Joseph Zabara and His "Book of Delight"

I. Abrahams
1894 Jewish Quarterly Review  
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more » ... out Early Journal Content at http://about.jstor.org/participate--jstor/individuals/early-journal--content. JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not--for--profit organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. 502 The Jewish Quarterly Review. JOSEPH ZABARA AND HIS "BOOK OF DELIGHT." JOSEPH ZABARA1 has only in recent times received the consideration due to him as a poet. Yet his Book of Delight, finished about the year 1200,2 is more than a poetical romance. It is a golden link between folkliterature and imaginative poetry. The poem is of considerable length; but while the framework is original, the stories and sayings, which are incidentally introduced, are compiled, not invented. Hence, to the folklorist, the poem is as valuable as to the literary critic. For though Zabara's compilation is similar to such well known models as the Book of Sindibad, the Kalilah Vedimnah, and others of the class, yet its appearance in Europe is half a century earlier than the translations by which those other products of the East became part of the popular literature of the Western world. Thus, at the least, the Book of Delight is an important addition to the scanty store of the folk-lore records of the early part of the thirteenth century. As a poet and writer of Hebrew, Joseph Zabara's place The Constantinople edition spells the name MflNX, the Paris edition NIXt, Joseph Kimchi (Ozar NVeehmad, I. 106), spells it in the former manner. See also Hamazkir, viii. 89. But, for the whole question of Kimohi's supposed citation of Zabara, see Steinschneider in Hanmazkir, xiii. 106 and 113, especially the latter place, where much information will be found. On the identification of '13? with Zabara, see Sachs' Introduction to the Paris edition, and Steinschneider's Die Hebr. Uebersetz., pp. 441 and 989. Senior Sachs gives some reasons for holding that the poet's father was named Meir. 2 I fix this date by a phrase used in the Constantinople edition. Here Sheshet Benvenisto is described by Zabara as IpTlH M3, (the phrase is absent from the Paris edition). Sheshet Benveniste (Graetz, Geschicete, VI. note 1) was born in 1131. He would thus not be seventy until 1201, and Zabara would hardly have used the term Iptl unless Sheshet was turned seventy. Joseph Zcbara and his "Book of Delight." is equally significant. He was probably the first' to write Hebrew in rhymed prose, with interspersed snatches of verse,2 the form invented by Arabian poets, and much esteemed as the medium for story-telling, and for writing social satire. The best and best-known specimens of this form of poetry in Hebrew, are Charizi's Tachkemoni, and his translation of Hariri. But, though Zabara has less art than Charizi, and far less technical skill, yet in him are all the qualities in the bud which Charizi's poems present in the full-blown flower. The reader of Zabara feels that other poets will develop his style and surpass him; the reader of Charizi knows of a surety that in him the style has reached its climax. Of Joseph Zabara little is known beyond what may be gleaned from a discriminating study of the Book of Delight. That this romance is largely an autobiography in fact, just as it is in form, there can be no reasonable doubt. The poet writes with so much indignant warmth of the people of certain cities, of their manner of life, their morals and their culture, that one can only infer that he is relatilng his personal experiences. That Zabara, like the hero of his romance, travelled much during the latter portion of the twelfth century, is known from the researches of Geiger.3 He was born in Barcelona, and returned there to die. But in the interval, we find him an apt pupil of Joseph Kimchi, in Narbonne. Joseph Kimchi, the founder of the famous Kimchi family, carried to Provence the culture of Spain; 1 Mr. Joseph Jacobs, to whom I owe many valuable suggestions, has proved that Berachya Nakdan, who also wrote in rhymed prose, lived at the end of the twelfth century. It is thus doubtful whether to him or to Zabara belongs the distinction of introducing this form into Hebrew. It has been conjectured that Berachya visited Narbonne, where Zabara also studied under Joseph Kimchi. It is possible that the latter was the inventor of the style. 2
doi:10.2307/1450057 fatcat:3loc2allbfablbfwick4uexmvu