Jacob Anatoli

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Jacob ben Abba Mari ben Simson Anatoli (c. 1194 – 1256) was a translator of Arabic texts to Hebrew. He was invited to Naples by Frederick II. Under this royal patronage, and in association with Michael Scot, Anatoli made Arabic learning accessible to Western readers. Among his most important works were translations of texts by Averroes.


Early life and invitation to Naples

Born in southern France, perhaps in Marseille, Anatoli's literary activity was stimulated early by his learned associates and relations at Narbonne and Béziers. In fact, he distinguished himself so notably that the emperor Frederick II., the most genial and enlightened monarch of the time, invited him to come to Naples, and, under the emperor's auspices, to devote himself to his studies, particularly to the rendition of scientific Arabic literature into the more accessible Hebrew language. Thus it was at Naples that Anatoli passed his most fertile period of literary production, and from that city were issued the numerous translations bearing his name.

Opposed by Anti-Maimonists

Anatoli was the son-in-law (and possibly also the brother-in-law) of Samuel ibn Tibbon, the well known translator of Maimonides. Moses b. Samuel ibn Tibbon frequently refers to Anatoli as his uncle, which makes it likely that Samuel married Anatoli's sister, while Anatoli afterward married Samuel's daughter. Owing to this intimate connection with the ibn Tibbons, Anatoli was introduced to the philosophy of Maimonides, the study of which was such a great revelation to him that he, in later days, referred to it as the beginning of his intelligent and true comprehension of the Scriptures, while he frequently alluded to Ibn Tibbon as one of the two masters who had instructed and inspired him. His esteem for Maimonides knew no bounds: he placed him next to the Prophets, and he exhibited little patience with Maimonides' critics and detractors.

He accordingly interprets the Bible and the Haggadah in a truly Maimonistic spirit, rationalizing the miracles and investing every possible passage in the ancient literature with philosophic and allegoric significance. As an allegorist who could read into the ancient documents the particular philosophical idiosyncrasies of his day, Anatoli deserves a place beside other allegoric and philosophical commentators, from Philo down; indeed, he may be regarded as a pioneer in the application of the Maimonistic manner to purposes of popular instruction. This work he began while still in his native land, on occasions of private and public festivities, such as weddings and other assemblies. Afterward he delivered Sabbath-afternoon sermons, in which he advocated the allegoric and philosophic method of Scriptural exegesis. This evoked the opposition of the anti-Maimonists, whose number was large in southern France; and probably Anatoli's departure for Sicily was hastened by the antagonism he encountered. But even at Naples Anatoli's views aroused the opposition of his Orthodox coreligionists. This treatment, together with several other unpleasant experiences at the royal court, seems to have caused him to entertain thoughts of suicide. He soon, however, recovered and wrote, for the benefit of his two sons, his Malmad ha-Talmidim, a name which, involving a play on words, was intended to be both a Teacher of the Disciples and a Goad to the Students.

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