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Maqāma

MAQĀMA

MAQĀMA (pl. maqāmāt), a narrative in rhymed prose, a collection of short independent stories interlaced with short metrical poems. The maqāma originated in about the tenth century c.e. with the Arab poet Ibn al-Fātiḥ Aḥmad ibn Ḥusaynī (Al-Hamdhānī) and reached its peak with al-Ḥarīrī of Bosra (c. 1054–1112). It was imitated in different languages (Persian, Hebrew, Syriac) and times. Derived from the Arabic word maqām ("place"; cf. Hebrew makom), maqāma refers to the public place where people gathered to listen to rhetoric; it has been translated also as "assemblies" or "sessions," alluding to the meetings themselves. In Hebrew the accepted name for this genre is maḥberet (pl. maḥbarot). In all the languages in which it was written it meant a relatively later variation in respect to the conventions of poetry that usually preceded this genre in prose. In later times it was considered no less valuable, and even more difficult, than poetry, involving its own style, content, and peculiarities. The maqāma was a very imaginative art of writing, full of extravagant, mannered rhetoric with a large amount of humor, and its stories included realistic or caricatured characters that could never have been introduced in a poem. It was also less formal and conventional than poetry, more realistic, like many other cultural manifestations of medieval society. However, the literary study of these compositions, and of Hebrew rhymed prose in general, has been, in the words of D. Pagis, "sorely neglected."

The classical maqāma was created when a narrator described the particular behavior of a talented and quick-witted hero, skillful at mockery and jest, who appeared at the "place," in the middle of the "assembly," flaunting his erudition, particularly in language and literature, and delighting listeners (and ultimately readers) with humorous remarks and stories. At the "place" he frequently encountered an acquaintance of similar abilities or the narrator himself. The two, pretending not to know each other, would engage in an amusing conversation which culminated in the mutual recognition of their friendship.

Hebrew classical maqāma has a rather fixed structure, with different episodes or adventures of the protagonist told by the literary narrator. A narrative frame, creating a background and describing the scene, and a more or less conventional conclusion, encloses the details of the different episodes. The language used is pure biblical Hebrew, constituted many times by a mosaic of biblical quotations (shibbuẓ) that receive a completely new meaning.

Shortly after they were introduced as spoken expressions, maqāmāt were put into writing. In the course of time other humorous stories and pieces in rhymed prose began to be called maqāmāt even though they did not contain the typical gay talk of the classical maqāma. Scholars today, however, have very different attitudes in respect to the use of the name "maqāma" for all kinds of narrative texts in rhymed prose. It is true that even the Arabic maqāma changed notably with different times and places: for instance, in al-Andalus artistic storytelling created new forms, including long narratives with single plots. In Hebrew literature from the 12th to 15th centuries there are narratives that do not have all the characteristics of the classic Arabic maqāma, and it is disputed among researchers whether we should use the same name for this kind of composition, or if they have to be classified as maqāma-like narratives, as many literary historians prefer today.

The author of the first known Hebrew maqāma is Solomon ibn Zakbel (*Ibn Sahl) who lived in Muslim Spain during the first half of the 12th century. Later authors of Hebrew works in this genre are Joseph *Ibn Zabara, who wrote Sefer ha-Sha'ashu'im and *Judah ibn Shabbetai, who wrote Minḥat Yehudah Sone ha-Nashim. However, the greatest writer of the Hebrew maqāma is Judah *Al-Ḥarizi. After translating into Hebrew, under the title Mahbarot Itti'el, the maqāmāt of Al-Ḥarīrī (adapting their content and language to his audience), he wrote in Hebrew the Taḥkemoni, which contains 50 maqāmāt. Al-Ḥarizi said that he composed this book to prove that it was possible to use Arabic literary forms in Hebrew. Al-Ḥarizi greatly influenced such later Hebrew poets as Abraham ibn Ḥasdai, Jacob b. Eleazar, and Immanuel of Rome. Particularly worthy of mention is Isaac ibn *Sahula whose Meshalha-Kadmoni (compiled in 1281), based on Jewish themes, was written in conscious contrast to the Arabic maqāmā. Following some Arabic models, from the 13th century a special type of maqāmāt also appears in Hebrew: the symbolic or allegoric one, represented, for instance, by the "Scroll of the Fawns" by Eliyahu ha-Kohen (ed. by Z. Malachi, 1986), continued in some narratives of Mattathias (15th century) or Tanhum Yerushalmi (Orient, 16th century).

The Hebrew style of the maqāma, especially of those written in later periods, has occasionally appealed to contemporary authors, the best example being Bialik's Alluf Baẓlut ve-Alluf Shum ("Lord Onion and Lord Garlic").

bibliography:

C. Brockelmann, in: ei, 3 (1936), 174–7; H.A.R. Gibb, Arabic Literature (1963), 100–2, 123–5; I. Perez (ed.), Maḥbarot Itti'el (1951), 13–17; I. Goldziher, Kiẓẓur Toledot ha-Sifrut ha-Aravit (1952), 81f.; A.M. Habermann, Toledot ha-Piyyut ve-ha-Shirah (1970), 194–6, 201–7; N. Gubrin in: Me'assef le-Divrei Sifrut, Bikkoret ve-Hagut, 8–9 (1968), 394–417. add. bibliography: Y. Ratzaby, Yalkut ha-Maqama ha-Ivrit, Sippurim be-Ḥaruzim (1974); F. De la Granja, Maqāmas y risālas andaluzas (1976); D. Pagis, in: Scripta Hierosolymitana, 27 (1978), 79–98; C. del Valle (tr.), Las asambleas de los sabios: (Taḥkĕmoní) (c. 1988); Z. Malachi, in: Maḥanayim, 1 (1991), 176–79; idem, in: Aharon Mirsky Jubilee Volume: Essays on Jewish Culture (1986), 317–41; idem, in: R. Nettler (ed.) Medieval and Modern Perspectives on Muslim-Jewish Relations (1995), 127–58;J. Dishon, in: The Heritage of the Jews of Spain (1994), 65–75; Y. Yahalom, in: Israel Levin Jubilee Volume,i (1994), 135–54; M. Huss, in: Tarbiz, 65 (1996), 19–79; idem, Meliẓat Efer ve-Dinah le-Don Vidal Benbenesht: Pirkei Iyyun u-Mahadurah Bikortit (2002); J. Hämeen-Anttila, in: Asiatische Studien/Études Asiatiques, 51 (1997), 577–99; Schirmann-Fleischer, The History of Hebrew Poetry in Christian Spain and Southern France (Hebrew; 1997), 93ff.); R. Drory, in: The Literature of Al-Andalus (2000), 190–210; D.S. Segal (tr.), Judah ben Solomon al-Harizi, The Book of Taḥkemoni: Jewish Tales from Medieval Spain (2001); N. Katsumata, in: Middle Eastern Literatures, 5:2 (2002), 117–37; R. Loewe (ed.), Isaac Ibn Sahula, Meshal Haqadmoni: Fables from the Distant Past: A Parallel Hebrew-English Text (2004).

[Abraham Meir Habermann /

Angel Sáenz-Badillos (2nd ed.)]

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