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Dunash Ibn Tamim


DUNASH IBN TAMIM (c. 890–after 955/6), North African scholar, known also as Adonim , the Hebrew form of Dunash, and by the Arabic surname Abu Sahl . (The descriptive adjective shaflagi appended to his name by Moses *Ibn Ezra is inexplicable.) Dunash was from Kairouan, and studied with Isaac *Israeli, to whom he undoubtedly owed the greater part of his intellectual development. The philosophical and theological parts of his commentary on the Sefer *Yeẓirah reflect the neoplatonism of Israeli's philosophical thinking. Dunash probably also received from Israeli his medical knowledge, displayed authoritatively especially in the last pages of his commentary. Dunash also demonstrates a thorough knowledge of certain theories of Arabic grammar, chiefly theories of phonetics. In addition to astronomy, of which he had made a special study, this commentary shows that he had read treatises derived from Greek sources on physics and the natural sciences. Dunash is thought to be the author of several works (all probably in Arabic). The following three are no longer extant: (1) a comparative study of Arabic and Hebrew, in which the author tries to prove the antiquity of Hebrew, and which is mentioned or quoted by Judah *Ibn Bal'am, Abu Ibrahim Isak *Ibn Barun, Moses *Ibn Ezra, and Abraham *Ibn Ezra, but in deprecatory terms; (2) a book on Indian calculus, probably bearing the title Ḥisab al-Gubar; and (3) a treatise on astronomy in three parts (structure of the spheres, mathematical astronomy, and astrology, probably critical). The last was written at the request of *Ḥisdai ibn Shaprut; another edition or copy was dedicated by Dunash to the Fatimid caliph al-Mansur Ismail ibn al Qayyim. Extant in manuscript is a treatise on the armillary sphere, an astronomical instrument, dedicated to a high Fatimid dignitary and written in Arabic characters (as opposed to other Arabic writings in Hebrew script; Hagia Sophia Ms. 4861). There are vague allusions to a commentary on the first chapter of Genesis. The Arab physician Ibn al-Baytar (d. 1248) refers to a medical work by Dunash, and there are other references to a "Book on Urine" as well.

The commentary on the Sefer Yeẓirah, mentioned above, was written in 955/6. Attempts made to attribute this work to Isaac Israeli or Jacob b. Nissim may be disregarded. To date, the Cairo Genizah has yielded only about one-third of the Arabic original of this text; it has been preserved fully in four Hebrew versions: the first by Nahum ha-Ma'aravi (c. 1240); the second by Moses b. Joseph b. Moses (somewhat earlier), based on the complete Arabic editions; the third by an anonymous author, probably of the 14th century, from a shorter Arabic text of perhaps the mid-11th century; and the fourth by another anonymous author of unknown date, from an Arabic abridgment, possibly of 1092.

Dunash's exegetical method in Sefer Yeẓirah is scientific. He succeeded in incorporating in his commentary much of the knowledge of his day without losing sight of the influence of philosophic and scientific truths on religion. He dealt with such truths as an incorporeal God, creator of a perfectly regulated universe, a hierarchy of souls of the spheres, and prophetic inspiration, said to coincide in its highest degree, as in the case of Moses, with Plotinian ecstasy. Dunash did not hesitate to criticize *Saadiah Gaon's commentary on the Sefer Yeẓirah; however, these criticisms have been attenuated or suppressed in some of the Hebrew versions. Dunash's commentary enjoyed some renown in the 12th century when *Judah b. Barzillai, Joseph ibn *Ẓaddik, and perhaps *Judah Halevi made use of it. It is mentioned several times in the 13th century, particularly by Abraham *Abulafia; it was copied with slight alterations c. 1370 by Samuel ibn Motot, and traces of it are found among 15th-century authors, such as Ẓemaḥ Duran, Isaac Halayo (unpublished sermons on the Song of Songs, Paris, Ms. Heb. 228), and *Moses b. Jacob (Oẓar Adonai, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms. Opp. 556). However, Dunash's work, like that of Isaac Israeli, his teacher, played only a secondary role in the history of Jewish thought.


Poznański, in: Zikkaron le-Harkavy (1903), 190–2; H. Malter, Saadia Gaon, His Life and Works (1921), index; Vajda, in: rej, 105 (1939), 132–140; 107 (1946–47), 99–156; 110 (1949–50), 67–92; 112 (1953), 5–33; 113 (1954), 37–61; 119 (1961), 159–61; Goldziher, ibid., 52 (1906), 187–90; G. Vajda, in: Annuaire de l'Institut de Philologie et d'Histoire Orientale et Slaves, 13 (1953), 641–52; Stern, in: Homenaje a Millás Vallicrosa, 2 (1956), 373–82 (Eng.); A. Altmann and S.M. Stern (eds.), Isaac Israeli (1958), index; Baron, Social2, index.

[Georges Vajda]

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