Scientific Perspectives on Psalm 148 in Medieval Jewish Exegesis

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Mariano Gómez Aranda

Abstract

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.

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