Zarza, Samuel ibn Seneh

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ZARZA, SAMUEL IBN SENEH (14th century), Spanish philosopher. Although there is little information on Zarza's life, it is known that he lived in Palencia, in Castille, in the second half of the 14th century. Samuel Shalom, the first printer of Sefer ha-Yuḥasin (1566), maintains in his notes to that work that Zarza was burned at the stake by the tribunal of Valencia, having been accused by Isaac *Campanton of denying creation. However, historians have proved that this is only a legend.

Zarza wrote a philosophical commentary on the Pentateuch titled Mekor Ḥayyim ("Fountain of Life," Mantua, 1559), containing an epilogue in which he described the sufferings of the Jews of Castile during the period of the civil wars between King Pedro and his brother Henry (see Baer, Urkunden, 2, pt. 1 (1936), no. 209). In 1369 he wrote a philosophical commentary on various aggadot called Mikhlal Yofi ("The Perfection of Beauty," Bodleian Library, Seld. Arch. A. 65). In an introduction to this latter work Zarza wrote that in Toledo alone 10,000 Jews were killed during the period of these civil wars. In Mekor Ḥayyim, Zarza mentioned four other works that he wrote that are no longer extant: Tohorat ha-Kodesh, Eẓe ha-Dat, Ẓeror ha-Mor, and Magen Avraham. Poems in Zarza's honor were written by Solomon Reubeni of Barcelona and Isaac ibn *Al-Ḥadib.

Zarza's philosophical thought is typical, in many respects, of a group of thinkers in his immediate and more distant areas, including Solomon Al-Constantini, Solomon Franco, Shem Tov ibn Shaprut, and Shem Tov ibn Major. Like some of the Torah commentaries of this circle of colleagues, Zarza's Mekkor Ḥayyim is both a commentary on the Torah and a supercommentary on Abraham Ibn Ezra. The commentary, interesting in its own right, is also important on account of the variety of sources cited, including fragments of the lost Bible and aggadah commentaries of Shem Tov ibn *Falaquera. Zarza's philosophy combines the views of Ibn Ezra and Maimonides. For example, he adopted the Maimonidean negative divine attributes and Aristotelian conception of God as thought itself, while at the same time he adopted Ibn Ezra's Neoplatonic cosmology, combining such terms as "universal soul" and Active Intellect. Zarza also displayed a broad view of astral magic, according to which the Torah's commandments are vessels for attracting astral "spiritual influence" (ruḥaniyut). This combination of diverse elements from Maimonidean Aristotelianism, Neoplatonism, and astral magic was characteristic of the 14th-century Neoplatonic school in his area of which Zarza was a major figure.


Baer, Spain, 373, 449; Steinschneider, Cat Bod, 2496–98; R. Jospe, Torah and Sophia: The Life and Thought of Shem Tov ibn Falaquera (1988), Appendix E, "Falaquera's Bible Commentary," 459–84; R. Jospe and D. Schwartz, "Shem Tov ibn Falaquera's Lost Bible Commentary," in: huca, 64 (1993), 167–200; D. Schwartz, The Philosophy of a Fourteenth-Century Jewish Neoplatonic Circle (Heb., 1996), index; idem, Studies on Astral Magic in Medieval Jewish Thought (2005).

[Dov Schwartz (2nd ed.)]