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Samuel Ha-Nagid

SAMUEL HA-NAGID

SAMUEL HA-NAGID (Ismail ibn Nagrelʿa ; 993–1055 or 1056), vizier of *Granada, statesman, poet, scholar, and military commander. The meteoric rise and political and military career of Samuel ha-Nagid marks the highest achievement of a Jew in medieval Muslim Spain. Samuel was born in Córdoba to a prominent family which originally came from Merida. He received an excellent Jewish and general education, including training in Arabic and the Koran, and studied halakhah under *Ḥanokh b. Moses of Cordoba. While a young man, he made his first allusions to his Davidic descent, a belief which inspired his confidence in his rise to power and his career. In 1013 Samuel was among those forced to flee Cordoba in the wake of the Berber conquest. According to the 12th-century historian, Abraham *Ibn Daud, he opened a spice shop in Malaga, and shortly afterward, was approached by a maidservant of Ibn al-ʿArīf, kātib (secretary) to the vizier of Granada, who asked him to write letters to her master. The vizier was so favorably impressed by Samuel's Arabic style that he advised King Ḥabbūs, the Berber ruler of Granada, to appoint Samuel to his staff (Ibn Daud, Tradition, 72–73). Samuel advanced from tax collector to kātib (after Ibn al-ʿArīf 's death) to assistant to the vizier Abu al-ʿAbbas in 1020. Later he himself became vizier. In 1027 the Jews conferred upon him the title nagid of Spanish Jewry. In 1038, after Ḥabbūs' death, a struggle for succession between his sons Bādis and Bullugin took place. With Samuel's aid, Bādis eventually won the throne. As a result of this steadfast loyalty, Samuel became the leading influence on Bādis.

Much of Samuel's work as vizier entailed leading the army of Granada, which was occupied in constant warfare with Arab Seville. It was indeed remarkable that a Jew stood at the helm of a Muslim army, which from 1038 to 1056 (the span of Samuel's command) knew only two years of respite from fighting. A major source of information on Samuel's campaigns is his poetry in the Diwan, some of which is addressed to his son *Jehoseph ha-Nagid. Samuel is credited as having introduced poetry of war and battle into Hebrew literature. In 1038–39 Samuel fought his first major battle, against the army of Almeria, ruled by Zuhayr, a Slav, and his fanatic Arab vizier Ibn ʿAbbās. Both were killed and Samuel's victory elicited the celebration of a special "Purim" by Granada's Jews. In 1039 a heroic victory over Seville – celebrated in a poem – took place around Carmona; the latter was finally taken in 1043. In 1042 Samuel successfully came to the aid of Lorca in eastern Spain. His difficult campaigns against Abu Nūr of Ronda in 1045 and against Malaga in 1049 resulted in narrow escapes from death. In the 1050s Samuel was constantly on the move throughout Andalusia, fighting against Seville and her allies. His triumphs were viewed by the Jews as national victories. The constant travel weakened him considerably and in 1055–56 he died on a campaign. His position was inherited by his ill-fated son Jehoseph.

In addition to being a poet (see below) Samuel was a halakhist and communal leader. His major work in halakhah, Sefer Hilkheta Gavrata (published as Hilkhot ha-Nagid, ed. by M. Margaliot, 1962), is a compilation and explanation of halakhah based on both Talmuds, the decisions of the geonim (sometimes criticized), Midrash, and the She'iltot of *Aḥai of Shabḥa. To judge from the surviving fragments, it was written in Aramaic and Hebrew and possibly partly in Arabic. Hilkheta Gavrata apparently was completed in 1049, though parts appeared earlier, and directly influenced later Spanish halakhists such as Isaac *Ibn Ghayyat, Isaac *Alfasi, and *Judah al-Bargeloni. Its appearance was viewed by some, including the poet Solomon ibn *Gabirol, as the victory of the Spanish grandee over *Hai Gaon of Pumbedita. Accused of insulting the gaonate, Samuel wrote a poetic apology acknowledging its supremacy. Abraham ibn Daud, however, cites Samuel as one of "the first of the generation of the rabbinate" (Ibn Daud, Tradition, 78) who marked the end of the geonic predominance in talmudic and halakhic scholarship. The Nagid was also the author of criticism of the Koran, which was cited by a contemporary Muslim author. After reading the latter's version of Samuel's critique, the Arab historian-philosopher, Ibn Ḥazm, wrote a bitter polemic against it.

As leader of Spanish Jewry Samuel corresponded with the important contemporary scholars, including R. *Ḥushi'el, R. *Hananel, and R. Nissim of Kairouan, whose daughter married Samuel's son Jehoseph. His relations with the Babylonian gaonate were generally good. While no correspondence between Hai Gaon and the Nagid has been discovered, Hai's successor, the exilarch *Hezekiah b. David, was a friend of Samuel. He also maintained friendly relations with the Palestinian communities, supplying the synagogues in Jerusalem with olive oil (ibid., 75). Samuel was one of the patrons of Solomon ibn Gabirol, who addressed the Nagid as "my father, my rider, my chariot," and dedicated several poems to him.

As Poet

Samuel's poems have come down in three works: Ben Tehillim, Ben Mishlei, and Ben Kohelet. The poems are refined and reflect profound worldly wisdom, as well as the many facets of his life as Jew, father, intellectual, nagid, vizier, and military commander. Samuel's poetry is more developed and diversified than that of his contemporaries, the first generation of Hebrew poets in Spain. His war poems, which evince great skill in creating epics, are unique in Hebrew poetry. The pleasures and vanities of life, which he knew well, stimulated his poetic inspiration. Besides poems devoted to love and wine, he composed poems of praise and glory, friendship and polemic, mourning and holiness, wisdom, morality, and meditation. Just as he wrote of wine and victory, he wrote of the illnesses of his children, and of the death of his brother Isaac. A literary artist of high order, his sure command of language is demonstrated by the great variety of subjects he chose for poetic expression. Despite the success he attained through his poetry, worldly wisdom, and pleasant manners, he was never content: the canker of melancholy continually gnawed at him. Even in his poems of love and wine a note of pessimism is sounded. He saw in the suffering of the Jews in exile his own personal suffering, and the poems reveal his yearning for Zion. At the royal court many secretly envied him and others were openly hostile. In their quest for royal favor these courtiers often acted treacherously, shifting or betraying loyalties without hesitation.

Just as he influenced the poets of his day so too they influenced him. He translated poems from Arabic and also composed in that language. The boasting and self-exaltation traditional to medieval Arabic and Hebrew poetry are recognizable in Samuel's poems, but to a more limited degree than in the work of other poets, such as Solomon ibn Gabirol. As was usual in those times, Samuel's poems were read at gatherings of poets, some of whom found them faulty in grammar and style, while others praised their novelty and inventiveness. Samuel bestowed gifts on his favorite poets, who then praised him in their poems; those from whom he withheld his generosity deprecated his poetry.

In 11th-century Granada no one was considered educated unless he could compose poetry. Children copying the poems of their father also characterized Arabic culture at that time. For these and other reasons Samuel educated his children to value and study poetry. He charged his sons with the copying and arranging of his poems and paid them for each completed work. When they performed their task well he praised them. Samuel had three sons and one daughter. Of the daughter and the son, Judah, nothing is known, but both probably died during their father's lifetime. The most beloved of his children was the first born, Jehoseph, regarded by Samuel as his successor. Jehoseph began to copy his father's poems (Ben Tehillim) at the age of eight and a half. Another son, Eliasaf, also copied his father's poems (Ben Kohelet), beginning when he was only slightly more than six years old. The children added captions descriptive of the poetry's contents and origins. Ben-Mishlei, a book of poems, was dedicated by Samuel to Jehoseph and Eliasaf.

The poems were copied many times during the Middle Ages, and it appears that Samuel himself took pains to ensure that they were circulated among knowledgeable people. The first author to refer to his poems was Moses *Ibn Ezra in Shirat Yisrael (66). Samuel's non-sacred poetry, however, came to be known only in the 19th century. The first to publish a substantial number of the poems was A.E. Harkavy (St. Petersburg, 1879). The three volumes of his poetry were published by David S. Sassoon (Oxford, 1934). Only in later editions did these works appear with vocalization and commentaries, as in the diwan containing Ben Tehillim (1947) published by A.M. Habermann, and in Ben Mishlei (1948) and Ben Kohelet (1953) issued by S. Abramson. New editions of the "Shirei ha-Milḥamah" (1963) and the diwan (1966) were published by A.M. Habermann and Dov Yarden respectively.

bibliography:

A. Harkavy, in: Me'assef, 1 (1902), 1–56; R. Dozy, Spanish Islam (1913), 607–53; idem, Histoire des Musulmans d'Espagne, 3 (1932), 18–20; Lévi Provençal, in: Al-Andalus, 3 (1835), 233ff.; Schirmann, Sefarad, 1 (1954), 79–168; 2 (1956), 678; idem, in: Zion, 1 (1935), 761–83, 357–76; idem, in: Heśperis, 35 (1948), 163–88; idem, in: jsos, 13 (195l), 99–126; Stern, in: Zion, 15 (1950), 135–45; D. Jarden, Divan Shemu'el ha-Nagid (1966), with complete bibliography; Ratzaby, in: Bar Ilan, 4–5 (1967), 160–80; E.I. Weinberger, Jewish Prince in Modern Spain: Selected Poems of Samuel ibn Nagrela (1973). add. bibliography: R. Ayoun, in: D. Tollet (ed.), Politique et religion dans le judaïsme anciens et médiéval, (1989), 209–24.

[Abraham Meir Habermann]

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