Among the many accomplishment of the 10th-century sage Saadiah Gaon—one of the leading rabbinic authorities of his day—was a translation of the Torah and a few other biblical books into Arabic, along with a commentary. Although not the first to attempt to render the Bible into that language, he was the first Jew to do so. Harry Freedman explains some of Saadiah’s influences:
Nothing remains of [the Arabic-speaking Christian scholar] Hunayn ibn Ishaq’s [earlier] biblical translations, although it is likely that subsequent Arabic Bible manuscripts were based on his. Saadiah almost certainly drew on his scholarship, but only after it had been refracted through the prism of the literary critic and philologist ibn Qutayba.
Islamic writers and intellectuals of [Saadiah’s] time placed great emphasis on the literary economy of language. They frowned on the use of unnecessary words or phrases and on superfluous repetition. That the Hebrew Bible contained such apparently unnecessary material offered ammunition for the Muslim accusation that the Jews had falsified the Bible. Ibn Qutayba had ameliorated Hunayn’s classic Arabic translation by converting repeated names into pronouns and deleting phrases that seemed redundant. Saadiah’s Tafsir, as his translation came to be known, displays similar stylistic alterations.