In his commentary on תהלים פרק צח פסוק ג - Psalm 98:3, Ibn Ezra writes as follows:

זכר, כל אפסי ארץ - כנגד מקומות הישוב שהם שבעה גבולות בצפון ואחד בדרום

I have been unable to determine which גבולות, borders, 7 to the north and 1 to south, Ibn Ezra is referring to.

Any explanations would be appreciated.


1 Answer 1


Ibn Ezra is not referring here to the borders of Israel at all. He is translating the phrase אפסי ארץ - the ends of the earth - and is describing the entirety of human habitation, as known to him.

He uses the phrase שבעה גבולות בצפון to refer to the seven climes (or climata) of the northern hemisphere, originally proposed by Claudius Ptolemy and later adopted in Arabo-Persian astronomy.

Ptolemy's seven climes are horizontal divisions of the earth into bands, reaching from the equator until a latitude of 48°32' N. Each clime was supposed to have a different level of suitability for habitation.

The phrase אחד בדרום, as far as I can tell, is a reference to Ptolemy's belief that the earth was actually inhabited south of the equator as well, down to a latitude of 16°25' S (see his Geography, 1.10).

For more on Ibn Ezra's use of the term גבולות for the climes, see S. Sela, Abraham Ibn Ezra and the Rise of Medieval Hebrew Science, pp. 107-112.

For more on medieval Jewish conceptions of the earth's habitability, see Resianne Fontaine, Between scorching heat and freezing cold: Medieval Jewish authors on the inhabited and uninhabited parts of the earth.

  • +1 fascinating!
    – Harel13
    Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 8:57
  • @Harel13 Thank you! I had a good time researching this one...
    – Joel K
    Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 9:03
  • Thank you Joel. great answer. I would never have gotten this myself. Now let me see if I can take it further Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 21:48

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