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Ibn Zabara (or Zabarra), Joseph ben Meir


IBN ZABARA (or Zabarra ), JOSEPH BEN MEIR (b. about 1140), physician and Hebrew writer. Born in Barcelona, Ibn Zabara was a contemporary of some of the *Tibbon family, of *Maimonides and of Judah *Al-Ḥarizi; Joseph *Kimḥi praised his scientific knowledge in his Commentary to Proverbs. Like his father, he studied medicine and lived as an honored physician in his native town. Ibn Zabara became known through his Sefer Sha'ashu'im ("Book of Amusements"), one of the best maqamāt written. This book is a literary account of his journey to several countries (southern Spain and Provence) with a physician named Joseph (nicknamed "Einan ha-Shed" in the book) who came from afar and joined Ibn Zabara on the journey. Consisting of a collection of stories and proverbs within the framework of a background story, the intention of Sefer Sha'ashu'im, as the title indicates, is to amuse the reader. As it is usual in the genre, some secular poems are included before and within the prose sections. In this work, Ibn Zabara reveals a considerable knowledge of Arabic literature – the source of most of his proverbs and pithy sayings – and also of the Babylonian and the Jerusalem Talmuds. More than any other work of this type, Sefer Sha'ashu'im shows Greek, Indian, and Arabic influence. Apart from its literary value, this book contains valuable information on medicine and hygiene, natural science, psychology, and physiognomy. The book includes the earliest example of questions and answers on scientific topics in Hebrew rhymed prose. Despite its contents and style value, however, it never had a great influence on Hebrew literature. Ibn Zabara dedicated it to the nasi, Sheshet *Benveniste, physician and adviser to the court of Alfonso ii of Aragon, who died in 1209. The book was first printed in Constantinople (1577) by R. Isaac Akrish, together with other works. In 1865 it was published serially in *Ha-Levanon. A scientific edition was prepared by I. Davidson (first with an introduction in English, 1914, and then with a Hebrew translation of the introduction, 1925). In modern times, the book was translated into English twice (The Book of Delight, by I. Abrahams, 1912, repr. 1980; by M. Hadas, 1932, 1960, with introd. by M. Sherwood); F. Brewer published a selection of it (1975); there is a Catalan translation by I. González Llubera (1931), and a Spanish one by M. Forteza-Rey (1983). Apart from Sefer Sha'ashu'im Ibn Zabara wrote "Battei ha-Nefesh," a didactic poem of 126 verses on anatomy and the functions of the organs in the human body, and a short treatise in prose for physicians. He also wrote an ofan, a piyyut on the angels.


Schirmann, Sefarad, 2 (1956), 11–59; Davidson, Oẓar, 4 (1933), 400, s.v.add. bibliography: Yosefibn Zabara; Pleasant Proverbs of Rabbi Judah, ed. F. Brewer (1975); Llibre d'ensenyaments delectables: Sèfer Xaaixuïm, tr. I. González-Llubera (1931); Libro de los entretenimientos, ed. M. Forteza-Rey (c. 1983); D. Pagis, in: Scripta Hierosolymitana, 27 (1978), 79–98; J. Dishon, Sefer Sha'ashu'im le-Yosef ben Me'ir ibn Zabarah (1985); H. Schwarz baum, in: Studies in Aggadah and Jewish Folklore, (1983), 55–81; A. Schippers, in: Frankfurter Judaistische Beiträge, 26 (1999), 149–61; M. Halévy, in: Mélanges d'histoire de la médecine hébraïque, (2003), 91–110; Schirmann-Fleischer, The History of Hebrew Poetry in Christian Spain and Southern France (1997), 110–29 (Heb.).

[Yehuda Ratzaby /

Angel Sáenz-Badillos (2nd ed.)]

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