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Matkah, Judah ben Solomon Ha-Kohen

MATKAH, JUDAH BEN SOLOMON HA-KOHEN (Ibn Matkah; first half of 13th century), author of the Midrash ha-Ḥokhmah, commonly considered the first of the great medieval Hebrew encyclopedias of science and philosophy. Judah was born in Toledo and belonged to the Ibn Shoshan family. He is listed in various books by the name Ibn Matkah. However, there seems to be little ground for maintaining this appellation, since in the sources it appears only once, in a 16th-century manuscript of the Midrash ha-Ḥokhmah, and there not in the body of the text but in an annotation at the top of the page.

Judah was a disciple of Meir ha-Levi *Abulafia. At the age of 18 he became engaged in a correspondence with one of the scholars at the court of Emperor Frederick II, as a result of which he eventually moved to Italy. It is not known which position he held at the court, nor where he resided, perhaps in Lombardy. Around 1247 he composed the Hebrew version of his encyclopedia, which, according to his own testimony, he wrote originally in Arabic when still in Spain. The Arabic original has not been preserved. The Midrash ha-Ḥokhmah consists of an introduction, two parts, and three treatises. The first part provides a survey of Aristotelian logic, natural philosophy, and metaphysics, primarily based on Ibn Rushd's Middle commentaries on these works, but occasionally also on other sources. The first treatise, an explanation of verses from Genesis, Psalms, and Proverbs, follows this part. The second part is devoted to geometry (based on Euclid's Elements), astronomy (based on Ptolemy's Almagest and al-Bitruji's Principles of Astronomy), and astrology (based on Ptolemy' s Quadripartitum). To this part two treatises on the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and talmudic aggadot, respectively, are appended. Only the first treatise (Goldberg 1981) and the section on astrology (Spiro 1886) have been edited so far. There are two complete manuscripts of the work (Bodleian Library, Mich. 551 and Vatican ebr 338) and some 40 more of parts of the text; for a complete list see Manekin's Addendum in Harvey 2000, 475–79). It has not yet been established with certainty whether Judah ha-Kohen wrote other works (Langermann, in: Harvey 2000).

The Midrash ha-Ḥokhmah thus presents a combination of secular and religious knowledge. It constitutes the first systematic Hebrew survey of Aristotelian natural philosophy and metaphysics as interpreted by Averroes. In composing his encyclopedia Judah aimed at disseminating scientific secular learning, while at the same he sought to convey that true knowledge, or "divine wisdom," cannot be attained by Aristotelian metaphysics but by traditional Jewish religious learning. Throughout his work he displays a critical attitude towards Aristotelian philosophy. His encyclopedia should be seen as an attempt to delineate the value of secular knowledge against the background of the Maimonidean controversy and the debate about the permissibility of the study of secular science.


J. Spiro, Otot ha-shamayim (1886); Neubauer, Cat, 470–1, 682, 691; Steinschneider, Uebersetzungen, 1 (updated Eng. translation by C. Manekin, in: S. Harvey (ed.), The Medieval Hebrew Encyclopedias of Science and Philosophy (2000), Addendum); C. Sirat in: Italia, 2 (1977), 39–61; idem in: G., Nahon and C. Touati (eds.), Hommage a Georges Vajda (1980), 191–202; D. Goldstein, in: HUCA, 52 (1981), 203–52; C. Sirat, History of Jewish philosophy in the Middle Ages (1985), 250–55; R. Fontaine, in: Medizinhistorisches Journal, 29 (1994), 333–61; M. Zonta, La filosofia antica nel Medieoevo (1996), 200–4; E. Gutwirth, in: The Modern Language Review (1998), 384–99; R. Fontaine, C. Manekin, T. Levi, Y.T. Langermann, A.L. Ivry, in: S. Harvey (ed), The Medieval Hebrew Encyclopedias of Science and Philosophy (2000), and idem, index, S.V. Judah ben Solomon ha-Cohen; R. Fontaine, in: Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, 10 (2000), 101–37; C. Sirat, in: Italia, 13–15 (2001), 53–78; R. Fontaine, in: Zutot (2001), 98–106; idem in: Zutot (2002), 156–63.