The interplay of poetry and exegesis in Judah Hadassi's "Eshkōl ha-kōfer"

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The Karaite Judah Hadassi wrote his monumental Eshkōl ha-kōfer (Cluster of Henna Blossoms) in mid-twelfth-century Byzantium. It is in the form of over 379 rhyming acrostics, most of which are alphabetical, either from the beginning of the alphabet forward or from the end of the alphabet backward. Stanzas are characterized by internal rhymes of each line, but every single stanza ends with the syllable-khā. Although the form is ostensibly poetry, it is more accurate to call it rhymed prose since, other than the rhymes, there are almost no other poetic conventions. Hadassi expends great efforts at maintaining this style, including the use of rare expressions and the reworking of biblical verses. The book itself is replete with biblical interpretations and discussions of exegetical methodologies, one purpose of which is to distinguish Karaite understanding of Scripture from Rabbanite exegesis. Ultimately the poetic framework is highly artificial and interferes with the presentation of Hadassi's views more than it advances them. Nonetheless, Hadassi's mastery of Hebrew and his dedication to the unique style of the book, in addition to its encyclopedic nature, make Eshkōl ha-kōfer one of the classics of Hebrew literature.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationExegesis and Poetry in Medieval Karaite and Rabbanite Texts
EditorsJoachim Yeshaya, Elisabeth Hollender
PublisherBrill Academic Publishers
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9789004335110
ISBN (Print)9789004335110
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2017

Publication series

NameEtudes sur le Judaisme Medieval
ISSN (Print)0169-815X

RAMBI Publication

  • rambi
  • Hadassi, Judah ben Elijah -- active 12th century -- Eshkol ha-Kofer
  • Hebrew poetry, Medieval -- History and criticism
  • Karaite philosophy


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