Munk, Solomon

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MUNK, SOLOMON

MUNK, SOLOMON (1803–1867), French Orientalist. Born in Glogau, Silesia, Munk studied at the universities of Bonn and Berlin. Realizing that as a Jew he had no academic future in Germany, he left for Paris in 1828. Here he first worked as a tutor in the Rothschild family, but was soon engaged by the Bibliothèque Nationale and put in charge of Semitic manuscripts. His assiduous work with them led to his becoming totally blind by 1850, but it did not prevent 17 more years of fruitful scholarly activity. Before then (1840) he joined the Montefiore-Crémieux delegation to *Egypt – as the latter's secretary and interpreter – which was to intervene in the *Damascus affair. When the Egyptian khedive *Muhammad Ali at last agreed to issue an order to *Damascus to set the falsely accused free, Munk – though some say it was L. Loewe, Montefiore's secretary – detected in the Arabic draft the word "mercy" to be granted, which at the insistence of Crémieux was changed into "freedom and peace." Crémieux and Munk used the opportunity of their visit to persuade Egyptian Jewry to modernize their school system and to bring about a rapprochement between Rabbanites and Karaites. Munk also acquired valuable manuscripts, particularly Karaitica, for the Bibliothèque Nationale. Back in Paris, Munk joined the Consistoire Central and was elected a member of the Académie des Inscriptions et des Belles Lettres. In 1864 he succeeded E. *Renan as professor of Hebrew and Syriac literature at the Collège de France.

Munk devoted himself to the study of the Hebrew and Arabic literature of the Golden Age of *Spain. It was Munk who discovered that the author of the philosophical work Fons Vitae, which had been preserved only in a Latin translation from the Arabic original, and whose author, called Avicebron, was believed to have been either a Muslim or an Arab Christian, was none other than the 11th-century Hebrew poet Solomon ibn *Gabirol. He discovered a manuscript of Shem Tov ibn *Falaquera's Hebrew translation of excerpts from Gabirol's original and identified this with passages in the Latin version (in his Mélanges de philosophie juive et arabe (1857–59; text, translation with an extensive essay on Gabirol, his writings, and philosophy). The crowning work of Munk's life was his three-volume edition of the original Arabic text (in Hebrew characters) of Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed from Paris, Oxford, and Leyden manuscripts with a French translation (Guide des Egarés) and extensive notes (1856–66; Arabic text re-edited by B.J. Joel, 1960). All subsequent translations are based on this classic edition.

bibliography:

G.A. Kohut, Solomon Munk (Eng., 1902); M. Schwab, Salomon Munk (1900); A. Jellinek, Salomon Munk (Ger., 1865); H.S. Morais, Eminent Israelites (1880), 247–52; P. Immanuel, in: S. Federbush (ed.), Ḥokhmat Yisrael be-Eiropah (1965), 239–41; M. Brann, in: jjgl, 2 (1899), 148–203 (44 letters of Munk).