Shemariah ben Elijah ben Jacob

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SHEMARIAH BEN ELIJAH BEN JACOB (Ikriti ; 1275–1355), philosopher and biblical commentator. Though probably born in Rome, he is known as Ikriti ("the Cretan") because, when he was still a child, his family moved to Crete, where his father had been called as a rabbi; he is also known as ha-Yevani ("the Greek"). Shemariah knew Greek, Italian, and Latin, and is noted for being the first medieval Jew to translate Greek literature directly from the original and not from Arabic or Hebrew translations, as had been done previously. Until the age of 30, the only Hebrew literature he knew was the Bible; only later did he study Talmud and philosophy. Invited to the court of Robert, king of Naples, he engaged in biblical studies and wrote philosophical commentaries (until 1328). His manner of interpretation satisfied even the Karaites, and, in the hope of reconciling them with the Rabbanites, he went to Spain in 1352. There, however, certain accusations were leveled against him, including the charge that he regarded himself as a messiah. He died in prison.

In Ha-Mora (1346), Shemariah attacked the opinions on creation of the philosophers; in his book Amaẓyahu he also attacked philosophy. Other works include Elef ha-Magen (a commentary on the tales and legends contained in the tractate Megillah, S.M. Schiller-Szenesy, Catalogue Cambridge Ms. 33/2), books on logic and grammar, biblical commentaries, and liturgical and secular poems, some of which were written in honor of David b. Joshua, a descendant of Maimonides.


Geiger, in: He-Ḥalutz, 2 (1853), 25f., 158–60; idem, in: Oẓar Neḥmad, 2 (1857), 90–94; Zunz, Lit Poesie, 366f.; Stein-schneider, Uebersetzungen 1 (1893), 499; Vogelstein-Rieger, 1 (1896), 446–50; Davidson, Oẓar, 4 (1933), 488; A.Z. Aescoly, Ha-Tenu'ot ha-Meshiḥiyyot be-Yisrael, 1 (1956), 220ff.; C. Roth, Jews in the Renaissance (1959), 71; Baer, Spain, 1 (1961), 359, 447.

[Zvi Avneri]