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Abstract

The present dissertation aims to present a detailed intellectual portrait of Tanḥum b. Joseph Ha-Yerushalmi (d. 1291, in Fusṭāṭ, Egypt). Tanḥum was an accomplished exegete and lexicographer, who engaged profoundly with the intellectual currents of his day. A late heir of the Andalusian exegetical tradition of biblical exegesis, and an avid Maimonidean, Tanḥum also exhibited an interest in Sufi discourse. Indeed, an engagement with Sufism emerged as one of the distinguishing features of Jewish life in Egypt and the Levant in the thirteenth century. While the bulk of earlier research has focused extensively on his linguistic (peshaṭ) exegesis, the present study aims to take a broader view of Tanḥum as a thinker and exegete. His works are hermeneutically sophisticated and replete with philosophical material, both as it directly informs exegesis, and in introductions and excurses. Tanḥum’s philosophical commentaries constitute the primary focus of this work, namely, his commentaries to the Book of Jonah, Qohelet, and the Song of Songs. In the cases of Jonah and the Song of Songs, Tanḥum presents allegorical interpretations of the biblical text in addition to his philological analysis. In contrast, he reads Qohelet primarily as a Solomonic discourse on the theoretical sciences. After revisiting the basic biographical data concerning Tanḥum, this study aims to articulate the hermeneutical principles underlying Tanḥum’s exegesis, and to examine his reception and transmission of Judeo-Arabic and Islamic thought across a range of subjects and genres. This is achieved through a detailed study of each of Tanḥum’s philosophical commentaries, identifying his overall approach to the texts that he interpreted, and identifying elements in each work that may serve to situate the author in his cultural and intellectual context. The overall picture of Tanḥum that emerges is one of a polymath, aligned primarily with the Andalusian tradition in linguistic exegesis, and with a distinctly Peripatetic philosophical orientation. His integration of elements of Sufi discourse often reflects the earlier appropriation of such themes and terminology by philosophers within the Peripatetic tradition (such as Ibn Sīnā), but occasionally points to a direct engagement with Sufi sources (perhaps via oral informants). Ultimately, Tanḥum’s philological project is profoundly linked to his program of philosophical cultivation. According to Tanḥum, philosophical insights profoundly shape the language of Scripture, and they are in turn accessed through rigorous philological engagement with the text. Tanḥum thus emerges from this study not only as a rigorous peshaṭ exegete and a linguist, but as a religious thinker of remarkable breadth.

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