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In the Court of Ya'qūb Ibn Killis: A Fragment from the Cairo Genizah

Mark R. Cohen and Sasson Somekh
The Jewish Quarterly Review
Vol. 80, No. 3/4 (Jan. - Apr., 1990), pp. 283-314
DOI: 10.2307/1454972
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1454972
Page Count: 32
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In the Court of Ya'qūb Ibn Killis: A Fragment from the Cairo Genizah
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Abstract

The discovery in the Cairo genizah of fragments of a Judaeo- Arabic treatise containing the first mention in a Jewish source of the famous Fatimid vizier of Jewish origin, Ya'qūb ibn Killis (d. 991), reveals a previously unknown facet of the vizier's relationship with Jews and of his attitude toward Judaism. The fragments present an account of the vizier's weekly court (majlis), described in Muslim sources as a learned study session attended by scholars, jurists, theologians, and others. These genizah fragments relate how at one such session attended by Jewish scholars, Rabbanite and Karaite alike, the vizier used an Arabic translation of Saadiah Gaon's "Siddur," and joined by the attending Muslims, heaped ridicule on Jewish prayers and beliefs. In response, one Jewish scholar in attendance composed a treatise defending Judaism against these hostile attacks. These genizah fragments comprise eight consecutive pages from the beginning of that treatise and contain both the author's account of why he wrote the treatise and the first few pages of it, which reflect, among other things, language and themes found in contemporaneous Arab-Greek philosophy. Most striking, however, is the pervasive presence of Saadiah Gaon in the first four pages of the treatise (the ones published below). Saadiah's "Siddur" occupies center stage in the Muslim-Jewish debate at the court of Ibn Killis. Our author paraphrases the "Siddur" in the proem to his treatise. He echoes phraseology from Saadiah's philosophic work, "The Book of Beliefs and Convictions." Significantly, he quotes the Hebrew Bible in Saadiah's Arabic translation. This peculiarity is explained by the fact that the treatise was orginally composed "in Arabic script and language," in other words, for a Muslim audience. The genizah fragments, however, belong to a Judaeo- Arabic transcription of that book, apparently compiled for Jewish readers.

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