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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Ibn-Ganach, Abulwalid Merwan or Jonah Djanah

(in Hebrew called Jonah), one of the most distinguished Jewish scholars of the Middle Ages, was born at Cordova about 995. While yet a boy he evinced his fondness for Hebrew by writing verses in that language, but as he continued in his studies he determined to devote his whole life to the advancement of the Hebrew as a philological study, and even abandoned the practice of medicine, which he had chosen as his profession after his removal to Saragossa in 1015, whither he had been forced by the persecutions which the Jews of Cordova suffered at the hand of Al- Mostain Suleimall since his occupation of that place in 1013. He soon acquired a proficiency, which even in our day has not been excelled, and he deserves greater praise than any other Jewish scholar on account of the impulse he gave both to his contemporaries and to his immediate successors (among them the two Kimnchis and AbeonEzra), who have frequently acknowledged their obligations to him. The thorough manner in which he conducted his investigations enabled him to accomplish much more than his illustrious predecessor Chajug (q.v.), and by his criticism of Chajug's works, in which he readily acknowledged all that was meritorious, he frequently encountered the ardent followers of that great master, and became entangled in a number of controversies, which finally resulted beneficially to Hebrew philology. He died about 1050. His first great work in linguistics is his Kitab el-Tankieh ("book of inquiry"), written in Arabic (the native tongue in his day of that part of Spain), consisting of two great parts, the first, Kitub el-Leuma' ("book of variegated fields"), treating at length of Hebrew grammar, and the second, Kitacb el-Azul ("book of roots"), a Hebrew Dictionary, which was afterwards translated into Hebrew by several Jewish scholars, but of which only the translations made by Ibn-Parchon and by Ibn-Tibbon are preserved. The original is at Oxford (MS. Ure, No. 456, 457), and was extensively used by Gesenius in his Thesazurus. Specimens of it, which Gesenius gave in his Dict. of the Heb. Lezan. were translated by Dr. Robinson, and published in the Amec Bib. Repository, 1833.

That part of this work which refers to Hebrew grammar was published by Kirchheim (Frankf. A.M. 1856, 8vo). "This gigantic work is the most important philological production in Jewish literature of the Middle Ages. The mastery of the science of the Hebrew language in all its delicate points which Ibn-Ganach therein displays, the lucid manner in which he explains every grammatical difficulty, and the sound exegetical rules which he therein propounds, have few parallels up to the present day. He was not only the creator of the Hebrew syntax, but almost brought it to perfection. He was the first who pointed out the ellipses and the transposition of letters, words, and verses in the Hebrew Bible, and explained in a simple and natural manner more than two hundred obscure passages, which had up to his time greatly perplexed all interpreters, by showing that the sacred writers used abnormal for normal expressions (compare ספר הרקמה, ch. 28; Aben-Ezra's Commentary on Daniel 1:1, and ספר צחית, ed. Lippmann, p. 72, note).

Though his faith in the inspiration of the Hebrew Scriptures was absolute, yet he maintained that, being addressed to men, they are subject to the laws of language, and hence urged that the abnormal expressions and forms in the Bible are not to be ascribed to the ignorance of transcribers and punctuators, nor to willful corruption, but are owing to the fact that the sacred writers, being human, paid the tribute of humanity." But also in metaphysics Ibn-Ganach was no tyro, and he speaks of Plato and Aristotle like one who had studied them diligently. He wrote a work on logic, Aristotelian, in principle, and strenuously opposed the efforts of his contemporaries, especially Ibn-Gebirol, in their metaphysical investigations on the relation of God to the world, holding that these inquiries only endangered the belief in the Scriptures. See Munk, Notice sur A. i1. Ibn-Djanah (Paris, 1851); Gratz, Gesch. d. Juden, 6, 25 sq., 205 sq.; Furst, Hebr. Dict. Introd. p. 30 sq.; Kitto, Cyclop. of Bibl. Lit. 2, 354 sq.; First Biblioth. Jud. 1, 315.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Ibn-Ganach, Abulwalid Merwan or Jonah Djanah'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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