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‘book of Comfort’ Manuscript Reveals Old Hebrew Maxims

April 15, 1934
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Biblical-Talmudic narratives, believed lost since the tenth century, have been brought to light here in the publication of a unique Arabic codex by the Yale University Press. Edited by Dr. Julian J. Obermann, the codex gives new information in the field of ancient Jewish literature as well as the cultural and religious history of the Middle Ages. It is considered an outstanding literary discovery.

The codex, in ancient manuscript form, is Ibn Shahin’s “Book of Comfort.” Although an Arabic work, it was written for the Jews of the tenth or early eleventh century. Dr. Obermann, who is visiting professor of Semitic languages at Yale and who has spent several years in the study of the manuscript, considers the codex of utmost importance in shedding light on Arabic and Mohametan influence on medieval Judaism.

Ibn Shahin was head of a famous academy of Kairawan in North Africa. In his “Book of Comfort,” he wrote narratives and maxims taken from Hebrew classical literature, which he cast into pure Arabic and put within the framework of contemporary Islamic ideology. Thus, he preserved a considerable bulk of the stories and sayings then current in the Rabbinical academies of the time.

The manuscript was found in the Near East thirty years ago by the late Professor A. Harkavy, who took it to Saint Petersburg. It was subsequently sold, was transported to London, and finally came to New York, the property of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, which placed it at Professor Obermann’s disposal. It is published by the Yale University Press under the auspices of the Kohut Memorial Fund. The volume contains a facsimile of the codex in Hebrew characters and Dr. Obermann’s reconstruction in Arabic script.

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