Duran, Profiat (Ephodi)

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Jewish controversialist, exegete, and grammarian; b. c. 1350, in southern France or Spain; d. c. 1415, probably in the East. The Duran family, of which he was the most famous member, came, it seems, originally from Provence. His full Jewish name was Isaac ben Moses ha-Levi. The original spelling of the name Profiat was Profeit or Profet (i.e., prophet). As an anti-Christian writer he used the pseudonym Ephodi, from the initials of the Hebrew phrase, ănî prōpēt dûrān (I am Profiat Duran).

Most of the first half of his life was spent in Catalonia, where he served for a while as tutor in the house of his friend, Hasdai crescas. Here he witnessed the great Spanish persecution of the Jews in 1391, when many of them sought Baptism for the sake of remaining in Spain. But most of these Jews became Catholics merely in appearance, while they continued to practice their old religion in secret. Duran was one of these marranos, as such Jews were called by the populace in contempt of their motive for professing Christianity. (The Spanish in quisition, begun in 1480, was aimed at these pseudoconverts from Judaism and Islam.)

Soon after his Baptism, however, Duran succeeded in leaving for Palestine, where he returned to the religion of his forefathers, and it is to this event that his most famous writing is related. In 1396 he wrote a letter known from its first words as 'al tehî ka'ăbôtèkā (Be Not Like Thy Fathers). It was addressed to his friend, David Bonet Bongiorno, another new "convert" from Judaism who also had decided to flee to Palestine to escape persecution. The letter was written after David, convinced by the eloquent Jewish convert, Paul of Burgos, that he should remain in the Catholic Church, informed Duran by letter of the reversal of his earlier decision. Duran's answer was a masterpiece of satire directed against the Jewish converts. So clever and biting was it that its true nature was at first not recognized by Christians, who published it, under the title Alteca Boteca, as a genuine defense of Christianity. The letter was first printed at Constantinople in 1554.

Of greater scientific value is Duran's Ma'ăśēh 'ēpōd (The Fashioning of the Ephod ), a Hebrew grammar, finished in 1403. This work, with its lexigraphical introduction, endeavored to base Hebrew grammar on philosophical linguistics, rather than on empirical examination of the language. Other writings of Duran include a minor astronomical work on the calendar, a commentary on the Môrēh N ebûkîm (Guide to the Perplexed ) of maimonides (Moses ben Maimon), and commentaries on several books of the Bible.

Bibliography: b. suler, Encyclopedia Judaica: Das Judentum in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Berline 192834) 6:123128. m. kayserling, The Jewish Encyclopedia, ed. j. singer (New York 190106) 5:16. h. h. graetz, History of the Jews, ed. b. lÖwy (Philadelphia 189198) 4:188190. s. gronemann, De Profiatii Duranii (Efodaci) (Breslau 1869). p. duran, Maaseh Efod, ed. j. friedlÄnder and j. kohn (Vienna 1865), introduction 212.

[a. brunot]