"When creation was all but ended, the world with all its grandeur and splendor stood out in its glorious beauty. There was but one thing wanting to consummate the marvelous work, and that was a creature with thought and understanding able to behold, reflect, and marvel on this great handiwork of God."
THE reason why medieval Hebrew thinkers wrote chiefly in Arabic has been already explained. Only their religious works were, as a rule composed in Hebrew. So far indeed was this carried that the most celebrated of them all, Maimonides, wrote even his chief theological work, his "Guide to the Perplexed," in the Arabic tongue. Hence for his Hebraic writing we are compelled to turn to his familiar letters, such as the celebrated one here given. Of Maimonides himself and the fame of his religious writings among his own people, we have already spoken in the general introduction. It may be well, however, to emphasize that his "Guide to the Perplexed" was studied by Christians as well as Jews, and draws almost as much from Aristotle as from Hebraic teachings. His Codification of all Jewish religious law, known as the Mishneh Toreh, in many regions superseded the Talmud and crowded out the study of that ancient work. Maimonides was born in Spain, is indeed accounted as the greatest of all the sons of Arabic Cordova; but he fled thence to escape persecution, and after much wandering became physician to the Sultan of Egypt.
We have still to give a clearer view of the most celebrated of medieval Hebraic Bible commentators before Maimonides. This was Abraham ben Meir ben Ezra, commonly called Ben Ezra or Ibn Ezra. He was born in Spain, at Toledo, in 1092, but traveled much, resided long in Italy and in England, and saw most of Europe before he died, about 1168. He was a philosopher, astronomer, physician, and poet. Chiefly, however, in the eyes of his own race he was a grammarian. That is, he first turned into scientific grammatical channels the commentaries on the Bible of
which his people were so fond. Under his lead they abandoned fancy for fact, and sought to study the literal meaning of the Bible text. Among his people, therefore, Ibn Ezra ranks second only to Maimonides, in helping to bring their religion to its fixed and final shape.