Ben-Asher, Moses

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BEN-ASHER, MOSES (second half of ninth century), scribe and masorete. Moses was the fourth in the line of well-known masoretes descended from Asher the Elder, and the father of the last, Aaron. A manuscript by him of the Former and Latter Prophets has survived, written, pointed, and furnished with accents and masoretic notes. Found today in the Karaite synagogue in Cairo, it has been photographed a number of times (one photocopy is in Jerusalem). A colophon by Ben-Asher at the end of the manuscript testifies that he wrote it in Tiberias in the year 827 after the destruction of the Second Temple (i.e., 896 c.e.). The manuscript is a beautiful one, embellished with drawings and illuminations, the work of an expert artist, in a style which, according to the latest investigations, constitutes an ancient specimen of Islamic decorative art, older than any extant surviving Koran and thus perhaps the most ancient of this type.

The vowel-points, the accents, and the masoretic notes are marked with the stamp of antiquity, but deviate greatly from the method of pointing of his son Aaron, whose method is nowadays called "the school of Ben-Asher" (see *Ben-Asher, Aaron). A comparison of the readings in the manuscript with the list of variants in the Kitāb al-Khulaf of Mishael b. Uzziel shows that in almost two-thirds of the cases the manuscript follows the reading of *Ben-Naphtali, and only in one-third, that of Aaron Ben-Asher (see *Masorah). At times it also maintains its own independent reading. In about a quarter of the cases in which the two authorities agree, according to Mishael, he differs from both their readings. He points בִּישְׂרָאֵל (Jer. 29:23) and לִירְאָה (Jer. 32:39). Accordingly the Ms. displays a great measure of affinity with what was later termed "the school of Ben-Naphtali." On the other hand it contains a great number of ge'ayot (i.e., metegs; "secondary stress"), more than was usual in other manuscripts of his time, particularly ge'ayot in open syllables (known as ga'ayah gedolah "major ga'ayah"). There are also other anomalies in the pointing, such as some degeshim in the letter בּ/תּלוׁאִּי) א, Jer. 38:12; תלוּאֵּים, Hos. 11:7). It follows that the actual tradition of pointing was not uniform throughout the generations of the Ben-Asher family; it was only the occupation with the masorah that they had in common. Another possibility, suggested by A. Dotan, is that the pointing and accents of the manuscript are by a different scribe and that Moses Ben-Asher only wrote the consonantal text. In any event the fragment entitled "The order of Scripture," which he copied at the end of the manuscript (p. 583), was certainly not written by him.

No other works by Moses have survived, but his name is mentioned in an Arabic genizah fragment (Cambridge, Ms. T.-S. Arabic 9/5): "and Moses Ben-Asher, may God have mercy upon him, has already written a large book.…" Because that fragment also mentions, though without any connection with M. Ben-Asher, the expressions מצותה ("vowel"), אלז׳ מצותאת ("the seven vowels"), Allony conjectured that the large book attributed here to M. Ben-Asher is the anonymous Kitāb al-Muṣawwitāt mentioned in several places in the writings of Jonah *Ibn Janaḥ. Mention of it has also been discovered in Nissim Gaon's Megillat Setarim (see *Nissim b. Jacob b. Nissim), where it is ascribed to Ben-Asher (with no first name). At present there is not sufficient evidence to accept this conjecture. It would appear that he also wrote piyyutim and composed the "Song of the Vine," in which the people of Israel is compared to a vine whose roots are the patriarchs, and from which come forth the prophets and sages. Mention is also made there of the masorah, the accents, and the work of the masoretes. Most of the poem is extant, in three manuscripts (one of which is Ms. Leningrad B 19a); only its end is missing. The initial letters of the remnant verses form the acrostic … משה בן אש ("Moses Ben-Ash…"). This poem contains one of the decisive proofs that M. Ben-Asher was not a Karaite.

In some places the name has been corrupted as a result of a faulty completion of the abbreviation "Ben-Asher," as in the commentary Migdal Oz on Maimonides' Yad, Sefer Torah 8:4, where "Moses Ben-Asher" occurs instead of Aaron, and as in the British Museum manuscript (Or. 4227, p. 274b) where "Moses b. Aaron Ben-Asher, the great scribe," occurs instead of Aaron b. Moses.


J. Saphir, Even Sappir, 1 (1866), 14a–17a; 2 (1874), 185–91; R. Gottheil, in: jqr, 17 (1905), 639–41; E.S. Artom (Hartom), in: Ha-Kinnus ha-Olami le Madda'ei ha-Yahadut, 1 (1952), 190–4; B. Klar, Meḥkarim ve-Iyyunim (1954), 309–14; Pérez Castro, in: Sefarad, 15 (1955), 3–30; A. Dotan, in: Sinai, 41 (1957), 288–91, 295–9, 357–62; idem (ed.), The Diqduqé Haṭṭēʿamim of Ahāron ben Mōse ben Ašér, 1 (1967), 70f.; M. Zucker, in: Tarbiz, 27 (1957/58), 61–82; P.E. Kahle, The Cairo Geniza (19592), 82–86, 91–105; idem, Der hebraeische Bibeltext seit Franz Delitzsch (1961), 51–76; R.H. Pinder Wilson and R. Ettinghausen, ibid., 95–98; N. Allony, in: huca, 35 (1964), 1–35 (Heb. pt.); idem, in: Sefer Segal (1964), 271–91; idem, in: Leshonenu, 29 (1964/65), 9–23, 136–59; I. Yeivin, Keter Aram-Ẓovah (1968), 360f. add. bibliography: D. Levit-Tawil, in: jnes, 53 (1994), 157–93.

[Aron Dotan]