Abu Yaqub Ishaq bar Levi ibn Mar Sahl

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Abu Yaqub Ishaq bar Levi ibn Mar Sahl

Birthplace: Córdoba, Córdoba, Andalusia, Spain
Death: circa 1070 (40-57)
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Son of Abu Musa Levi bar Ishaq ibn Mar Sahl

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About Abu Yaqub Ishaq bar Levi ibn Mar Sahl

Ibn Mar Saul, Isaac bar Levi

In his Kitāb al-Muḥāḍara wa-ʾl-Mudhākara (31), Moses ibn Ezra mentions Isaac ibn Mar Saul (late 10th-11th century) as a prominent member of the second generation of Andalusian Jewish poets along with Isaac ibn Chiquitilla. Ibn Mar Saul and Ibn Chiquitilla both lived in Lucena and were rivals. In Ibn Ezra's view, Ibn Chiquitilla was the more capable and expressed himself better because of his stronger background in Arabic. Jonah ibn Janāḥ was Ibn Mar Saul's student in Lucena and often quotes him in his Kitāb al-Uṣūl (Heb. Sefer ha-Shorashim; Book of Roots). From Ibn Janāḥ we know that Ibn Mar Saul's poetry circulated in al-Andalus in different versions, was memorized by educated Jews in Cordova, and was popular even beyond the borders of al-Andalus.

Recent scholarship has devoted considerable attention to Ibn Mar Saul's poetry. In 1952, Schirmann collected and edited all the available evidence on Ibn Mar Saul's output (1952-53). More than a decade later, he compiled further evidence from the Cairo Geniza (1965, p. 158). On the basis of further Geniza evidence, Fleischer supplemented this corpus with additional texts in three articles (1970, 1983, 1994). Fleischer thoroughly studied the language, prosody, and thematic features of these poems, as well as the possible impact of their rapid spread among payṭanim in the East.

While only a few of Ibn Mar Saul's poems have survived, sometimes in fragmentary form, they are key to understanding the new school of Hebrew poetry that developed in al-Andalus in the second half of the tenth century. Along with his contemporary Joseph ibn Abitur, Ibn Mar Saul epitomizes the transition from the classical oriental piyyuṭ, traces of which are still present in their verses, to the prosody and thematic content favored by the foremost eleventh- and twelfth-century Jewish poets.

While the quotations of Ibn Mar Saul in Ibn Janāḥ's Kitāb al-Uṣūl are all taken from his secular poetry, only one complete example of his secular output has come down to us. This poem, the highly erotic Ṣevi Ḥashuq be-Aspamya (Gazelle Desired in Spain) is the earliest extant example of medieval Hebrew love poetry. In the poem, edited by Schirmann (1995, p. 158) and translated into English by Roth (1982, p. 31), the poet openly declares his love-sickness for a youth whom he compares to the biblical Joseph, Adonijah, David, and Uriah.

With this exception, Ibn Mar Saul's other surviving compositions are all liturgical. The best-known of them, Elohay, al Tedineni ke-Ma‘li (My God, judge me not according to my transgression), a baqqasha (supplication) recited in the Shaḥarit service on the Day of Atonement, became very popular in the ritual practice of countless Jewish communities after Ibn Mar Saul's time. The poem is highly innovative, and constitutes the earliest example of a liturgical poem written in the Hebrew quantitative meter first used by Dunash ben Labraṭ in secular poetry. From a rhetorical standpoint, this baqqasha was the prototype for all future Andalusian baqqashot. Speaking as an individual and not as a representative of the community, Ibn Mar Saul describes himself as a sinner who is aware of the gravity of his faults, yet confident of God's mercy.

From a prosodic point of view, in addition to quantitative meter, Ibn Mar Saul often used syllabic meter, also common in later Sephardic liturgical poetry, and introduced new quasi-strophic forms, with or without a refrain, which are forerunners of the muwashshaḥ (Schirmann 1952-53, pp. 510, 507). Ibn Mar Saul's liturgical poetry includes a significant number of shiv‘atot, lengthy traditional compositions employed by no other poet in al-Andalus except Ibn Abitur.

Esperanza Alfonso


Fleischer, Ezra. "Addenda to the Paytanic Legacy of R. Isaac ibn Mar-Shaul," Tarbiz 63, no. 3 (1994): 403-442 [Hebrew].

---. "Ḥadashot bi-Yeṣirato shel R. Yiṣḥaq bar Levi (Ibn Mar Sha'ul)," in Meḥqere Lashon: Muggashim le-Ze'ev Ben-Ḥayyim, ed. Moshe Bar-Asher et al. (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1983), pp. 425-450.

---. "The Poet Rabbi Isaac bar Levi and His Poems," in Ḥayyim (Jefim) Schirmann Jubilee Volume, ed. Shraga Abramson and Aaron Mirsky (Jerusalem: Schocken Institute for Jewish Research, 1970), pp. 285-318 [Hebrew].

Ibn Ezra, Moses. Kitāb al-Muḥāḍara wa-l-Mudhākara, ed. and trans. into Spanish Montserrat Abumalham, 2 vols. (Madrid: CSIC, 1986).

Millás Vallicrosa, José María. La poesía sagrada hebraicoespañola, 2nd ed. (Madrid: CsIC, 1948).

Roth, Norman. " 'Deal Gently with the Young Man': Love of Boys in Medieval Hebrew Poetry of Spain," Speculum 57, no. 1 (1982): 20-51.

Schirmann, Ḥayyim. Ha-Shira ha-ʿIvrit bi-Sfarad u-ve-Provens, 2 vols. (Jerusalem: Bialik; Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1954-60).

---. New Hebrew Poems from the Geniza (Jerusalem: Israeli Academy of sciences, 1965) [Hebrew].

---. The History of Hebrew Poetry in Muslim Spain, ed., suppl., and annot. Ezra Fleischer (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1995) [Hebrew].

---. "Yiṣḥaq ben Mar Sha'ul, ha-Meshorer mi-Lusena," in Sefer Asaf: Qoveṣ Ma'amare Meḥqar Muggash li-Khevod ha-Rav Prof. Simḥa Asaf le-Mil'at lo Shishim Shana, ed. M. D. Cassuto et al. (Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 1952/53), pp. 497-514.

Citation Esperanza Alfonso. " Ibn Mar Saul, Isaac bar Levi." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2013. Reference. Jim Harlow. 24 January 2013 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-...>

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Abu Yaqub Ishaq bar Levi ibn Mar Sahl's Timeline

Córdoba, Córdoba, Andalusia, Spain
Age 49