Comparative Semitic Philology in the Middle Ages: From Sa'Adiah Gaon to Ibn Barun (10th-12th C.)

By Aharon Maman; David Lyons | Go to book overview

CHAPTER NINE
DAVID B. ABRAHAM ALFĀSI'S
COMPARATIVE PHILOLOGY

In the second half of the tenth century, Alfāsi composed a lexicon for biblical language entitled Jāmiʿ al-ʳ Alfāẓ, (literally Treasury of Words).1 The entries set out and discussed in this lexicon pertain to biblical Hebrew and biblical Aramaic, whereas the language of the definitions and the running text is by and large Arabic.2Jāmiʿ alʿAlfāẓ, was not composed with the intention of producing a treatise on the specific topic of comparative linguistics.3 The main aim and purpose of the Jāmi ʿ lexicon is to serve as a biblical lexicon; but just as this lexicon reflects a certain image of Bible exegesis and of biblical Hebrew grammar, so, likewise, does it incorporate considerable material pertaining to the comparison of Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic; and though, indeed, these data are of sporadic occurrence in sundry entries throughout the lexicon, their underlying principles can indeed be synthesized into a unified thesis. In what follows I attempt to present the characteristic features of this thesis.


9.1 Alfāsi's theory of language comparisons

As stated above, Jāmiʿ al-ʿ Alfāẓ, was not compiled with comparative linguistics in mind. Thus, a priori, one should not expect to find therein any organized running discussion on this subject; indeed no uninterrupted discussion's text of this type is to be found in the treatise. However, the customary practice of a lexicon, i.e. the use of interlingual comparisons for lexicographical purposes, provides us with the means to obtain some picture of the comparison theory

1 Published by S.L. Skoss. See Bibliographical Abbreviations, Skoss (1936–45).

2 This dialect pertains to the stratum of Arabic known as Middle Arabic.

3 Examples of the exegetical character of the lexicon can be found at entries


(p. 154), (p. 311); disputation with interpretations of others is at (p. 37),

-182-

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