Ancient Jewish Historiography in Arabic Garb: Sefer Josippon between Southern Italy and Coptic Cairo

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In this brief contribution, I examine multiple histories of the Hebrew narrative Sefer Josippon, trace back its reception and impact in thirteenth-century Coptic Cairo, and call for a renewed scholarly investigation into its Judaeo-Arabic and Arabic versions.

Ancient Jewish Historiography in Arabic Garb: Sefer Josippon between Southern Italy and Coptic Cairo

in Zutot




See DönitzÜberlieferung und Rezeption5–8.


As proposed by DönitzÜberlieferung und Rezeption10–11.


See SamirMiṣbāḥ al-ẓulma227–229. An epitomized version of the Arabic Sefer Josippon became known as the book of fifth Maccabees. There is a disagreement on its genesis. H. Cotton (The Five Books of Maccabees [Oxford 1832] xxxii and J. Wellhausen Der Arabische Josippus [Berlin 1897] 47) postulated that 5 Macc. does go back to a lost Greek Vorlage of the 1st cent. ce. Sela followed this line of argumentation and considered it depended on an earlier now lost textual layer of the Hebrew Sefer Josippon. The absence of this earlier Vorlage either in Greek or in Hebrew and a renewed comparison of the manuscripts suggests however that the work is nothing else than an epitome of the Arabic translation of Sefer Josippon which suspends with most of the non-Maccabean episodes. Manuscript evidence indicates that book was transmitted among Melkites and Maronites.


See F. Baethgen‘Siebzehn makkabäische Psalmen nach Theodor von Mopsuestia,’ Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 6 (1886) 261–288 and 7 (1887) 1–60; R. Devresse ‘Le Commentaire de Theodore de Mopsueste sur les Psaumes’ Revue Biblique 37 (1928) 340–366; idemEssai sur Théodre de Mopsueste (Vatican 1948); C. Schäublin Untersuchungen zu Methode und Herkunft der Antiochenischen Exegese (Köln/Bonn 1974) 90; S. Brock The Bible in the Syriac Tradition (Piscataway nj 2006) 139–140.


See E. Tisserent and G. Wiet‘La Liste des patriarches d’Alexandrie dans Qalqachandi,’ Revue de l’Orient Chretien 23 (1922/23) 123–143; Fischel ‘Ibn Khaldūn’; idemIbn Khaldūn in Egypt: His Public Functions and Historical Research 1382–1406. A Study in Islamic Historiography (Berkeley ca 1967) 117 132 and 144.


For details see G. Schwarb‘Die Rezeption Maimonides’ in der christlich-arabischen Literatur,’ Judaica 63 (2007) 1–45. On ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Baghdādī see S. Hopkins ‘The Languages of Maimonides’ in G. Tamer ed. The Trias of Maimonides (Berlin 2005) 85–106 at 90–93. Furthermore Muḥammad ibn Ḥasan al-Nihmī the scribe of Ms. Istanbul Süleymaniye Carullah 1279 on which the Arabic-script edition of the Guide by H. Atay ed. Maimonides: Delaletü’l-Hairin (Ankara 1979) is based apparently had basic reading skills in Hebrew: see F. Rosenthal ‘From Arabic Books and Manuscripts v: A One-volume Library of Arabic Philosophical and Scientific Texts in Istanbul’ Journal of the American Oriental Society 75 (1955) 14–23 at 20 no. xvi. Finally the Coptic scholar al-Asʿad Abū al-Faraj Hibatallāh ibn al-ʿAssāl transcribed parts of Maimonides’ Judaeo-Arabic writings into Arabic script: see G. Graf ‘Ein Traktat über die Seele verfasst von Hibatallāh Ibn al-ʿAssāl’ Orientalia 9 (1940) 374–377; and W. Abullif Dirāsa ʿan al-Muʾtamin ibn al-ʿAssāl wa-kitābihi “majmūʿ uṣūl al-dīn” wa-taḥqīqihi (Cairo/Jerusalem 1997) 86 no. 24.


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