Jewish Commentators — Their Lives and Works
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Hebrew Name(s): סעיד בן יוסף; סעידיה בן יוסף; רב סעדיה בן יוסף גאון סורא
Other Names: Saadia ben Joseph Gaon, Saadia ben Joseph al-Fayumi, Saadia ben Joseph, Saadia ibn Joseph Gaon, Gaon of Sura
Period: Geonim — 10th Century
Location: b. Egypt, Babylonia
Saadia Gaon, a philosopher and philologist, translated most of the Bible and added a commentary [with, however, no citations on the Books of Chronicles]. Many of his translations have since been edited by others. He has been rated as the greatest writer of post-biblical Judaism after Philo, and he was instrumental in ensuring the language and culture of Mohammedan Arabs contributed a lasting influence over the history of Judaism. Saadia Gaon was the first to write exclusively in Arabic and is considered the founder of Judeo-Arabic literature.
A commonly held assumption is that the formation of Hebrew linguistic literature (following on but differentiating from the traditions of Masorah and the Masorites, and the exegetical activities of rabbinic Judaism which were typified in the Talmud and Midrash) was completed by the beginning of the tenth century. The liguistic works of Saadia Gaon (Agron and Kutab al-Lugha) are considered the first two books of Hebrew proper: the former dealing with lexicography and the latter with biblical grammar.
In Sefer HaEgron, the al-Kutub Lughah, and Kitāb al-Sab'in al-lafzi Mufrada, Saadia developed not only the basics of Hebrew philology, but also the comparative philology of Semitic languages. He did not hesitate to compare biblical Hebrew with the Hebrew of the Mishnah, Aramaic and Arabic in order to elucidate the meaning. This development was further progressed with the work of Tamim ibn Dounash and Judah ibn Kuraysh. Later disputes and discussions on Hebrew grammar helped to refine the work of later Hebrew grammarians, Dounash ibn Labrat and Menahem ibn Sarouk, followed by Yehudi ben Sheshet and the followers of Menahem, including Judah Hayyuj, then by Samuel ibn ibn Nagrela and Yona Jannah, the most eminent Hebrew scholars of medieval period.
A Jewish philosopher, halakhist and linguist, he complied a poetic dictionary of the Hebrew language, composed a Hebrew Grammar and an Order of Prayer, wrote on halakhah, published a book on halakhah, wrote poems, prayers (for the prayer book), translated the Hebrew bible into Arabic and wrote an Arabic commentary on the scriptures. His best known work is the Book of Beliefs and Opinions.
Of Saadia's grammatical works, only his treatise on the hapax legomena (words used once in the Bible) and a poem on the letters of the alphabet survive. His liturgical writings and poems survive in great quantity.
Book of Beliefs and Opinions
Last database update: 25 November, 2014
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