Scientific Perspectives on Psalm 148 in Medieval Jewish Exegesis

Main Article Content

Mariano Gómez Aranda


Psalm 148 is a hymn inviting all beings in the celestial world and the earthly world to praise God. Even though the Psalm seems simple and easy to understand, two questions have been raised in the history of the exegesis of this Psalm: why are these specific creatures and no others mentioned in the Psalm?, and why are they placed in this particular order? In Ancient Judaism no much attention was given to the explanation of this Psalm from a scientific perspective; however, in the thirteenth century, in the context of the reception of Aristotelianism in southern France, important exegetes such as David Qimhi and Menahem ha-Meiri interpreted this Psalm to the light of Aristotelian cosmology, and more especifically in consonance with scientific ideas exposed in Aristole’s Meteorology. Abraham ibn Ezra was the first Jewish exegete who wrote a systematic commentary on Psalm 148 to demonstrate that the biblical text describes the structure, composition and laws of the Universe according to Aristotelian principles. Ibn Ezra’s scientific comments on this Psalm were the starting point for the future scientific analysis of later exegetes in southern France, such as David Qimhi and Menahem ha-Meiri. It is the purpose of this article to analyze how Psalm 148 has been interpreted by these three Jewish exegetes from a scientific perspective and to prove how later exegetes explained, developed or even refuted the scientific interpretations of their predecessors. It also examines the sources that Ibn Ezra may have used to know Aristotle’s ideas.

Article Details




Abraham Ibn Daud, The Exalted Faith. Translated by Solomon Ibn Lavi and by Samuel Ibn Matut with the Anonymous Commentary, ed. Amira Eran, Ben-Zvi Institute, Jerusalem 2019.

— The Exalted Faith, ed. and trans. Norbert M. Samuelson, Farleigh Dickinson University Press-Associated University Presses, Rutherford et al. 1986.

Abraham ibn Ezra, Introductions to Astrology: A Parallel Hebrew-English Critical Edition of the Book of the Beginning of Wisdom and the ‘Book of the Judgements of the Zodiacal Signs’, ed. and trans. Shlomo Sela, Brill, Leiden–Boston 2017.

— Commentary on the Second Book of Psalms: Chapters 42-72, trans. H. Norman Strickman, Academic Studies Press, Boston 2009.

— Yesod Mora Ve-Sod Torah: The Foundation of Reverence and the Secret of the Torah, ed. Joseph Cohen, Uriel Simon, Bar-Ilan University Press, Ramat–Gan 2007.

— El comentario de Abraham ibn Ezra al libro de Job, ed. and trans. Mariano Gómez Aranda, CSIC, Madrid 2004.

— The Secret of the Torah, trans. H. Norman Strickman, Jason Aronson, Northvale, NJ–London 1995.

— El comentario de Abraham ibn Ezra al libro del Eclesiastés, ed. and trans. Mariano Gómez Aranda, CSIC, Madrid 1994.

— Two Commentaries on the Minor Prophets: Hosea, Joel, and Amos, ed. Uriel Simon, Bar-Ilan University Press, Ramat–Gan 1989.

— Iggeret Ḥay ben Mekitz, ed. Israel Levin, Tel Aviv University Press, Tel Aviv 1983.

Abu Ma‘shar, The Great Introduction to Astrology by Abū Maʿšar, ed. and trans. Keiji Yamamoto and Charles Burnett, Brill, Leiden 2019.

Aristotle, The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Jonathan Barnes, Princeton University Press, Princeton 1984.

Avicenna, The Physics of the Healing, ed. Jon McGinnis, Brigham Young University Press, Provo, UT 2009.

— The Metaphysics of the Healing, ed. Michael E. Marmura, Brigham Young University Press, Provo, UT 2005.
Braude, William G. (ed.), The Midrash on Psalms, Yale University Press, New Haven 1959.

Bromberg, Abraham I. « R. David Kimhi as a Supercommentator on R. Abraham Ibn Ezra’s Commentary on the Book of Psalms », Sinai, 63 (1967), p. 4–12 (Hebrew).

Cohen, Menachem (ed.), Mikra’ot Gedolot Haketer: Psalms, Bar Ilan University Press, Ramat–Gan 2020.

— Mikra’ot Gedolot Haketer: The Twelve Minor Prophets, Bar Ilan University Press, Ramat–Gan 2012.

David Qimhi, The Commentary of Rabbi David Kimhi on Psalms CXX–CL, eds. and trans. Joshua Baker, Ernst W. Nicholson, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1973.

Diamond, James A., Maimonides and the Hermeneutics of Concealment: Deciphering Scripture and Midrash in the Guide of the Perplexed, SUNY Press, Albany 2002.

Eisenmann, Esti, « On the Heavens in Medieval Jewish Philosophy », AJS Review, 35 (2011), p. 1–20 (Hebrew Section).

Elior, Ofer (ed.), A Spirit of Grace Passed Before My Face: Jews Reading Science, 1210–1896, Ben Zvi Institute, Jerusalem 2016.

Fontaine, Resianne, « ‘Tibbonide Terminology’ and Hebrew Meteorological Texts », in Reimund Leicht, Giuseppe Veltri (eds.), Studies in the Formation of Medieval Hebrew Philosophical Terminology, Brill, Leiden–Boston 2019, p. 64–75.

— « ‘Happy Is He Whose Children Are Boys’: Abraham Ibn Daud and Avicenna on Evil », in Dag Nikolaus Hasse, Amos Bertolacci (eds.), The Arabic, Hebrew and Latin Reception of Avicenna’s Metaphysics, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin–Boston 2012, p. 159–175.

— « Meteorology and Zoology in Medieval Hebrew Texts », in Gad Freudenthal (ed.), Science in Medieval Jewish Cultures, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2011, p. 217–229.

Frank, Daniel, Search Scripture Well: Karaite Exegetes and the Origins of the Jewish Bible Commentary in the Islamic East, Brill, Leiden 2004.

Freudenthal, Gad, « The Gathering of the Water as an Issue Differentiating Traditionalist and Naturalist Positions in 13th-Century Jewish Thought: Samuel Ibn Tibbon, Jacob Ben Sheshet, and Menahem Ha-Meiri », Da‘at, 74–75 (2013), p. 267–298 (Hebrew).

— « Samuel Ibn Tibbon’s Avicennian Theory of an Eternal World », Aleph, 8 (2008), p. 41–129.

Fries-Horev, Yehudah, « He-’Arot la-Perush ha-Me’iri ‘al ha-Tehilim », Kiryat Sefer, 14 (1937), p. 16–20.

Gómez Aranda, Mariano, « Aristotelian Theories in Abraham ibn Ezra’s Commentaries to the Bible », Mediterranea: International Journal for the Transfer of Knowledge, 3 (2018), p. 35–54.

— « The Meaning of Qohelet According to Ibn Ezra’s Scientific Theories », Aleph, 6 (2006), p. 339–370.

Halbertal, Moshe, Between Torah and Wisdom: Rabbi Menachem ha-Meiri and the Maimonidean Halakhists in Provence, Magnes Press, Jerusalem 2001 (Hebrew).

Harvey, Steven, « Avicenna’s Influence on Jewish Thought: Some Reflections », in Y. Tzvi Langermann (ed.), Avicenna and His Legacy: A Golden Age of Science and Philosophy, Brepols, Turnhout 2009, p. 327–340.

Harvey, Warren Z., « The First Commandment and the God of History: Halevi and Crescas vs. Ibn Ezra and Maimonides », Tarbiz, 57 (1988), p. 203–216 (Hebrew).

Hughes, Aaron W., « The Three Worlds of Ibn Ezra’s Hay Ben Meqitz », Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy, 11 (2002), p. 1–24.

Isaac Abravanel, Don Isaac Abrabanel y su comentario al libro de Amós, ed. and trans. Gregorio Ruiz González, Universidad Pontificia de Comillas, Madrid 1984.

Jonah Ibn Janah, Sefer ha-Shorashim, trans. Judah Ibn Tibbon, ed. Samuel Bacher, Philo Press, Amsterdam 1969.

Kapah, Yoseph (ed.), Tehillim ‘im Perush ha-Ga’on Rabbenu Sa‘adia ben Yoseph, American Academy for Jewish Research, Jerusalem 1966.

Kreisel, Howard, Ofer Elior, David Ben-Zazon, Eliezer Davidovich, and Orly Shoshan (eds.), Five Early Supercommentators on R. Abraham Ibn Ezra: The Earliest Supercommentaries on Ibn Ezra’s Torah Commentary, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Press, Beer-Sheva 2017.

Lasker, Daniel J., Johannes Niehoff-Panagiotidis, David Sklare (eds.), Theological Encounters at a Crossroads. An Edition and Translation of Judah Hadassi's Eshkol Ha-Kofer, Brill, Leiden–Boston 2018.

Lawee, Eric, Rashi’s Commentary on the Torah: Canonization and Resistance in the Reception of a Jewish Classic, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2019.

Lemay, Richard, Abu Ma‘shar and Latin Aristotelianism in the Twelfth Century: The Recovery of Aristotle’s Natural Philosophy through Arabic Astrology, American University of Beirut, Beirut 1962.

Lettinck, Paul, Aristotle’s Meteorology and its Reception in the Arab World: With an Edition and Translation of Ibn Suwār’s ‘Treatise on Meteorological Phenomena’ and Ibn Bājja’s ‘Commentary on the Meteorology’, Brill, Leiden 1999.

Lipshitz, Abe, « Ibn Ezra be-Perushe R. David Qimhi u-bi-Sefarav », Sinai, 61 (1967), p. 92–109.

Menahem ha Meiri, Ḥibbur ha-Teshuvah, ed. Abraham Schreiber, Kedem, Jerusalem 1976.

Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, trans. Shlomo Pines, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago–London 1963.

Nasr, Seyyed H., An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines, Thames and Hudson, Bath 1978.

Rashi, Commentary on Psalms, ed. and trans. Mayer I. Gruber, The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 2007.

Robinson, James T. « Philosophy and Science in Medieval Jewish Commentaries on the Bible », in Gad Freudenthal (ed.), Science in Medieval Jewish Cultures, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2011, p. 454–475.
Samuel Ibn Tibbon, Otot ha-Shamayim: Samuel Ibn Tibbon’s Hebrew Version of Aristotle’s Meteorology, ed. and trans. Resianne Fontaine, Brill, Leiden–New York-Köln 1995.

Samuelson, Norbert M. « Medieval Jewish Aristotelianism: An Introduction », in Daniel Frank, Oliver Leaman (eds.), History of Jewish Philosophy, Routledge, London–New York 1997, p. 182–194.

Sela, Shlomo, « Abraham Ibn Ezra as the Translator of Astrological and Astronomical Texts from Arabic into Hebrew: Sources and Methods », Medieval Encounters, 25 (2019), p. 345–380.

— « Abraham Ibn Ezra’s Special Strategy in the Creation of a Hebrew Scientific Terminology », Micrologus, 9 (2001), p. 65–87.

— Astrology and Biblical Exegesis in Abraham Ibn Ezra’s Thought, Bar-Ilan University Press, Ramat–Gan 1999.

Simon, Uriel, « Interpreting the Interpreter: Supercommentaries on Ibn Ezra’s Commentaries », in Isadore Twersky, Jay M. Harris (eds.), Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra: Studies in the Writings of a Twelfth-Century Jewish Polymath, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA–London 1993, p. 86–128.

— Four Approaches to the Book of Psalms. From Saadia Gaon to Abraham Ibn Ezra, SUNY Press, Albany 1991.

Sirat, Colette, A History of Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages, Cambridge University Press–Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Cambridge–Paris 1993.

Stein, Joseph, « Zu Meiris Psalmenkommentar », MGWJ, 82 (1938), p. 46–56.

Stern, Gregg, Philosophy and Rabbinic Culture: Jewish Interpretation and Controversy in Medieval Languedoc, Routledge, London–New York 2009.

Visi, Tamas, « Ibn Ezra, a Maimonidean Authority: The Evidence of the Early Ibn Ezra Supercommentaries », in James T. Robinson (ed.), The Cultures of Maimonideanism: New Approaches to the History of Jewish Thought, Brill, Leiden 2009, p. 89–132.

Wagner, Herzliya, « The ‘Distinguished Chapters’ in Abraham Ibn Ezra’s Commentary on the Book of Psalms: Philosophy and Biblical Exegesis », Ph.D. Diss., Bar-Ilan University 2012.