behave under those circumstances. These psalms are beneficial as well to human beings in any generation who encounter similar circumstances.64 Thus, Theodore believes that David had written all the psalms, in some of them predicting through prophetic vision, events that took place after his time. Theodore informs us that he further elucidated this concept in his introduction to the Book of Psalms; however, that introduction has been lost. Nonetheless, we can speculate with reasonable certainty what Theodore wrote in his introduction. This is because Theodore was a disciple of Diodore of Tarsus, and Theodore’s commentary on the Book of Psalms is in many ways simply an expanded version of Diodore’s commentary.65 In his introduction to the Book of Psalms Diodore says that when Psalms refer to specific historical circumstances, the commentator must examine those historical circumstances. Some of the Psalms refer to the life of David, some refer to the kings of Judea, others to the exile in Babylon and still others to the era of the Maccabees. According to Diodore, the Psalms’ headings are of no use to commentators, because the Book of Psalms had been lost at the time of the Babylonian exile and rediscovered in Ezra’s days. In his view, the Psalms’ headings were an addition of later compilers. Those compilers tried to guess the circumstances to which a given Psalm referred; sometimes they were right, but often they got it wrong. Therefore, one should not rely on the Psalms’ headings. The commentator must discover for himself the historical circumstances to which a given Psalm alludes.66 Just like his disciple Theodore, Diodore believed that David had written all the Psalms and, through prophetic vision, predicted historical events that took place after his time. In his introduction to Psalm 27, Diodore states 63 64 65 66

See Theodore, Fragments Syriaques, 14, 73. See Theodore, Psalms, 411. Van Rooy, “Reading Historically,” 131. See Diodore, Psalms, 2–3.



that this psalm, and also 28 and 29, were written by David through prophetic vision, though they reflect the era of Hezekiah as he battled the Assyrians.67 Why do Diodore and Theodore claim that the headings of the Psalms are not part of the Psalms and cannot be relied on? One possible answer is that they knew of the significant differences between the headings in the Hebrew text and those in the Septuagint, as well as between the headings of the Septuagint and the headings of other Greek translations, which are closer to the Hebrew Masoretic text. They also knew that in the Syriac translation the headings were different from those of the Masoretic text as well as from those of the Septuagint. Therefore, they concluded that the headings were completely unreliable and were not part of the biblical text. This explanation is faced with serious difficulties however, most notably that Diodore could not read Hebrew or Syriac. Also, only on extremely rare occasions did he compare the Septuagint to other Greek translations (Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion, etc.).68 Theodore, too, could not read Hebrew or Syriac. Although he worked on comparing the Greek translations much more extensively than Diodore, he was not methodical in doing so.69 Nevertheless, one cannot dismiss this explanation entirely, because Diodore mentions many times in his writings that the Septuagint is merely a translation of the Hebrew text, that in many cases reflects the original in an all-too literal a manner. He also uses the writings of Eusebius of Emesa, who spoke Syriac, who tried to the best of his ability to compare the Septuagint with the Hebrew text (even though his knowledge of Hebrew was limited).70 It is possible that Diodore learned from Eusebius’ writings (or the writings of other scholars) about the differences between the Psalms’ headings in the Hebrew text and in various translations. It is also noteworthy that Theodore in his commentary on Psalms 2 and 8 mentions the Jewish interpretation of these Psalms, as does Diodore in his commentary on Psalms 45.71 From this we can deduce that Diodore and Theodore had discussions with Jews about the interpretation of the Book of Psalms, or at least read about 67 68 69 70 71

See Diodore, Psalms, 82. See Hiil’s introduction to his translation of Diodore, in Diodore, Psalms, xxiii. See Hill’s introduction to his translation of Theodore, in Theodore, Psalms, xviii. See Ter Haar Romeny, “Eusebius of Emesa,” 131, 141. See Theodore, Psalms, 15, 29, 87; Diodore, Psalms, 127. As a rule, Diodore and Theodore did not interpret the Psalms as alluding to Jesus, because they believed that the Old Testament should be interpreted simply with reference to the New Testament. However, they both agreed that three psalms were an allusion to Jesus: Psalms 2, 8, and 45. Diodore and Theodore noted that the Jews interpreted these psalms differently, and they rejected the Jewish arguments. See Van Rooy, “Reading Historically,” 126; Theodore, Psalms, xxx.

David the Prophet in Sa ʿ adya Gaon ’ s Commentary on Psalms


discussions of that sort between Jews and the Church Fathers. It stands to reason that the headings of the Psalms and the differences between the Hebrew text and its various translations would be discussed. It is noteworthy that Gregory of Nyssa, a Greek Church Father and an older contemporary of Diodore and Theodore, devoted a separate treatise to the headings of the Psalms. He observes in this work that there are differences between the headings in the Septuagint and the ones in the Jewish text. He also claims that some of the Septuagint headings contain esoteric knowledge about the nature of Christ, and that this mystery is simply beyond grasp for the Jews. This is his explanation for why the headings are missing from the Jewish text.72 It is indeed hard to determine whether or not Diodore and Theodore were aware of the differences in the Psalms’ headings between the Hebrew text and its translations. However, the Syriac commentators were definitely aware of them because the Syriac Bible translation (Peshitta) does not have a uniform and fixed system of headings for the Psalms. In some manuscripts of the Peshitta the Psalms have no headings. In manuscripts belonging to the eastern (Nestorian) church most headings are based on Theodore’s commentary. In manuscripts belonging to the western (Jacobite) church we find several different systems of headings, some of which explicitly rely on late Syriac commentaries.73 One possible reason for these variations is that the ancient Syriac translators were influenced by the dismissive attitude of Greek commentators of the Antioch school toward the headings. They may therefore have deleted the headings or failed to translate them. At a later stage, new headings may have been added to the manuscripts, headings that were based on Greek and Syriac commentaries.74 An alternative explanation is, of course, that the original Syriac translation was based on a Hebrew Vorlage that did not contain any headings. Or, perhaps in this Vorlage the headings were separate from the Psalms and were not considered to be part of the Psalms. In addition to the different headings in the manuscripts of the Syriac translation of the Book of Psalms, the Syriac commentators used Greek commentaries that were based on the Septuagint. They also had some information about the Masoretic text. Thus, they were keenly aware that there were significant differences in the headings of the Psalms among the various translations, and 72

73 74

See Gregory, “Inscriptions of Psalms,” 31. Gregory interpreted the headings allegorically as a symbol of the struggle of the soul against the temptations of the material world (ibidem, 32–33). Diodore was known for his objections to allegorical interpretation, and it is possible that he is so forceful when speaking of the headings because of his opposition to that sort of interpretation. See Van Rooy, “Headings,” 506–510; Taylor, “Psalm Headings,” 370–377. See Van Rooy, “Message,” 653.



they indicate these explicitly. Moshe Bar Kepha says that Hebrew and Greek headings mention other people beside David as authors of Psalms while the Syriac headings, on the other hand, give the impression that David had written all the Psalms, which, he says, is not true.75 Ishodad claims that the Psalms were originally written without headings, and that the compilers of the Book of Psalms added the headings, which are sometimes incompatible with the content of those Psalms. Therefore, in his view, one can only rely on the headings of “our commentator” (Syr. mepashqānā), i.e., the headings based on Theodore’s commentary.76 We clearly see that the discussion about David’s authorship of the Book of Psalms, as it was conducted in the Syriac church, focused on the question of how to relate to the headings of the Psalms. The Nestorians, influenced by Diodore and Theodore, claimed that the headings were meaningless; therefore, all the headings should be attributed to the person most associated with the Book of Psalms, i.e., David. The Jacobites rejected Diodore’s and Theodore’s views and indeed considered them heretics. They were willing to admit that the Syriac headings were meaningless. Nonetheless they claimed that the Greek and Hebrew headings (since they were unable to read Hebrew, they could not always distinguish between them) were part of the Scriptures, and noted that those headings explicitly mention authors other than David. Saʿadya adheres to the Masoretic text, and therefore cannot accept the Nestorians’ dismissive attitude toward the headings. Nevertheless, he supports the Nestorian view that all the Psalms are prophecies delivered to David. He resolves this contradiction by suggesting that all other persons mentioned in the headings were merely singers who sang, on David’s orders, the Psalms that David received from God through prophecy: “all those who are part of a heading pronounced it [i.e., a given Psalm] and sang it together.”77 This concept has a parallel in Syriac commentaries, and specifically in Jacobite commentaries, e.g., Moshe Bar Kepha’s (the Nestorians ignored the headings completely). Moshe Bar Kepha asks: If David did not write all the Psalms, why is the book called in Syriac Psalms of David? He answers: 75 76 77

See Diettrich, Jakobitische Einleitung, 75–77. See Ishodad, Psalms, 9. See Saʿadya, Psalms, 29. It is possible that this is how Saʿadya understood the words of the Talmud (b. Baba Batra 14b) “David wrote Psalms through (Heb. bĕ-yad) ten elders,” i.e., David wrote and others sang his psalms. However, the Talmud cites among the elders several who lived hundreds of years before David, e.g., Moses and Adam(!). Saʿadya resolved this difficulty in the case of Moses by positing that the heading of the Psalms attributed to him is referring to the descendants of Moses who lived in David’s time (ibidem). One may only wonder if the same could be said about Adam(?!).

David the Prophet in Sa ʿ adya Gaon ’ s Commentary on Psalms


“the Psalms are considered to be his, because he was the reason that the Psalms were written, and he chose the singers who sang the Psalms.”78 David is presented as the source of the Psalms, and all the other authors mentioned in the headings were merely his messengers and servants. This is similar to Saʿadya’s view. We see that Saʿadya bases his opinion on the arguments of both sides, Nestorian and Jacobites. Moss mentions that in his discussion of the resurrection, Saʿadya relied on Jacobite arguments, although he lived most of his adult life in Mesopotamia, where the Nestorian Church had great influence, and therefore was certainly familiar with Nestorian thought too.79 5

Why Are the Psalms Not Arranged in Chronological Order?

Saʿadya says in his long introduction: In this introduction I will also speak about the order of the Psalms. We find that they are not arranged in chronological order. It says in the beginning of the book: A Psalm of David, when he fled from his son Absalom80[…]. Later on it says: When Doeg the Edomite had gone to Saul81 […]. The book of Samuel explicitly states that the events involving Doeg happened first. We may conclude that the order of the book as we have it is not the [chronological] order of events.82 Saʿadya offers several possible explanations for the order of the Psalms. He suggests that the Psalms might have been arranged according to the areas of the Temple where they were sung, or according to the dates in the year when they were sung, or according to the Levite families who sang them. At the end of his discussion, the Gaon says that all these explanations for the order of the Psalms are plausible, but he admits to being unable to determine which explanation is correct. One might wonder why Saʿadya brings up the issue of the arrangement of the Psalms, if he does not have an explanation that sounds convincing? The question of the chronological order of Psalms was much discussed in Christian literature. Diodore mentions that the Psalms are not arranged 78 79 80 81 82

See Diettrich, Jakobitische Einleitung, 49. See Moss, “Fish eats Lion,” 520. Psalms 3:1. Psalms 52:2. See Saʿadya, Psalms, 37–38.



according to “the [chronological] order of events.” Psalm 3 speaks of David’s escape from Absalom, while Psalm 47 (in Diodore’s view, as expressed in his commentary) speaks of David’s battle with Goliath. Accoroding to Diodore the reason for this is simple: the Book of Psalms was lost during the time of the Babylonian exile, and the individual psalms were collected together later. He believes that the compilers arranged the Psalms in the order in which they found them, i.e., in a completely arbitrary manner, and added the headings.83 This approach was also adopted by several Greek Church Fathers who did not belong to the Antioch school. Eusebius of Caesarea (beginning of the fourth century) presents a similar approach, albeit not so extreme. He maintains that the Psalms are not arranged in the order of events because they were compiled in later times; they were arranged in the order in which they were found. Yet, he stresses that the process of compiling and editing was guided by the Holy Spirit, and that the compiler may have been Ezra the Scribe. Eusebius does not consider the headings to be guesswork on the part of the compilers; he claims that the compilers possessed well-based information and ascribed the Psalms accordingly.84 A similar approach can be found in sections of an introduction to the Book of Psalms attributed to Origen.85 Gregory of Nyssa, in turn, asserts that there was no reason at all to arrange the Psalms in chronological order. In his view the Book of Psalms was not a history book but a book designed to elevate the soul, and the order of the Psalms was compatible with the spiritual progress of the soul.86 Ishodad’s position is similar to that of Theodore and Eusebius: Question: why are the Psalms not arranged according to the order of their composition; why do the later Psalms appear before the early ones? Answer: the Book of Psalms, as well as the Books of the Prophets, are not arranged in the order in which they were composed. That is because the prophets did not write the books containing their prophecies. Moreover, they did not transmit them in the order of their revelation. Rather, others collected the words of the prophets, put them in writing and published them in the order in which they found them. They had no idea about the dating of the various prophesies, or about their historical context. The original visions were not revealed to the prophets at one specific time, but at different times and under various circumstances. In addition, 83 84 85 86

See Diodore, Psalms, 3. See Hollerich, “Eusebius,” 165–167. See Whealey, “Prologues,” 243. See Gregory, “Inscriptions of Psalms,” 45–46.

David the Prophet in Sa ʿ adya Gaon ’ s Commentary on Psalms


during the course of the Babylonian exile many writings of the prophets were damaged, torn up and burned, and many verses were lost and are not known to us today. After the return from the exile, Ezra the Scribe edited them to the best of his ability and published them, aided by the Holy Spirit. Therefore [the Books of the Prophets] are not arranged in chronological order; the same is true for the Book of Psalms.87 Moshe Bar Kepha, who usually rejects Diodore’s and Theodore’s views, is willing to admit that the Book of Psalms was lost in the Babylonian exile, and that Ezra collected and arranged it in the order in which he found the various Psalms. He is willing to accept this because, as we have seen, it was the opinion of other Church Fathers, besides Diodore and Theodore. Moshe Bar Kepha uses the same argument to explain both phenomena: the lack of chronological order, as well as the variety of authors (according to his opinion on the matter). Ezra arranged the Psalms as he found them, and therefore the collection contains Psalms by various authors. Moreover, the Psalms of a single author are not grouped together.88 This view was held not only by Christians. There were also Jews who endorsed similar ideas, as borne out by Yefet’s commentary on the Book of Psalms. Yefet adheres to an accepted approach in Karaite exegesis. It distinguishes between the voice of the characters within the biblical narrative (including the prophets who deliver their prophecies) on the one hand, and the voice of the narrator, i.e., the prophet who put the Bible into writing, on the other. This latter voice is called in Arabic al-mudawwin, i.e., one who puts things down in writing, a scribe.89 In his commentary on Psalm 56, Yefet claims that the headings of the Psalms were added by the mudawwin.90 In his commentary on Psalm 42 the exegete states that the mudawwin grouped all the Psalms belonging to the sons of Korah together, which implies that the mudawwin also determined the 87 88



See Ishodad, Psalms, 7. See Diettrich, Jakobitische Einleitung, 51, 73. Moshe Bar Kepha tended to ascribe to the authors of the Bible an active role in shaping the message of the Bible. For instance, he treats Moses as the author of the Pentateuch and ascribes to him an active role in its writing, instead of considering him a passive object that receives the words of God and puts them in writing, without introducing any changes. See Moss, “Scholasticism and Exegesis,” 338–339. See Simon, Four Approaches, 85–86. For the Islamic Shiʿite background of the mudawwin concept, see Ben-Shammai, “Mudawwin.” For the mudawwin’s role as a literary device, see Poliack, “Voice of Narrator.” For the mudawwin’s identity and historical role, see Zawanowska, “Moses the Mudawwin.” For a survey of current research on the mudawwin and his role, see Sasson, “Mudawwin Revisited,” 328–329. See Simon, Four Approaches, 86.



order of the Psalms.91 In his introduction to the commentary on Psalms, Yefet divides them into four groups: 1. Psalms whose author is known because he is cited in the heading. Yefet mentions the names of the authors who appear in the headings. 2. Psalms attributed to groups of people, not to a single person, e.g., the sons of Korah. 3. Psalms in which the name of the author is not mentioned explicitly, but can be deduced, because each of these Psalms is actually a part of the previous Psalm. 4. Psalms whose author is unknown which number 46 or 47.92 About the Psalms of unknown authorship Yefet states: The remaining 47 Psalms cannot be attributed to a specific person or time. They were probably pronounced at various times, by groups, and therefore were not attributed to any particular person. Those who served in the Temple had Psalms that they recited in the course of their service. At times, the Holy Spirit inspired them all at once and they chanted these Psalms in some specific form, melody and order.93 Yefet is careful not to say so explicitly, but his words imply clearly that these Psalms have no heading because the mudawwin did not know by whom or when they had been composed. The mudawwin was convinced that these Psalms had been inspired by the Holy Spirit, and written by people who had some connection to the Temple, but he knew no more details. Thus the mudawwin of the Book of Psalms, in the exegete’s view, has a similar role to that of the compilers of the Bible according to Diodore and the Syriac commentators. Yefet is careful to show respect toward the mudawwin, whom he considers a prophet; he certainly does not refer to him in a derogatory manner, as Diodore and, to some extent, Ishodad do. With regard to the order of the Psalms, Yefet admits that they are not arranged in chronological order. However, he does not attribute that to the limitations of the mudawwin. Instead, he suggests that the mudawwin chose to arrange the Psalms according to their content, not in chronological order.94 Saʿadya is quite unwilling to accept the view of the Syriac commentators, who believe that the Book of Psalms was collected and arranged arbitrarily. He deals in his own way with the questions about the order of the Psalms and, 91 92

93 94

See Simon, Four Approaches, 87. See Yefet, Psalms, 13–15. It is noteworthy that Moshe Bar Kepha divides the Psalms along similar lines, though his division differs in many details. This is because Moshe Bar Kepha relied on the headings in the Syriac text and the Septuagint, while Yefet relied on the Masoretic text. See Diettrich, Jakobitische Einleitung, 43–46. See Yefet, Psalms, 14–15. See Yefet, Psalms, 15.

David the Prophet in Sa ʿ adya Gaon ’ s Commentary on Psalms


specifically, the lack of chronological order. He admits that the Psalms are not arranged in chronological order, observing that Psalm 3 speaks of Absalom’s rebellion, which took place towards the end of David’s life. However, he insists that the arrangement of the Psalms could not be random. He is convinced that there must be some reasonable order. The difficulty in finding a clear explanation stems from a lack of knowledge about the Temple ceremonies that David instituted, and the timings of the singing of the Psalms in the Temple. Saʿadya claims that even if we do not know why the Psalms were arranged in a particular order, we should not assume that Psalms were lost and later re-collected or compiled in a mechanical and arbitrary fashion. This is, in his view, a very dangerous assumption. It implies a lack of certainty that the words of the Bible are indeed the words of God as delivered to the prophets. 6


Saʿadya’s approach to the Book of Psalms is undoubtedly influenced by Syriac commentators, as he evidently shapes his introduction to the Psalms using the Syriac introductions as a model. Nevertheless, the Gaon does not adopt Syriac concepts indiscriminately. Rather, he accepts those elements that are compatible with his own exegetic approach and rejects others that he deems unfit. With that in mind, he does not hesitate to adopt motifs from the literature of the two rival Syriac churches, the Nestorians and the Jacobites. Saʿadya’s goal is to strengthen the central tenet of his approach, which is, as he stated clearly “[…] that the reader of this book will not be inclined to read it as [a collection of] separate sections.”95 Emphasizing the unified character of the Book of Psalms, and the Hebrew Bible in general, is important for Saʿadya. He wants to put into relief the fact that the entire book, throughout, is a single prophetic revelation. He stresses that the Psalms as we have them are exactly as God gave them to the prophet; this is equally true for all the other parts of the Scriptures. This is especially important for him in order to ward off Islamic claims that the Hebrew Bible is a falsified and corrupted version of the divine message delivered to the prophets. The Gaon’s Karaite rivals tried to counter these claims by developing a historical and literary approach to the Bible (as borne out, inter alia, by the introduction of the concept of the mudawwin to their exegetical discussions). They maintained that indeed the Bible was composed of different literary layers, but all these layers were bound together by a person inspired by the Holy Spirit, 95

See Saʿadya, Psalms, 53.



and therefore there could be no doubt as for the authenticity of the divine message. Saʿadya refuses to embrace this solution. In his mind, the only way to defend the authenticity and integrity of the Bible is by stating that the prophetic word has come down to us exactly in the same form it was pronounced by the prophets, and refusing to admit that it was changed or edited in any way.96 Therefore, the Gaon insists that the Book of Psalms is a prophecy, just like the Pentateuch, and not a book of prayers, as Karaites suggest, because in Saʿadya’s mind, a prayer is not the word of God, but the word of human beings addressed to God.97 For these reasons, Saʿadya enthusiastically supports the view of the Syriac commentators that David was a prophet, despite the fact that David’s portrayal in the Books of Samuel and Kings indicates that he was not considered a prophet and needed Nathan and other prophets to communicate God’s message to him. The idea that David was not a prophet was also endorsed by many Jews, according to the testimony of the Syriac commentators.98 In addition, Saʿadya supports the viewpoint of the Nestorians who claimed that all the Psalms were written by one person, namely, David, despite the fact that the Psalms’ headings indicate the contrary. Nonetheless, the Gaon rejects the Nestorian’s dismissive attitude toward the headings. He believes that the headings are an integral part of the book, and that one should not “read it as [a collection of] separate sections.” Saʿadya finds the solution to this contradiction in the exegetise of the Jacobite church where it was suggested that the Psalms had several authors whom David had chosen as poets and singers; in that sense, David was indeed the source of all the Psalms. Unlike the Talmud (b. Baba Batra 14b), which states that some Psalms were written by people who lived thousands of years before David, Saʿadya claims that all the persons mentioned in the Psalms’ headings lived in David’s time and were selected by him to sing his Psalms.99 Finally, he firmly rejects the Syriac approach which distinguishes between the authorship of the Psalms and the compilation of the Book of Psalms. He insists that the Psalms stand before us exactly as they were written by David, and in exactly the order determined by David. 96 97 98


See Poliack, “Dual Torah,” 119–126. See Simon, Four Approaches, 19, 43–44. Some sources in Midrash and Talmud (notably b. Soṭah 48b) portray David as a prophet, but that notion is not very common in Midrash literature. In many cases, David is portrayed in Midrash as a man who can communicate with God only with the help of the priests (b. Berakot 3b). See Maghen, “Davidic Motifs,” 117. Some Jewish commentators, like Moshe b. Gikatilla (eleventh century) explicitly say that the Book of Psalms isn’t a book of Prophecy. See Simon, Four Approaches, 96–102. See b. Baba Batra 14b.

David the Prophet in Sa ʿ adya Gaon ’ s Commentary on Psalms


Ben-Shammai maintains that the highly polemical character of Saʿadya’s introduction to the Book of Psalms shows that its author debated with those who claimed that the Book of Psalms was devoid of any prophetic dimension.100 We learn from Syriac literature that indeed there were those who thought that David was not a prophet, and that the Book of Psalms was not a work of prophecy; moreover, this concept was particularly widespread among Jews. We also learn from Syriac literature that some of those who believed that David was a prophet admitted that David had a different, lower kind of prophetic ability than other prophets. According to this viewpoint, David’s prophecies were not based on revelations that came directly from God. Saʿadya must have felt that he had to rebut these opinions. We learn from Syriac literature that the interpretation of the Book of Psalms was a matter of heated discussion, and that fierce debates raged between clashing opinions. Saʿadya accepts some of these opinions and rejects others. Some of the opinions he rejects were positively received among his Karaite rivals (e.g., that the Book of Psalms is a book of prayers, that Psalms’ headings were written by the compiler of the Book of Psalms, and that David has written the Psalms through divine inspiration and not a direct prophetic revelation). The prophetic abilities of David and the prophetic nature of the Book of Psalms probably also played a role in the polemics between Jews, Christians and Muslims. Christians and Muslims believed that David was a prophet. The Christians cherished the Book of Psalms above any other book of the Old Testament, and some Muslims believed that the Book of Psalms (Ar. Zabūr) was a fourth prophetic revelation, comparable to the Torah (Ar. Tawrāt), the Gospel (Ar. Inǧīl) and the Qurʾān.101 Saʿadya could not allow a situation in which it seemed that Christians and Muslims held David and the Book of Psalms in higher regard than Jews did, so he had to insist that David was a prophet and the entire Book of Psalms was a prophecy. The polemical nature of Saʿadya’s commentary on the Book of Psalms becomes evident when compared to his commentary on Proverbs. The book of Proverbs, like the Book of Psalms, consists of several sections, and there is a 100 See Ben-Shammai, “Polemical Element,” 134. 101 For Muslim attitudes toward David and the Book of Psalms, see Maghen, “Davidic Motifs,” 118, 135; Vishanoff, “Images of David.” When Muslims refer the Torah and the Gospel as prophetic revelations, they are referring to these books in their original form as delivered by God to Moses and Jesus, that is not necessarily identical with these books as they are read by Jews and Christians today. For Muslim criticism (from 9th century onward) of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, and especially of the contradictions between the four Gospels, see Khambali, “Ibn Hazm,” 244–245; Grigoryan, Anti-Christian Polemics, 22–23, 32–34.



heading at the beginning of each section. The heading at the beginning of the book attributes the first section (or perhaps the entire book) to King Solomon. Yet, the headings of some of the other sections attribute those sections to authors other than Solomon. Saʿadya accepts this and does not claim that those other authors were merely reciting Solomon’s words. In his commentary on Proverbs 25:1, “These are more proverbs of Solomon, compiled by the men of Hezekiah king of Judah,” Saʿadya explains that the words of Solomon were not written down in his time; rather, they were transmitted orally, until people put them in writing during Hezekiah’s time. He even declares, in a polemical note against the Karaites, that this is an example of the oral tradition that indeed existed in Israel during biblical times.102 In other words, the Gaon distinguishes between the author of Proverbs and people who put it in writing, in a very similar way to the Karaite concept of tadwīn (i.e., the process of putting the Scriptures into writing by the mudawwin).103 In his commentary on Proverbs 30:1, “The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh, this man’s utterance to Ithiel,” Saʿadya admits that the basic and simple meaning of the text (Heb. pĕšat), i.e., the context (Ar. nasaq), leads us to the conclusion that a man named Agur son of Jakeh had transmitted the words of his teacher, whose name was Ithiel, and the same should be said about the next section, “The sayings of King Lemuel that his mother taught him” (Proverbs 31:1), which means that Lemuel transmitted the words of his mother.104 Saʿadya does mention that some believe that Agur and Lemuel are nicknames for Solomon; he does not rule out this option, but does not embrace it either, because he sees no conclusive evidence to support this claim.105 The Gaon accepts the testimony of the headings at face value. He apparently does so because the heading at the beginning of the Book of Proverbs attributes it to Solomon, and because of the widespread belief that it was authored by Solomon, the wisest of all 102 See Saʿadya, Proverbs, 194. 103 Compare with Yefet’s commentary on this verse in Sasson, “Mudawwin Revisited,” 334–335. 104 Saʿadya maintains that Proverbs 31:10–31 “Woman of Valor” is not a part of the speech made by Lemuel’s mother, but an epilogue for Proverbs written by a man, namely, Solomon. See Saʿadya, Proverbs, 268. Yefet believes it was written by a woman, Lemuel’s (i.e., Solomon’s) mother. This reflects Yefet’s egalitarian attitude toward women. See Yefet, Proverbs, 14, 522. 105 See Saʿadya, Proverbs, 244–245. The theory according to which Agur is Solomon can be found in the Midrash (Tanḥuma vā-Ērā 5). This opinion is also attested in Syriac literature. See Bar Bahlul, Lexicon, 25. The Karaite commentators, Salmon ben Yerōḥam and Yefet ben ʿEli, also believed that Agur and Lemuel are nicknames for Solomon. See Sasson, “Mudawwin Revisited,” 337; Yefet, Proverbs, 519.

David the Prophet in Sa ʿ adya Gaon ’ s Commentary on Psalms


men. In the absence of heated discussion on the subject (as there was on the Psalms) Saʿadya feels no need to present Proverbs as the work of a single individual (namely, Solomon) and is willing to admit that the book consists of several sections that were bound together through some sort of editing process, a notion he is unwilling to accept with regard to the Book of Psalms. Bibliography

Primary Sources

Bar Bahlule, Hasano. Lexicon Syriacum, edited by Rubens Duval. Paris: Reipublicae, 1901. Diettrich, Gustav (ed.). Eine Jakobitische Einleitung in der Psalter. Giessen: J. Ricker (A. Topelmann), 1901. Ibn ʿAqnin, Joseph ben Judah. Revelation of Secrets and Appearance of the Lights: Commentary on the Song of Songs by Rabbi Joseph ben Judah ben Yaakov Ibn ʿAqnin, edited by Abraham S. Halkin [in Hebrew]. Jerusalem: Mekitzei Nirdamim, 1964. [Ishodad]. Commentaire d’Išodad de Merv sur l’Ancien Testament: VI Psaumes, edited by Ceslas Van Den Eynde [Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, vol. 433; Scriptores Syri vol. 185–186]. Louvain (Leuven): Secretariat du Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, 1981. [Saʿadya Gaon]. Tĕhillīm ʿim Targum u-Perush Rabenu Saadia ben Yosef Fayyumi, edited by Yosef Qafiḥ. Jerusalem: Mishnat ha-Rambam Institute, 1960. [Saʿadya Gaon]. Mishle ʿim Targum u-Perush Rabenu Saadia ben Yosef Fayyumi, edited by Yosef Qafiḥ. Jerusalem: Mishnat ha-Rambam Institute, 1976. [Salmon ben Yerūḥīm]. Le Commentaire des Psaumes par le Qaraite Salmon ben Yeruham: Psaumes 1–10, edited by Joseph Alobaidi. Bern: Peter Lang, 1996. al-Suyūṭī, Ǧalāl al-Din. Al-Itqān fī ʿulūm al-Qurʾān (The Perfect Guide to the Sciences of the Qurʾān) [in Arabic]. Beirut: Dār al-Jīl, 1999. Theodore de Mopsuestia. Fragments Syriaques du Commentaire des Psaumes 118, 138– 148, edited by Lucas Van Rompay [Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, vol. 435; Scriptores Syri vol. 189–190]. Louvain: Peeters, 1982. [Yefet ben ʿEli]. Rabbi Yaphet bin Heli Bassorensis Karaite in Librum Psalmorum, edited by Jean Joseph Léandre Bargès. Paris: Excudebant Firmin Didot Fratres, 1864. [Yefet ben ʿEli]. The Arabic Translation and Commentary of Yefet ben ʿEli on the Book of Proverbs, edited by Ilana Sasson. Leiden: Brill, 2016. [Yefet ben ʿEli]. Commentary on Samuel. Ms. Lausanne (Isaac Elisha collection), Elisha 17, F42629 in Jewish National Library.



Secondary Literature

Abdel Haleem, Muhammad A.S. “Grammatical Shift for Rhetorical Purposes, Iltifāt and Related Features in the Qurʾān.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 55(3) (1992), 407–432. Athanasius. The Life of Antony and the Letter to Marcellinus. Translated to English by Robert C. Gregg. New York: Paulist Press, 1980. Bashir, Nabih. Angelology and Theological Humanism in the Thought and Exegesis of Saadia Gaon [in Hebrew], Ph.D. dissertation submitted at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva 2015. Ben-Shammai, Haggai. “A polemical Element in Saadya’s theory of Prophecy” [in Hebrew]. In A Leader’s Project: Studies in the Philosophical and Exegetical Works of Saadya Gaon, edited by Haggai Ben-Shammai, 122–138. Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 2015. Ben-Shammai, Haggai. “On Mudawwin, the Redactor of the Hebrew Bible in JudaeoArabic Bible Exegesis” [in Hebrew]. In From Sages to Savants: Studies Presented to Avraham Grossman, edited by Joseph R. Hacker, Yosef Kaplan, and Benjamin Z. Kedar, 76–85. Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar, 2010. Diodore of Tarsus. Commentary on Psalms 1–51. Translated to English by Robert C. Hill. Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005. Drory, Rina. Models and Contacts: Arabic Literature and its Impact on Mediaeval Jewish Culture. Leiden – Boston – Köln: Brill, 2000. Gregory of Nyssa. Treatise on the Inscriptions of Psalms. Translated to English by Ronald E. Heine. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995. Grigoryan, Sona. Anti-Christian Polemics of Ibn Taymiyyah: Corruption of the Scriptures, M.A. thesis submitted at the Central European University, Budapest 2011. Hollerich, Michael J. “Eusebius’ Commentary on the Psalms and its Place in the Origins of Christian Biblical Scholarship.” In Eusebius of Caesaria: Tradition and Innovations, edited by Aaron P. Johnson and Jeremy Schott, 151–167. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies, 2013. Khambali, Khadijah. “Ibn Hazm on Christianity: An Analysis of his Religious Approaches.” World Journal of Islamic History and Civilization, 1(4) (2011), 242–248. Maghen, Zeʾev. “Davidic motifs in the biography of Muhammad.” Jerusalem studies in Arabic and Islam, 35 (2008), 91–140. Moss, Yonatan. “Fish Eats Lion Eats Man, Saadia Gaon, Syriac Christianity, and the Resurrection of the Dead.” Jewish Quarterly Review, 106(4) (2016), 494–520. Moss, Yonatan. “Scholasticism, Exegesis and the Historicization of mosaic Authorship in Moses Bar Kepha’s on Paradise.” Harvard Theological Review, 104 (2011), 325–348. Polliack, Meira. “Deconstructing the dual Torah.” In Interpreting Scriptures in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Overlapping Inquiries, edited by Mordechai Z. Cohen and Adele Berlin, 113–129. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

David the Prophet in Sa ʿ adya Gaon ’ s Commentary on Psalms


Polliack, Meira. “The Voice of the Narrator and the Voice of the Characters in the Bible Commentaries of Yefet b. ʿEli.” In Birkat Shalom, edited by Chaim Cohen et al., 891– 915. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2008. Sasson, Ilana. “The Mudawwin Revisited, Yefet ben ʿEli on the composition of the Book of Proverbs.” Journal of Jewish Studies, 67:2 (2016), 327–339. Schlossberg, Eliezer. “Saadia’s Polemics against Christianity” [in Hebrew]. In Tradition and Change in the Judeo-Arabic Culture of the Middle Ages, edited by Joshua Blau and David Doron, 243–262. Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 2000. Simon, Uriel. Four Approaches to the Book of Psalms: From Saadiah Gaon to Abraham ibn Ezra. Translated to English by Lenn J. Shramm [SUNY Series in Judaica]. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1991. Stewart, Columba. “Psalms and Prayer in Syriac Monasticism: Clues from Psalter Prefaces and their Greek Sources.” In Prayer and Worship in Eastern Christianities, 5th to 11th Centuries, edited by Brouria Bitton-Ashkelony and Derek Krueger, 44–62. London – New York: Routledge, 2017. Stroumsa, Sarah. “A literary Model as a historical Document: Saadia’s Introductions to his biblical Commentaries” [in Hebrew]. In A Word Fitly Spoken: Studies in Medieval Exegesis of the Hebrew Bible and the Quran presented to Haggai Ben-Shammai, edited by Meir Bar Asher et al., 193–204. Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2007. Stroumsa, Sarah. Saadiah Gaon: A Jewish Thinker in a Mediterranean Society [in Hebrew]. Tel Aviv: Tel-Aviv University Press, 2002. Stroumsa, Sarah. “The Impact of Syriac Tradition on early Judeo Arabic Bible Exegesis.” ARAM, 3:1–2 (1991), 83–96. Taylor, David G.K. “The Psalms Commentary of Daniel of Salah and the Formation of Sixth Century Syrian Orthodox Identity.” Church History and Religious Culture, 89(1–3) (2009), 65–92. Taylor, David G.K. “The Psalm Headings in the West Syriac Tradition.” In The Peshitta: It’s Use in Literature and Liturgy, edited by Bas Ter Haar Romeny, 365–378 [Monographs of the Peshiṭta Institute, vol. 15]. Leiden: Brill, 2006. Ter Haar Romeny, Bas. “Eusebius of Emesa’s Commentary on Genesis and the origins of the Antiochene School.” In The Book of Genesis in Jewish and Oriental Christian Interpretation, edited by Judith Frishman and Lucas Van Rompay, 125–142 [Traditio Exegetica Graeca, 5]. Louvain (Leuven): Peeters, 1997. Theodore of Mopsuestia. Commentary on Psalms 1–81. Translated to English by Robert C. Hill. Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006. Van Rooy, Harry F. “Reading the Psalms Historically.” Acta Theologica, 2 (2009), 120–134. Van Rooy, Harry F. “The Headings of the Psalms in the East Syriac Tradition Reconsidered.” Biblica, 89 (2008), 505–525.



Van Rooy, Harry F. “The Message of a Number [of] Psalms as Interpreted in Syriac Psalms Headings.” Skrif en Kerk, 19 (1998), 653–663. Vishanoff, David R. “Images of David in Several Muslim Rewritings of the Psalms.” (In this volume). Vishanoff, David R. “Why Do the Nations Rage? Boundaries of Canon and Community in a Muslim’s Rewriting of Psalm 2.” Comparative Islamic Studies, 6 (2010), 151–179. Vosté, Jacques M. “L’introduction de Môse bar Kepha aux Psaumes.” Revue Biblique, 38 (1929), 214–228. Whealey, Alice. “Prologues on the Psalms, Origen, Hippolytus and Eusebius.” Revue Benedictien, 106 (1996), 234–245. Wiles, Maurice F. “Theodore of Mopsuestia as Representative of the Antiochene School.” In The Cambridge History of the Bible I, edited by Peter R. Ackroyd and Craig A. Evans, 489–510. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970. Zawanowska, Marzena. “Was Moses the mudawwin of the Torah? The Question of Authorship of the Pentateuch According to Yefet ben ʿEli.” In Studies in Judaeo-Arabic Culture: Proceedings of the Fourteenth Conference of the Society for Judaeo-Arabic Studies, edited by Haggai Ben-Shammai et al., 7–35. Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University Press, 2014.

chapter 10

Psalms to Reason, Psalms to Heal The Scriptures in Early Rūm Orthodox Treatises Miriam Lindgren Hjälm 1


From the early stages of Christian Arabic Bible production around the ninth century onwards, three biblical collections are disproportionately overrepresented: the Gospels, the Pauline Epistles, and the Psalms.1 About 130 manuscripts containing running Arabic Psalm translations dated up to the sixteenth century have survived. This is comparable only to the Gospels and the Pauline Epistles, which are represented by a large number of manuscritps. In contrast, only seventeen manuscripts containing one or several historical books have come down to us from the same period.2 The approximate Christian Arabic production of Old Testament books is shown in Figure 10.1.3 This uneven distribution of biblical books is hardly surprising. For Orthodox Christians, the Gospels assume a position of priority among the Scriptures, both in liturgy and theologically. It is the hub around which all other biblical books rotate, 1 The present chapter was composed during my employment in the DFG-funded Biblia Arabica project, located at Tel Aviv University and at Munich University (principle investigators: Prof. Camilla Adang, Prof. Meira Polliack and Prof. Sabine Schmidtke, later Prof. Ronny Vollandt) and at Sankt Ignatios College at the Stockholm School of Theology, there with the support of the Swedish Research Council (2017-01630). Earlier versions of the present article were presented at the conference Warrior, Poet, Prophet and King: The Character of David in Judaism, Christianity and Islam at Warsaw University 2016, organized by Dr. Marzena Zawanowska and Dr. Mateusz Wilk as well as at Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: Religious Communities and Communities of Knowledge 2017 sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton and the Israel Institute for Advanced Study, Jerusalem, organized by Prof. Sabine Schmidtke and Prof. Guy Stroumsa. I am also grateful for the corrections and suggestions offered on the paper by Peter Tarras and by Dr. Yonatan Moss; and for those offered by Prof. Samuel Rubenson, Prof. Bo Holmberg, Dr. Thomas Arentzen, and others present at the Patristic seminar at Lund University in October 2017. 2 The inventory may naturally be updated with additional manuscripts yet the distribution of the various books is assumably rather stable. Cf. Hjälm, “1.1.10 The Arabic Canon.” For the Arabic Gospel production, see Kachouh, Arabic Versions, 78. For the Pauline Espistles, see Zaki, The Pauline Epistles in Arabic. 3 Cf. Hjälm, “1.1.10 The Arabic Canon,” and further references to studies on specific books there.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | doi:10.1163/9789004465978_012








MjPr Dan






Sap (4)








Ben Sira


Other (8)9–10th

figure 10.1




Approximate spread of Old Testament books in Arabic © Miriam Lindgren Hjälm

the focal point to which all other passages point. The Christian Old Testament then, is to various degrees understood to contain references to events in the Gospels and to the life of the Church, which ultimately point to the Christ, the Word of God (logos) and – through Him – to salvation. For this reason, many Church Fathers approached the Old Testament corpus via a “method” or “principle” (henceforth method) known as typology, i.e., they searched it for types of the “Christ event,” the archetype. The type-archetype pairing is often made up of several corresponding units, according to the following structure (my own example), “Aaron the priest continually offered sacrifices to God to bring forgiveness for the Jews,” is a type of the archetype, “just like Christ the ultimate priest offered himself as the final sacrifice to God to bring forgiveness for all the world.” The pair is thus divisible into three corresponding units: Aaron the priest continually offered sacrifices to God to bring forgiveness for the Jews

Christ the ultimate priest offered himself as the final sacrifice to God to bring forgiveness for all the world

Psalms to Reason, Psalms to Heal


In the above passage, Christ recapitulates Aaron and gives his existence (new) meaning, rather than depriving him of such meaning (something which the term “allegory” might occasionally imply).4 The search for types was often crucial for Christians in order to prove that Jesus Christ was the Messiah and it motivated them to, in principle, divide Scripture into literal and spiritual layers. Although the archetype is the goal of the type, the literal layer bears the type, and is, as such, essential for all wider interpretation. Thus, the spiritual layer is embedded in the literal layer and by pointing towards the archetype it brings salvation to humankind and to all of creation. Occasionally the two layers were separated but this was generally avoided.5 The process of interpretation is often described as beginning with the literal sense and then engaging with additional layers: in addtion to the spiritual one, the tropological (moral) sense, and the anagogical sense (in which the human transcends this world and enters into the coming world) or whatever additional layers a particular Church Father applied in his interpretational scheme.6 The idea was that the Old Testament in principle was inviolable as a text and that its literal layer was essentially true (albeit sometimes in need of slight revision) yet insufficient on its own, since its higher, spiritual, sense needed to be revealed. This led to the view held by many interpreters that the Old Testament contains a more or less inexhaustible number of potential type-archetype pairs, which the righteous, the one endowed with theōria “divine vision/discernment,” finds by reading it with a pure heart.7 Hence, for many Christians in Patristic times, it was primarily the spiritual approach to the Bible that needed to be defended (against Jews and “Judaizers”), not the actual text which was more or less taken for granted, although some

4 The intertwined relation between typology and allegory has been discussed at length. For a summary of typology and for this Christian innovation in interpretation history, see Kannengiesser (gen. ed.), Handbook of Patristic Exegesis, vol. 1, 228–232; 238–239; 251–253. 5 For the “intrinsic value of the ‘Letter’ ” in patristic times, see Kannengiesser (gen. ed.), Handbook of Patristic Exegesis, vol. 1, 174–76 and for the spiritual approach, see 206–209. The relation between literal and spiritual is described thus: “The semantic space of the literal sense was conditioned by what was written with divine authority, whereas the space of spiritual significance was proper to God’s thoughts when authorizing the written, and therefore it transcends the letter of the text,” 206. 6 The exact definitions of the terms vary and the distinctions between them are often difficult to uphold. For an overview, see Froehlich, Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church. 7 See Froehlich, Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church, 19–23; Hill, Reading the Old Testament in Antioch, esp. 137–39; and Perhai, “Theōria as a Hermeneutical Term.”



felt that the narrative in its own right was not given enough prominence.8 With the advent of Islam, Christians and Jews nevertheless found themselves on the same side – their Bibles being suspected by their Muslim interlocutors of having been distorted (Ar. taḥrīf ) in meaning or even in form. Now Christians had to defend not only the spiritual approach to Scripture, but sometimes also the accuracy of its transmission and, ultimately, the literal level itself, to an unprecedented extent.9 Interestingly enough, some Muslims took over the practice of finding types, not of the Christ, but of Muḥammad, to claim that he was predicted in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, in order to legitimize his prophethood and the supremacy of the Qurʾān, strategies that Martin Accad calls a “Muḥammado-centric” reading of the Bible.10 As the Abrahamic religions developed around a partially shared textual heritage and in constant dialogue or polemic with one another, we may expect frequent inter-religious interfaces. The present study aims to (1) investigate if such interfaces are discernable in the conception of Scripture in Christian texts;11 and (2) to describe the use of interpretation methods adhered to by Christians under Islam, with a focus on the Book of Psalms. The immense popularity of Psalms among Christians in the Near East, the inheritors of no less than three out of five historical patriarchates,12 is evident in the production of Christian Arabic Bible translations, as noted in the figure 8


10 11 12

Already in the early Christian era, some Church Fathers had noted that the Hebrew and the Greek (the Septuagint) versions exhibited significant differences, both in wording and in content. Some were of the opinion that such differences stemmed from Jewish corruption of a specific passage or the removal of a complete biblical book which too easily provided a Christian Messianic reading. Others were not aware of these differences, whereas a few acknowledged that some copying errors had been made in both versions, see Gallagher, Hebrew Scripture. For the assumption that a partial redaction of the text had occurred, see Hill, Reading the Old Testament in Antioch, esp. 74–83. For Antiochian criticism of the lack of focus on the historical layer of the text, see 136–139. Whereas many Muslims questioned the Jewish and Christian interpretations of their Scriptures, some also questioned the text itself, see Accad, “Muḥammad’s advent,” 218– 219; for concrete examples, see Adang, Muslim Writers. Lately, valuable efforts have been made to explore Christian and Muslim approaches to and use of one another’s Scriptures, there among the recent contributions by Clare E. Wilde’s Approaches to the Qurʾan in Early Christian Arabic Texts, 750 CE–1258 CE and Beaumont (ed.), Arab Christians and the Qurʾan. See Accad, “Muḥammad’s advent,” 225. See also Nickel, “ ‘They Find Him Written with them.’ ” For a study on the Jewish conception of Scripture in relation to Islam, see Polliack, “The Karaite Inversion.” I.e., Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, leaving only Constantinople and Rome unattached. In addition, we should add here the Church of the East.

Psalms to Reason, Psalms to Heal


above. Despite the large production and obvious value attached to Psalms in these communities, the reception of this biblical book in Arabic has received comparatively little attention by scholars, and we lack both a proper systematization of extant manuscripts as well as thorough studies on the liturgical and exegetical use of this book.13 While the monumental work of mapping out the Arabic Psalm production in light of new sources as well as its liturgical use are yet to be undertaken, the present paper will confine itself to examining the use of Psalms and understanding of Scripture in four early (eighth to early twelfth c.) Arabic-speaking authors belonging to Rūm/Greek Orthodox (Melkite) communities: (1) an anonymous theological treatise known as On the Triune Nature of God; (2) theological treatises by Theodore Abū Qurra; (3) the universal chronicle Kitāb al-ʿunwān, composed by Agapius of Manbiǧ; and (4) a text composed by Agathon of Homs. Given the scope and complexity of extant sources, the present study offers but a case study, which in due time should be applied to a larger corpus.14 In order to avoid limiting the results to a specific literary form, this survey aims to cover somewhat different yet interrelated genres: the first work is a homiletic treatise, arguably with an apologetic agenda, whereas Abū Qurra’s texts are theological, often with a clear apologetic purpose. Agapius’ work is a chronicle and Agathon’s theological composition includes a partly personal appeal. By examining selected texts – known for exhibiting interesting views on Scriptures and/or an extensive use of Psalms – and describing them in a comparative manner focusing on this book, I hope to make a small contribution to the field of Christian Arabic studies. The purpose of the study is thereby to contribute to ongoing research that explores and systematically analyzes 13


See Graf’s Geschichte vol. 1, still serves as a valuable tool in this regard. On Psalm translations from al-Andalus, which have received a disproportional amount of attention, see works by Urvoy, Le psautier mozarabe de Hafs le Goth; Koningsveld, The Arabic Psalter of Ḥafṣ ibn Albar al-Qûṭî; Martin, “An Anonymous Mozarab Translator at Work” to mention a few. For an Eastern Psalm rendition, the one by Ibn Faḍl, see Monferrer-Sala in the present volume. Other important early Rūm Orthodox contributions include “Summa theologiae Arabica (= BL OR. 4950),” “Kitāb al-burhān” by Peter of Bayt Ra‌ʾs; “the Disputation of the Monk Abraham of Tiberias”; works by Sulayman al-Ġazzi; and Paul of Antioch. A papyri fragment (Schott-Reinhardt Inv.-Nr. 438) contains one Psalm quotation (Psalm 109:2) and its Christological interpretation, see Graf, “Christlich-arabische Texte,” 14–15. Many thanks to Peter Tarras for bringing this to my attention; cf. Tarras, “Spirit Before the Letter,” 79–80 n3. Other genres that in a broader study could be taken into consideration, include commentaries such as Ibn Faḍl’s commentaries on the Psalms, random references to this book in other commentaries (cf. Bish al-Sirri to the Epistles, edited by Staal, MT. Sinai Arabic, thanks to Vevian Zaki for noting this), translated works including hagiography and Patristic texts, introductions to Bible translations as well as the translations themselves.



strategies Christians resorted to in order to defend and explain their worldview in an increasingly dominant Muslim milieu. As such, the present work, besides being descriptive, seeks to add to our understanding of the reception of the Patristic heritage in the Islamic context. Before I embark on the main topic, some further notes on the use of Psalms in Patristic times will be offered as a background and point of comparison. 2

Notes on the Use of Psalms in Pre-Islamic Patristic Times

In addition to the search for type-archetype pairs described above, references to the Christ may also be found in the literal layer of the biblical text itself in the sense that the Patristic author interpreted the referent of an undefined pronoun or event to be the Christ. In such cases, they are understood as direct prophecies and there is no need to establish a type-archetype relation between two events in a strict sense. Thus, the referent of “you” in Psalm 110:4: “You are a priest forever, after the image of Melchizedek,” is for the Christian interpreter the Christ (cf. Hebrews 7:1–28). These kinds of prophecies are naturally taken from the Prophets but just as often from the Psalms. Already in the Ancient Church, David is most commonly referred to as “the prophet David,” and it is no surprise then that his book was understood as mainly prophetical. Or, rather, vice versa: David is understood, first of all to be a prophet, since the poetic genre of the Psalms with its exceptionally high degree of undefined referents, opens up for attributing references to Christ in the literal layer of the text. The genre of the text (narratives vs. poetic/prophetic speech), will thus affect the choice of interpretative method (typology vs. prophecy), although both are governed by theōria, the interpretational approach par excellence in Patristic times. The two methods are used interchangeably by Christian authors and passages identified as types and prophecies were gathered into so-called “testimony collections,” or “proof-texts,” i.e., collections of biblical quotations in support for Christian doctrines, well-integrated into theological/ apologetic treatises.15 As indicated in the passage from Psalms above, the two methods may be combined, as the first part refers to an undefined pronoun and the second part to Melchizedek, relating to a narrative in Genesis. It should be mentioned that not all Patristic authors univocally shared the approach to Scriptures outlined above, particularly in the early Patristic era. 15

For Arabic testimony collections, see for instance Swanson, “Beyond Prooftexting (2)” and Bertaina, “Testimony Collections.”

Psalms to Reason, Psalms to Heal


Some Antiocheans questioned the unrestricted use of typology and prophecies that were not “evident” in the biblical text. For instance, Theodore of Mopseuestia (d. ca. 428), following Diodore of Tarsus (d. ca. 390), divided the Psalms into different categories and regarded only a few psalms as Messianic.16 Nevertheless, most Church Fathers, even in the Patriarchate of Antioch, quite freely used a typological and prophetical approach to highlight how God revealed Himself and His salvation plan to man by continuously appearing in history, as opposed to being a metaphysical reality completely beyond reach.17 Psalms are not only valuable as a hermeneutical tool for the Christian theologian. Christian liturgical language is replete with references to the Psalms and it is the most widely used part of Scriptures, traditionally recited once a week in monasteries, twice during Lent.18 The spiritual value attached to Psalms becomes evident in a homily on the book by Basil the Great (d. 379), where Basil praises the Psalms for its ability to heal its readers: The old wounds of soul it [i.e., the Book of Psalms] cures completely, and to the recently wounded it brings speedy improvement; the diseased it treats, and the unharmed it preserves. On the whole, it effaces, as far as is possible, the passions, which subtly exercise dominion over souls during the lifetime of man, and it does this with a certain orderly persuasion and sweetness which produces sound thoughts.19 Similarly, it is with healing of wounds in mind that Diodore states in his commentary to the Psalms that “the Holy Spirit […] gives voice through most blessed David to his own response to our sufferings so that through it the sufferers may be cured.”20 Thus, as opposed to many other Old Testament books that were seldom quoted and not used in liturgy at all, the Psalms were crucial for the life of the Church both for its hermeneutical appeal, notable in theological treatises where the author put forward rational arguments in support for doctrines, and


17 18 19 20

See Tyng, “Theodore of Mopsuestia as an Interpreter of the Old Testament”; Hill, Reading the Old Testament in Antioch, 159. Richard J Perhai points out that Theodore nevertheless ascribed typological significance to additional psalms in commentaries on another biblical books (all together: 2, 8, 45, 69, 89, 110), see “Theōria as a Hermeneutical Term,” 52–53. See Hill, Reading the Old Testament in Antioch, esp. 43–45. See Getcha, Typicon Decoded, esp. 15–21. The Psalms were eventually shortened to only contain certain parts. See Deferrari (gen. ed.), The Fathers Of The Church, 151–152. See Hill, Reading the Old Testament in Antioch, 31.



for its spiritual value, which made it a necessity for the daily life of a monk and in the liturgy.21 We will now turn to the four Arabic authors mentioned above, shortly describe the content of each treatise, examine how the Scriptures are conceptualized in them and, finally, narrow down our study to survey how the Psalms are used. 3

On the Triune Nature of God

The anonymous treatise, often labeled On the Triune Nature of God, contains an apology for the Trinity.22 More than that, however, the treatise is a lengthy summary of God’s salvation plan starting with Adam and ending with the victorious spread of Christianity (the end of the treatise is lost). The author describes how the Children of Israel were increasingly ensnared by the Devil and thereby trapped in their own sin. When the prophets came to understand the forfeited state of humankind, they began pleading to the Lord for salvation, a quest initially inspired by God. God eventually answered the petition by assuming flesh, including its natural consequence, death, which He ultimately conquered, thereby beating the Devil at his own game. Nevertheless, God did not keep His plan hidden from the righteous, and continuously revealed Himself in history and communicated to the prophets His Triune nature, His plan to become incarnate and thereby to save humankind: God announced/explained by the tongues of His prophets through the Holy Spirit who inspired them about the Christ: He announced/explained when He should come and from whom He should be born when He appeared to us, and the signs that He should do, and He taught by them that He was the Christ, and that He was God of God as the prophets have preached about Him […] All this the prophets had said about the Christ, that He should do these signs to men.23 21 22


For the use of Psalms in Patristic times and relevant bibliography, see for instance Kannengiesser (gen. ed.), Handbook of Patristic Exegesis, vol. 1, 297–301. For the use of Psalms in the Orthodox Church, see Getcha, Typikon Decoded. The treatise extant in Sinai Ar. 154 was published by Gibson, whose English translation is used here, An Arabic Version. For relevant articles on the use of the Bible in this treatise, see for instance Samir, “The Earliest Arab Apology”; Bertaina, “Testimony collections”; Swanson, “An Apology for the Christian Faith,” which also includes new translations of certain passages and further bibliography. See On the Triune Nature of God, 31–32. The English translation is somewhat revised.

Psalms to Reason, Psalms to Heal


All prophetical predictions, hence, become evident in the Incarnation of the Christ and his deeds: “what is more excellent,” the author asks, than “the correspondence of the works of the Christ and the prophecy of the prophets.”24 A long list of these prophecies is presented and well-integrated into the overall account of God’s master plan. David is mentioned by name more often than any other prophet and the reader understands that he was initiated into God’s plan: “God inspired His servant and His prophet David and announced/ explained to him that the Christ is the Word and the Light of God.”25 In addition, he is given a special place due to his kinship to Christ through his mother Mary, who was of the lineage of David: “God honoured David in the Christ, when he was made flesh of his race.”26 In the author’s view, the Jews, who did not believe that Christ was the Messiah, lied and opposed that which David and the prophets had preached about the Christ, the Word of God (Ar. kalimat Allāh).27 Thus, through its interpretational approach, the author makes Christianity the rightful heir to the prophets and thereby also of the Old Testament as such. As described in the beginning of this paper, such an interpretational approach, or theōria, is mainly expressed in Patristic treatises by the use of two, sometimes overlapping, methods: typology proper, where the type is clearly paired with the arche-type (the Christ-event), and through direct prophecy, where the prophecy and its fulfillment are paired in a more direct manner, as the natural reference of a passage. It is interesting to note that the anonymous author does not explicitly make use of common forms of typology, in the way Abū Qurra does. As we will see below, the latter often connects Old Testament and New Testament events with technical phrases such as “that is like […]” or “this is an image of […].” Instead, the anonymous author uses almost only direct prophesies about the Christ, the Trinity and related topics, and elsewhere merely accounts for what he sees as historical events in order to propel his main narrative forward. The Scriptures are normally referred to as “the Law, the Prophets, the Psalms and the Gospels” and once, collectively, as kitāb Allāh.28 Thus, nowhere is a distinction in rank or importance made between these collections of Holy Writ. Indeed, even the Qurʾān is quoted in support for a doctrine, and the difference 24

25 26 27 28

See ibidem, 23; also 24. In a similar vein he declares: “God is greatly to be praised, who sent us the word of His prophets in correspondence with the works and signs of the Christ, and he shewed to men that He is God of God, and it is He who has delivered and saved us from error and destruction.” See ibidem, 27. See ibidem, 16–17. The English translation is somewhat revised. See ibidem, 17–18. See ibidem, 31. See ibidem, 3; 5–6; 31.



in approach to Scripture between this inclusive account and the exclusive one sporadically championed by Abū Qurra is palpable, as we will see below. It is made clear, however, in the anonymous treatise that the “new law” that would go forth from Zion, in Isaiah’s words, was the Gospel, and that this law was perfect. As opposed to Abū Qurra, who due to the nature of his apologetic treatise connected contemporary Jews and the law with the Old Testament as such, and was thus prompted to call it non-rational, the anonymous author of this more homiletic treatise establishes the relationship between the old law of Moses with the new law of Christ in terms of promise and fulfillment, by quoting Christ’s words: “I have not come to destroy (Ar. li-ahdima) the example of Moses, but to fulfill it (Ar. lākin utimmuhu).”29 It does not appear that the “Old Law” is equated with the “Old Testament,” but only with the law given to Moses (fulfilled in the new law, cf. typology), whereas prophesies in the Old Testament partake in the Christ event already in their literal form. It is, finally, interesting to note that the author declares that it is because of the prophesies in the Old Testament that we believe in Christ: “All this the prophets had said about the Christ, that He should do these signs to men. By this we trust the Christ and believe in Him and follow Him.”30 As we will see below, Abū Qurra claimed the very opposite direction of validation regarding the Old Testament and the Gospels. 3.1 The Use of Psalms David is often referred to by name before a Psalm passage is quoted, which occurs around twenty times in this treatise. Sometimes the Psalms are interpreted as revelations of the Trinity. For instance, in Psalm 29:3 the triple mention of God/Lord represents the three persons in the Trinity: “The voice of the Lord is upon the waters, the God of glory thundereth, God is upon many waters.”31 In Psalm 33:6, God (the Father) works with the Word (the Christ), and the Spirit (the Holy Spirit): “By the Word of God were the heavens built, and by the Spirit of His mouth He gave life to all the angle-host.”32 However, the greater part of the Book of Psalms is interpreted in terms of God’s plan to assume flesh and walk on earth. For instance: Psalm 144:5 (cf. 29 30 31


See ibidem, 19 (Arabic text, ٩١). The Enlish translation is somewhat modified. See ibidem, 32. See ibidem, 6. It appears that the Septuagint was used as a base for most Psalm quotations and paraphrases in all these treatises. For ease of reference, such quotations and paraphrases will still be provided according to the standard Masoretic Psalm division unless a passage differs considerably from the Hebrew reading in which case the Septuagint (LXX) reference will be offered. See ibidem, 23.

Psalms to Reason, Psalms to Heal


Isaiah 64:1), “Lord, bend the heavens, and come down to us”; Psalm 80:1–2, “O Thou that sittest upon the cherubim, show Thyself to us, stir up Thy might, and come for our salvation”; Psalm 107:20, “The Lord sent His word and healed us from our toil and saved us”; Psalm 117:26–27 (in Septuagint), “Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord: God is the Lord and hath appeared unto us.”33 They are also interpreted as predictions of events in the Gospels, such as Psalm 8:2 (in Septuagint) which functions as a prophecy of how common people will praise Christ as he will ride into Jerusalem before Passover, “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, Thou hast preordained Thy praise,”34 and Psalm 74:13–14 when the baptism of the Christ revealed the defeat of the Devil, “Thou hast broken the heads of the dragons on the water. Thou hast broken the head of the Dragon.”35 A substantial number of Psalms are used to show God’s plan for the spread of Christianity to all the nations after the Incarnation. For instance, Psalm 2:7– 9, “Thou are my Son, this day have I begotten Thee. Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and I will cause Thee to possess the uttermost bound of the earth; Thou shalt rule them with a rod of iron”;36 and Psalm 110:1 (cf. Matt. 22:44; Mark 12:36), “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at my right hand, until I put Thine enemies beneath Thy footstool.”37 Although these and similar quotes are also Christological in content, they seemed to be used as predictions of a contemporary situation, which is also the case with Psalm 2:2–5, where the punishment of the Jews for rejecting and taking council against the Christ is being foretold (the kings = Jews, who are now held in contempt): The kings of the earth were assembled and those that had dominion in it; they took counsel together against the Lord and against His Christ. He that dwelleth in the heavens shall laugh, the Lord shall have them in derision; then shall He speak to them in His wrath and vex them in His displeasure.38 33

34 35 36 37 38

See On the Triune Nature of God, 10. The English translation is somewhat revised. Bertaina points out that “In one block, the anonymous writer does not quote Ps 117(118):26–27 word for word, but rather edits the verse, just as it is found in the Byzantine liturgy in use during the communion of the faithful during the eighth century,” see “Testimony collections,” 166. See On the Triune Nature of God, 30. See ibidem, 35. See ibidem, 15–16. See ibidem, 16–17. See ibidem, 28. Finally, what was only promised in the Old Law, is now fulfilled through the Christ, as communicated by the long but abbreviated quotations from Psalm 72:6–17,



Thus, the Psalms are mainly used as proofs of the Trinity, of the Incarnation and the spread of Christianity, whereas some of the latter are also applied to events contemporary to the author or of a general kind. 4

Theodore Abū Qurra

Abū Qurra (d. ca. 829), a monk from Edessa who was, for a certain time, bishop of Ḥārran, left a large number of texts behind. Here I will include those attributed to him in John Lamoreaux’s English translation, as well as his treatise on the veneration of icons, translated by Sidney Griffith, which, together, cover most of his literary production.39 Perhaps Abū Qurra’s most interesting statement regarding the Scriptures is found in his work Theologus Autodidactus, a text in which the author aims to prove the supremacy of Christianity over other religions. Abū Qurra gives brief accounts of the various creeds and notes that they all possess different holy Scriptures. He suggests that the only way to figure out which Scriptures contain the truth is to use the intellect/mind. A man can fully trust his mind, as long as it is used in a rational manner, since man is created in the image of God and – through analogy – can sense God’s true nature and attributes, and thereby know what is good and evil. The Scriptures that match these rational conclusions are the true version of God’s words, he reasons.40 Abū Qurra describes the mind as the physician through whose prescriptions we can be healed and thereby to some extent places the task of discerning the truth on the individual. In his treatise on icon veneration, he argues that the prophets too, where necessary, used their reason to find the higher meaning of the law and takes Elijah as an example of someone who altered the law given by Moses



see ibidem, 21–22: “The Lord shall come down like rain upon the mown [grass], and as drops that drop upon the earth; righteousness shall dawn in His days, and abundance of peace so long as the moon appeareth. He shall reign….” See Lamoreaux (trans.), Theodore Abū Qurrah (henceforth Theodore Abū Qurrah;); Griffith, Veneration (henceforth Veneration). For accounts of Abū Qurra’s biography, see these two works as well as Lamoreaux, “Abū Qurra”; Treiger, “New Works” and further references there. For articles on Abū Qurra’s use of Scripture, see for instance Samir, “Note sur les citations”; and Tarras’ recent paper “Spirit before the Letter.” Cf. On the Method of the Knowledge of God, in Theodore Abū Qurrah, 157, where a similar statement is found. A somewhat different perspective is attested to in On the Trinity in Theodore Abū Qurrah, 175–177, where the “message” comes first but the intellect is still needed as a boat needs a captain.

Psalms to Reason, Psalms to Heal


concerning the locations of sacrifices.41 In another treatise, On the Councils, Abū Qurra similarly states that if Christians do not have proper Church councils to settle discussions on correct doctrine, all they have left is to “cling to is the texts of the Old and New Testaments.”42 Here he once again uses the metaphor of the sick and calls councils medicine and Church Fathers physicians.43 As a result of Abū Qurra’s emphasis on reason as the prime way to approach biblical texts, the “sacramental force” of Scripture, i.e., where God works on men, is in some sense lessened and its “meaning” is subjugated to councils, Church Fathers, and man’s rational ability.44 In other words, Abū Qurra’s emphasis on man’s responsibility to be rational in the search for the true version of Scripture, appears quite different from the perspective promulgated by Basil and Diodore, for whom the Psalms are described as an active dialogue partner who addresses and effects change in the reader. Instead, at least here, Abū Qurra treats biblical quotations as a “passive” collection of proof texts. For the sake of contrast, it might be worth mentioning that in two works ascribed to Abū Qurra, we are told that Christians were admonished by Muslims to use rational, rather than Scripture-based arguments. In Questions that Priest Mūsā asked Abba Thaddeus of Edessa (i.e., Abū Qurra?),45 Mūsā wants to defend his cause by using scriptural quotations, yet the Muslim demands that Mūsā “offer[s] a proof on the basis of intellectual reasoning,” wherefore the priest turns to Thaddeus.46 The view of Scripture demonstrated by Thaddeus in these texts is more positive than that suggested in most of Abū Qurra’s other treatises.47 Thaddeus tells Mūsā “Do not consider them [i.e., Muslims] to be superior to the word (Ar. kalām) of God and the word of His Scriptures,” and he goes on to minimize the role of the intellect in relation to Scripture.48 A similar statement is found in the Greek Opusculum 24,49 where the Muslim states: “Persuade me not from your Isaiah or Matthew, for whom I have not the slightest regard, but from compelling, acknowledged, common 41 42 43 44

45 46 47 48 49

See Veneration, 86–87. See Theodore Abū Qurrah, 76–77. For more on Abū Qurra’s conciliar theology, see Griffith, “Muslims and Church Councils.” The authority of tradition is indicated in Venerations, 42. In On the Death of Christ, Abū Qurra states that he trusts in the Old and New Testaments because of the miracles the disciples, who transmitted these books, made in the name of Christ, see Theodore Abū Qurrah, 119. Alexander Treiger has recently argued that Abba Thaddeus could be identified with Abū Qurra, see Treiger’s article “New Works.” See Treiger, “New Works,” 25. See ibidem, 25–27. See ibidem, 26–27. See PG XCVII, col. 1556B.



notions,”50 as if to show that it was not Abū Qurra who freely chose to resort to rational arguments instead of Scripture. As noted above, Abū Qurra often portrays reason as primary in the sense that the mind – created in the image of God – is needed to identify true Scripture, and once even asks his readers to put Scripture aside while figuring out what divine revelation really is.51 It is reasonable to assume that once the Christian Scripture had been identified as the true “book,” Scripture works on man, as descried by Basil, a view supported in other works authored by Abū Qurra where he apparently favors Scripture to reason.52 Thus, the audience of a particular treatise and its genre, should be taken into consideration when understanding an author’s view of Scripture, as Abū Qurra may have slightly changed the presentation of it in order to suit the overall purpose of his respective treatises. In contrast to the anonymous treatise, in which the author identifies Christianity as the rightful heir of the Old Testament and thereby appropriates it from the Jews, Abū Qurra connects it with the Jews to the extent that he has to renounce its credibility. In Theologus Autodidactus, Abū Qurra solely intends the Gospels when he speaks about the true Scriptures.53 The only reason why we should believe in the Old Testament, he continues, is because the Gospels tell us to do so. In fact, only the Gospels are rational, hence we understand that the Old Testament is not and “this is because of the defects in what they [i.e., the Jews] brought and because it is contrary to what our nature teaches.”54 The main reason why God sent the Jews this defective revelation, 50 51 52

53 54

Cf. Griffith, “Arguing from Scriptures,” 34. See here similar statements in other Christian Arabic treatisess. See Theodore Abū Qurrah, 9. See Theodore Abū Qurrah, 144–145. Abū Qurra also speaks of the limits of the intellect in relation to faith and even says that the Scriptures are enough for Christians and rational confirmation is only used to persuade others, Theodore Abū Qurrah, 192. See also note 40 above. See Theodore Abū Qurrah, 18–25. See ibidem, 23. He repeats and expands his understanding of the two testaments at the end of the treatise: “we do not believe in Christ and his mission through the books of the prophets. Rather, we believe that they are prophets, first, because Christ called them prophets, and secondly, because we see his deeds described in their books,” Theodore Abū Qurrah, 25. Although the phrasing may appear noteworthy, this reasoning in fact resembles early Christian typology where the “type” is given its full meaning only after the apparence of Christ, the “antitype.” Cf. Griffith, “Faith and Reason,” 23–24. In Against the Jews, Abū Qurra states that the gentiles would have accepted Christ for who he was, also without the pre-tellings of the prophets, see Theodore Abū Qurrah, 30. In Against the Jews, 39 Abū Qurra states: “for reason surely leads us to Christ, and Christ confirms Moses and the prophets. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament thus belong to us […]” without creating any significant distance to the originally Jewish scriptures

Psalms to Reason, Psalms to Heal


is, according to Abū Qurra, because Jews cannot differentiate between Trinity and polytheism.55 “Defect” should perhaps better be understood as “shortcomings in meaning” and it is the polemic nature of the treatise that makes Abū Qurra use such a harsh language. What is interesting here still is the contrast between Abū Qurra’s understanding of the Gospels, which is reached by reason, and the Old Testament, which is accepted by command; pure obedience is seemingly the opposite of reason. As noted in the passage On the Triune Nature of God, Abū Qurra’s description of the relation between the Old Testament and the Gospels is inverse: the former claims that we believe in Christ due to the revelation of him in the prophets, whereas Abū Qurra states that we believe in the prophets due to Christ’s command to do so in the Gospels. Given the fact that the Psalms in particular are widely disseminated in Arabic translations and amply used in Orthodox liturgy and monastic life as described above, Abū Qurra’s sporadic separation of the Old Testaments and the Gospels must be understood as an apologetic division, as opposed to a liturgical or spiritual division, since the latter would simply be against the common practice in the Church. We must understand this statement as if Abū Qurra, like the Church Fathers, sees an exegetical hierarchy between the Gospels and the Old Testament, which means that “theologically” the Old Testament is given its full value, once its true message has been revealed in the Gospels. Many other statements in his treatises confirm this view.56



and essentially marking the Christian takeover of them. In this connection, it should be pointed out that Abū Qurra did not consider the Gospel as munzil, in the same way as the Qurʾān was, Samir, “Note sur les citations,” 190, a statement found in Veneration, 29, cf. Tarras, “Spirit before Letter,” 82. See Theodore Abū Qurrah, 24. The context implies that Abū Qurra intends the lack of clear references to the Trinity in the Old Testament. Yet, in the treatise Trinity, he gives several examples of where the Trinity is reveled in the Old Testament, see Theodore Abū Qurrah, 23 and even more so in On the Trinity, 179–183. In On the Councils in Theodore Abū Qurrah, 62, Abū Qurra simply informs us that the Old and New Testaments are written by the Holy Spirit, and (66) that the Holy Spirit works with similar methods in the Old and the New Testaments: “In the sacred New Testament, of which the Old Testament is only an image, the Holy Spirit employed the same procedure that he used in the Old Testament” (i.e. councils were needed to determine true doctrines; a practice in use from Moses to the apostles). In On the Trinity in Theodore Abū Qurrah, 178–179, where Abū Qurra again discusses the primacy of Christianity over all other religions, he points out that “Saying this does not require us to reject the Torah, however, as long as, that is, as the gospel confirms it […] for Christianity is nothing other than faith in the gospel and its supplements [acc. to Lamoreaux: the other NT texts] and in the law of Moses and the intervening books of the prophets. The wise are required



It is primarily in Theologus Autodidactus that Abū Qurra speaks of the Old Testament in a surprisingly condescending manner, whereas he fully embraces these books as Christian revelation in theological treatises directed against other Christian groups.57 Thus, again, the approach is connected to the genre/ audience and is rather a question of perspective than difference in view. Yet, at the same time, there were tendencies among Near Eastern Christians to connect contemporary Jews with the Old Testament, or, as we will see below, with a specific version of it, to uphold a “textually polemical triangle” between the Abrahamic religions (Muslims: Qurʾān – Christians: Gospels – Jews: Hebrew Bible/Old Testament). There is one noteworthy statement in Abū Qurra’s texts where he notes that he only quoted some passages from the Old Testament because “we do not have access to the majority of the books of the Old Testament.”58 It appears from the context that he only had access to testimony collections, that is, common Messianic prophecies, and, we must assume, to liturgical books.59 Abū Qurra, who in some treatises quotes the Qurʾān freely, was well aware that he lived in an era where the struggle over who possessed the ultimate interpretation of the Scriptures was vital for the survival of his community. However, as opposed to other Arabic-speaking Christians, such as Abū Rāʾiṭa al-Takrītī (d. ca. 835) and ʿAmmār al-Baṣrī (d. ca. 850), Abū Qurra does not explicitly refer to what is commonly known as taḥrīf, the Muslim notion that Christians and Jews misunderstood or even distorted the original Scriptures.60 This was recently noted by Peter Tarras who also argues that Abū Qurra nevertheless did so covertly.61 He noted, for instance, that Abū Qurra once claims that Moses received the (Jewish) Scriptures with “omission/shortage” (Ar. nuqṣān) and “variation” (Ar. ḫilāf ) and suggests that perhaps Abū Qurra had variances between the Hebrew and the Greek versions in mind.62 Yet, Abū Qurra never

57 58 59 60

61 62

to put their trust in what such scriptures say, to believe it and to rely on it, regardless of whether they can understand it.” However, the argument is repeated in Veneration, 40. See Theodore Abū Qurrah, 149. For the relation between Old Testament passages quoted in liturgical books, testimonies and the production of full renditions of biblical books in Arabic, see Hjälm, “1.1.10 The Arabic Canon.” Many scholars have dealt with the question of taḥrīf and various aspects of it, there among Griffith, “Christian Kalām,” 165–168 on ʿAmmār al-Baṣrī’s defense of the Gospels against taḥrīf; Keating, “Revisiting the charge of taḥrīf,” esp. 211–216; eadem “Refuting the Charge.” Cf. also n. 9 above and n. 90 below. Several chapters in Beaumont (ed.), Arab Christians and the Qurʾan, address the topic as well. See Tarras, “Spirit Before Letter,” 87–88. See ibidem, 88 (based on Dick, Traité de l’existence du Créateur, 255).

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refers to such a corruption explicitly, although this would certainly strengthen his polemic arguments. In general, Abū Qurra seems to be unaware of, or unbothered by, the fact that different versions of the Old Testament circulated among Christians. At one point, he states that the prophets are used by both the Jews and the Christians, though some of the prophets he quotes in support of his arguments, such as Baruch, are not part of the Jewish Scriptures.63 In his polemical treatise against other Near Eastern Christian denominations – who primarily used the Hebrew-based Syriac version of the Bible, the Peshiṭta – he merely mentions how they misunderstand the meaning of the text, but never questions the text itself. However, Thaddeus of Edessa, (who was, arguably, Theodore Abū Qurra), brings up a controversy regarding the correct calculation of biblical chronology and the coming of the Messiah in a treatise entitled the Book of Master and Disciple (initially caused by textual differences in the Masoretic and the Septuagint’s respective versions of Genesis): We say that the divine Scriptures specify that Christ is to come at the end of times. According to our calculation, some 6300 years have passed upon the world, which is the end of times […] Jews, by contrast, believe that only some 4000 years, according to their calculation, have passed upon the world, which is not the end of times. For this reason they believe that Christ has not yet come […] the belief of the Jews that this is not the end of times and that only some 4000 years have passed upon the world is void, misleading, and false.64 Thaddeus does not explicitly state that the Jews distorted the Scriptures here, but this conclusion may be implied. It thus appears that Thaddeus, as opposed to treatises commonly attributed to Abū Qurra, was at least partly informed about divergences between the Hebrew version and the Septuagint. However, we cannot rule out that Abū Qurra gained this knowledge on one of his travels, perhaps to Palestine and Sinai where we know that knowledge was more accessible than in other places on account of the substantial collection and production of books.

63 64

See Theodore Abū Qurrah, 144. See Treiger, “From Theodore Abū Qurra,” 21–24; Treiger, “New Works,” 6–8. In this connection, see also Moss, “Versions and Perversions of Genesis.”



4.1 The Use of Psalms Abū Qurra’s Bible quotations are generally used in a more sophisticated and technical manner than those in the anonymous treatise. Just as in the previous case, however, it is clear that Abū Qurra strictly followed the Orthodox praxis of never ripping the literal and the spiritual layers apart and that all his spiritual interpretations were deeply rooted in the literal layer of the source text, whose relevance he never questioned. The only time that Abū Qurra does not consider the literal layer to be important is in the few passages he probably assumed to be merely poetic, which were deemed to be void of “literal meaning,” as well as some of the anthropomorphic statements about God (see below). Only some of his treatises contain substantial numbers of biblical quotations. The Gospels are most frequently quoted, while from the Old Testament, Genesis tops the list, although Exodus, Isaiah and Psalms account for a large proportion of Old Testament quotations as well.65 Abū Qurra was well aware of the technicalities behind the typological method that he frequently resorted to. In short, Moses received a message, the prophets understood it and explained it, and Christ fulfilled it (in addition, other New Testament books may be used to confirm the procedure). Compare the following argument in Against the Jews (my emphasis): As for Moses, God told him to make Aaron a priest and to offer sacrifices […] In what follows, I shall show you that there is a priest other than Aaron, of whom Aaron is an image, and that here there is a sacrifice other than those sacrifices […]. David came and explained for you that priest [i.e., Christ], of whom Aaron is an image. He informed you that a Lord sits on the throne at the right hand of God and that He is a Son begotten of God before all eternity: “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand”66 […] To this one God also said: I begot you from the womb, before the light.67 He also said to him You are a priest forever, after the image of Melchizedek.68 In the passage quoted above, Abū Qurra consciously used typology to connect events in the biblical narratives with those fulfilled through the Incarnation. 65 66 67 68

An exception is Veneration which contains mostly Old Testament citations, given its topic, see below. Psalm 110:1 (Septuagint 109:1). Psalm 110:3 (Septuagint 109:3). Psalm 110:4 (Septuagint 109:4). See Theodore Abū Qurrah, 37.

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As David was endowed with the vision of seeing God’s plan and agreed to communicate it, Psalms are used as direct prophecies of these events, or, on rare occasions, to confirm events within the Old Testament corpus itself. Thus, the prophets are understood to be exegetes using the same methodological approach towards the biblical corpus as Abū Qurra and the Church Fathers.69 The majority of Psalm quotations are used by Abū Qurra as direct prophecies of the Christ, just like in the anonymous treatise. Given their poetic genre, this kind of interpretational method comes in handy when Psalms are quoted, whereas it is the biblical narratives that are more likely to be approached through typology proper, as mentioned above. In Against the Jews we read, “These prophets spoke of Christ and the whole of his mission, the crucifixion (Isaiah 65:2), the stabbing (Zechariah 12:10), the nailing of his hands and feet and the dividing of his clothes (Psalm 22:16–18) […] how he would be given vinegar to drink and myrrh to eat (Psalm 69:21).”70 It is interesting to note in this context that in a Greek fragment attributed to Abū Qurra (a debate with a Jew), the author is apparently aware that it was the identification of these kinds of references with the Christ that was the issue. The Christian debater states, “Some [passages in Scriptures] refer to Christ who is represented and prefigured by them, while others are restricted to just the holy men [in the biblical narratives].” The Jew then answers, “I understand the things said of David to refer to him alone.”71 Awareness of this crucial identification for the validity of the interpretation seems apparent in Abū Qurra’s treatise On our Salvation where we read, (my emphasis) “So too, the prophet David said of him [i.e., the Christ], as if speaking of himself, ‘They nailed my hands and my feet […]’ ” (Psalm 22:16–18).”72 These kinds of prophecies are not restricted to the Christ but also include the disciples: in Against the Jews, it is stated: “Through these disciples [i.e., who made miracles on their own accord as opposed to Moses who only did so while commanded by God] the words of David were confirmed: The Lord will


70 71 72

In Against the Jews, Abū Qurra claims, “Moses told you that what you have [seen, i.e. Aaron the priest and the sacrifice] is an image, and David and Isaiah came and explained for you that image […] what you have is only an image and something by which another is meant. Confirming this for you [= Jews], David said, ‘Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not understand your wonders’ (Psalm 106:7),” Theodore Abū Qurrah, 38. See Theodore Abū Qurrah, 31. See also “Raise up for them, Lord, one who will establish a law, in order to teach the Gentiles that they are only human (Psalm 9:20 in Septuagint),” 32; and similar use of Psalm 22:16, Psalm 69:21, Psalm 41:9 in On Free Will, 205. See Theodore Abū Qurrah, 241–242. See Theodore Abū Qurrah, 132.



grant those who proclaim the good news a word with much power (Psalm 68:11 [in Septuagint 67:11]).”73 The most exegetical of Abū Qurra’s treatises is Veneration of Holy Icons. Here the author engages with the biblical narratives to show what the concept of prostration meant in biblical times, and, subsequently, transfers the rationale behind veneration to the defence of contemporary Christian icon practice. Here he uses a great many quotations from the historical books and includes a few citations from the Psalms: This was the practice of all the saints [in the Old Testament], to make prostration toward the place from which He would come to be known to people, although they had no doubt that He is in every place. As David said, I shall make prostration to your holy temple, in fear of you.74 He also said, I lift my hands to your holy temple.75 And He said, Let us prostrate ourselves in the place where his feet stood.76 Daniel, when he was in Babylon, simply opened the windows in his upper room in the direction of Jerusalem, to make prostration toward Jerusalem.77 That was because he had heard in the Psalms that God chose Sion and wanted her to become His dwelling. He said, She is my abode forever; here I shall dwell because I have loved her.78 Besides establishing the practice of venerating delimited spaces in the Scriptures, Abū Qurra’s holistic view of Scriptures is here hinted at by the connection of Daniel’s action to Psalm 132. Just as in the anonymous treatise (and sometimes with the same quotations), Psalms are also used to prove God’s triune nature and His incarnation, as revealed in the Old Testament. In On our Salvation we read in connection to this that “By the Word of the Lord [i.e., Christ] the earth was created, and all its hosts by the Spirit of his mouth [i.e., the Holy Spirit]” (Psalm 33:6); and in On the Trinity that, “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I place your enemies under your feet (Psalm 110:1) […] I begot you from the womb, before light (Psalm 110:3 [in the Septuagint 109:3]).”79 Some attention should be paid to the treatment of anthropomorphisms. As Tarras has pointed out, Abū Qurra uses metaphors such as “God is a consuming 73 74 75 76 77 78 79

See Theodore Abū Qurrah, 30. Psalm 5:7. Psalm 28:2. Psalm 132:7 (Septuagint 131:7). Daniel 6:10. Psalm 132:14. See Theodore Abū Qurrah, 148; 179–180.

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fire” to show that anthropomorphisms prove that it is impossible to interpret the Bible only in its literal sense. By doing so, he wants to show his imagined Jewish opponents that a non-literal reading of the Bible is sanctioned by common sense, which in turn opens up for the application of a non-literal approach to other passages as well.80 One should nevertheless be attentive here, for two reasons: for Abū Qurra, anthropomorphisms, just like figurative speech,81 never had a literal sense to begin with, and thus the literal level is not made “void of meaning,” but is simply lacking that sense to begin with. In contrast, typology and prophecy both rest firmly in the literal level, adding a spiritual level to its meaning or defining its referent. Thus, it appears that Abū Qurra conflates a spiritual approach to the literal text with the understanding of literary genres within the text here or attacks a “literalistic approach” to the Bible, hardly supported by Jews at the time.82 More importantly for this study, however, is the fact that Abū Qurra sometimes gives a semi-literal meaning of what appears to be anthropomorphic statements. In On our Salvation, Psalm citations are used to prove God’s plan to take flesh. Abū Qurra is concerned with the accusation that God limited himself through Incarnation and therefore claims that God actually chose to limit himself several times already in the Old Testament. For instance, “His throne is in heaven (Psalm 103:19)” is used to show that God, who is unconfined, still chose to limit Himself to a restricted area to converse with angels, since they are confined. By analogy, God then chose to become incarnate thus limiting Himself to a human body to address, and ultimately save, human kind.83 On other occasions, Abū Qurra treats anthropomorphisms referring to the Trinity as figurative speech, “For God, His right hand and His holy arm saved, (Psalm 98:1) meaning that the Son saved human beings for the Father […] Thus the Son is to God as an arm is to a person.”84 A few quotations of the Psalms are used in other ways, primarily to show that the Scriptures can be used to describe current events. In On the Death of Christ, Psalm 14:5 [according to the Septuagint, 13:5] is cited, “You have conceived a fear where there is no fear,” to show that Christians who have problems 80 81

82 83 84

Cf. also Veneration, 76 (ref to Psalm 99:5 i.e. prostration to the Lord’s footstool). Cf. his use of Song of Songs 7:13 “Both the Old Testament and the New Testament thus belong to us, even as Solomon the son of David said in the Song of Songs, ‘On our doors are all fruits, both old and new,’ ” Theodore Abū Qurrah, 39. Abū Qurra does not explicitly ascribe any importance to the literal meaning of these doors. For the treatment of anthropomorphisms in Judeao-Arabic Bible translations and in the Aramaic targums, see Zawanowska, “Religion in an Age of Reason.” See Theodore Abū Qurrah, 135–139. See Theodore Abū Qurrah, 191.



understanding the death of Christ in terms of Christology are concerned with what is only a fictive problem.85 To conclude, Abū Qurra shares the basic approach to Scriptures with the anonymous author of On the Triune Nature. God reveals Himself in history by speaking through the prophets and communicating His message to them and they understand and participate in God’s plan. Abū Qurra makes clear that God continues to reveal His will in church councils which, he claims, are processes taking place within the biblical corpus itself, as prophets, just like later saints and theologians, are all governed by an understanding of the higher meaning (cf. theōria). At least in theory, Abū Qurra further builds a hierarchy between different biblical books to a quite remarkable extent and promulgates an understanding of the direction of authorization between the prophets and the Gospels that apparently contradicts that in the anonymous treatise. Lastly, his methodological use of quotations is more complex, diversified and consciously applied in comparison with the more generic use found in the anonymous treatise.86 In addition to direct prophecies, Psalms are used in a more exegetical sense (what did a passage mean for the biblical author), and a few are applied to explain current situations, mostly against his adversaries. In general, his application of typology and prophecy points towards common Christian topics, and its logic is easy to follow, as in the anonymous treatise. Of special interest is Abū Qurra’s use of anthropomorphisms, which are sometimes understood in a semi-literal manner to support a philosophical argument for how God could be limited to a body. 5

Agapius of Manbiǧ

Our next author, Agapius of Manbiǧ (Hierapolis), was active in the first half of the tenth century (d. 941/2), in today’s northern Syria, west of Edessa and Harrān. Agapius was aware of the fact that the Jewish and Christian versions 85 86

See Theodore Abū Qurrah, 115. Samir Khalil Samir correctly places the anonymous treatise in the first category in his scheme developed in “The Earliest Arab Apology” but also Abū Qurra’s works. Here Samir argues that the use of the Bible in apologetic works can be divided into four chronologically determined categories stretching from the eighth to the thirteenth centuries: those with 1) a biblical and homiletic approach; 2) a mixed biblical and philosophical strategy; 3) a strong recourse to philosophical means; 4) a mix between biblical, Qurʾānic, Patristic, and philosophical approaches. More recently, Tarras has complicated this categorization in terms of chronological confinement and claims, correctly, that Abū Qurra’s use of the Scripture does not belong to the first category, “The Spirit before the Letter,” 83–84.

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of the Bible differ. Agapius bluntly accuses the Jews of consciously having tampered with the Hebrew Scriptures to hide the identification of Jesus Christ with the Messiah, which explains, in his view, why the early chronology in the Hebrew Bible differs from that in the Septuagint.87 It is significant that Agapius is also aware of the fact that this is an internal Christian dilemma and he reprimands his fellow-Christians for resorting to the Hebrew-based Peshiṭta rather than to the Septuagint: Because of the contradictions contained in these books, the emperor Constantine sought for the books of the Torah, had them examined as well as the books of the Prophets and the recollections of the Messiah. Before that time, there was among Christians nobody, except for the scholars, who knew the things kept secret and who knew about alterations and mutilations performed by the Jews. As for the people, they did not know that the Torah had been mutilated. Thus today the Christian people, in the East and West, do not know the cause of the disagreement between the Greek Torah, translated by the Seventy, and the Syriac Torah, copied from the Hebrew Torah, which is mutilated and reduced, which all the Christians read in the churches.88 Along the same line, Agapius states that the Jews removed some prophetical works that clearly foretold the incarnation of Christ, while Abū Qurra seemed to be unaware that such passages, like Baruch, were not part of the Hebrew Bible.89




On his bibliography, see Lamoreaux, “Agapius of Manbij” and further bibliography there. For an Arabic edition of his work Kitāb al-ʿunwān, see Histoire Universelle, by Alexandre Vasiliev published in two parts in Patrologia Orientalis. An online English translation can be found at: , and . See (slightly adjusted). Cf. Lamoreaux, “Agapius of Manbij,” 139; Vasiliev (ed.), Histoire Universelle, 5: 659– 660; Treiger, “From Abū Qurra,” 24–25. For a broader account of Agapius’ view on the Septuagint, see Wasserstein, Legend of the Septuagint, 144–152. Maria Conterno argues for the composite nature of the treatise at length in “Found in translation: Agapius, the Septuagint, and the ’falsified’ Torah of the Jews”. Yonatan Moss has surveyed the development of the accusation in connection to the patriarchal chronology in “Versions and Perversions.” Agapius states: “they changed and mutilated in the Books of the Prophets all that they could, of what referred to the prophecies on the Messiah,” see fathers/agapius_history_01_part1.htm and Vasiliev (ed.), Histoire Universelle, 5: 638.



There are early accounts where Muslims question the reliability of the Gospels due to the many variations found between them (cf. Muslim discussions on the correct transmission chains [Ar. isnād] when establishing ḥadīṯ collections), accuse Christians and Jews for having misunderstood their Scriptures (Ar. taḥrīf al-ma‌ʾanā), and even claiming that prophecies predicting Muḥammad were hidden or neglected.90 Yet, the connection between the latter allegation and the Muslim accusation of corruption of the actual text of the Bible (Ar. taḥrīf al-lafẓ) seems to be unknown in the ninth century,91 and awareness of the fact that the Hebrew and the Greek versions of the Bible differed appears to be connected with al-Ṭabarī (d. 923), al-Maqdisī (fl. 966), al-Bīrūnī (d. 1048) and Ibn Ḥazm (d. 1064).92 The awareness among Jews seems to be limited as well, yet notations of it sporadically appear. Saʿadya Gaon (d. 942) responds polemically to the Christian identification of the Messiah in Daniel 9 and connects their miscalculations to textual variance.93 Although many Christians also seem to have been unaware or unbothered by such variance, some of them accused the Jews of corrupting certain parts of the Bible already in the time of Origen (d. ca. 253) and responded to various forms of taḥrīf in some early Arabic treatises.94 It is hardly surprising that Agapius, a Greek Orthodox Christian in an area where Syriac was understood better than Greek, is aware of the different chronologies in the Bible, as the exact chronology of the biblical events constitutes one of Agapius’ major interests. He defines the various events in the biblical narratives with great precision:95 In the year 23 of the reign of Saul, the prophet David was anointed by the prophet Samuel [cf. Eusebius], who was then 65 years old; David was 13 [cf. Eusebius]. In year 28 of the reign of Saul, David, 18 years old, killed the giant Goliath. In year 30 from the birth of David, 17 years after his anointing and 5 years after the death of Samuel, Saul died.

90 91 92 93 94 95

See, e.g., Thomas, “The Bible in Early Muslim anti-Christian Polemic”; Gibson, “A MidNinth-Century Arabic Translation,” 338–340; Griffith, “Arguing from Scriptures,” 42; Nickel, “Early Muslim Accusations”; several articles in Arab Christians and the Qurʾan. Cf. Nickel, “ ‘They Find Him Written with them’ ” 126. See Adang, Muslim Writer, esp. 130–131; 235–237; 248; Moss, “Versions and Perversions.” Moss, “Versions and Perversions.” Cf. n. 8 and n. 9 above. For early Christian Arabic responses, see n. 64 above and in Arab Christians and the Qurʾan. See .

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5.1 The Use of Psalms In his chronicle, Agapius quotes the Psalms a few times only. Given the topic of the treatise, the author is not concerned with the coming of the Christ, but with recounting historical events. This may be the main reason why Agapius does not refer to typology or direct prophecies, although it is tempting to ascribe to him the so-called Antiochean emphasis on the historical level of the text. Be that as it may, it is clear that he shared the understanding of the Psalms as serving some kind of meta-function, if not necessarily predicting the future, then at least confirming events within the Christian Old Testament – an approach that essentially discloses a holistic view of the Scriptures. For instance, the creation of the rainbow (qaws < τόξον) in the time of Noah is the reference of Psalm 7:12–13 which relates to repentance and revenge (my emphasis): And God, may He be blessed and magnified, showed them [i.e., Noah and his family] during these years the rainbow, in the lower part of which there was a cord of fire and some arrows of fire; the cord was tight; all was on fire, with a sword of fire, which permanently shone in the air. That is explained in the Book of the Psalms, where David the prophet said: [if he does not repent] His sword shines and his bow (qawsu-hu < τόξον αὐτοῦ) is knocked; and the features of war and rage will set ablaze everything.96 Another example of the same kind is provided (my emphasis, cf. in Septuagint Psalm 48:12): In the middle of the paradise God planted the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which He prohibited to Adam, rigorously prescribed to him not to approach it and He gave him the order not to eat of its fruit, to test his obedience […]. When Adam had disobeyed his Lord and his Creator and had violated his order, he could not live in the holy and spiritual paradise any more after the error and the violation of the commandment; this was inadmissible in the holy and spiritual paradise. God made him leave the paradise, made him live opposite it in the mountains and did not drive him far, thanks to His leniency to him. This is why David, the prophet, said in the Book of the Psalms about Adam: The man, who did not understand his honour and the favour of God that was granted


Psalm 7:13. See ; Vasiliev (ed.), Histoire Universelle, 5: 585.



to him, was delivered to the animals, driven out to them and became similar to them.97 6

Agathon of Homs

Before we conclude this study, let us briefly present yet another example.98 Bishop Agathon of Homs, i.e., Emesa, (fl. ca. 1050–1150) wrote a treatise where he defends his resignation from the episcopal seat. The fact that the subject of the treatise is a personal matter, makes him resort to interpretational methods that partly differed from those used in purely theological treatises (no general statements regarding Scriptures are found in the text at hand). Once, for instance, he lets us know that he resorted to the Psalms for comfort: “I took confidence in the statement of the prophet David: They slept their sleep and found nothing” (cf. in Septuagint Psalm 75:5).99 Agathon, who explicitly tells us that he depends on Dionysios [the Areopagite] in the matter, suggests that the priest, and he who is called to the office, is called to/prepared for deification [deiformity], whereas laymen are called to/prepared for this only metaphorically.100 This, he claims, is stated by David, “I said: You are gods and all of you are sons of the Most High (Psalm 82:6; cf. John 10:33–36).” He then claims that it is the prophet who informs us that the reference “You [are gods]” aims only at hierarchs while all Christians are referred to in “all of you [are sons of the Most High].” In this treatise, Agathon thus applies the method of using direct prophecies by identifying referents, to promulgate his more complex neoplatonic understanding of the ecclesiastical hierarchy (and to critize the clergy of his time). In the previous treatises, this method was applied primarily in support of the Trinity and Christology, and some other well accepted Christian ideas. Agathon then quotes a number of biblical passages that include the phrase “God of gods” or similar statements (“gods” being these hierarchs), among them Psalms 49:1 and 83:8 (both according to the Septuagint).101 As may be 97

See ; Vasiliev (ed.), Histoire Universelle, 5: 576–577. 98 Not much attention has been paid to Agathon and his texts. See however the PhD thesis by Haji-Athanasiou, Agathon de Homs and Treiger’s chapter “Agathon of Homs” wherein he translates the passages used here into English, discusses its main topics and offers further bibliography. See also idem, “From Abū Qurra,” 28–32. 99 See Treiger, “Agathon of Homs,” 204. 100 See ibidem, 207. 101 See ibidem, 207–208.

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expected, Psalm 110:4 “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek,” was interpreted as referring primarily to Christ, but also to those priests who are worthy of inheriting the office.102 As Alexander Treiger has already demonstrated, Agathon used anthropomorphisms in the Bible to argue that they – in their literal sense – foretold the Incarnation of Christ.103 Thus, while it is not proper to describe the Godhead in terms of anthropomorphisms, since God is beyond “changing states and alternating accidents,” He still chose to let Scripture contain such descriptions as proofs of His intent to become human. Among the Bible passages provided by Agathon to support this claim, we find several quotations from the Psalms: Among the signs demonstrating the veracity of the Incarnation of the Creator’s Word is the fact that [God] had permitted, indeed had inspired His prophets and messengers to describe Him in anthropomorphic ways […] Another [prophet] said that God’s right hand enacts power,104 while nothing can have a right hand without being a body which also has a left hand. Yet another said: God’s mighty arm.105 Another said: The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears are [open] to their supplications, and His face is against the evildoers.106 Another said: Take hold of weapon and lance, and rise up to my help.107 […] Another said: He who sits upon the cherubim,108 and sitting is impossible unless one has bodily organs. Another said that God bowed heaven and descended, and darkness was under His feet, and He rode upon the cherubim and flew.109 And another said: He flew upon the wings of the wind.110 Another said: The mountain on which God was pleased to dwell.111 Abū Qurra understood anthropomorphic references to God’s right hand to be images, analogies comparing the relationship between a man and the parts of his body with the relationship of the various persons in the Trinity (by “arm” the Scripture meant “that the Son saved human beings for the Father”). 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111

See ibidem, 210–211. See Treiger, “From Abū Qurra,” 29. Psalm 89:13 (in Septuagint 88:13). Psalm 136:12 (in Septuagint 135:12). Psalm 34:16–17 (in Septuagint 33:16–17). Psalm 35:2 (in Septuagint 34:2). Psalm 80:1 (in Septuagint 79:1). Psalm 18:10–11 (in Septuagint 17:10–11). Psalm 18:11 (in Septuagint 17:11). Psalm 68:17 (in Septuagint 67:17). See Treiger, “Agathon of Homs,” 208–209; cf. Treiger, “From Abū Qurra,” 29–32.



Agathon, in turn, takes this to be a sign that God would become incarnate and have an actual hand. As we have seen above, Abū Qurra approached references to God’s throne in a semi-literal way, connecting by analogy God’s choice of limiting Himself to a throne to his choice to limit Himself to a body. Agathon however interpreted such expressions, not as analogies, but as references to Christ who would actually have the bodily members implied by the act of sitting on a throne.112 To conclude, besides these fascinating semi- or hyper-literalisms, Agathon’s general recourse to Bible quotations to support his arguments are often less obvious than in the other treatises of this study. He assumes that his readers, probably an enlightened clerical elite, would understand the often truncated scriptural references cited by Church Fathers in other contexts, contexts presupposed in Agathon’s re-use of these passages. It is interesting to note that one Psalms quotation is used in a personal sense, where the author makes himself the subject of the interpretation (“I took confidence in the statement of the prophet David”), rather than to the Church (i.e., generally accepted doctrines), which is the case in the other treatises. Finally, Agathon extends the common method of direct prophecies to include other Christian doctrines than those we have previously referred to, namely the idea that deification is preserved for hierarchs (we assume that this blessing was then recapitulated/emanated to the laity so that they could partake in salvation).113 7

Concluding Remarks

The present paper set out to examine (1) how Scripture was conceptualized; and (2) how verses from Psalms were used by four early Rūm Orthodox authors. Based on the results of the study, it appears that Byzantine Christians under Muslim rule basically reflect common approaches to the Bible in Patristic

112 References to God as sitting on a throne is extant in the Qurʾān as well. Abū Rāʾiṭa, to solve the problem of God’s omnipresence, states, “When you describe Him as being in heaven and on the Throne, it is necessary for you to describe heaven as being in everything, too, so that nothing of Him remains that is not in heaven and on the Throne, following your statement about the Word and its body. So you should know that even if the Word was incarnated in its entirety, it is [still] in everything. Thus, we are not compelled to describe the body as being in everything,” Keating, Defending the ‘People of Truth,’ 258–259. 113 Thanks to Michael Hjälm for pointing this out. Cf. Louth, “Ecclesiology,” 112–113; for more on ecclesiastical hierarchy, see Hjälm, Liberation of the Ecclesia, esp. 62–63.

Psalms to Reason, Psalms to Heal


times. Nevertheless, there are several examples of where Christian authors used and developed such approaches to face the new challenges posed by the highly polemical environment in which they lived, i.e. an environment in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims competed to present themselves as the true inheritors of divine revelation. Three of these authors, the anonymous compositor of the treatise On the Triune Nature of God, Abū Qurra and Agapius, made various comments on the Scripture as such. Both the anonymous author and Abū Qurra adhered to the Patristic idea that the Gospels fulfill the meaning of the Old Testament. However, driven by his polemical agenda, Abū Qurra sporadically connected the “Old Law” with the Old Testament as such and with the Jewish communities of his time, to the extent that he then distanced himself from the Old Testament, deeming it non-rational and credible only by Christ’s explicit command. With some possible exceptions, Abū Qurra does not seem to have been aware of the fact that Christian and Jewish versions of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible sometimes differ or even that certain prophets he cited as common sources for both Jews and Christians were not used by the Jews.114 This, however, was fully clear to Agapius. Apparently, to solve this dilemma, Agapius distanced himself from the Jewish version of the Bible altogether by accusing Jews of having consciously corrupted it. In doing so, he also answered, or preceded, the Muslim accusation of taḥrīf al-lafẓ. All four authors in principle employ the Psalms in a Patristic manner using methods which premise their interpretation on the historical truth/relevance on the literal level of the text but see its ultimate meaning in its spiritual layer. The Book of Psalms plays some kind of exegetical meta-function in that it comments on the corpus of which it is a part – both ahead of time (anonymous author and Abū Qurra) and back in time, to events in the Pentateuch (Abū Qurra and Agapius). The anonymous author used Psalms and other Old Testament books almost only as direct prophecies of essential Christian doctrines (Trinity, Christology, and the spread of Christianity). Abū Qurra approached the Bible by more complex methods and in a more methodologically conscious way, but when it comes to Psalms, he mostly used them as direct prophecies for roughly the same purposes as the anonymous author. Agapius only used Psalms to recapitulate events in the Old Testament corpus itself, probably as a result of the literary genre in which he was writing (a chronicle). Agathon extends the method to embrace less common theological topics as well, and does so in a less clear way, taking more liberties. 114 Unless he was Thaddeus and that the complete treatise can safely be attributed to him.



Of the various “senses” of Scripture noted in Patristic times, our authors almost only use the “spiritual”/“theological” one, where the Church’s doctrines are made the ultimate goal of interpretation. Abū Qurra’s stance is somewhat more exegetical/historical, but with the further aim of defending the practice of veneration. Seldom are the Psalms or references to David used in a moral (tropological) or anagogical sense. Agathon, however, once makes himself the subject in relation to a Psalm quotation, in a more personal passage of his treatise. Thus, the various levels of interpretation are clearly dependent on the form of the treatise, i.e., its genre, and many treatises composed by Near Eastern Christians were apologetic, a necessity for a religious minority in the Islamic world. There is no doubt that the Psalms played an important role in defending and explaining the Christian creed under such circumstances. Nonetheless, the extensive production of running Arabic Psalms translations indicates that this book was also utilized to fulfill other communal needs, most evidently liturgical ones, private and public. The action of reading psalms and learning them by heart is a spiritual, “non-rational” act of becoming “one” with Scripture, a process every monk was expected to undergo. Basil’s Homily on Psalms quoted above was translated into Arabic (cf. Ms. Sinai Ar. 271) and most likely used and studied. Thus, even if the authors have not resorted to it in their theological treatises, this use of the Psalms was likely to most common use in practice. The four treatises studied above indicate that the Patristic tradition(s) of understanding and using the Bible was in principle continued among Rūm Orthodox communities. This heritage was by no means entirely uniform, but reflects nuances, often traceable to Patristic times, and adaptions, primarily depending on literary genre, target audience, and, perhaps also geographical location, as well as time period. As such, these texts give witness to the vibrant, intellectual environment in which they were composed. Bibliography

Primary Sources

Agapius of Manbiǧ. Kitāb al-ʿunwān/Histoire Universelle. Edited by Alexandre Vasiliev in two parts in Patrologia Orientalis vol. 5 (1910), 557–691 and vol. 8 (1912), 397–547. Translated into English by Roger Pearse as Universal History (Ipswich, UK, 2009) and found online:  and , accessed 11 August 2017.

Psalms to Reason, Psalms to Heal


An Arabic Version of the Acts of the Apostles and the Seven Catholic Epistles from an Eighth or Ninth Century MS in the Convent of St. Catharine on Mount Sinai, with a Treatise on the Triune Nature of God. Edited and translated by Margaret Dunlop Gibson. Studia Sinaitica 7; London: Cambridge University Press, 1899 [reprint in: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012]. Theodore Abū Qurra. A Treatise on the Veneration of the Holy Icons written in Arabic by Theodore Abū Qurrah, Bishop of Ḥarrān (c. 755–c. 830). Translated by Sidney H. Griffith. Louvain: Peeters, 1997. Theodore Abū Qurra. Theodore Abū Qurrah. Translated by John C. Lamoreaux. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2005.

Secondary Sources

Accad, Martin. “Muḥammad’s advent as the final criterion for the authenticity of the Judeo-Christian tradition: Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya’s Hidāyat al-ḥayārā fī ajwibat al-yahūd wa-’l-naṣārā.” In The Three Rings: Textual studies in the historical trialogue of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, edited by Barbara Roggema, Marcel Poorthuis, and Pim Valkenberg, 217–236. Leuven: Peeters, 2005. Adang, Camilla. Muslim Writers on Judaism and the Hebrew Bible: From Ibn Rabban to Ibn Hazm. Leiden: Brill, 1996. Barrois, Georges A. Scripture Readings in Orthodox Worship. Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1977. Beaumont, Mark (ed.). Arab Christians and the Qurʾan from the Origins of Islam to the Medieval Period. Leiden: Brill, 2018. Bertaina, David. “The Development of Testimony Collections in Early Christian Apologetics with Islam.” In The Bible in Arab Christianity, edited by David Thomas, 151–173. Leiden: Brill, 2007. Conterno, Maria. “Found in translation: Agapius, the Septuagint, and the ‘falsified’ Torah of the Jews.” In Intercultural Exchange in Late Antique Historiography, edited by Maria Conterno and Marianna Mazzola, 143–168. Leuven: Peeters, 2020. Deferrari, Roy Joseph (gen. ed.). The Fathers Of The Church A New Translation, Volume 46: Saint Basil Exegetic Homilies. Washington, DC: The Catholic University Of America Press, 1963. Froehlich, Karlfried. Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984. Gallagher, Edmon L. Hebrew Scripture in Patristic Biblical Theory: Canon, Language, Text. Leiden: Brill, 2012. Getcha, Job. The Typikon Decoded: An Explanation of Byzantine Liturgical Practice. Translated to English from French by Paul Meyendorff. New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2012.



Gibson, Nathan P. “A Mid-Ninth-Century Arabic Translation of Isaiah? Glimpses from al-Jāḥiẓ.” In Senses of Scripture, Treasures of Tradition: The Bible in Arabic among Jews, Christians and Muslims, edited by Miriam L. Hjälm, 327–369. Leiden: Brill, 2017. Graf, Georg. “Christlich-arabische Texte; zwei Dissertationen zwischen Muslimen und Christen.” In Griechische, koptische und arabische Texte zur Religion und religiösen Literatur in Ägyptens Spätzeit, edited by Friedrich Bilabel and Adolf Grohmann, 1–31. Heidelberg: Verlag der Universitätsbibliothek, 1934. Graf, Georg. Geschichte der Christlichen Arabischen Literatur, vol. 1. Vatican: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1944. Griffith, Sidney H. “ʿAmmār al-Baṣrī’s Kitāb al-Burhān: Christian Kalām in the First Abbasid Century.” In The Beginnings of Christian Theology in Arabic, Burlington: Ashgate, 2002 [Originally published LeMuséon, 96 (1983), 145–181]. Griffith, Sidney H. “Muslims and Church Councils: The Apology of Theodore Abū Qurra.” In Studia Patristica vol. 25, edited by Elizabeth A. Livingstone, 270–299. Louvain: Peeters, 1993. Griffith, Sidney H. “Faith and Reason in Christian Kalām: Theodore Abū Qurra on Discerning the True Religion.” In Christian Arabic Apologetics during the Abbasid Period (750–1258), edited by Samir Khalil Samir and Jørgen S. Nielsen, 1–43. Leiden: Brill, 1994. Griffith, Sidney H. “Arguing from Scriptures: The Bible in the Christian/Muslim Encounter in the Middle Ages.” In Scripture And Pluralism: Reading the Bible in the Religiously Plural Worlds of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, edited by Thomas Heffernan and Thomas Burman, 29–58. Leiden: Brill, 2005. Haji-Athanasiou, Metri. Agathon de Homs: Expos. sur la foi et sur le mystère du sacerdoce, 2 vols. Ph.D. dissertation submitted at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, 1975. Hill, Robert C. Reading the Old Testament in Antioch. Leiden: Brill, 2005. Hjälm, Michael. Liberation of the Ecclesia: The Unfinished Project of Liturgical Theology. Södertälje: Anastasis Media, 2011. Hjälm, Miriam L. “1.1.10 The Arabic Canon.” In The Textual History of the Bible, vol. 2, edited by Armin Lange, Matthias Henze, Frank Feder, 280–298. Leiden: Brill, 2020. Kachouh, Hikmat. The Arabic Versions of the Gospels: The Manuscripts and Their Families. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012. Kannengiesser, Charles (gen. ed.). Handbook of Patristic Exegesis: The Bible in Ancient Christianity, vol. 1. Leiden: Brill, 2004. Keating, Sandra Toenies. “Refuting the Charge of Taḥrīf: Abū Rāʾiṭa (d. ca. 835) and His ‘First Risāla on the Holy Trinity.’” In Ideas, Images, and Methods of Portrayal: Insights into Classical Arabic Literature and Islam, edited by Sebastian Günther, 41–57. Leiden: Brill, 2005. Keating, Sandra Toenies. Defending the ‘People of Truth’ in the early Islamic period: The Christian apologies of Abū Rāʾiṭah. Leiden: Brill, 2006.

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Keating, Sandra Toenies. “Revisiting the Charge of Taḥrīf: The Question of Supersessionism in Early Islam and the Qurʾān.” In Nicholas of Cusa and Islam: Polemic and Dialogue in the Late Middle Ages, edited by Ian Christopher et al., 202–217. Leiden: Brill, 2014. van Koningsveld, Pieter S. The Arabic Psalter of Ḥafṣ ibn Albar al-Qûṭî: Prolegomena for a Critical Edition. Leiden: Aurora, 2016. Lamoreaux, John C. “Agapius of Manbij.” In The Orthodox Church in the Arab World 700–1700: An Anthology of Sources, edited by Samuel Noble and Alexander Treiger, 136–159. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2014. Lamoreaux, John C. “Theodore Abū Qurra.” In The Orthodox Church in the Arab World 700–1700: An Anthology of Sources, edited by Samuel Noble and Alexander Treiger, 60–89. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2014. Louth, Andrew. “The Ecclesiology of Saint Maximos the Confessor.” International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church, 4, no. 2 (2004), 109–120. Martin, Geoffrey K. “An Anonymous Mozarab Translator at Work.” In Senses of Scripture, Treasures of Tradition: The Bible in Arabic among Jews, Christians and Muslims, edited by Miriam L. Hjälm, 125–152. Leiden: Brill, 2017. Moss, Yonatan. “Versions and Perversions of Genesis: Jacob of Edessa, Saadia Gaon, and the Falsification of Biblical History.” In Jews and Syriac Christians: Intersections across the First Millennium, edited by Aaron M. Butts and Simcha Gross, 207–229. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2020. Nickel, Gordon. “Early Muslim Accusations of Taḥrīf: Muqātil ibn Sulaymān’s Commentary on Key Qurʾanic Verses.” In The Bible in Arab Christianity, edited by David Thomas, 207–223. Leiden: Brill, 2007. Nickel, Gordon. “‘They Find Him Written with them.’ The Impact of Q 7:157 on Muslim Interaction with Arab Christianity.” In Arab Christians and the Qurʾan from the Origins of Islam to the Medieval Period, edited by Mark Beaumont, 106–130. Leiden: Brill, 2018. On the Triune Nature of God. See An Arabic Version. Perhai, Richard J. “Theōria as a Hermeneutical Term in the Commentaries of Theodore of Mopsuestia and Theodoret of Cyrus.” In The School of Antioch: Biblical Theology and the Church in Syria, edited by Vahan S. Hovhanessian, 49–67. Bern: Peter Lang, 2016. Polliack, Meira. “The Karaite Inversion of ‘Written’ and ‘Oral’ Torah in Relation to the Islamic Arch-Models of Qurʾan and Hadith.” Jewish Studies Quarterly, 22 no. 3 (2015), 243–302. Samir, Samir Khalil. “Note sur les citations bibliques chez Abū Qurrah.” Orientalia Christiana Periodica, 49 (1983), 184–91. Samir, Samir Khalil. “The Earliest Arab Apology for Christianity (c. 750).” In Christian Arabic Apologetics during the Abbasid Period (750–1258), edited by Samir Khalil Samir and Jørgen S. Nielsen, 57–114. Leiden: Brill, 1994.



Staal, Harvey (ed. and trans). Mt. Sinai Arabic Codex 151, 2 vols. Leuven: Peeters, 1983–84. Swanson, Mark. “Beyond Prooftexting (2): The use of the Bible in some early Arabic Christian Apologies.” In The Bible in Arab Christianity, edited by David Thomas, 91–112. Leiden: Brill, 2007. Swanson, Mark. “An Apology for the Christian Faith.” In The Orthodox Church in the Arab World 700–1700: An Anthology of Sources, edited by Samuel Noble and Alexander Treiger, 40–59. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2014. Tarras, Peter. “The Spirit Before the Letter: Theodore Abū Qurra’s Use of Biblical Quotations in the Context of Early Christian Arabic Apologetics.” In Senses of Scripture, Treasures of Tradition: The Bible in Arabic among Jews, Christians and Muslims, edited by Miriam L. Hjälm, 79–103. Leiden: Brill, 2017. Teule, Herman. “Paul of Antioch’s Attitude Towards the Jews and the Muslims: His ‘Letter to the Nations and the Jews.’” In The Three Rings: Textual studies in the historical trialogue of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, edited by Barbara Roggema, Marcel Poorthuis, and Pim Valkenberg, 91–110. Leuven: Peeters, 2005. Thomas, David. “The Bible in Early Muslim anti-Christian Polemic.” Islam and ChristianMuslim Relations, 7 (1996), 29–39. Treiger, Alexander. “Agathon of Homs.” In The Orthodox Church in the Arab World 700– 1700: An Anthology of Sources, edited by Samuel Noble & Alexander Treiger, 201–215. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2014. Treiger, Alexander. “From Theodore Abū Qurra to Abed Azrié: The Arabic Bible in Context.” In Senses of Scripture, Treasures of Tradition: The Bible in Arabic among Jews, Christians and Muslims, edited by Miriam L. Hjälm, 11–57. Leiden: Brill, 2017. Treiger, Alexander. “New Works by Theodore Abū Qurra.” Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, 68, 1–2 (2016), 1–51. Tyng, Dudley. “Theodore of Mopsuestia as an Interpreter of the Old Testament.” Journal of Biblical Literature, 50 (1931), 298–303. Urvoy, Marie-Thérèse. Le psautier mozarabe de Hafs le Goth. Toulouse: Presses universitaires du Mirail, 1994. Wasserstein, Abraham and David J. Wasserstein. The Legend of the Septuagint: From Classical Antiquity to Today. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Wilde, Clare E. Approaches to the Qurʾān in Early Christian Arabic Texts. Palo Alto, CA: Academica Press, 2014. Zaki, Vevian. The Pauline Epistles in Arabic: Manuscripts, Versions, and Transmission. Leiden: Brill, forthcoming. Zawanowska, Marzena. “Religion in an Age of Reason: Reading Divine Attributes into the Medieval Karaite Bible Translations of Scriptural Texts.” In Senses of Scripture, Treasures of Tradition: The Bible in Arabic among Jews, Christians and Muslims, edited by Miriam L. Hjälm, 153–181. Leiden: Brill, 2017.

chapter 11

Images of David in Several Muslim Rewritings of the Psalms David R. Vishanoff 1


Among the many extant Arabic manuscripts of “the Psalms of David” are some that start out sounding like translations of the biblical Psalms but that turn out, on further investigation, to contain fresh compositions by Muslim authors. Several different versions of these psalms have come down to us, and each presents a somewhat different image of David, depending on the outlook and objectives of its creator. This paper will explore the range of strategies employed to turn David into what each author considered an appropriately Islamic figure. In keeping with the moderately ascetic and anti-establishment tone of these rewritten psalms, most versions downplay David’s kingly function and emphasize instead his role as a prophet and, above all, as an exemplar of otherworldly piety. The biblical story of David’s sin of adultery and murder poses a special problem, which each editor handles in his1 own way: some play it up to make him a model of repentance, while others, following mainstream Muslim scholars, ignore or mitigate his sin to make him fit their ideals of piety and prophethood. The paper concludes that the pious Muslim writers who compiled and edited the several versions of these psalms did not see themselves as engaged in an interreligious debate over the true character of David or the true text of his Psalms (the Zabūr mentioned in the Qurʾān), but instead used the symbols of David and his Psalms quite freely and creatively to argue against their more worldly fellow Muslims and to promote their own particular visions of Islamic piety.

1 Since all these psalms exhibit patriarchal attitudes about women as worldly distractions just as bad as, or worse than, wealth, I think it likely that they were all written by men, and that it would misrepresent them to describe their creators in gender-neutral language.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | doi:10.1163/9789004465978_013

274 2


The Many Recensions of the Islamic Psalms

The principal versions of these Islamic psalms, and the relationships between them, have been presented in detail elsewhere,2 so I will only summarize and update that description here. The fifty manuscripts that I have identified so far give evidence of at least a dozen distinct versions, stemming principally from a single collection of one hundred psalms that I call the Core text (C). This text was a compilation of proverbs, parables, and sermonic exhortations, placed in the mouth of God himself and addressed to David and, through him, to the Children of Israel – just as one would expect based on the Qurʾān’s depiction of prior Scriptures like the Torah given to Moses, the Zabūr given to David, and the Gospel given to Jesus. Only a fragment of this Core text has been preserved in its original form, but it was frequently edited, reordered, rewritten, expanded, or truncated to produce the many versions or recensions that are extant today. My present understanding of the relationships between those versions is diagrammed in Figure 11.1.

figure 11.1

Source texts, recensions, and manuscripts referenced in this study

2 Vishanoff, “An Imagined Book Gets a New Text,” identifies the relationships between a number of Islamic psalm manuscripts, including those studied in the early twentieth century by Krarup, Cheikho, Zwemer, and Mukhliṣ (whose works are listed in the bibliography). I intend to give a fuller assessment of a greater number of manuscripts in a planned edition and translation of the Core text.

Images of David in Several Muslim Rewritings of the Psalms


The known versions, with details of the manuscripts used for this study, are as follows: – C – Core source. 100 psalms. This collection presents David as a model of repentant, otherworldly, moderately ascetic piety, and makes little mention of his public life. It alludes to standard elements of his story as told in Islamic literature, and takes for granted the biblical account of David’s sin. – No complete manuscript of this original compilation is known to me, but its contents can often be reconstructed by comparison of later recensions. Two damaged papyrus leaves from a very early partial copy of the Core text have been discovered by Ursula Bsees in the Austrian National Library; they will be the object of a future publication. – M – Moses source. A set of 30 or 40 psalms originally composed as a “Torah of Moses,” of which 30 were later recopied as “Psalms of David.”3 They do not refer to David; rather, God twice addresses Moses by name, even in the copies attributed to David.4 – LeiM – Ms. Leiden, Leiden University, Or. 14.027, fols. 141r–148v. Dated 1293/1876. – Published in 1936 in Egypt by Yaʿqūb al-Muḫtār, then corrected and reprinted in 1950 in Tunis as Mawāʿiẓ balīġa min Zabūr sayyidi-nā Dāwūd. – Also reproduced in BPM and BPM2 (see below). – K – Koranic recension. Based on C, lightly edited to sound more qurʾānic, followed by 17 unique psalms. This recension presents David as a somewhat more well-rounded character, and as a more distinctly Muslim prophet, while retaining allusions to David’s grave sins. – Fat – Ms. Istanbul, Süleymaniye, Fatih 28 (also Arab League microfilm al-kutub al-samāwiyya 36). Dated 626/1229. This is the earliest complete manuscript known to me. – Mad – Ms. Madrid, National Library, MSS/5146, fols. 207v–237v. Ca. 899/1494. – C+ – Core Plus recension. Based on C, followed by 50 new psalms. This recension retains C’s portrait of David while omitting the clearest references to David’s adultery. – Aya – Ms. Istanbul, Süleymaniye, Ayasofya 30. No date. – Hal – Ms. Istanbul, Süleymaniye, Halet Efendi ve Eki 11. No date. This manuscript represents a distinct recension based on C+, with considerable

3 See Sadan, “Some Literary Problems,” 370–398. Copies ascribed to David are mentioned on pp. 379–380 n. 76, and pp. 397–398. 4 In M 11 and 22 (LeiM 143r.18–19 and 145v.15), equivalent to BPM 151 and 161 (Prin 99v.5 and 106v.2).



elaboration and some reordering, omissions, and additions. Its overall portrait of David resembles that of C+. – O – Orthodox recension. Based on C+, edited to ensure orthodoxy. This recension tempers or omits David’s sin and repentance, and describes him in distinctly Islamic terms, as a caliph and a prophet bringing a book of warnings and guidance. – Hüs – Ms. Istanbul, Süleymaniye, Hüsrev Paşa 4, fols. 1v–37v. No date. – Leid – Ms. Leiden, Leiden University, Or. 6129. Dated 1335/1917. – S – Sufi recension. Based on C, reordered and rewritten to emphasize Sufi themes, followed by 102 new psalms. This recension highlights David’s sin, including his adultery, so that he can serve as a model of repentance and Sufi devotional piety. – Flo – Ms. Florence, Laurentian Library, Orient. Palat. 267 (Assem. XXVIII). Dated 660/1262. – Spr – Ms. Berlin, State Library, Sprenger 466. Dated 1179/1766. A poor copy based on C, followed by 49 psalms that correspond roughly to S 102–154. – P – Pious recension. Based on C, polished and edited to advocate pious obedience, followed by 65 new psalms. This recension minimizes David’s sin and sensuality, and makes him a model of scrupulous obedience to God’s law. – Hunt – Ms. Oxford, Bodleian Library, Huntington 515. Dated 757/1356. – BP – Broken Pious recension, copied from P skipping over two folios near the beginning. – BPM – BP followed by the Moses source (M). – Prin – Ms. Princeton, Princeton University Library, Garrett 108B. Dated 1083/1672. – Moss – Private collection, David Moss, Jerusalem. No date. – BPM2 – Second half of BPM, copied separately in some Jerusalem manuscripts. I will cite these recensions by psalm and verse number, and their representative manuscripts by folio and line number. The numbering of psalms is not consistent, and since verse numbers are not indicated in the manuscripts, I have supplied my own rather arbitrarily. Precise identification of cited passages must depend on the folio and line references. 3

David’s Political Life Downplayed

Like the life of Muḥammad in the Qurʾān, David’s biography is never narrated in detail in any version of these psalms, but there are frequent references and allusions to his actions and character. In its broad outlines, his story follows

Images of David in Several Muslim Rewritings of the Psalms


that found in the Bible and Jewish and Christian traditions, but as each editor bends the story in a particular direction it takes on a more distinctly Islamic character, downplaying certain biblical elements such as his kingship or his sin, and incorporating selected aspects of the distinctly Islamic portraits that appear in the Qurʾān and the Islamic Tales of the Prophets (Ar. Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ).5 Psalm 14 verse 6 in the Core text (C 14:6) alludes to several elements of David’s story that are shared across Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions: his singing (or recitation) of his Psalms, his wisdom, his sin, his repentance, and God’s forgiveness: O David, once you were endowed with a deeply moving voice, before you rebelled against me; but when you rebelled, I snatched the light of wisdom from your chest – though if you repent I will restore some of it to you.6 Wisdom, though associated primarily with Solomon,7 also became an important theme in Islamic portraits of David. In other Islamic wisdom literature he is the teacher of the sage Luqmān,8 whose proverbial advice to his own son is referenced in the Qurʾān.9 This theme is reflected in C 5:2: “O David, sit in the company of scholars, and so add wisdom to your own wisdom.”10 Most of the C+ tradition changes “scholars” to “the wise” in this verse,11 perhaps because scholars are so often depicted as hypocrites in these psalms. Following the Qurʾān,12 the S and C+ recensions Islamicize the concept of wisdom by depicting it not just as a personal trait but as a category of revelation sent down by 5 6

7 8 9 10 11 12

For a comprehensive survey of Muslim traditions about David, see Déclais, David raconté par les musulmans. C 14:6 reconstructed from K 15:6 (Fat 16r.8–16v.1, Mad 16:6 on 212v.8–10), Aya 13:6 (7v.17–18), Hal 14:6 (5r.13–14), P 15:6 (Hunt 17r.10–17v.1), Spr 13:6 (48r.10–48v.2). The Sufi version of this verse, characteristically, shifts the emphasis from repentance to reliance on God’s mercy by changing the ending: “if I relent toward you I will restore it” (S 2:8 in Flo 3v.7–9). O 14:6 drops the closing offer of restoration altogether (Hüs 5v.6–7, which is corrupt; Leid 11v.10–11). Indeed, in Islamic narratives David is repeatedly shown up by the superior wisdom of his son. See Déclais, David raconté par les musulmans, ch. 13. See al-Mubaššir Ibn Fātik, Muḫtār al-ḥikam, 261–263. Sura 31:12–19. C 5:2 as reflected in K 6:2 (Fat 6v.8, Mad 209v.7–8). C+ 5:2 as reflected in Aya 4v.3–4, Hal 3r.6–7, and O 5:2 (Leid 5r.12; Hüs 3r.4 has “scholars”). P 7:2 (Hunt 10r.10–11) and Spr 5:2 (39v.7–8) have “scholars.” In Sura 2:251 and 38:20 God gives David dominion and wisdom, which makes wisdom sound like a personal quality; but in Sura 3:48 and 5:110 God teaches Jesus “the Scripture and the Wisdom, the Torah and the Gospel,” which makes Wisdom sound like a revealed text. See also Sura 17:39, 33:34, 31:12. Wisdom is listed alongside the Scripture in Sura 2:129,



God, either directly to David and his family13 or to a larger fellowship of the wise whom David is urged to join: O David, I sent down Wisdom that people might benefit from it, so be its dispensary. Wisdom has its exponents, so be one of them. Be like an expert physician who prescribes his medicine for others’ benefit.14 As with Solomon, David’s wisdom was traditionally displayed in his judgments, in which he was assisted by a chain linked to heaven that enabled him to detect liars.15 This judicial function, however, receives scant attention in the Core text. The biblical story in which Solomon judges a dispute between two mothers is echoed in C 4:22, but without the figure of the judge.16 In C 12:5 David is told to protect people from unspecified forms of slander,17 and S elaborates this into a string of instructions about how to judge various marital disputes, including accusations of adultery, but this seems to be more an allusion to David’s own marital indiscretions than to his judicial function.18 S 124, one of the Sufi text’s unique additions, instructs David to apply the same legal penalties (Ar. ḥudūd) to women as to men who commit adultery, theft, or slander; but instead of referring to classical legal penalties like lashing or stoning, it recalls the earlier qurʾānic penalty of imprisonment, and specifies that a woman’s cell should be pleasant, the goal being only to keep her far from the filth of sin. The point is not David’s role as a judge, but his own sin: after thus instructing him to be lenient in judgment, S reminds him to consider his own faults rather than lording it over others.19

13 14

15 16 17 18 19

2:151, 2:231, 3:81, 3:164, 4:54, 4:113, and 62:2; much Islamic exegesis has taken this as a reference to the Prophet’s Sunna. S 54:1–2 (Flo 46r.12–46v.1). C+ 126b as reflected in O 127:1 (Leid 70r.12–70v.1; Hüs 30v.9–11), corresponding to Hal 102:1 (22v.23–23r.1). Aya omits this segment on wisdom. Mawḍiʿ here suggests not just a locus or store of wisdom, but also a source of it, like the doctor who prescribes it (Ar. yaḍaʿu); the translation “dispensary” is intended to capture this meaning. See Sura 21:78–79, 38:21–26; Déclais, David raconté par les musulmans, 166–167, 172–174, and ch. 13. C 4:22 as reflected in K 5:26 (Fat 6r.4–6, Mad 209r.22–209v.1), Aya 4:22 (4r.14–16), Hal 4:22 (2v.20–3r.1), O 4:22 (Leid 5r.1–3, Hüs 2v.19–21), P 6:23 (Hunt 9v.9–12). Cf. 1 Kings 3:16–28. C 12:5 as reflected in O 12:5 (Leid 10v.11–12, Hüs 5r.12–13) and Hal 12:5 (4v.21–22). This psalm was dropped from K, Aya, P, and Spr, probably accidentally due to the identical endings of C 11 and C 12. S 3:23–28 (Flo 5v.2–6r.3). S 124:2–3 (Flo 88r.2–6). O also adds a reference to David’s enforcement of the law: in O 120:6 (Leid 65v.8, Hüs 28v.5) he is told to follow the rulings (Ar. aḥkām) and penalties (Ar. ḥudūd) of the Torah.

Images of David in Several Muslim Rewritings of the Psalms


There is in fact remarkably little reference in these psalms to David’s public life, his adventures as a warrior, his worldly affairs, or even his kingship – all of which were detailed in other Islamic literature.20 His embroilment in political conflict is indicated by his appeals for protection from his enemies, but the main point of these requests is to stress the Sufi virtue of tawakkul, reliance on God. For example, the Sufi text paraphrases the opening of the biblical Psalm 3: The words of David, peace be upon him: O Lord, what evil the people have plotted against me! But they do not realize that I am shielded and surrounded by your protection.21 Here the author has to signal that, exceptionally, the speaker is David rather than God. C 96 likewise quotes David’s appeal to God for protection – not only from enemies but also from the distracting business of ruling, so that he might focus instead on the devotional life: David said: O Lord, do not lead me to ruin; do not let my enemies gloat over me; do not cast me from your door; do not make me despair of your mercy. My God, give me a truthful tongue that calls on you, and a heart that listens and obeys. Do not busy me with the affairs of the people, but busy me with remembering you, and occupy my heart with obeying you. My God, grant me to sit with those who have your favor, that I might be one of them. My God, grant me the coolness of your forgiveness, and the sweetness of dialogue with you. If one of my many enemies wills me evil, stand him on his head! O Lord, how could my heart not be stronger than iron, when you are my support and my glory? O God, O ruler of land and sea, grant me to be held in awe by kings, for you are the mighty king.22 David’s appeal against his enemies recalls the biblical Psalm 25:2, “do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me”;23 but his greater

20 21 22


See Déclais, David raconté par les musulmans, chs. 5–8 and 11. S 2:10 (Flo 3v.11–12). This verse was composed by S based on Psalm 3:1–4, and is not found in any other recension. C 96 reconstructed from K 96 (Fat 73v.9–74r.6, Mad 97 on 231v.15–23), O 96 (Hüs 20v.12–19, Leid 48v.11–49r.6), Hal 79 (17v.1–7), S 48 (Flo 41v.8–42r.4), Spr 84 (92r.11–92v.11). This psalm is missing from Aya and P. Similar material is to be found at the beginning of S 57 (Flo 48r.10–13) as well as in C 36, which is reflected in K 38 (Fat 36r.5–8, Mad 218v.21–219r.1), Hal 26 (7r.18–20), O 36 (Hüs 10v.4–7, Leid 24v.2–6), S 23 (Flo 22v.9–13), Spr 31 (64v.8–65r.1), and P 18 (Hunt 19r.7–9). All biblical quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version.



concern is to have a clean heart, that God might not cast him from his presence – concerns that recall the penitence of Psalm 51:10–11. The particulars of David’s political conflicts are not mentioned, nor are his skills as a warrior and military leader ever on display. The Sufi text does allude briefly to the story that David was a skilled ironworker who invented chain mail,24 but then moves on quickly to the more important topics of his devotional life and his struggle against sin: Yet another of my blessings was to make iron soft for you, so that you worked it as you would, like clay. So, serve me, praise and sanctify me throughout the nighttime and the day; stand before me at dawn and in the middle of the night. Sanctify me with your hearing, your sight, and your limbs; hold back your eyes from that which I have forbidden you, and lower your gaze, for that is the beginning of scrupulous piety (Ar. waraʿ).25 In C 2, which echoes the biblical Psalm 2, David is referred to not only as God’s prophet but also as his anointed or Messiah (Ar. masīḥ), but because the Qurʾān applies this title only to Jesus, the Muslim author ignores its royal significance for David and inserts instead a condemnation of the Christian doctrine of Jesus’ divine sonship, which was associated with Psalm 2:7, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.”26 Only the relatively late Orthodox recension draws attention to David’s kingship, in one of its additions to C+: David, ask my forgiveness with your whole heart; I have singled you out for kingship, and have made you my caliph on the earth.27 The Orthodox editor also inserts into the middle of C+ 142 God’s promise to David of a kingly descendant who will rule with justice and inherit the ends of the earth.28 This central element of the biblical portrait was largely omitted 24 25 26

27 28

This story is reflected in the Qurʾān. See Sura 21:80, 34:10–11; Déclais, David raconté par les musulmans, 174–177. S 54:3–4 (Flo 46v.1–5). This psalm is an addition unique to S. C’s original “I made you my messiah and my prophet” is supported by P (Hunt 6r.12–6v.1), by the St. Petersburg manuscript studied by Krarup (Auswahl Pseudo-Davidischer Psalmen, Arabic p. 12 n. 8), and also perhaps by Aya (2v.19), Hal (2r.2), and Spr (35r.10), though their consonantal pointing is not entirely clear. This sentence is corrupted slightly in Mad (208r.10–11), and more drastically in Fat (2v.1–2) and O (Leid 2r.10, Hüs 1v.15–16), presumably because the editors regard the title messiah as appropriate only for Jesus. O 114:1–2 (Leid 60r.7–8, Hüs 26r.1–2). David is also called caliph in P 56:1 (Hunt 37v.2–4). O 142:2–3 (Leid 80v.8–10, Hüs 35r.22–35v.2). The promise of a kingly descendant also appears in S 54:1 (Flo 46r.10–13).

Images of David in Several Muslim Rewritings of the Psalms


in Muslim accounts, where David’s descendants had no political role to play.29 The Core text does show an awareness of David’s royal family, but mentions his son Solomon in C 18 only to have him predict the coming of Muḥammad, who will himself inherit the earth: O David, listen to what I say: tell Solomon to proclaim after you that I will give the earth as an inheritance to Muḥammad and his community. They are not like your people; they do not ring bells or worship idols. If you wish to worship me, then weep much! Every hour in which you do not remember me is an hour lost.30 This passage is inspired by Sura 21:105, the only explicit quotation from the Bible in the Qurʾān: “We wrote in the Zabūr, after the Remembrance, that my righteous servants will inherit the earth,” which refers to Psalm 37:29, “The righteous shall inherit the land, and live in it forever.” Since the Qurʾān says this is in the Psalms, the Core text includes it, but with a new twist: David’s kingly lineage exists only to predict its own supplanting by Muḥammad. Once again the author shows a special interest in rebuking Christians, whose worship involves bells and icons; and once again the topic quickly shifts from politics to the theme of repentant devotional piety: real worship is to weep over one’s sins and practice ḏikr, the remembrance of God that is central to Sufi practice. A similarly gloomy piety is the focus of C 7, where Solomon is mentioned only for David to teach him the solemn demeanor befitting a prophet.31 This notable disinterest in David’s kingship and public life reflects the context in which these Islamic psalms were originally produced: not in the courtly circles of scholars and poets seeking the favor of caliphs and sultans, but precisely in those otherworldly, renunciant circles that shunned government service and patronage. That the Core text originated in the milieu of early Muslim asceticism has been confirmed by Ursula Bsees’ discovery of a fragmentary papyrus, datable to the second/eighth or third/ninth century, that contains several psalms from C alongside other pietistic literature. This Muslim ascetic 29 30


See Déclais, David raconté par les musulmans, 177–180. C 18:1–3, reconstructed by comparing K 20:1–3 (Fat 20r.6–10, Mad 213v.5–10), Aya 17:1–2 (9r.21–9v.2), O 18:1–2 (Hüs 6v.1–3, Leid 14r.8–11), Spr 17:1–3 (52r.3–10), and Hal 65:1–3 (14r.6– 8; folios 14 and 15 are out of order and should follow folio 5, so this psalm would have been number 18 if the displacement had not occurred before the numbers were added). “They do not ring bells” (Ar. lā yaṭinnūn bi-’l-ṭānīn) is from Aya; other versions corrupt this phrase in various ways, including “their prayer is (or is not) like that of the Sabaeans,” or “let not your prayer to me be with stringed instruments (Ar. ṭanābīr).” C 7:16 as reflected in Hal 7:16 (4r.1–2), O 7:16 (Hüs 3v.23–4r.3, Leid 7v.6–9), S 7:19 (Flo 11v.6– 9), and Spr 7:14 (42v.6–11). Aya, K, and P omit Solomon’s name.



tradition was inspired in some respects by Christian monks, and flourished until the middle of the third/ninth century before being partly overshadowed by more mystical and legal forms of piety.32 Whereas other essays in this volume illustrate how various Christian and Jewish elites appealed to David’s royal stature as a legitimation of their own claims or aspirations to power, the Islamic psalms reflect an anti-establishment renunciant discourse in which political power is to be shunned, not sought, and the prospect of the afterlife should overshadow the concerns of this world. This is in marked contrast to some other Islamic portraits of David, in which his penitence and religious devotion are moderated by good taste, temperance, and a balance between spiritual and worldly concerns. The litterateur Ibn Qutayba (d. 276/889) relates from David the following bits of wisdom: A discerning person should not omit any of these four: the time he spends confiding in his Lord, the time he spends calling his own soul to account, the time he spends alone with brothers who advise him in his religion and are frank with him about his faults, and the time he spends giving free rein to his legal and praiseworthy pleasures; for truly this last period is a support to the others, a bounty beyond the bare necessities of life, and a relaxation for the heart. A discerning person should never be caught at anything but these three: preparing for the hereafter, tending to this life, or taking pleasure in what is not forbidden. A discerning person should be mindful of his age, careful with his tongue, and focused on his business.33 In this more gentlemanly and less ascetic ideal, David’s worldly affairs are allowed their due, and his infamous sensuality is made into a virtue. The editors of the Islamic psalms, however, all aspire to a more demanding level of scrupulous piety (Ar. waraʿ), though they color that piety in different shades. Only in one recension, in just one manuscript of K, have I found any echo of Ibn Qutayba’s more well-rounded portrait of David as a gentleman and a scholar, familiar with both literature (or culture more broadly; Ar. al-ādāb) and the religious sciences: 32


See Melchert, “The Transition from Asceticism to Mysticism at the Middle of the Ninth Century C.E.,” and more generally the works by Andrae, Livne-Kafri, and Melchert listed in the bibliography. Megan Reid (Law and Piety in Medieval Islam, 5–7, 31–33, and passim) has shown that Muslim asceticism was still flourishing in the late medieval period and was not imcompatible with mystical and legal piety, which helps to explain the enduring popularity of the Islamic psalms. See Ibn Qutayba, ʿUyūn al-aḫbār, 1:322.

Images of David in Several Muslim Rewritings of the Psalms


David, I brought together for you culture, sermons, and reports, and made of them signs for all creation.34 That these several branches of knowledge are called signs or verses (Ar. āyāt), like the verses of the Qurʾān, suggests that the editor of K regarded the psalms he had just penned as a collection of belles-lettres, sermonic exhortations, and reports about the pious figures of past generations. The much later Madrid manuscript, however, made a slight change from ādāb to āyāt,35 and thus kept David’s knowledge and revelations entirely within the domain of the religious sciences. This is much more typical of these Islamic psalms, which almost always reflect the more ascetic, renunciant, or at least otherworldly image of David that is found in the Islamic literature on asceticism (Ar. zuhd). 4

David’s Otherworldly Piety and Prophetic Office Emphasized

The Islamic tradition of ascetic piety found much more to celebrate in the widely shared image of David as a devout worshiper. He stands for long periods of prayer, especially at night,36 reciting the Psalms (correctly, O insists),37 either in God’s Holy House, where he is warned against raising his voice too much,38 or out in nature, where (as in the Qurʾān39) the mountains, the birds, and even the stars join in his praises.40 The Sufi recension in particular regards his long night vigils spent chanting the Psalms as a model of devotional piety: whereas C 13:3 portrays David’s long standing as a time of waiting for God to answer his 34 35 36

37 38 39 40

K 112 as reflected in Fat 82v.6–7. This psalm is one of K’s unique additions to C. Mad 113:1 on 235r.6–7. See, e.g., C 12:4, reflected in O 12:4 (Hüs 5r.10–12, Leid 10v.9–11), Hal 12:4 (4v.20–21), and S 3:22 (Flo 5r.13–5v.2); this psalm was dropped accidentally from K, Aya, P, and Spr. General exhortations to nighttime devotions are found throughout all the recensions. See e.g., S 84:2 (Flo 64r.10–11); S 97:1 (Flo 70r.9–11); K 105:2 (Fat 79r.7–8, Mad 106:2 on 233v.21–22); P 111:1 (Hunt 68v.2–5); and C 4:9 as reflected in K 5:12 (Fat 4v.5, Mad 209r.1), Aya 4:8 (3v.11– 14), Hal 4:9 (2v.6), O 4:9 (Hüs 2r.23, Leid 4r.3), P 6:10 (Hunt 8v.5–6), and Spr 4:10 (37v.4). O 114:3–4 (Hüs 26r.2–5, Leid 60r.8–11). C 12:3 as reflected in O 12:3 (Hüs 5r.9–10, Leid 10v.7–8), Hal 12:3 (4v.19–20), and S 3:20 (Flo 5r.10–11). This psalm was dropped accidentally from K, Aya, P, and Spr. Sura 34:10, 38:18–19. This became a standard part of Islamic portraits of David. See Déclais, David raconté par les musulmans, 167, 171. O 114:5–6 (Hüs 26r.5–6, Leid 60r.11–12). The natural world praising God is a recurring image, especially in S. See e.g., S 58:1–2 (Flo 49r.1–11); S 84:4 (Flo 64r.12–64v.2); S 150:3 (Flo 103v.8–10); and Aya 150:1 (47r.6–7), corresponding to Hal 109:1 (26r.13–14) (this last psalm of C+ is not preserved in O).



prayer, as a punishment for taking pleasure in the speech of slanderers, S turns it into a time of worship, a reward for taking pleasure in the Psalms.41 Two other recensions, however, the Koranic and the Orthodox, regard the Psalms less as a devotional exercise than as a written scripture analogous to the Qurʾān and other prophetic books. K adds to each psalm a closing phrase very much like those in the Qurʾān: I am the Mighty, the Wise, etc. Such phrases occur at times in other recensions as well, but are almost ubiquitous in K. In both K and O each psalm is labeled a sūra,42 the same term used for the chapters of the Qurʾān; and O 131, a unique addition by the Orthodox editor, explicitly links the terms chapter (Ar. sūra) and psalm (Ar. mazmūr): O David, listen to what I say, for I speak the truth. I drew Moses son of ʿImrān near to myself, confiding in him and speaking to him, and I wrote out for him the Torah, in which is found guidance, the light of every exhortation, the explanation of every light, and a remembrance for those who believe. And to you I give the Zabūr, in which are parables, admonitions and exhortations, reports from the past and announcements of the future. Each of its chapters is a psalm which I cause your tongue to declaim, making clear the Zabūr that has been recited to you, that it might be a guide to the Children of Israel, an exhortation to those who come after you, and a healing for the afflictions of the heart.43 The terms used here to describe the Torah and the Psalms are similar to those by which the Qurʾān describes itself: guidance, warning, and remembrance. In another of its unique additions to C+ the Orthodox text employs similar terms and mentions that the Psalms, like the Qurʾān, are intended to be recited in a prescribed manner: I sent down to you the Zabūr as an exhortation and a reminder, so recite it as it should be recited. I am sending down to you therein guidance and light, and a remembrance for those who believe. I am setting loose your tongue to recite what I send down to you, and I am coining 41 42


C 13:3 as reflected in K 14:7 (Fat 15r.5–7, Mad 212r.4–6), Aya 12:3 (7v.19–21), Hal 13:3 (5r.2–3), O 13:3 (Hüs 5r.17–18, Leid 11r.6–8), Spr 11:3 (47r.7–10), and P 14:3 (Hunt 16v.2–4). This verse appears in altered form in S 3:7 (Flo 4r.12–13). This is true in one manuscript of K (Fat; Mad has ṣaḥīfa) and both manuscripts of O (Hüs, Leid), as well as other manuscripts based on C+ (Aya, Hal). Most manuscripts in the P and S traditions use other terminology: Flo has mazmūr, Spr has mizmār, and Hunt and Prin mark psalms only with the basmala (though Moss uses sūra). O 131:6–8 (Hüs 31v.23–32r.5, Leid 73r.11–73v.5).

Images of David in Several Muslim Rewritings of the Psalms


parables therein. So recite it as it should be recited; I have commanded the mountains to answer you, echoing your praises morning and evening. O ye mountains, join David in praising me! Let the birds join him in sanctifying me, and every star I have made.44 Like Muḥammad, David has received from God a text that he is to recite as an act of worship. Like Muḥammad, he is to explain that text and make it clear so that his audience can follow its guidance.45 And like Muḥammad he is to obey its laws, which confirm those of prior revelations, according to several additions by O46 and one extra psalm from a different source that was added as an appendix to K: O David, I sent you a book, so follow it, and do not leave it for anything else. The laws and judgments of the Torah are incumbent upon you.47 As we might expect, this conception of the Psalms as a legal text is also developed by the Pious recension, which is less enthusiastic than S about intensive devotional exercises and more concerned with strict obedience to God’s law. P reminds its readers that God does not need their worship,48 and that he does not impose excessive devotions that the human frame cannot bear.49 P 19 describes the Psalms not as a devotional text but as a source of binding law just like the Torah: O David, I sent down to you my Zabūr, just like what I sent down in the Torah. O David, my books, in which I sent down to my prophets revelation and guidance, will be corrupted, and lies will be fabricated against me; but whoever holds fast to what my prophets have brought, and does not diverge from my šarīʿa, has succeeded and prospered. I am Mighty and Wise.50

44 45 46 47 48 49 50

O 114:3–6 (Hüs 26r.2–6, Leid 60r.8–12). O 131:8 (Hüs 32r.4–5, Leid 73v.3–5), quoted above. O 120:6 (Hüs 28v.3–5, Leid 65v.7–8) and O 130:2, 7 (Hüs 31v.7–8, 13–14; Leid 72v.4–6, 11–12). Fat 88r.2–3, Mad 236v.19–20. This is part of the last of 17 psalms related from the famous Companion, exegete, and transmitter Ibn ʿAbbās. A similar verse appears in O 120:6 (Hüs 28v.3–5, Leid 65v.7–8) and Hal 98:2 (21v.22–24), but not in other texts based on C+. P 89:1 (Hunt 58r.3–4). P 109:2 (Hunt 67v.6–9). P 19:6–8 (Hunt 20v.5–9), corresponding to BPM 15:6–8 (Prin 17v.6–9).



This passage originated in C 37:7–9,51 but the references to revelation (Ar. bayān), guidance, and šarīʿa were added by the Pious editor, emphasizing the legal character of all God’s books including the Psalms. The view that Scriptures, including not only the Torah but also the Gospel, are primarily books of moral and legal guidance was articulated already in the Qurʾān,52 but its application to the Psalms was not inevitable. Other Islamic traditions reported that the Psalms had no legal content at all, but were purely devotional and liturgical.53 Only the editors of K, O, and P turned David’s Psalms into a book of law, while the editors of C, C+, and especially S retained the traditional Jewish, Christian, and Muslim conception of the Psalms as a book of wisdom and worship. 5

David’s Sin Exploited or Minimized

David’s assimilation to the qurʾānic model of a prophet who brings revealed guidance, and especially to the šarīʿa-minded version of that model in which prophets are immune from serious or even minor sins, made a theological problem out of the biblical story of David’s sin toward Bathsheba and her husband Uriah.54 The story was too well-known to be ignored, and was acknowledged in the Qurʾān, albeit obliquely and in a way that allowed wide scope for interpretation.55 Consequently, it was the subject of much exegetical activity in Qurʾān commentaries and the Islamic Tales of the Prophets. Some early Muslims were aware of, and did not hesitate to retell, the biblical version of the story according to which David first committed adultery with Bathsheba, then tried to cover it up, and finally arranged for her husband Uriah to be killed in battle so that he could marry Bathsheba. Very quickly, however, this version of the story was found to be incompatible with the developing doctrine of the infallibility of prophets (Ar. ʿiṣma), and was modified through a variety of exegetical strategies. An early tactic was to rearrange the sequence of events so that first Uriah was sent by David to his death in battle, and then David married Bathsheba quite properly. The equivalent of murder, however, was still deemed impossible for a prophet, so the story was modified still further so that David had nothing to do with Uriah’s death, and was only to be faulted for finding his death convenient, and for greedily desiring to add another wife to the 51 52 53 54 55

The wording of C 37:7–9 is reflected in K 39:7–9 (Fat 37v.2–4, Mad 219r.18–20), Aya 37:7–9 (15r.4–6), Hal 27:7–9 (7v.10–12), O 37:7–9 (Hüs 10v.21–23, Leid 25r.11–25v.1), and S 24:7–9 (Flo 23v.7–9). Sura 5:43–50. See Déclais, David raconté par les musulmans, 165. 2 Samuel 11:1–12:25. Sura 38:21–26.

Images of David in Several Muslim Rewritings of the Psalms


ninety-nine he already had. Alternatively, David only exerted his royal influence and asked Uriah to divorce his wife, or else preempted Uriah’s pending proposal of marriage to Bathsheba and married her before Uriah had a chance to. Some even reduced David’s sin to a procedural irregularity in judging a dispute: the prophet Nathan’s rebuke recounted in the Bible was retold in the Qurʾān as an actual dispute brought to David by a poor man whose only lamb had been confiscated by a man who already owned ninety-nine, and David was guilty only of judging in favor of the poor man before hearing both sides of the story. Thus the problematic tale of a prophet committing two grave sins was eventually reduced by some exegetes to a case of overzealous concern for the poor. Other exegetes simply refused to discuss what was the sin for which David had asked forgiveness in the Qurʾān, or dismissed the vile lies that had been spoken against David without saying what they were.56 A similar range of strategies, and a similar historical trend of progressively minimizing David’s sins, are evident in the several recensions of the Islamic psalms, each of which deals with David’s sin in its own way, highlighting it, altering it, glossing over it, or suppressing it altogether. The Core text unabashedly recalls the biblical account of adultery and murder, albeit only allusively, assuming rather than retelling the story. This is an indication of the early origin of the original Core compilation, because the tendency to mitigate David’s sin was evident in qurʾānic commentaries already in the second/eighth century, and a similar tendency might have been expected in these psalms unless David’s sin was essential to their purpose – as it was for S but not for C. The Core text’s allusions to the story are matter-of-fact, neither minimizing nor belaboring David’s sin. For example, C 77 indicates that David has sinned against Uriah in some way that warrants retaliation, but identifies his sins only indirectly, by commenting that his forefather Adam was more righteous than he because Adam did not commit murder or adultery: David, I swear by my own honor and glory: I will surely give you such a [lowly] station, compared to Uriah, that the earth will shudder and the angels droop their wings [aghast]! No one’s wickedness will get past me on that day! Your father Adam was to me the kindest of the kind, the dearest and the nearest. He did not kill anyone, or pollute himself with forbidden women.57 I merely forbade him to eat of a certain tree, and he ate of 56 57

See Déclais, David raconté par les musulmans, 187–211; Mohammed, David in the Muslim Tradition. Literally, “or mix with forbidden genitalia.” “Forbidden” is preserved in K, P, and BPM; it is omitted in other recensions, either to improve the rhyming parallelism of the verse or to avoid the implication that David committed adultery – though that inadvertently (and



it; yet for that his crown fell from his head, the Garden wept for him, and I consigned him to remorse. So how will it be with you, when you have made yourself subject to retaliation and claims for compensation! If you only realized how that man [Uriah] will demand your punishment, you would bewail yourself still more.58 The sins of murder and adultery are here taken for granted, and are not disguised in any way. Sexual sin in particular so colors David’s reputation that the Core text has him complain to God: David said: My God, my sins have worn out my face, weakened my frame, and wounded my heart. My God, does the Devil have no other net than women?59 This verse was preserved in K, Hal, and S, but was truncated or omitted from all the other recensions, presumably to avoid suggesting that David had been caught in this particularly devilish snare.60 The Sufi text multiplies and amplifies the Core text’s allusions to David’s sin. For example, in one of its additions to C, the Sufi text again compares David’s sin to Adam’s and attributes it to the influence of the Devil: Recite my Book to your own hearts as an act of continual repentance. O David, did not my Book forbid you, when you disobeyed me? But I subjected you to the temptation of Satan. You well know, David, how your father [Adam] sinned, before I exalted him; but his sin was only decreed as a means to populate the world.61 Into the middle of C 36, in which David asks God to let him speak truth and not let his enemies rejoice over him, S inserts a third plea:


59 60 61

impossibly) makes Adam celibate. One copy of O 77:5 (Hüs 17v.5) drops the reference to murder and adultery entirely. C 77:2–8, following K 78:2–8 (Fat 62r.8–62v.7, Mad 227v.12–20). Cf. Aya 77:2–8 (24r.17– 24v.3), Hal 53:2–8 (12r.10–15), O 77:2–8 (Hüs 17v.2–8, Leid 41r.5–11), S 39:13–19 (Flo 36r.3– 11), Spr 65:2–8 and 112:3–9 (81v.3–11 and 122r.5–122v.4), P 55:2–8 (Hunt 36v.11–37r.12), and BPM 51:2–8 (Prin 38r.8–39r.1). Beginning of C 29:6 reconstructed from K 31:6 (Fat 32r.6–7, Mad 217v.8–10), Hal 19:6 (6r.17– 18), and S 18:6–7 (Flo 20r.5–7). See Aya 29 (at 13r.4), O 29 (at Hüs 9v.5, Leid 22r.3), and Spr 26 (at 62r.4). This psalm is part of a larger block of material omitted by P. S 98:2–6 (Flo 71r.13–71v.3).

Images of David in Several Muslim Rewritings of the Psalms


If you decree for me evil and wicked deeds, you put me to shame; and if you let me fall into adultery you cause me to fail and subject me to defeat.62 In C 12:4 God urges upon David the general practice of rising at night after intimacy with his wives to wash himself and stand before God in prayer, promising him wise offspring as a reward; but the corresponding passage in S turns this into a reference to an unspecified but very particular sexual encounter, which God promises will result in a wise son if David spends the night in prayer.63 The very next verse in C effectively downplays the rumors about David by saying that God prefers for accusations of adultery to be covered over, but S turns this into a long list of rules about marriage, divorce, and adultery, some of them very pointedly aimed at David: Judge between the Children of Israel that if a man leaves a woman and she remarries before the end of the menstrual period that finalizes [the divorce], and it then becomes apparent that she is three months pregnant, then the second [marriage] is void and the child is attributed to the first [husband].64 This seems intended to cast doubt on the validity of the marriage that Muslim exegetes claimed had legitimated David’s intercourse with Bathsheba. And in C 15, which urges David to weep over his sin and makes several pointed references to sexual licentiousness, S adds a condemnation of “those who say ‘if so-and-so were to die, I would marry his wife,’ ” implying that even if David’s intercourse with Bathsheba took place in a marriage contracted after Uriah’s death, his eagerness was detestable to God.65 Uriah appears again in S 72, and is portrayed as singularly upset, as though David’s sin had been only against him. Some Muslim exegetes reported that 62 63 64 65

S 23:3 (Flo 22v.11–13), reading awqaʿtanī instead of wāqaʿta bī. This verse is not in K 38 (at Fat 36r.7 and Mad 218v.23), Hal 26 (at 7r.19), O 36 (at Hüs 10v.6 and Leid 24v.4), or Spr 31 (at 64v.11); this psalm is part of a larger block of material omitted by P. The original wording of C 12:4 must have been similar to Hal 12:4 (4v.20–21) and O 12:4 (Hüs 5r.10–12, Leid 10v.9–11). Cf. S 3:22 (Flo 5r.13–5v.2). This psalm was dropped accidentally from K, Aya, P, and Spr. S 3:24 (Flo 5v.4–6). The whole of S 3:23–28 (Flo 5v.2–6r.3) is an expansion of C 12:5, which is reflected in Hal 12:5 (4v.21–22) and O 12:5 (Hüs 5r.12–13, Leid 10v.11–12). This psalm was dropped accidentally from K, Aya, P, and Spr. S 4:9 (Flo 6v.8–9). Cf. K 16:10 (Fat 17r.7–8, Mad 212r.20–21), Aya 14:10 (8r.12–13), Hal 15:10 (5r.23–5v.1), O 15:8 (Hüs 5v.15–16, Leid 12r.10–11), Spr 14:10 (49r.9–11), and P 16:7 (Hunt 18r.2–3).



God comforted David by promising to persuade Uriah to give up the right to compensation for his murder,66 but here God holds the threat of retaliation over David’s head: O David, next I say to you: let my Book poor forth from you; recite it to the resurrected [in Paradise]! If Uriah hears you [there], he will pursue vengeance upon you with all his might and will start to beat you as you stand in the pulpit of the prophets. When he strikes you, the crown of prophecy will fall from your head, the pulpit will vanish from beneath you, and the wild beasts will come after you for payment [of Uriah’s blood money]. I will make the two of you enemies, and so it will be until I dispose him favorably toward you; so be meek in spirit and repent. I have commanded you to ask forgiveness, and if you ask me for forgiveness I will accept you; but you asked my forgiveness without desisting from sin. Turn to me in repentance and I will receive you! Turning to me in repentance from your sins is like land on which much blood has been poured out: the rain comes and washes away what was on the face of the earth. Such are your sins and your repentance. O Children of Adam, when you consider your sins, laugh little and weep much! Weep for shame before me, and I will cover over your evil deeds. I am fully aware of what you do.67 This psalm, which is unique to S, shows why the Sufi editor so frequently drew attention to David’s sin, and why he had no desire to minimize it: it made David a perfect model of tearful repentance. The image of David the penitent is also evident in C+ 104, where David begs God for protection from both sin and punishment: David (God’s prayers be upon him) said: My God, do not abandon me; do not leave me humiliated in the dust! My God, do not test me with sins and so degrade me! When you invite a man into the house of rebelliousness, and offer him the cup of sin to drink, he is humiliated, despised, of no repute. My God, I ask you for clemency on the day all creatures are brought before you and called to account for their deeds. My God, I beg of you not to punish me, for my works are few and my body is week, and I cannot endure your punishment. O God, you are my Lord and the Lord 66 67

See Déclais, David raconté par les musulmans, 221–232; Mohammed, David in the Muslim Tradition, 46–47, 67–68, 73. S 72:5–15 (Flo 59r.6–59v.3). Uriah’s demand for compensation is also mentioned in C 77, quoted above.

Images of David in Several Muslim Rewritings of the Psalms


of my fathers, the Lord of all angels and humans. If you wish, you will punish me, and if you wish, you will have mercy on me. I cannot escape your dominion or contest your sovereignty. My God, if you abandon me, then how weak is my frame, and how little my strength! My God, do not set me on the path of sin; do not set me on a course of destruction!68 Another relatively early recension, K, likewise puts on David’s lips a psalm reminiscent of the penitential psalms of the Bible: Praise to you, my God! Forgive me my sin, for truly my sin upsets me and saps my strength. My God, if you do not forgive me, I will be left penniless among the destitute. But what is my sin to one as great as you, O my God, and what is my punishment to one who rules over everything? My God, make me one of the righteous, who do not keep going back to their sins, and give me a tongue of truth and holiness. If I utter praises, let my tongue declare your holiness; when I declare your praises, let my cares take wing, and let my bones exalt you. For you are Wealthy and Worthy of praise.69 The image of David weeping and begging for forgiveness is to be expected in the Islamic psalms, for it was also an important part of his image in the literature of asceticism and Tales of the Prophets, where he is portrayed as so overcome by remorse for his sin, and by fear of the Day of Judgment, that he weeps in continual prostration until his tears cause grass to grow beneath him. He spends every fourth day wandering and weeping (still echoed by the birds and the mountains), and another day bemoaning his sin in the company of monks.70 The Orthodox and Pious recensions, however, do not contain the lengthy examples of David’s repentance that were just cited from S, C+, and K. Usually O preserves and edits the material added by C+, but in reproducing C+ 104 it preserves only the first verse and omits entirely the penitential prayer of David cited above.71 Instead, O and P preserve much briefer calls to repentance that sound more like generic exhortations to every reader than like pointed references to David’s sin: 68 69 70 71

C+ 104:2–11 from Aya 32v.7–17. This psalm was probably on a folio that is missing from Hal, between fols. 18 and 19. O preserves only the first verse of C+ 104 (Hüs 23v.13–14, Leid 55r.7–8). None of the C+ material appears in the other recensions. K 108, following Fat 80r.5–80v.1; cf. Mad 109 (234r.12–16). See Déclais, David raconté par les musulmans, 220–237; Ibn Ḥanbal, al-Zuhd, 101–105. O 104 (Hüs 23v.13–14, Leid 55r.7–8).



David, weep over your sin with the tears of the penitent. Consider how you fare with the fire of this world – and it is but a thousandth part of the smoke of Gehenna!72 David, I should not see you so tranquil and secure, neither wailing with those who wail, nor weeping with those who weep. If only you could see Hell and its Guardians, and what I have prepared there for adulterers […].73 Indeed, O and P repeatedly downplay David’s sin. Their principal strategy for dealing with the problematic story of Bathsheba is to ignore or minimize it. As other papers in this volume illustrate, in all three Abrahamic traditions David’s sin became a focal point of exegesis and was addressed through multiple strategies: some ignored it, others modified it, and others rationalized it or counterbalanced it by emphasizing David’s piety. So it was with the several recensions of the Islamic psalms. The Core text, as it can be reconstructed from later recensions, shows no sign of the progressive elimination of David’s sin that was undertaken by qurʾānic exegetes; the compiler simply assumed that the biblical tale of adultery and murder was a well-known part of David’s story, and neither avoided nor belabored it. The Sufi recension amplified David’s sin in order to make him a model of repentance and dependence on God’s mercy, and the Core Plus and Koranic recensions used it to similar effect, albeit without the same emphasis. But for the Orthodox and Pious editors, the biblical story ran counter to the orthodox doctrine of the infallibility of prophets and undermined the piety of legal obedience that P in particular wanted to promote, so they elided or modified most references to David’s sin. In this they reflected the long evolution of David’s story in qurʾānic exegesis and Tales of the Prophets literature, in which adultery was quickly ruled out and even Uriah’s murder was eventually replaced by a case of hasty judgment. We have already seen several examples of this trend. O modifies the reference to adultery in C 77 and omits the penitential prayer in C+ 104, and both O and P omit David’s complaint “My God, does the Devil have no other net than 72 73

C 82:1 reconstructed from K 83:1 (Fat 64v.6–8, Mad 228v.4–6), Aya 82:1 (25r.11–12), Hal 57:1 (12v.12–14), O 82:1 (Hüs 18r.5–7, Leid 42v.6–7), P 60:1 (Hunt 39r.2–4), S 39:28 (Flo 36v.8–9), and Spr 71:1 (84v.3–5). C 95:2–3 reconstructed from K 95:2–3 (Fat 73r.3–5, Mad 96:2–3 on 231v.1–3), Aya 95:2–3 (28v.4–6), Hal 78:2–3 (17r.17–18), O 95:2–3 (Hüs 20v.1–2, Leid 48r.9–11), S 47:2–3 (Flo 41r.2– 3), and Spr 83:2–3 (91v.4–7). This psalm is missing from P. A similar rebuke is added by S in S 122:2–3 (Flo 87r.1–2): “David, what is wrong with you that you are too lazy to wail and weep, as if you were one of those who do good! If only you could hear the boiling sound from all the tears shed by the inhabitants of Hell!” Cf. Spr 107:1–2 (118r.1–4), which corrupts tears to brains.

Images of David in Several Muslim Rewritings of the Psalms


women?”74 A more systematic cleaning up is evident in O and P’s revisions to C 78, which originally referred quite frankly to the story that David had Uriah killed so that he might enjoy his wife: O David, you have passed judgement on yourself; you have caused men to be stricken that you might take pleasure in what they used to enjoy. I knew already that I would build palaces for you, but when you did what you did, I knew already that I would diminish that station of yours – and what calamity is greater than a calamity that diminishes your station before God?75 The corresponding psalm in O, while acknowledging that David did something wrong, turns the description of what he did into a generic, if rather puzzling, aphorism: O David, you have passed judgment on yourself. Being patient with men makes them lose their pleasure in what they once enjoyed.76 The editor of P, working independently of O, found a different way to mitigate the reference to David’s sin: he turned the whole verse into an allusion to the story of David’s hasty judgment between two litigants: O David, I made you my vice-regent on earth that you might judge rightly between people, but you followed your fancy rather than obey your Lord, and preferred your desire over the truth.77 Another common strategy for dealing with David’s sin was to explain that God ordained it for some higher purpose. The Core text does this in C 76. It does not play down David’s sin; indeed it seems to assume that David not only had Uriah murdered but even committed adultery with Bathsheba beforehand. But it explains how God brought good out of that sin: Uriah’s son was not a God-fearing man, so God rewarded him with another – through David!

74 75

76 77

See notes 57, 68, and 60 above. C 78:1–2 as reflected in K 79:1–2 (Fat 63r.1–4, Mad 227v.22–228r.3). S 39:20–21 (Flo 36r.11– 36v.1) and Hal 54:1–2 (12r.16–18) show that K indeed reflects the gist of C. Aya 78:1–2 (24v.6–8) corrupts the passage severely, and Spr 67:1 (83r.10–83v.2) omits the first sentence describing David’s sin. O 78:1 (Hüs 17v.9–10, Leid 41v.2–3). P 56:1 (Hunt 37v.2–4).



David, fear of me once vanished from your heart. But I made what you did to be an occasion for that man to merit the station of the righteous: Uriah was a man who feared me, but his son did not have that same fear, and I wished to gladden him with a child of his own offspring.78 The only way that the child born to David and Bathsheba could be considered Uriah’s son would be if he were conceived while Bathsheba was still married to Uriah, which, under Islamic law, would make Uriah the legal father even if the child was born of adultery. Thus C’s version of the story acknowledges the grave biblical version of David’s sin, and explains it as a reward for Uriah. The Koranic recension, however, tries to avoid the implication that David committed adultery by turning the story on its head: Uriah’s father was a godless man, so God punished him by having Uriah killed, while Uriah himself gained “the station of the righteous” through martyrdom: O David, fear once vanished from your heart. But you did what you did so that that man might merit the station of the righteous; he used to fear me greatly, but his father did not have that same fear, and I wished not to gladden him with a child of his own offspring.79 Clearly the Koranic editor found the presumption of adultery too problematic and eliminated it, leaving only an explanation of Uriah’s murder. The Orthodox editor, who did not know K’s version of the story, made his own attempt to avoid the implication of adultery, but ended up making things even more convoluted: Uriah’s grandfather is god-fearing, but his son (Uriah’s father) is not, so God compensates the grandfather by having his grandson Uriah killed and brought to his side in Paradise: David, I once made fear of me to vanish from your heart. But you brought about an occasion for that man to merit the station of the righteous: Uriah’s grandfather was a man who feared me, but his son did not have that same fear, and I wished to gladden him in Paradise with a child of his own offspring.80 78 79 80

C 76:1 as reflected in Aya 76:1 (24r.8–11). The passage is corrupted to the point of nonsense in Hal 52:1 (12r.4–7). K 77:6, following Fat 61v.7–62r.2; cf. Mad 227v.3–6, which names Uriah but makes less sense. O 76:2 (Hüs 17r.18–22, Leid 40v.9–41r.1). In this case the equivalent verse in S (S 39:8–10 in Flo 35v.10–13) is closest to O, which suggests that the original Core text might have

Images of David in Several Muslim Rewritings of the Psalms


All this to explain the higher purpose behind a murder while avoiding the implication of adultery! The Pious text likewise avoids mentioning Uriah’s progeny, the child of adultery mentioned in C, and refers instead to Uriah’s grandfather’s progeny, meaning Uriah himself, the enemy of David who surpasses him and gains the station of the righteous by suffering martyrdom at his command: O David, fear of me once vanished from your heart to the point that your enemy despised you, and I made what I did an occasion by which he might merit the station of the righteous: Uriah’s grandfather was a man who feared me, and I wished to make one of his offspring a descendent who would gladden him.81 Thus in P, as in K and O, the old story of adultery is passed over, and Uriah’s death is all but justified as part of God’s righteous plan. Indeed the Pious text, with its emphasis on following the law, is particularly sensitive to any suggestion of sexual immorality or even sensuality. In the original text of C 7, God reminds David not to lust after married women, but suggests that if he is particularly attracted to one, God might arrange for him to marry her – precisely as happened with Bathsheba: David, lower your gaze away from the believers’ wives, that the world might present itself to you bashfully. David, if a comely and beautiful woman passes by, remember that you will stand before me on the day of resurrection. Ask me, and I will marry her to you in this world and the next.82 But the Pious editor finds this suggestion overly accommodating of David’s purported lusts, so he omits “this world,” so that David can only ask for a future marriage in Paradise, and he does not promise that God will grant his request.83 This discomfort with sensuality is characteristic of the Pious editor; he again

81 82 83

been similar; but this version seems to me too convoluted to be anything but an awkward attempt to avoid the implications of the original. Spr omits this verse entirely. P 54:6 (Hunt 36v.2–6). C 7:2–3 reconstructed from K 9:4–5 (Fat 8v.3–6, Mad 210r.10–13), Aya 7:2–3 (5r.5–8), Hal 7:2–3 (3v.3–6), O 7:2–3 (Hüs 3v.1–3, Leid 6v.4–7), S 7:2–3 (Flo 10v.3–6), and Spr 7:2–3 (41r.6–10). P 9:2–3 (Hunt 11v.6–9).



defers a reward of spouses to the afterlife in P 8:3,84 and when describing Paradise he specifies that its perfumes are not like those of this world.85 6


The different editorial strategies adopted by the compiler of the Core text and the editors of the Koranic, Sufi, Orthodox, and Pious recensions reflect an array of conceptions of what it means for David to be a Muslim prophet. As in the other traditions documented in this volume, David is portrayed in various ways to support a range of religious ideologies. In the Core text David appears as a wisdom figure in the biblical mold, whose grave sins form an integral part of his life story of repentant ascetic piety. The Sufi recension presents a portrait influenced by Muslim ascetic literature, highlighting David’s sin to make him a model of repentant devotional piety who weeps over his sins, prays and chants the Psalms late into the night, and pays little attention to the affairs of his kingdom. The Koranic editor pays no special attention to David’s sin, but presents him as a more well-rounded and distinctly prophetic figure. The Orthodox editor highlights his prophetic office and therefore downplays his sin and repentance. And the Pious editor, the most gifted writer of them all, insists that David must have been nearly impeccable in thought and deed, a model of scrupulous obedience to God’s law. It is striking how free these editors felt to modify, reword, add to, or delete from the Core material to achieve their different portraits of David. Evidently, they did not see themselves as engaged in the preservation and transmission of a sacred text. They were compiling and transmitting wisdom, which only gains with increased rigor and literary polish. Naturally, each one shaped David to his own form of Islamic piety. Yet, I do not want to overstate the differences: all these texts present David as a model of otherworldly piety rather than a king, a judge, or a messianic forebear. All of them employ David to critique the worldly sins and preoccupations of the Muslim community, and to call Muslims to turn from their sins and lead a life of pious devotion to God. They are not really all that interested in David himself, and they never recount his story in detail; what interests them is 84 85

P 8:3 (Hunt 11r.3–5). All other recensions simply promise “many spouses.” See K 7:3 (Fat 7v.4–6, Mad 209v.19–21), Aya 6:2 (4v.13–15), Hal 6:3 (3r.14–15), O 6:3 (Hüs 3r.15–16, Leid 6r.2–4), S 6:3 (Flo 10r.3–6), and Spr 6:3 (40v.1–3). P 10:9 (Hunt 13v.11–14r.8). Cf. K 10:9 (Fat 11r.9–11v.7, Mad 211r.5–10), Aya 8:8 (6r.6–12), Hal 8:8 (4r.9–13), O 8:9 (Hüs 4r.15–20, Leid 8v.1–7), S 8:10 (Flo 12v.1–7), and Spr 8:9 (43v.9–44r.6).

Images of David in Several Muslim Rewritings of the Psalms


the heavenly-minded piety that David symbolizes, as well as the imagined idea of his Psalms, which provides the perfect literary vehicle for spreading that piety. Their psalms are written as a form of exhortation, to be quoted, perhaps, in sermons, or for meditation in nighttime vigils. The differences between the several recensions stem not from any major disagreement about David, but from the specific coloring of each editor’s devotional piety, from mystical and ascetic to scrupulously legalistic. Nor were the Muslim compilers and editors of these rewritten psalms arguing against Jewish or Christian views of David. They were not writing to debunk or replace the biblical Psalms. They were writing for their fellow Muslims, confidently and naturally reimagining David in line with their own notions of prophethood, and reimagining his Psalms after the style of the Qurʾān. They employed a Jewish and Christian symbol, but they used it for their own internal purposes, and thus revealed how profoundly David and his Psalms – as ideas rather than historical realities – had become the common property of all three traditions. David was for them just one of many imagined heroes in the firmament of Near Eastern piety, a shared cultural resource and a convenient symbol that they could refashion to convey their own religious ideologies. Bibliography

Primary Sources

Secondary Literature

Ibn Ḥanbal, Aḥmad al-Šaybānī. al-Zuhd. Edited by Ḥāmid Aḥmad al-Ṭāhir Ḥāmid al-Basyūnī. Cairo: Dār al-Ḥadīṯ, 2004. Ibn Qutayba, Abū Muḥammad ʿAbd Allāh Ibn Muslim. Kitāb ʿUyūn al-aḫbār. Edited by Muḥammad al-Iskandarānī. 4 volumes in 2. Beirut: Dār al-Kitāb al-ʿArabī, 2002. Krarup, Ove Chr., editor and translator. Auswahl Pseudo-Davidischer Psalmen: Arabisch und Deutsch. Copenhagen: G.E.C. Gad, 1909. al-Mubaššir Ibn Fātik, Abū al-Wafāʾ. Muḫtār al-ḥikam wa-maḥāsin al-kalim. Edited by ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Badawī. Madrid: al-Maʿhad al-Miṣrī lil-Dirāsāt al-Islāmiyya, 1958. al-Muḫtār, Yaʿqūb Ibn Imām al-Ǧāmiʿ ʿAbd al-Raḥmān ibn ʿAlī ibn Muḥammad, editor. Mawāʿiẓ balīġa min Zabūr sayyidi-nā Dāwūd ʿalay-hi al-salām wa-ġayri-hi min al-kutub al-munazalla wa-ǧumlatu-hā ṯalāṯūna sūratan. Tunis: Maṭbaʿat al-Manār, 1950.

Andrae, Tor. “Zuhd und Mönchtum: Zur Frage von den Beziehungen zwischen Christentum und Islam.” Le Monde Oriental 25 (1931), 296–327.



Cheikho, L[ouis]. “Quelques légendes islamiques apocryphes.” Mélanges de la Faculté orientale 4 (1910), 33–56. Déclais, Jean-Louis. David raconté par les musulmans. Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1999. Livne-Kafri, Ofer. “Early Muslim Ascetics and the World of Christian Monasticism.” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 20 (1996), 105–29. Melchert, Christopher. “Before Ṣūfiyyāt: Female Muslim Renunciants in the 8th and 9th Centuries CE.” Journal of Sufi Studies 5 (2016), 115–39. Melchert, Christopher. “Exaggerated Fear in the Early Islamic Renunciant Tradition.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Series 3, 21, no. 3 (2011), 283–300. Melchert, Christopher. “The Islamic Literature on Encounters between Muslim Renunciants and Christian Monks.” In Medieval Arabic Thought: Essays in Honour of Fritz Zimmermann, edited by Rotraud Hansberger, Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti, and Charles Burnett, 135–42. London: The Warburg Institute, 2012. Melchert, Christopher. “Quotations of Extra-Qur’ānic Scripture in Early Renunciant Literature.” In Islam and Globalisation: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives: Proceedings of the 25th Congress of L’Union Européene des Arabisants et Islamisants, edited by Agostino Cilardo, 97–107. Leuven: Peeters, 2013. Melchert, Christopher. “The Transition from Asceticism to Mysticism at the Middle of the Ninth Century C.E.” Studia Islamica 83 (1996), 51–70. Mohammed, Khaleel. David in the Muslim Tradition: The Bathsheba Affair. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2015. Mukhliṣ, ʿAbd Allāh. “al-Zabūr al-šarīf.” Majallat al-Majmaʿ al-ʿIlmī al-ʿArabī 12 (1932), 627–30. Mukhliṣ, ʿAbd Allāh. “al-Zabūr al-šarīf: Nuskha ukhrā minhu.” Majallat al-Majmaʿ al-ʿIlmī al-ʿArabī 13 (1933), 341–42. Reid, Megan H. Law and Piety in Medieval Islam. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Sadan, Joseph. “Some Literary Problems Concerning Judaism and Jewry in Medieval Arabic Sources.” In Studies in Islamic History and Civilization, in Honour of Professor David Ayalon, edited by M. Sharon, 353–98. Jerusalem: Cana – Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1986. Vishanoff, David R. “An Imagined Book Gets a New Text: Psalms of the Muslim David.” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 22 (2011), 85–99. Zwemer, S.M. “A Moslem Apocryphal Psalter.” Moslem World 5 (1915), 399–403.

chapter 12

David’s Psalter in Christian Arabic Dress ʿAbd Allāh ibn al-Faḍl’s Translation and Commentary Juan Pedro Monferrer-Sala 1


One the oldest manuscripts of Arabic translations of the New Testament books from Southern Palestinian monasteries, Vatican Arabic 13, originally contained a version of the Psalms.1 This and other old versions, such as those in Coptic or Latin,2 must have exerted an important influence on subsequent Melkite Arabic translations of the Psalter.3 Of all the Arabic versions of the Book of Psalms produced by Christian translators,4 one translation – apart from the famous fragmentary Greek-Arabic bilingual version discovered by Violet in 19015 – stands out above the rest for its unique qualities. It is a translation of 151 Psalms, i.e. including the supernumerary psalm found in the Septuagint (LXX), but not in the Hebrew Masoretic text (MT) or the Vulgate, made by the Melkite deacon (Ar. šammās) Abū ’l-Fatḥ ʿAbd Allāh ibn al-Faḍl b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Muṭrān al-Anṭākī (ca. 1000–after 1052),6 who also adds a fine commentary to which we shall refer in the sequel.7 The work is essentially a liturgical Psalter in which the psalms have been divided into twenty kathisma – each one consisting of three stanzas. The translation of the psalms is followed by ten odes (biblical canticles) preceded by the office of the orthros.8 1 2 3 4 5

See Griffith, “The Gospel in Arabic,” 132. See Lowe, “An unknown Latin Psalter on Mount Sinai.” For a general view, see Monferrer-Sala, “Psalter: Arabic Translations.” See Graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur, henceforth GCAL, vol. 1, 114–126. See Violet, “Ein zweisprachiges Psalmfragment aus Damascus.” See also Macdonald, “Literacy in an oral environment,” 101–103, and Corriente, “The Psalter fragment from the Umayyad Mosque of Damascus,” 314–320. 6 See Nasrallah, Histoire du mouvement littéraire dans l’église melchite du Ve au XXe siècle, henceforth Histoire, vol. 3/1, 191–229. See also Graf, GCAL, vol. 2, 52–64. Biographical data in Treiger, “ʿAbdallāh ibn al-Faḍl al-Anṭākī,” 89–90. 7 See Graf, GCAL, vol. 1, 116–119 and Nasrallah, Histoire, vol. 3–1, 217. 8 See Nasrallah, Histoire, vol. 3–1, 217.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021 | doi:10.1163/9789004465978_014



The multiple scriptural skills of this prolific 11th-century Arab Orthodox author are well attested: both in his lifetime and later, he was rightly acclaimed as a rigorous encyclopaedist and a man of compendious knowledge. Among the most outstanding works in Ibn al-Faḍl’s vast oeuvre are his translations,9 and especially his translation-commentary on the Book of Psalms, unquestionably one of the most remarkable products of the long history of Christian Arabic translation in general, and the Melkite translation tradition in particular. Ibn al-Faḍl’s Arabic translation was based on a Greek original,10 as he himself notes (fol. 3r) in the introduction that precedes the Psalms included in Ms. Sinai Ar. 65, a thirteenth century copy comprising 257 folios:11 Al-nusḫa al-yunāniyya allatī istaḫraǧnā min-hā hāḏihi ’l-tafāsīr The Greek copy from which we made this translation The Greek copy (Ar. al-nusḫa al-yunāniyya) referred to by Ibn al-Faḍl is in fact a recension of the version of the Septuagint in use in the Melkite Church.12 The author himself, then, regards his work as exegetical, for he uses the pluralis fractus tafāsīr, whose basic meaning is “commentaries,” although the term was also employed to designate translations of biblical books, the most famous of which was unquestionably that of rav Saʿadya Gaon (10th c.). Indeed, Ms. Vatican Arabic 145 and Ms. Ar. 297 from Leipzig Central Library are, strictly speaking, scholia on the Book of Psalms.13 The term tafsīr is used by Ibn al-Faḍl therefore to denote both aspects of his work – that of translator and that of commentator – though the commentary proper is referred to as šarḥ. The most interesting feature of this version is that the translation-exegesis drew upon several Greek texts by a number of Jewish and Christian authors, identified in detail in Ibn al-Faḍl’s prologue as Greek versions namely the translations by the Jewish writers Theodotion, Aquila and Symmachus, partially preserved in Origen’s Hexapla and the Christian translations by Theodoret and other illustrious Fathers of the Church who added glosses which Ibn al-Faḍl duly translates, at some points even amending the text where he deems it necessary, as the following example demonstrates (fol. 3r): 9 10 11 12 13

See Treiger, “Christian Graeco-Arabica.” See Féghali, “The Holy Books in Arabic,” 42, note 19. See Atiya, The Arabic Manuscripts of Mount Sinai, 4 (nº 65); Kamil, Catalogue, 12 (nº 50). See also Nasrallah, Histoire, vol. 3–1, 217. See Nasrallah, Histoire, vol. 3–1, 217. Cf. Graf, GCAL, vol. 1, 59.

David ’ s Psalter in Christian Arabic Dress


Ṯāwuḏūtiyūs wa-Akīlās wa-Simmāḫus wa-Ṯawuḏūriṭus wa-ġayru-hum min al-Abāʾ al-aǧillāʾ al-qiddisīn qad tarǧamnā min-hā mā ihtamalathu hawāšī hāḏihi ’l-nusḫa Theodotion, Aquila, Symmachus, Theodoret and other venerable Church Fathers, the contents of whose notes on this copy we have translated Ibn al-Faḍl’s translation of the Psalms may to a large extent be regarded as the product of his training under Greek and Arab masters who introduced him to and guided in the translation of such texts.14 But this landmark translation is also part of a long tradition of interpreting the Book of Psalms in the Christian East – one of the most remarkable interpreters was the great Theodore of Mopsuestia (d. 428), whose early commentary had a marked impact on Syriac literature.15 Ibn al-Faḍl’s rendering of the Psalms enjoyed considerable acclaim among Christians in the Near East, and became the “canonical translation” of the Melkite Church.16 It was widely used in Melkite books of gospels and letters,17 and underwent constant revision; as late as the mid-eighteenth century, revised versions were still being produced in the various Melkite communities scattered across the Near East, including one by ʿAbd Allāh Ẓāhir in Dayr al-Šuwayr (published in 1735). Further proofs of the fame achieved by the translation are the vast number of surviving manuscript copies, and the fact that it was used not only by the Melkites, but also by Catholics and Protestants.18 Indeed, the Book of Psalms included in the Propaganda Fide edition is Ibn al-Faḍl’s version.19

Despite the evident importance of Ibn al-Faḍl’s text, none of the editions produced to date containing his text can be regarded as a critical edition. Surprisingly, indeed, no reference has been made to the Sinai Ms., although it is one of the three earliest known copies after the British Library Ms., which dates to 1239.20 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

See Treiger, “ʿAbdallāh ibn al-Faḍl al-Anṭākī,” 89–90. See Baumstark, Die christlichen Literaturen des Orients, vol. 1, 67. See Nasrallah, Histoire, vol. 3–1, 217–218. See Graf, GCAL, vol. 1, 187–190. See Graf, GCAL, vol. 1, 117–118. See Graf, GCAL, vol. 2, 52–64. See Graf, GCAL, vol. 1, 118.



The need for a critical edition extends beyond the translation of the Psalms to include the accompanying commentary. But what kind of commentary is it? Certainly not a “scholarly” commentary, drawing upon the principles of the comparative linguistics and philosophical knowledge of the time, with an exegesis based on grammatical rules, of the sort provided, amongst others, by Judaeo-Arabic translators like rav Saʿadya Gaon21 or the Karaite Yefet ben ʿEli.22 One key consideration is that here, as in late rabbinic texts and in the New Testament, David is regarded as being more than merely a figure of kingship as portrayed in the Hebrew Bible; he also assumes the rank of a prophet, through which he came to have a significant impact on Christian texts and was to be of crucial importance to his subsequent development as a religious character. Moreover, the reception of Davidic prophecy in Islam – both in the Qurʾān and in the prophetic Tradition, via isrāʾīliyyāt and masīḥiyyāt23 – was highly significant. Ibn al-Faḍl does not offer a verse-by-verse commentary; instead, his exegetical method consists in commentating wherever a word or expression merits attention on purely theological grounds. Ibn al-Faḍl’s commentary is thus a theological – largely Christological – commentary, although in some cases it involves a certain degree of literary and conceptual exegesis.24 The commentary is invaluable not only because it is Christological in nature and thus belongs to a theological genre widespread among Christian authors – a good example in the Syriac milieu is the Great Psalm Commentary by the Syrian Orthodox Daniel of Ṣalaḥ25 – but also in view of Ibn al-Faḍl’s reasons for transmitting this exegetical model. In general terms, his reasons for this choice may be regarded as twofold: not only did it reflect the Christological exegetical tradition to which Arab Christianity belonged, but also because that tradition, duly adapted to the dogma of the Arab Orthodox (Melkite) Church, provided the basis for an interpretation of the text based on Chalcedonian Christology. Christology continued to dominate Melkite theology which is not surprising considering their ongoing polemic against the christology of their Christian confessional adversaries in the Islamic world, namely the anti-Chalcedonian churches.26 21 22 23 24 25 26

For Ibn al-Faḍl’s sample text given below cf. Monferrer-Sala, “Reasoning tradition through translation.” For numerous examples in the Karaite authors, see Polliack, The Karaite Tradition. See also Polliack, “Concepts of Scripture.” Cf. Griffith, The Bible in Arabic, 80–83. Cf. Griffith, “Christian Theological Thought.” See Taylor, “The Christology of the Syriac Psalm Commentary.” See Griffith, “The Melkites and the Muslims,” 414–415.


‫‪David ’ s Psalter in Christian Arabic Dress‬‬

‫‪An Example: Edition and Translation of Psalm 28 (Ms. Sinai Ar. 65)27‬‬

‫ ‪2‬‬

‫ف‬ ‫�ز‬ ‫ث‬ ‫ش‬ ‫ع��� ن� �ل�د ا د �ه �أ ��ع��ة � ش‬ ‫ع���ر�ي ن� ح‬ ‫�ر��ا ع��لى خ�رو ج ا �ل��ق��بّ����ة ي�ر�ي�د ب��ه ا �ل�‬ ‫ا ل�م �مور ا �ل��ا �م� ن� ا �ل� رو‬ ‫وو و و ر ب و‬ ‫يو‬ ‫�‬ ‫م‬ ‫ظ‬ ‫ا �لث��ا �م� ن� �م� ن� �عي���د ا لم����ا ل‬ ‫أ‬ ‫أ‬ ‫أ‬ ‫ٰ‬ ‫ّ‬ ‫‪� 1.‬قّ� ا �ل�ل ّ �ا � �ن��ا ء ا �ل�ّ�ل�ه‪� 28‬ش�� � �ن��ا ء ا �ل ّ �ه ا �ل ��س� ف���� ّ �ق�د �م ا �ل�ل ّ � �ن��ا ء ا � ك�� ش‬ ‫رح ب أ ر ب� م ر ل ص و ر ب� ب‬ ‫ربو أر ب� ي ب‬ ‫ل�ا ���‬ ‫ب‬ ‫ئ ف ّ‬ ‫ّ‬ ‫ق‬ ‫� ا�م��ة‬ ‫ّ‬ ‫ن‬ ‫ت‬ ‫ن‬ ‫م�ؤ‬ ‫ن‬ ‫�‬ ‫�ش��ر � ب�ن��ا ا � بك��‬ ‫ل�ا ش��� هم ا ل �م��ي��� �م�� ال� مم ا �ل�� �هي� �‬ ‫كا �لب���ه�ا �مّ ����ص �رب�وا �ل�لر ب� ا لم�� ج��د وا �ل ك�ر‬ ‫ح‬ ‫ي‬ ‫ت‬ ‫ث ث ق‬ ‫تق‬ ‫تق‬ ‫�ش�� ا �ل��ف���ا ع� ا �لخ‬ ‫�ذ ُ ق ّ‬ ‫� ي��ر ا لم����س����ي�م الا �ع�����ا د �يف� ا �ل��ا �لو� ا �ل�����د و��س �هو ا �ل� �ي� �ي����ر ب� �ل�ل�ه ��ع�ا لى‬ ‫ل‬ ‫رح‬ ‫ً‬ ‫�ذ‬ ‫�ذ‬ ‫ف‬ ‫ن‬ ‫�ة‬ ‫م���قّ����ة‬ ‫ض‬ ‫ح�ز � لا � ش‬ ‫�را�م� �هو ا �ل� �� ي�ر�‬ ‫�تم�� ج�ي���د ا وا �ل� �ي� ي���ق�� ّر ب� ك‬ ‫ح�م ا �ل�����عي��� و�ي�ع��طي���ه ب�لا � و‬ ‫ب�ل‬ ‫ي‬ ‫ّ‬ ‫ّٰ‬ ‫ن ف ّ‬ ‫أن ُ ق ض‬ ‫�‬ ‫�‬ ‫�‬ ‫�‬ ‫ا‬ ‫��‬ ‫�ه‬ ‫ا‬ ‫�‬ ‫�ه‬ ‫ح‬ ‫�‬ ‫�‬ ‫�‬ ‫�ه‬ ‫�‬ ‫�ل‬ ‫�‬ ‫��‬ ‫س‬ ‫�‬ ‫��‬ ‫�‬ ‫�‬ ‫ل‬ ‫�‬ ‫��‬ ‫�‬ ‫ك� � ي ر �‬ ‫ب‬ ‫ص‬ ‫ّ‬ ‫ّ‬ ‫ّ‬ ‫ق‬ ‫� �تم�� ج�ي���د ا لا ��سم�ه ا �� جس‬ ‫‪� 2.‬قر�وا �ل�ل‬ ‫��د وا �ل�لر ب� �يف� د ا ر ��د ��س�ه‬ ‫ر‬ ‫ب‬ ‫ب‬ ‫�ن أ ّ‬ ‫ّ‬ ‫� ع��ل ا لم���ا ه �ش�� � ش����� �إل �ص ت‬ ‫‪� 3.‬ص ت‬ ‫� ال�أ � �ع ن���د ا � ت‬ ‫�‬ ‫�زل‬ ‫�‬ ‫ال‬ ‫ال‬ ‫ا‬ ‫د‬ ‫ل‬ ‫�‬ ‫ا‬ ‫ع�‬ ‫�‬ ‫ا‬ ‫م‬ ‫ر‬ ‫ي� يف�‬ ‫ب�‬ ‫ى و‬ ‫رح ي ي‬ ‫أو ّ ر ب ى ي‬ ‫ب‬ ‫ت ن ثّ‬ ‫ن ف ّ‬ ‫أ أ ن �ذ‬ ‫نّ� ق‬ ‫ش‬ ‫�‬ ‫�‬ ‫�‬ ‫ل‬ ‫ا‬ ‫ا‬ ‫ا‬ ‫�‬ ‫ا‬ ‫ا‬ ‫��‬ ‫�‬ ‫�‬ ‫�‬ ‫ص‬ ‫�‬ ‫ه‬ ‫�‬ ‫�‬ ‫�د‬ ‫ا‬ ‫�‬ ‫�‬ ‫ا‬ ‫�‬ ‫�د‬ ‫�د‬ ‫ع‬ ‫�‬ ‫ع‬ ‫�‬ ‫�‬ ‫م‬ ‫ل��‬ ‫م‬ ‫�‬ ‫�‬ ‫جل �‬ ‫رح �إ ل ر‬ ‫ال� رد � ����ص �إ لا ه ا ل ج ر‬ ‫� و� ب � يف�‬ ‫ث‬ ‫ن� ف ّ‬ ‫ّ‬ ‫ت‬ ‫���ر�ة ا لمي���ا ه‬ ‫� ي���ل ����ص وا �لر ب� ع��لى ك‬ ‫ا �ل�ع�ا لم ب��و��س��ط الإ� ج‬ ‫ّ ق ّ�ة‬ ‫ن �ة‬ ‫ئ�ة‬ ‫ش ق‬ ‫ت‬ ‫ت‬ ‫ّ قّ ش‬ ‫‪� 4.‬صو� ا �لر ب� ب�����و�ةٍ ���رح ي����ي��ر ب�����و�ل�ه �صو� ا �لر ب� ب�����و �إلى ��ع���م� ا �لروح ا لم�ا �ل�� �ل�لر��س�ل‬ ‫ّ ظّ‬ ‫ق� ّ�ةً ق���� ّ �ص ت‬ ‫ع�����م�ه ا �لب���ه�ا ء‬ ‫� ا �لر ب� �ي�‬ ‫و صو و‬ ‫أ‬ ‫أ‬ ‫ّ � ش‬ ‫ق‬ ‫ف‬ ‫�ة‬ ‫�ة‬ ‫�ز‬ ‫�ز‬ ‫ض‬ ‫ت‬ ‫ت‬ ‫ش‬ ‫ن‬ ‫ت‬ ‫ش‬ ‫��‬ ‫�‬ ‫�‬ ‫�‬ ‫�‬ ‫�إل‬ ‫ل‬ ‫ل‬ ‫ل‬ ‫ال‬ ‫ل‬ ‫�‬ ‫�‬ ‫‪ 5.‬و�صو� ٰ ا �لر ب� يح��ط�مّ ج ر � ر ��رح أي����ي��ر ب�ا � ر ى وا � ا م���ا ����� ا م���ع�ا ي�� ع��لى‬ ‫ف�ة ّ ت‬ ‫ق ف‬ ‫ّ �ز ن‬ ‫ف‬ ‫�م�عر�� ا �ل��ل�ه ��ع�ا لى ����ص و�ي�������ص� ا �لر ب� � ر �ل ب�� ن���ا �‬ ‫أ‬ ‫نّ‬ ‫ق �ذ‬ ‫ن‬ ‫كا �ل�ع�� ج��ل ا �ل�ل ب�� ن���ا �ي� �ش��ر ي� ش���ي��ر ب��ل ب�� ن���ا � �إلى � ور�ش���لا وب�ا �ل�ع�� ج��ل �إلى ا �لوح��ي ش���‪29‬‬ ‫‪ 6.‬و�ي�د � �ل�ك �‬ ‫ح‬ ‫م‬ ‫كا � ن �ذ ا ت‬ ‫ح������ �ه ا لم�ؤ�م� ن ا لم�ؤ�م� ن لا �ن�ق���ه�ز‬ ‫� ا �ل��ق��ر ن� ا �لوا ح�د �ة �ش��ر ا �ل‬ ‫ف���� ّ وا �ل‬ ‫�‬ ‫ح ب����ي�‬ ‫�‬ ‫�‬ ‫� بي ب و � و � ي �‬ ‫ب�‬ ‫ب‬ ‫ص‬ ‫ح‬ ‫أ أّ‬ ‫ف ّ‬ ‫ق‬ ‫�ذ‬ ‫ن‬ ‫ق‬ ‫ت‬ ‫ن‬ ‫ن‬ ‫�ؤ‬ ‫ن‬ ‫و�و�ل�ه �‬ ‫كا �ب� ا � ا �ل����ر� ا �لوا ح�د � �ي� � ��ه ي� �م�� ب��إلا ه وا ح ٍ�د ����ص‬ ‫ّ‬ ‫‪� 7.‬ص ت‬ ‫� ا �لر ب� �ي��ق������ط ��ل�هي��� ب� ا �لن��ا ر �ش��ر ج��م�ا ع��ة ا �لر��س�ل �ق ب����لوا ن��ع���م��ة ا �لرو ا �ل��ق���د ��س �يف� �صوره‬ ‫و‬ ‫ح‬ ‫ح‬ ‫ع‬ ‫ن ّ�ة ف ّ‬ ‫�ا ري� ����ص‬ ‫أُ‬ ‫ن ّٰ‬ ‫ّ‬ ‫ت‬ ‫�ة‬ ‫ف‬ ‫ف‬ ‫ق‬ ‫ق‬ ‫خ‬ ‫‪� 8.‬ص ت‬ ‫ش‬ ‫ش‬ ‫ئ‬ ‫� ا �لر ب� ب�ا �ل��������ر ���ر ي� ش���ي��ر ب�ا �ل��������ر �إلى ال� م ا �ل‬ ‫��ا �ل�� �م� ن ال ��ا ا ��ل�ه ��ع�ا ل ���‬ ‫و‬ ‫� إ�يم � ق ب� ل� أ ى ق رح‬ ‫ح‬ ‫م‬ ‫ف أ‬ ‫ّ‬ ‫ق‬ ‫ف‬ ‫�ة‬ ‫ظ‬ ‫ف‬ ‫ت‬ ‫ش‬ ‫و�ير ج���� ا �لر ب� ب�ري� ��ا د ��س ���ر �م�ع�نى ي�ر ج���� � �ي� �ي�����هر و�������سي��ر ��ا د ��س � �ي� ��د ��س�ه‬ ‫ح‬ ‫ف ّ‬ ‫����ص‬

‫‪Cf. Monferrer-Sala, “En torno a dos manuscritos árabes,” 336–338.‬‬ ‫‪.‬ا �لر ب� ‪In the margin:‬‬ ‫‪.‬ا �لخ �ز‬ ‫�و ي� ب� ‪Ms.:‬‬

‫ ‪27‬‬ ‫ ‪28‬‬ ‫ ‪29‬‬



ّ ‫ك��� ف� ا � �غل��ا �ا ت‬ ‫ت‬ ‫� �ك� �أ �ائ� �ش�� � ش����� �ا ل�أ �ائ� �إل ا �ل ��س� ف���� ّ �� ش‬ � ‫ �صو� ا �لر ب ي مل ي ل رح ي ير ب ي ل ى ر ل ص ي‬9. ‫ب‬ ‫أ‬ ّ ّ ‫� ش����� �ا � �غل��ا �ا ت‬ �‫كل ال� ��ص ن���ا ا �تل�� لا ث��مر ��ل�ه�ا ا �ل ب��ت���ه ف����ص و �ف� �هي�� ك‬ �‫��ل�ه ا �ل ك‬ � ‫� �إلى �هي���ا‬ ‫ي ير ب ب‬ ‫��ل‬ ‫ي‬ ‫م ي‬ ‫�تم�� ج�ي���د ا‬ ‫أ‬ ‫أ‬ ‫أ‬ ٰ ّ ّ ‫ف ن ف‬ ّ ّ ‫ن ّ �ز‬ ‫ف‬ ‫ وا �لر ب� �يف� ا � �غل����مر ي���س ك‬1 0. �‫�� ن� �ش��رح � �ي� � � ا �ل��ل�ه � ا ل ا �ل��ط����ر ب�ا �ل��طو��ا � ����ص ويج���ل��س ا �لر ب‬ ‫أ‬ �‫�م��ل ك‬ ‫��ا �إلى ال� ب��د‬ ّ ّ ‫�ة‬ 1 1. ‫ا �ل � ��ؤ�م� ن �ش���ع���ه �ا �ل��ق�� ّ ا �ل � ي���ا ك ع��ل �ش���ع���ه �ا �ل��س��ل‬ ‫ورب ي � ب ب و ورب ب ر ى ب ب م‬

��‫�ش‬ ‫رح‬ ‫ق‬ ‫ي�����ول‬

Psalm twenty-eight of David, of twenty-four sticos. On the way out of the Tabernacle, which takes place on the eighth day of the Huts Feast. 1. Worship the Lord, oh sons of the Lord! [comment: “the sons of the Lord” are the Apostles] Worship the Lord sons of the Lamb! [comment: “the sons of the Lamb” are the gentile believers, who are like the beasts] Worship the Lord glory and honour! [comment: the one who acts with a perfect honesty, who believes in the Holy Trinity is the one who glorifies God the Almighty, and the one who honours (God) is the one who has mercy on the weak and gives him without sadness or hardship, but rather as if he were lending to God, Glory be to him!]. Crop close to the Lord, to glorify his name, worship the Lord in his sanctuary. 2. Bring the Lord the glory of his name, worship the Lord in the dwelling place of his holiness! 3. The voice of the Lord upon the waters [comment: it alludes to the voice of the Father in the baptism of the eternal Son in the Jordan], the God of the glory thunders [comment: it says “thunders” because this voice traverses the entire world by means of the Gospel]. The Lord is upon many waters. 4. The voice of the Lord with strength [comment: the expression “the voice of the Lord with strength” refers to the grace of the Spirit which fills the Apostles with strength], the voice of Lord in its exalted majesty. 5. The voice of the Lord destroys the cedars [comment: with “the cedars” it alludes to the opposite forces rising against the knowledge of the God Almighty]. The Lord fells the cedars of Lebanon, 6. making them tremble like the Lebanese calf [comment: with “Lebanon” it refers to Jerusalem and with “calf” to a steer], to the beloved like the breeding of the rhinoceros [comment: “the beloved” is “the believer,” as the believer is not subdued. The expression “like the breeding of the rhinoceros” means who believes in God the Only One].

David ’ s Psalter in Christian Arabic Dress



The voice of the Lord cuts off the sudden blaze of fire [comment: the Apostles Assembly received the grace of the Holy Spirit under the appearance of fire]. 8. The voice of the Lord in the desert [comment: “in the desert” alludes to the gentiles who have plenty of faith in God the Almighty]. The Lord shakes the desert of Cades [comment: the sense of “shakes” is “shows” and the explanation of “Cades” is “His Holiness”]. 9. The voice of the Lord makes the deers perfect [comment: with the “deers” the author mentions the Apostles], undresses the forests [comment: with “undresses the forests” it mentions the temples of the idols that in some way give fruit]. In His temple everybody praises him. 10. The Lord dwells upon the waters [comment: namely, that God made the impious people die in the flood], the Lord sits like a king forever. 11. The Lord will strengthen His people, the Lord will bless His people with peace. 3

A Comparative Chart

A comparative analysis of Ms. Sinai Ar. 65 and Lagarde’s edition of the Aleppo Ms.30 shows that the latter is a revision of the version in Ms. Sinai Ar. 65, with the exception of verses 4, 5 and 10, which include corrections to Ibn al-Faḍl’s version. Only verse 7 has escaped changes. In these verses, the Aleppo version has opted for a variety of translation strategies with a view to amending Ibn al-Faḍl’s translation: 1) In v. 4, the free translation represented by the coordinated phrase in the second hemistich yuʿaẓẓimu al-bahāʾ is corrected by the prepositional clause bi-ǧalāl ʿaẓīm, which is a literal translation of the Septuagint: ἐν μεγαλοπρεπείᾳ (