Alfasi, David ben Abraham

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ALFASI, DAVID BEN ABRAHAM (Ar. Abu Suleiman Dā ʾūd ibn Ibrahim Al-Fāsī ; tenth century), Karaite grammarian and commentator. Alfasi, who came from Fez, Morocco, spent a number of years in Ereẓ Israel where he composed a Hebrew-Arabic lexicon of the Bible (Kitāb Jāmiʿ al-Alfāẓ). The dictionary is extant in both a long and a short version, which was published in a critical edition by Skoss (see bibl.). The exact relationship between the two is not clear yet and needs further investigation. The dictionary consists of 22 chapters, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The entries are arranged according to the principle of bi-literal roots. He cites the translations of Onkelos and Jonathan b. Uzziel by name or refers to them as al-Targum, al-Suryānī, or al-Mutarjim. He also quotes the Mishnah and the Talmud, the masorah and the Rabbanite siddur. Alfasi mentions *Saadiah twice as "al-Fayyūmī," but he frequently uses and criticizes his commentaries without mentioning his name. He often designates the Bible al-Qurʾān or al-Kitāb (the Scriptures) and the Jewish scholars, al-Rabbānīn or al-Rabbūnīn, as was customary among Karaite authors. Alfasi's dictionary is one of the earliest and most important for the investigation of the history of Hebrew philology. The author reveals a fine sense for language and a profound, and, for his time, comprehensive, knowledge of ancient Hebrew linguistics. One of the important aspects of the dictionary is the comparative one: He quotes numerous parallels between biblical Hebrew and Aramaic, Arabic (both literary and spoken), and mishnaic Hebrew, many of which tally with those found in the Risāla of Judah b. Quraysh (whom the author does not mention), and many which have been accepted by present-day philologists. Alfasi explains many roots by metathesis or permutation of letters. He follows the Tiberian systems and the Palestinian grammarians as to the masoretic text, vocalization, and accents. The dictionary contains a wealth of information pertaining to early Karaite Bible exegesis as well as historical and material conditions in Ereẓ Israel in Alfasi's time. Compendia of the short version were compiled successively by *Levi b. Japheth, Eli b. Israel, and *Ali b. Suleiman (and were incorporated by Skoss in the apparatus of his edition). Alfasi's commentaries on the Psalms and the Song of Songs have not been preserved.


S. Pinsker, Likkutei Kadmoniyyot, 1 (1860), 117 ff., 223 ff.; S.L. Skoss, Hebrew-Arabic Dictionary of the Bible of David Abraham al-Fasi, 1 (1936), introd.; 2 (1945); ej, 3 (1929), 273–5 (includes detailed bibliography). add. bibliography: A. Maman, Comparative Semitic Philology in the Middle Ages: From Sa'adiah Gaon to Ibn Barun (10th–12th c.) (2004), passim, esp. 182–275; G. Khan, in: M. Polliack (ed.), Karaite Judaism: A Guide to Its History and Literary Sources (2003), 291–318.

[Solomon Leon Skoss]