Josep Ribera-Florit


Josep Ribera-Florit was born in Barcelona on 13 October 1935. The son of Pilar Florit and Ramon Ribera, he was the youngest of four children: Mariana, Joan and Ramon. He began his studies in a Carmelite seminary in Barcelona.

Some years later, he moved to Rome, and in 1957 earned a diploma in Librarianship and Archival Studies from the Biblioteca and Scuola Archivistica Vaticana.

In March 1958, his father passed away. Just before this event, he had been granted special permission to be ordained as a Carmelite priest and to stay by his side during his final days.

During his years as a priest, he met the painter Concepción Comellas Postigo, with whom he would begin a great friendship.

In 1962, he obtained a Bachelor's degree in Theology from the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas of Aquinas, in Rome, graduating Magna Cum Laude.

Following his return to Barcelona and pursuit of a degree in Philosophy and Letters, Josep Ribera-Florit worked as an Assistant Professor beginning in 1967. He specialised in Arabic literature and it was with this subject that he dealt in his thesis, supervised by Dr. Juan Vernet and titled: La polémica cristiano-musulmana en los sermones del maestro inquisidor don Martín García (The Christian-Muslim polemic in the sermons of master inquisitor Don Martín García). That thesis would be graded with distinction and was awarded the Prize for Extraordinary Undergraduate Research and subsequently published. In 1969, he received a qualification in German from the Language School of the University of Barcelona.

After passing the competitive examinations in 1970, he became an Adjunct Professor, and a while later reached the rank of Doctor with a thesis on Aramaic-language Jewish Biblical texts according to the Babylonian Masoretic tradition – the first Jewish exegetical commentaries, known by the name of targumim or targums – titled: Tárgum Babilónico a los Profetas (Introducción, estudio gramatical y transcripción de los manuscritos targúmicos sobre los Profetas Posteriores en puntuación babilónica). This thesis was supervised by Doctor Alejandro Díez Macho -the founder of Aramaic studies in Spain-, and marked a new course for the future direction of Professor Ribera-Florit's academic career and research, leading him to dedicate his time and efforts to the Jewish world of Hebrew and Aramaic. That choice would later mean that he would be renowned on a global scale as the successor to the work of Dr Alejandro Díez-Macho and invited to participate in the meetings held by the International Organization for Masoretic Studies (IOMS).

In 1984 he abandoned the priestly life and married Pilar Casamada, whom he would divorce three years later.

In 1985 he was promoted to the position of full professor of the University of Barcelona.

However, the following year, his mother passed away.

In 1987, he met the writer and poet Esther Bartolomé Pons, with whom he fell deeply in love and whom he would take as his second wife in 1999.

In 1988 he became Professor of Hebrew and Aramaic following another examination at the University of Barcelona, thus continuing his work in the area of Hebrew and Aramaic studies and supervising several theses within the field of the Targum, such as those of the University of Girona's Professor Joan Ferrer i Costa, on the Targum of Hosea according to the Yemenite tradition, Professor Elisabeth Giralt of the University of Barcelona on the Targum of Amos, and the researcher Pere Casanellas, on the Targum of Zachariah.

The same year, Josep Ribera-Florit and Esther Bartolomé expected their first child, but lost him following various complications. In 1992 their only son,  Ezequiel, was born, who years later would become an actor, writer, and philosopher, as well as carrying on the scientific and literary legacy of his parents and the artistic legacy of the painter Concepción Comellas Postigo.

Following in the footsteps of his predecessor as Professor of Hebrew at the University of Barcelona, Dr. Millás Vallicrosa, the founder of the collection Biblioteca Hebraico-Catalana, Josep Ribera-Florit launched a similar collection in 1993, created and designed exclusively by him: the Biblioteca Judaico-Catalana. In it, thanks to translations into Catalan by recognised specialists in Hebrew language and culture, important texts would be published which were originally written in Hebrew by the Catalan Jews of the Middle Ages.

In 1994 he was elected Director of the Department of Semitic Philology, a role he would hold until 1997. Between 1990 and 2004, he was also the director and editor of the journal Anuari de Filologia: Secció d`Estudis Hebreus i Arameus, published by the University of Barcelona.

In 1999, his brother Ramon passed away, and would be followed four years later by his other brother, Joan.

In parallel to his classes, Josep Ribera-Florit never ceased his development of his philological, linguistic and literary research, nor his direct translations from the Hebrew and Aramaic. The fruits of this constant work saw the light of day in the form of books, articles, conferences, presentations, and he was invited to participate in national and international symposiums as well as to collaborate on a variety of collective publications and miscellaneous projects. Highlights also include his participation in the international team promoting Targumic literature- the collection edited by Paul V. M. Flesher, Studies in the Aramaic Interpretation of Scripture, and the publishing houses Board and Brill; on the advisory boards of Sefarad and of Miscelánea de estudios árabes y hebreos; in the journal Aula Orientalis; in the compilation of the Corpus Biblicum Catalaunicumin the projects Edición de textos Bíblicos y Parabíblicos; in the prestigious German encyclopedia Theologie und Kirche as well as the renowned Encyclopedia of Midrash. He also played a part in the foundation of several learned societies, including the Societat Catalana d’Estudis Hebraics, la Associació d’Estudiosos del Judaisme Català -which would later be dissolved in favour of its successor the SCEHB, the Associació Bíblica de Catalunya and the International Organization for Targumic Studies.

For this reason, he visited numerous universities and research centres in Israel, France, Italy, Holland, Britain, the United States, and Russia, among others, for both short and long stays.

He was the kingpin of the creation, editing and publication of a series of works titled Estudios de Filología Semítica. These were studies of a grammatical or lexical nature and texts in Aramaic, Arabic and Syriac, which were brought about thanks to the support of the Spanish Ministry of Science and Culture.

He also contributed personally to the popularisation of Aramaic in Spain, writing a Gramática del Arameo Clásico-Oficial (Grammar of Classical-Official Aramaic) (1993), which serves as a study guide for Biblical Aramaic. The success of this book within the university world led to the publication of several editions between 1994 and 2001, as well as a Crestomatía del Arameo Clásico-Oficial (Classical-Official Aramaic Chrestomathy) (2001).

Doctor Ribera continued to develop his research into the Babylonian masorah, Jewish literature- both ancient and rabbinic- and medieval Judaism, not forgetting the Sephardic cultural sphere, around which he would plan and execute an important, and busy, international symposium in Barcelona in 1992, whose proceedings would be published the following year. This Simposi Internacional sobre Cultura Sefardita , celebrated at the University of Barcelona from the 9th to the 11th November 1992 with the participation of prominent national and international figures in the analysis and study of the Judeo-Spanish language and the Sephardic literary world, was the first of its kind held in Catalonia, despite the important precedents celebrated in other areas of Spain starting in 1964, led from the Spanish National Research Council in Madrid by the specialist Jacob M. Hassán.

Professor Josep Ribera-Florit was additionally the director of two other international conferences which were deeply rooted in his native land: the I (Barcelona-Girona, 2001) and II Congress for the Study of the Jews in the Catalan-Language (Barcelona-Cervera, 2004), both of whose proceedings were also published.

With respect to the Judaism of the Middle Ages, he was particularly focused on the area of Catalonia, to be understood in its widest sense and thus including the Occitania and Provence of the 7th, 8th and 9th Centuries. As well as teaching medieval Jewish literature over a period of many years, he supervised several theses on the subject. Two of the most important are La lletra apologètica de R. Iedaia Ha-Penini, defended by Dr. Manuel Forcano (University of Barcelona, 1999) and the Bachelor’s thesis of Esperança Valls, L’Astrologia conreada pels jueus catalans medievals: estudi i edició crítica de la part 5ª del Meguil·lat ha Meguil·là d’Abraham bar Khiia, integrada en el capítol 33 del Mss BNF Heb 1058. As a result of his dual role as an educator and a researcher, several articles were published about the 13th century Gironan poet Meshullam da Piera, for whom Josep Ribera always showed particular empathy, accompanied by a number of his most complex cryptic poems. Dr Ribera also carried out an ongoing series of studies and conferences regarding the figure of Maimonides and the Maimonidean controversy in medieval Jewish Catalonia.

In 2006, he was found to have a brain tumour.

He retired in 2007 at the age of 70. To celebrate the occasion, he was honoured in the volume Profesor J. Ribera Florit: targum y judaísmo as well as being named Honorary President of the III Congress for the Study of the Jews in the Catalan-Language -held at the Institut d’Estudis Món Juïc. A few months later, he was bestowed the title of Professor Emeritus of the University of Barcelona.

He passed away in Sant Cugat del Vallès on 24 December 2007, aged 72.

Following his passing, his final, posthumous book, Poemes de Meixul.lam de Piera (2008), was published. The volume is an edition simultaneously translated into Catalan, with the collaboration of the graduate Esther Jiménez, and into Spanish, by his wife, Esther Bartolomé-Pons.

Professor Josep Ribera-Florit's published works include a dozen books, including his commented translations into Spanish of the Aramaic versions of the three major prophets: Isaiah (1988) -a second edition of which was published in 2016-, Jeremiah (1992) and Ezekiel (2004). These translations have the additional merit of being the first to be made into Spanish directly from the original Aramaic. Equally relevant are the more than sixty articles and essays focusing on different textual, literary and doctrinal aspects of the Jewish exegesis of the targums, a field in which the labour of Doctor Josep Ribera-Florit is renowned worldwide, especially in Europe, Israel and North America.

Josep Ribera-Florit stands out for being the first person in Spain to begin a serious study at the university level of the Aramaic language in all its aspects, as well as being one of the few in Spain to have studied the Babylonian masorah as applied in the prophetic targumim.