Yahuda, Abraham Shalom

views updated


YAHUDA, ABRAHAM SHALOM (1877–1951), Orientalist. Born in Jerusalem of a Baghdad family, Yahuda was taught by his brother isaac ezekiel yahuda, who was 13 years his senior and the author of a comprehensive collection of Arabic proverbs (Mishlei Arav, 1932). At the age of 15 he published his first book (Kadmoniyyot ha-Aravim, "Arabs' Antiquities," 18952). He went to Europe to study Semitics at Heidelberg and Strasbourg, where he was the pupil of Th. *Noeldecke. From 1904 to 1914 Yahuda lectured at the Berlin Hochschule (Lehranstalt) fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums and from then to 1922 was professor at the University of Madrid. During World War i, while in Madrid, he tried to persuade King Alfonso xiii to use his influence with the emperors of Germany and Austria on behalf of the Jews of Ereẓ Israel. These activities were later criticized by Chaim Weizmann in his autobiography Trial and Error to which Yahuda replied in his Dr. Weizmann's Errors on Trial (1952). After 20 years of travel during which time he acquired a valuable collection of books and manuscripts – part of which he later sold to the British Museum – he became professor at the New School for Social Research, New York in 1942. He died in New Haven, Connecticut.

Yahuda's published works include his critical edition of the Arabic text of Bahya ibn Paquda's Duties of the Heart (1912), to which he also wrote Prolegomena as his doctoral thesis (1904); a volume of Hebrew poems (Kol Arvi ba-Midbar, 1903); Bagdadische Sprichwoerter (1906); Jemenische Sprichwoerter aus Sanaa (1911); and a collection of papers on Jewish-Arab relations (Ever ve-Arav, 1946). The publication of his Die Sprache des Pentateuch in ihren Beziehungen zum Aegyptischen (1929; The Language of the Pentateuch in Its Relation to Egyptian (1933); popular English edition The Accuracy of the Bible, 1934), in which he claimed strong Egyptian influence on the language of the Pentateuch – particularly in the stories of Joseph, the exile in Egypt, and the Exodus – produced worldwide discussion, but his theories were rejected by Bible and Oriental scholars as well as Egyptologists. Yahuda himself did not change his views, which he continued to proclaim in lectures.

A considerable part of Yahuda's library was bequeathed to the Jewish National and University Library. It contains about 1,500 manuscripts, mostly Arabic, but some hundreds are in Hebrew and other languages; some are illuminated and very valuable.

[Martin Meir Plessner]