David Ibn Merwan Al-Mukkamas
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David Ibn Merwan Al-Mukkamas

David (abu Sulaiman) ibn Merwan al-Mukkamas al-Rakki (Arabic: ? ‎ translit.: Dawud ibn Marwan al-Muqamis; died c. 937) was a philosopher and controversialist, the author of the earliest known Jewish philosophical work of the Middle Ages. He was a native of Raqqa, Mesopotamia, whence his surname. Harkavy derives his byname from the Arabic "?amma?" (to leap), interpreting it as referring to his asserted change of faith (Grätz, Gesch. Hebr. transl., iii.498). This is uncertain. The name is written "?" in Masudi's Al-Tanbih (ed. De Goeje, p. 113), in a Karaitic commentary to Leviticus, and in a manuscript copy of Jefeth's commentary to the same book (Jew. Quart. Rev. viii.681), and is perhaps a derivative from the city of ?umis in Taberistan (Ya?ut, iv.203). Another Karaite bears the name "Daniel al-?umisi," and in Al-Hiti's chronicle this name is also spelled with a ?ade (Jew. Quart. Rev. ix.432).

Polemical works

David, the father of Jewish philosophy, was almost unknown until the latter part of the 19th century. The publication of Judah Barzilai's commentary to the Sefer Yezirah (Me?i?e Nirdamim, 1885), in which is found a poor Hebrew translation of the ninth and tenth chapters of David's philosophical work, first brought the latter into notice. Barzilai says that he does not know whether David was one of the Geonim, but claims to have heard that Saadia had known him and had profited by his lessons. Pinsker and Grätz, confounding him with Daniel ha-Babli of Cairo, make him a Mohammedan convert to Karaism, on the ground that he is quoted by Karaite scholars, and is called by Hadasi "ger ?ede?" (pious proselyte).

The discovery by Harkavy of the Kitab al-Riya? wal-?ada'i?, by the Karaite Al-?ir?isani, threw further light on David. Al-?ir?isani cites a work by him on the various Jewish sects, and says that David had "embraced Christianity" (tanaar), that he was for many years the pupil of a renowned Christian physician and philosopher named Hana, and that, after acquiring considerable knowledge of philosophy, he wrote two works against Christianity which became famous. But it seems more probable that the word "tanaar" means simply that David had intercourse with Christians. ?ir?isani, indeed, does not mention his return to Judaism, and no Rabbinite mentions his conversion to Christianity. His conversion to Christianity can hardly be reconciled with the fact that he is cited by Ba?ya, by Jedaiah Bedersi (in Iggeret Hitnaelut), and by Moses ibn Ezra. ?ir?isani mentions two other books by David: Kitab al-Khali?ah, a commentary on Genesis extracted from Christian exegetical works; and a commentary on Ecclesiastes. He is incorrectly mentioned as a learned Karaite by David al-Hiti in his chronicle of Karaite doctors, published by Margoliouth (Jew. Quart. Rev. ix.432).

In 1898 Harkavy discovered in the Imperial Library of St. Petersburg fifteen of the twenty chapters of David's philosophical work entitled Ishrun Ma?alat (Twenty Chapters). The subject-matter of these fifteen chapters is as follows:

  1. The Aristotelian categories
  2. Science and the reality of its existence
  3. The creation of the world
  4. The evidence that it is composed of substance and accidents
  5. The properties of substance and accident
  6. A criticism of those who maintain the eternity of matter
  7. Arguments in favor of the existence of God and His creation of the world
  8. The unity of God, refuting the Sabians, the Dualists, and the Christians
  9. The divine attributes
  10. Refutation of anthropomorphism and Christian ideas
  11. Why God became our Lord
  12. Showing that God created us for good and not for evil, and combating absolute pessimism as well as absolute optimism
  13. The utility of prophecy and prophets
  14. Signs of true prophecy and true prophets
  15. Mandatory and prohibitive commandments.

David as well as other Karaites--for instance, Joseph al-Basir and Al-?ir?isani--was a follower of the Motazilite kalam, especially in his chapter on the attributes of God, wherein he holds that, though we speak of these attributes as we speak of human attributes, the two can not be compared, since nothing comes to Him through the senses as is the case with man. God's "life" is a part of His "being", and the assumption of attributes in the Deity can in no way affect His unity. "Quality" can not be posited of the Deity. In his tenth chapter, on "Rewards and Punishments," David holds that these are eternal in the future world. This chapter has many points in common with Saadia, both drawing from the same source (Schreiner, Der Kalam, p. 25).

Other works

David quotes two others of his own works which are no longer in existence: Kitab fi al-Budud and Kitab fi 'Ar? al-Ma?alat 'ala al-Man?i?, on the categories. In one passage David relates that he had a philosophical disputation in Damascus with a Muslim scholar, Shabib al-Ba?ri. A fragment of another work, Kitab al-Tau?id, on the unity of God, has been discovered among genizah fragments, and has been published by E. N. Adler and I. Broydé in Jew. Quart Rev. (xiii.52 et seq.). David does not betray his Jewish origin in his philosophical work. Contrary to the practice of Saadia, Bahya, and other Jewish philosophers, he never quotes the Bible, but cites Greek and Arabic authorities. It is possible that this accounts for the neglect of his work by the Jews.

Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography

  • Fürst, in Literaturblatt des Orients, viii.617, 642;
  • Gabriel Polak, Halikot ?edem, pp. 69 et seq.;
  • Pinsker, Liu?e ?admoniyyot, ii.17 et seq.;
  • Grätz, Gesch. v.285;
  • A. Harkavy, Le-?orot ha-Kittot be-Yisrael', in Grätz, Gesch. iii.498 et seq. (Hebr. transl.);
  • idem, in Voskhod, Sept., 1898;
  • Samuel Poznanski, in Jew. Quart. Rev. xiii.328;
  • Steinschneider, in Jew. Quart. Rev. xi.606, xiii.450;
  • idem, Hebr. Uebers. p. 378;
  • David Kaufmann, Attributenlehre, Index, passim.

Recent Bibliography

  • Sarah Stroumsa, Dawud ibn Marwan al-Muqammis's 'Ishrun Maqala (Etudes sur le judaisme medieval XIII, Leiden: Brill, 1989)


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901-1906). "David (abu Sulaiman) ibn Merwan al-Mukkamas al-Rakki". The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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