Sambari, Joseph ben Isaac

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SAMBARI, JOSEPH BEN ISAAC (known by the name Qātāya ), Egyptian chronicler, who lived in the 17th century, and was apparently a member of the Cairene, Musta'rib congregation (see *Musta'ribs). Sambari wrote two Hebrew chronicles: Divrei Ḥakhamim, a historical account from Adam to Rabbanan Savorai (see *Savora), that is not extant, and Divrei Yosef, which was completed on January 23, 1673 and is extant in five different manuscripts (= mss.). Two of the mss. contain most of the original written by Sambari, i.e., that of the Alliance Israélite Universelle library (aiu h130a), Paris, and that of the Bodleian (Neubauer Cat., No. 2410), Oxford. An annotated edition of the chronicle was published by Sh. Shtober on the basis of the corpus of the mss. (See Sefer Divrei Yosef [= sdy], Jerusalem: the Ben-Zvi Institute, 1994.) Another book written by Sambari is the Porat Yosef, in which he deals exclusively with the topics of Massorah and biblical cantillation. This work is extant in a unique manuscript in the Alliance Israélite Universelle library (aiu h41a).

There is no information about Sambari's life in any of the sources, and what is known about him is found in Divrei Yosef. He was a pupil of R. Hananiah Barhun, the pupil of R. Abraham Iskandari, and may have been one of the latter's young disciples in *Cairo. According to Sambari's own testimony, Iskandari's rich library aroused in him an intense curiosity in history, and later on he made extensive use of it in writing his works. In the 1660s he earned his livelihood as a clerk or a scribe working for Raphael Joseph, the minister of finance (sarrafbashi) of the governor of Ottoman Egypt. Owing to the close contacts of his patron with *Shabbetai Ẓevi, it is most likely that Sambari himself also became one of the adherents of that messianic movement. The collapse of Shabbateanism after the apostasy of the false messiah had made Sambari disillusioned, and this was one of the main drives that brought about the accomplishment of the sdy in 1673. Sambari began this historical work with the emergence of Islam, presenting the figure of *Muhammad, as seen through Jewish eyes. Henceforth he included the history of the Jewish people in the history of the Islamic nations. The full scope of the eastern Islamic dynasties from the earliest, the *Ummayads to the Ottomans, served him as backdrop to the Jewish historical materials. Sambari's uniqueness lies in the fact that he successfully integrated these two histories, connecting them through the chain of cause and effect. His access to the Arabic material enabled him to enrich the Islamic chapters of his book with the essentials found in the Islamic biographical literature (Sira), in *Hadith traditions and in Muslim historiography. In dealing with the Muslim kingdoms he mainly relied on al-Maqrizi, Ibn Taghri-birdi, and Ibn Zunbul.

The centrality of Egypt in the sdy made Sambari enter into great detail in describing the Jewish settlements that existed in the Nile Valley during the 10th–16th centuries; portraits of their leaders, foremost among them *Maimonides, his descendants and other negidim (i.e., heads of the Jews); the persecutions they had undergone there; and even the hydrological regime of the Nile. Indispensable for an understanding of Jewish life in *Fatimid and *Mamluk Egypt are Sambari's details about the various synagogues in Fustat, Cairo, Jizeh, and other places in the region of the Delta.

Sambari's main sources for his history of the Jews were Yuḥasin by Abraham Zacuto; Shevet Yehudah by Solomon Ibn Virga; Divrei ha-Yamim by Joseph ha-Kohen; Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah by Gedaliah Ibn Yahya, and Seder Eliyahu Zuta by Elijah Capsali, Kore ha-Dorot by David Conforti. He also integrated into his work archival documents, excerpts of Responsa (of Maimonides and R. David Ibn Abi Zimra) and bio-bibliographical notes about prominent sages living in Spain and later on in the Eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire.

As Sambari was imbued with Jewish mysticism, he was fascinated by *Kabbalah, and therefore he depicted outstanding kabbalists who were active in *Safed during the 16th and 17th centuries. Moreover, he includes in his work the complete, most precise, and earliest version of the hagiography of R. Isaac Luria, Sefer Toledot ha-Ari. In the wake of his personal involvement in the messianic experience of his generation, Shabbateanism, Sambari incorporated in the sdy the stories of eight messianic and prophetic figures, beginning with David Alroy and concluding with ha-Ari and Shabbetai Ẓevi. It is especially significant that Sambari wrote down "the story of *Nathan of Gaza who prophesied concerning Shabbetai Ẓevi, his prophet," but unfortunately this has been torn out from the manuscripts of the work.

The circulation of the holograph of Sambari's historical work was very limited in the 17th–19th centuries, and only small sections dealing with the Ottoman sultans, messianic figures and kabbalists were published in Sippur Devarim (Constantinople, 1728) and in Me'ora'ot Olam (Smyrna, 1756). The edition princeps of 1728 was translated into Ladino (Constantinople, 1767), named Sippur Malkhey Otmanlis es declare del Reyno di Otmanjik.


Ashtor, Toledot, index; A. Berliner, Quellenschriften zur juedischen Geschichte und Literatur, 1 (1896), index; idem, in: mwj, 17 (1890), 50–58; W. Fischel, in: Zion, 5 (1939), 204–13; Z H B, 10 (1906), 154; M. Schreiner, in: zdmg, 45 (1891), 295–300; M. Brann, in: mgwj, 44 (1900), 14–24; 138–40; M. Benayahu, Sefer Toledot ha-Ari (1967), 15–18; 123–6; R.A. Ibn Simeon, Tuv Miẓrayim (1908), 19; H.Z. Hirschberg, in: Eretz Israel, 10 (1971); Sh. Shtober (ed.), Sefer Divrei Yosef: Eleven Hundred Years of Jewish History under Muslim Rule (1994); idem, "Muhammad and the Beginnings of Islam in the Chronicle Sefer Divrey Yosef," in: D. Ayalon Festschrift (1986), 319–52; idem., "Divrei ha-Yamim shel ha-Mamlakhot ha-Muslimiyyot be-Sefer Divrei Yosef," in: H. Beinart Festschrift (1988), 415–27; idem, "Mi-Bet ha-Din ha-Yehudi el Bet ha-Din ha-Shari': Ha-Sikhsukh bein ha-Musta'ribim ve-ha-Maghribim be-Kahir ba-Mea'h ha-Shesh-Esreh," in: Meḥkarim be-Aravit ve-Tarbut ha-Islam, 2 (2001), 107–28; H.Z. Hirschberg, "The Agreement between the Musta'ribs and the Maghribis in Cairo 1527," in: S.W. Baron's Jubilee Volume (1974), 577–90; A. Gross, R. Yosef ben Avraham Hayun: Manhig Kehilat Lisbon (1993), 25–27; M. Winter, "Historyon Yehudi ben ha-Me'ah ha-Sheva'-'Esreh," in: Pe'amim, 65 (1995), 154–56.

[Shimon Shtober (2nd ed.)]