Michael Schwarz’ Translation and more notes to Book I

I was very thrilled to finally buy a copy of Professor Michael Schwarz’ Hebrew translation, published posthumously. Needless to say I now consult his translation as part of my weekly study. I have already a few points to make, including, unfortunately, an alert to an egregious typesetting error that really must be corrected before the next printing.

Professor Schwarz graces his translation with very useful notes. They are not as thick as those accompanying his translation of Maimonides’ Guide, for the simple reason that no book of Jewish thought, not even the Cuzari, has generated as much scholarship as has Maimonides’ Guide. On the other hand, the notes to the Cuzari refer to Joshua Blau’s Judaeo-Arabic Dictionary, which had not yet appeared when Prof Schwarz published his translation of the Guide.

There are, however, at least two sides to every coin. The availability of Blau’s dictionary causes me to wonder why Schwarz chooses to translated a word differently. For example, towards the end of I, 84, we encounter ta’assuf. Blau cites Ibn Tibbon who chooses “stubbornness”; Schwarz prefers “arbitrary judgment”. There is no note; probably the difference is small and need not be noted. Still, I will be on the lookout for things of this nature.

Now for the regrettable typo. Schwarz appends to his volume a useful lexicon of concepts (מילון מושגים). One of the most important, and distinctive concepts in the Cuzari is certainly al-amr al-ilāhiy (אלאמר אלאלאהי), which can mean either “the divine thing” or “the divine command”.  Schwarz informs us that after some deliberation, he chooses הדבר האלוהי, ha-davar (maybe some sticklers would write ha-dabhar) ha-elohi, since the Hebrew davar can cover, at least approximately, the range of meanings enjoyed by the Arabic amr.

However, someone mistook the final yod in אלאהי for a single apostrophe, and the printed text consistently displays אלאלאה׳. If the apostrophe has any meaning in Judaeo-Arabic, it would indicate a tā marbūta, since it is tricky to put the two dots over the heh, which is what the manuscript copyists would do—if they bothered at all, which they usually didn’t. This would transform the adjective ilāhiy, “divine”, to the noun, ilāha, “goddess”, and, on top of that, would be faulty grammatically, since the first word in the construct formation cannot have the definite article. Professor Schwarz justly earned a reputation as one of the strongest Arabists in Israel, and his book deserves better.

And now for something completely different. After nearly half a century in academia I still haven’t figured why and when scholars feel the need to look for a source. In any event, I find it interesting that the Nazir identifies the “Apikores” or “Epicurean” if you wish referred to at the end of I, 84 (the Arabic has mutazandiqa, see note 302 in Schwarz, p. 38) with Hiwi al-Balkhi, especially in light of the reference to the miracle of the man (“manna from heaven”) described in I, 86. I have not seen any university people look for a specific polemical reference here. Personally, I can do without it, but given some of the targets and influences ascribed to the Cuzari on flimsy evidence, I think that the Nazir’s suggestion is worth considering, if only as a subtext.


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