About Yosef ben Abba Mari ibn Kaspi
Ibn Kaspi, Joseph
The philosopher, Bible exegete, and Hebrew grammarian Joseph ben Abba Mari ibn Kaspi was born in Argentière, Provence, in 1280. He made his home in Arles and in Tarascon and also spent time in Catalonia, Majorca, and the Kingdom of Aragon. He wrote more than twenty works in Hebrew devoted to a broad range of subjects that included language, logic, ethics, politics, biblical interpretation, and theology. Ibn Kaspi was a philosophical follower of Maimonides and the author of two commentaries (ʿAmmude Kesef and Maskiyyot Kesef) on the Guide for the Perplexed in which he filled the role of disciple elucidating what the master teacher had kept hidden. In his youth Ibn Kaspi also wrote a supercommentary on Abraham ibn Ezra’s reading of the Torah (Parashat Kesef, Ms. Vatican 151). During the course of his life Ibn Kaspi wrote exegetical works on numerous books of the Bible. A text on moral subjects dedicated to his son in 1332 and composed in Valencia is the last living testimony we have of Ibn Kaspi. He apparently died soon after.
In 1315, or the end of 1314, Ibn Kaspi sought to lay bare the philosophical secrets concealed within Maimonides’s Guide. To this end, he decided to embark for Cairo in order to meet the nagid Abraham ben David Ibn Da’ud, a fourth-generation descendant of Maimonides, who, as Ibn Kaspi was aware, enjoyed a considerable reputation in philosophical matters. The journey to Egypt and back lasted five months, apparently following a route that took him from Arles or Marseilles to Alexandria and from there to Fustat-Cairo. However, Ibn Kaspi was greatly disappointed. While he met and conversed with Abraham and other Maimonidean descendants, he discovered that they had no interest in philosophical matters and had not even studied the Guide. As he writes in his Sefer ha-Musar, “they were all saintly and pious [ṣadiqim], but no one busied himself with wisdom [ḥokhmot, i.e., philosophy]” (in ʿAsara Keley Kesef, vol. 1, p. 60). Ibn Kaspi was alluding to the Sufi mysticism that had been an influence on the family since the time of Abraham Maimonides, the son of Maimonides.
On his return to Provence, Ibn Kaspi devoted long years to his works of philosophy and biblical interpretation. It was two decades before he undertook another journey, this time to Aragon. While residing in Valencia he expressed hopes of going to the Maghreb, and particularly to Fez, in order to study in its Jewish-Muslim academies, where according to rumor Jewish teachers taught the Guide to Muslim students. As far as we know, he never realized this plan.
Ibn Kaspi was at first frustrated by his journey to the Levant. However, his initial response to the shattering of his (“orientalist”) ideal of the East was transformed once he realized how much the visit to Egypt had deepened his understanding of the Bible. He believed that Egypt had effectively preserved ancient practices and, as such, could offer insights into the Bible and biblical culture. And so, while his readings of biblical texts consequently suffer from an anachronistic approach, they make it possible for us to trace his travels, learn about cultural practices in the East, and investigate his perspective on the local inhabitants, both Muslim and Jewish.
While in Egypt Ibn Kaspi lived in the Cairo Jewish community and prayed in their synagogues. Of particular interest is his testimony about the synagogue in Dammuh, near Giza. The synagogue was a pilgrimage site for Jews and had already been briefly mentioned by Benjamin of Tudela in the twelfth century (Itinerary, ed. Adler, p. 102). Ibn Kaspi goes well beyond Benjamin’s brief report and describes the pilgrimages to the synagogue during the High Holidays and the Ten Days of Repentance. He reports that he personally took part in the repentance prayer (Heb. seliḥot) ceremony. He also provides details on the local tradition (later discussed in Joseph Sambari’s seventeenth-century chronicle Divrei Yosef) linking the synagogue to the biblical account of Moses’s secluding himself and praying to God to bring the plague of hail to an end (Maṣref la-Kesef, pp. 156–157; Tirat Kesef [= Sefer ha-Sod], ed. Last, 1905, p. 139)
In Cairo Ibn Kaspi saw the Mamluk sultan al-Malik al-Nāṣir (r. 1293–1340) parading through the city with a large entourage. The sultan’s chariot, described in detail, serves as his source of information on royal vehicles in the Bible (Menorat Kesef, in ʿAsarah Keley Kesef, p. 116). Ibn Kaspi also notes that the sultan departed the palace on Tuesdays and Saturdays and encamped in an area along the Nile where he played ball games (probably polo) with his viziers and officers (Maṣref la-Kesef, p. 155). In discussing the Mamluks, Caspi considers the difference between Eastern and Western slavery. He found the biblical account of Joseph’s rise from slave to Pharaoh’s adviser more credible once he had observed how these foreign slaves were able to attain high status in Egypt. He relates tales of slaves winning appointments to key posts in public service and reaching the elevated status of government ministers and officers (Tirat Kesef, pp. 123–124). Ibn Kaspi observes that, in contrast to the European servant or serf (Heb. mesharet), the Egyptian (African) slave was accorded the same lowly status as an animal (Tirat Kesef, p. 123). This is consistent with the observations of the great Arab historian Ibn Khaldūn (d. 1406), who portrays African slaves as having few human attributes and strongly resembling dumb animals . He also discusses the military relations between the Mongols and the Mamluks, emphasizing that while the Mongols had crossed the Euphrates River in their raids, the Mamluk sultan did not dare to do so (Tirat Kesef, p. 75).
Ibn Kaspi also describes Egyptian clothing styles, including sundry types of fabrics and head coverings worn by the Muslims. He is particularly interested in footwear and in the Egyptian Jewish practice of removing the shoes upon entering a synagogue or any other important building, or even the inner chambers of one’s private domicile, a custom without parallel in Europe. He was most struck by the ceremony of removing shoes at mealtimes and sitting upon decorated floor mats while dining. Other subjects addressed in his writings on the Bible include Muslim women, prostitution, homosexuality, and licentiousness. Ibn Kaspi vociferously condemns the regular practice of two Muslim men having sexual relations together with the same woman. He likewise claims that male prostitution was more pronounced in Egypt than in the West, and he describes Muslim male prostitutes who shaved their beards and drew the gaze of the public as they sauntered down the city avenues. Like numerous other European visitors to the Middle East both before and after, Ibn Kaspi was riveted by the phenomenon. In contrast to most, however, he presents the subject in a fair and honest manner.
Ben-Shalom, Ram. “The Unwritten Travel Journal to the East of Joseph ibn Caspi: Images and Orientalism,” Peʿamim, forthcoming [Hebrew].
Herring, Basil F. Joseph ibn Kaspi’s Gevia’ Kesef (New York: Ktav, 1982).
Ibn Kaspi, Joseph. ʿAmmudei Kesef u-Maskiyyot Kesef (Frankfurt: Werbloner, 1848).
———. ʿAsarah Keley Kesef, ed. I. H. Last (Pressburg: Alcalay, 1903).
———. Maṣref la-Kesef, ed. I. H. Last (Cracow, 1903).
Mesch, Barry. Studies in Joseph Ibn Caspi, Fourteenth-Century Philosopher and Exegete (Leiden: Brill, 1975).
Kasher, Hannah. “Joseph Kaspi,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kaspi-joseph.
Citation Ram Ben-Shalom. " Ibn Kaspi, Joseph." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2013. Reference. Jim Harlow. 15 January 2013 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-in-the-islamic-world/ibn-kaspi-joseph-SIM_000479> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Provençal exegete, grammarian, and philosopher; born in 1297 at Largentière, whence his surname "Caspi" (= made of silver); died at Tarascon in 1340. His Provençal name was Don Bonafous de Largentera. He traveled much, visiting Arles, Tarascon, Aragon, Catalonia, Majorca (where he must have foregathered with Leon Mosconi "[Rev. Et. Juives," xxxix. 249]), and Egypt, where, as he says in his "Ẓawwa'ah," he hoped to be instructed by the members of Maimonides' family. This hope was not realized, as the descendants of Maimonides were more pious than learned. At one time Caspi intended to go to Fez, where many renowned schools existed; but he seems to have abandoned this project and to have settled at Tarascon. He underwent much suffering at the time of the Pastoureaux persecution, and was threatened with punishment if he did not renounce his faith.
His Works. Caspi was one of the most prolific writers of his time, being the author of twenty-nine works, the greater part of which are still extant in manuscript and the titles of the remainder being known from the list which he had the precaution to make. He began his literary career at the age of seventeen. At thirty he devoted himself to the study of logic and philosophy, which he eagerly cultivated until his death. The following is a list of his writings in their chronological order, some of them being no longer in existence: (1) "Perush," commentary on Ibn Ganaḥ's grammatical work; (2) supercommentaries on Ibn Ezra's commentary on the Pentateuch (one of these commentaries is purely grammatical, bearing the title "Porashat Kesef " [Sum of Money], and is still extant in manuscript [Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, MS. No. 184, and elsewhere]); (3) "Terumat Kesef" (Oblation of Silver), summary of Averroes' commentaries on Aristotle's "Ethics" and Plato's "Republic," according to the Hebrew translation of Samuel of Marseilles (Parma MS. No. 442; Neubauer, "Cat. Bodl. Hebr. MSS." No. 1427); (4) "Ẓawwa'at Kaspi" (Testamentof Caspi), or "Yoreh De'ah," moral sentences dedicated to the author's son, and published by Eliezer Ashkenazi, Leipsic, 1844; (5) "Maṭṭot Kesef" (Staves of Silver), commentaries on the Bible, with the exception of the Pentateuch; (6) "Maẓref le-Kesef" (Crucible for Silver), commentary on the Bible; (7) "Kefore Kesef" (Cups of Silver), giving the author's reasons for the rejection of various explanations of Ibn Ezra and Maimonides; (8) "Kesef Siggim" (Silver Dross), questions and answers on the seeming contradictions in the Bible; (9) "Ẓeror ha-Kesef" (Bundle of Silver), or "Ḳiẓẓur Higgayon," a compendium of logic (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, MS. No. 986); (10) "Retuḳot Kesef" (Chains of Silver), or "Pirḳe Yosef" (Chapters of Joseph), treatise on grammar ("Cat. Angel." No. 21); (11) "Shulḥan Kesef" (Table of Silver), divided into four chapters called "regel" (foot), treating of prophets and miracles ("Cat. Peyron," p. 209); (12) "Ṭirat Kesef" (Palace of Silver), or "Sefer ha-Sod" (Book of Mystery), mystic commentary on the Pentateuch (Vatican MSS. Nos. 36, 46); (13) "Adne Kesef" (Thresholds of Silver), forming the second part of the preceding work and containing mystical explanations of the Biblical books other than the Pentateuch; (14) "Mizreḳe Kesef" (Basins of Silver), explanations of Biblical passages respecting the Creation; (15) "Mazmerot Kesef" (Sickles of Silver), commentary on Job (Munich MS. No. 265); (16) "Menorat Kesef" (Candelabra of Silver), commentary on the Mercabah (Heavenly Chariot); (Neubauer, "Cat. Bodl. Hebr. MSS." No. 1631); (17) "Ḥagorat Kesef" (Girdle of Silver), commentary on Ezra and Chronicles (ib. No. 362); (18) "Kappot Kesef" (Spoons of Silver), commentary on Ruth and Lamentations (Munich MS. No. 265; Cambridge MS. No. 64); (19) "Gelile Kesef" (Scrolls of Silver), commentary on Esther (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, MS. No. 1092; Munich MS. No. 2653); (20) "Ḥaẓoẓerot Kesef" (Trumpets of Silver), commentaries on Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs (Neubauer, "Cat. Bodl. Hebr. MSS." Nos. 362, 1349; Parma MS. No. 461); (21) "Ḳa'arot Kesef" (Bowls of Silver), in which Caspi endeavored to prove that the Law contains the idea of spiritual happiness and immortality, to explain the Biblical doctrine that God visits the iniquities of the fathers upon the children, and to explain the relation of wickedness to prosperity; (22 and 23) "'Ammude Kesef" (Pillars of Silver) and "Maskiyyot Kesef" (Images of Silver), commentaries on Maimonides' "Guide of the Perplexed," published by Werbluner, with notes and corrections by R. Kirchheim, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1848; (24) "Gebi'a Kesef" (Mug of Silver), or "Yoreh De'ah" (Teacher of Science), supplement to the mystic commentaries on the Bible ("Cat. Peyron." p. 208; Munich MS. No. 267); (25) "Shasherot Kesef" (Chains of Silver), or "Sefer ha-Shorashim" (Book of Roots), on Biblical lexicography (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, MS. No. 1244); (26) "Kappot Kesef" (Spoons of Silver), in which Caspi explains some Biblical problems concerning the history of the Jews; (27) "Mezamrot Kesef" (Songs of Silver; in other lists, Shulḥan Kesef), a commentary on the Psalms; (28) "Tam ha-Kesef" (The Silver Is Finished), on the destruction of both temples, Jeremiah's prophecies, and the arrival of the Messiah; (29) "Ḳebuẓat Kesef" (Collection of Silver), containing a list of Caspi's works, published by Benjacob in the "Debarim 'Attiḳim," Leipsic, 1844.
Joseph Caspi's name is also to be found attached to many liturgic poems of merit. These, however, may belong to his namesake, Joseph Caspi ben Shalom of the sixteenth century, a liturgic poet of some importance.
Caspi's works were diversely estimated. Ibn Ẓarẓah, Moses of Narbonne, and Efodi speak in praise of them. The cabalist Johanan Aleman recommends Caspi's commentaries on account of their mystic character. On the other hand, Isaac Abravanel and Simon Duran emphatically declare him to be-antireligious because, among other things, in his commentary on the Moreh he admitted the eternity of the universe (i. 9, 70; ii. 26).
Bibliography: De Rossi, Dizionario Storico, p. 77; Delitzsch, Kat. der Handschriften der Leipziger Rathsbibliothek, p. 304; Zunz, Additamenta zu Delitzsch's Katalog, p. 323; Geiger, Melo Ḥofnayim, p. 69; Dukes, in Orient, Lit. 1847, p. 328; Steinschneider, in Ersch and Gruber, Encyc. series ii., xxxi. 58-73; idem, Hebr. Uebers. pp. 93, 225, 227, 352, 424, 462; Munk, Mélanges, p. 496; Kirchheim, Introduction to Werbluner's ed. of Caspi's commentary on the Moreh; Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, 3d ed., vii. 311 et seq.; Renan-Neubauer, Les Ecrivains Juifs Français, pp. 131-206; Gross, Gallia Judaica, pp. 67-69; Berlin, in Jew. Quart. Rev. viii. 711.