A Biblical Translation in the Making: The Evolution and Impact of Saadia Gaon's <i>Tafsir</i>

A Biblical Translation in the Making: The Evolution and Impact of Saadia Gaon's Tafsir

by Richard C. Steiner


Members save with free shipping everyday! 
See details


In his youth, R. Saadia Gaon (882–942 C.E.) dreamed of publishing a new translation of the Torah for Arabic-speaking Jews to replace the overly literal ones in vogue at the time. It would be a proper translation, conforming to the tenets of both traditional Judaism and contemporary philosophy—not to mention the canons of Arabic grammar and style. Saadia’s interest in this project was not purely academic. Rabbinic Judaism was under attack from Karaite and Muslim polemicists eager to win new converts, and Saadia felt that a new Arabic version of the Torah was needed to counter the attack. His dream was realized with the issuing of the Tafsīr, the most important Jewish Bible translation of the Middle Ages.

Richard C. Steiner traces the history of the Tafsīr—its ancient and medieval roots, its modest beginnings, its subsequent evolution, and its profound impact on the history of biblical exegesis. Among the many sources he uses to elucidate this history are two previously neglected manuscripts: a Christian Arabic translation of the Pentateuch from St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai Desert, and a Judeo-Arabic annotated translation of Genesis from the Cairo Genizah. Steiner argues that the latter is a page from a copy of the first edition of the Tafsīr prepared while Saadia was a student in Tiberias, and the former is a copy of Hunayn b. Ishāq’s “lost” Arabic version of the Pentateuch (ninth century C.E.), containing a philosophical rendering of Genesis 1:1 adopted later by Saadia in the Tafsīr.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674033351
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 06/20/2011
Series: Harvard Center for Jewish Studies / Yanoff-Taylor Series
Edition description: Bilingual
Pages: 198
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Richard C. Steiner is Professor of Semitic Languages and Literatures at Yeshiva University and Honorary Member of the Academy of the Hebrew Language in Israel.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Freedom versus Literalness in the Tafsīr and Earlier Bible Translations 5

Abbreviation in the Tafsīr and Earlier Bible Translations 13

Approaches to Repetition in Scripture 32

Jewish Resistance to Stylistic Abbreviation 45

A Christian Predecessor of the Tafsīr and the Arabic Translations of the Pentateuch from Sinai 52

Theological Translation in the Tafsīr and Earlier Bible Translations 69

The First Edition of the Tafsīr and Its Subsequent Development 76

Interfaith Debate and Saadia Gaon's Target Audiences 94

Al-Jāhiz's Challenge to Jewish Bible Translators 100

Rereading Emunot we-de'ot in the Light of al-Jāhiz's Challenge 109

Rereading Saadia Gaon's Translations and Commentaries in the Light of al-Jāhiz's Challenge 118

Criticism of the Tafsīr 129

Saadia Gaon's Motives 144

Conclusions 153

Bibliography 157

Subject Index 175

Index of Passages 179

Customer Reviews