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A Note on the Bodleian Bowl

Israel Abrahams

<plain_text><page sequence="1">A NOTE ON THE BODLEIAN BOWL By ISRAEL ABRAHAMS (Read before the Society on March 26, 1904.) An item in the will of Dr. Richard Rawlinson runs thus : " I give and bequeath to the same University my metal Jewish vessel." And in the same University, in the Ashmolean Museum in connection with the Bodleian Library, Oxford, the vessel has remained till the present day. Dr. Rawlinson died in 1755. He had bought the pot in March 1742 for XI, 5s., at the sale of the Earl of Oxford's pictures and curiosities. The Earl of Oxford had bought it in 1722 on the death of its original owner, Dr. John Covel, Master of Christ's College, Cambridge. Covel, as may be seen from Bent's Introduction to the Hakluyt Society's volume, " Early Voyages and Travels in the Levant," was a noted Oriental traveller, and his diary contains several interesting, but not very agreeable, remarks about the Jews of the Orient. He was Master of Christ's from 1688 till 1722, but had already returned to Cambridge in 1679, though he did not permanently reside there till some time later. In the interim he had been chaplain at the Hague to Princess, afterwards Queen Mary. Here he gave offence to William by communicating to the English ambassador an account of Prince William's tyrannical treatment of his wife. When William, as King, visited Cambridge in 1689, Covel was Vice-Chancellor, and when Covel, doubtful as to the King's attitude towards him, sent a feeler to the King, William curtly replied that he could distinguish between Dr. Covel and the Vice-Chancellor of the University. In Macray's " Annals of the Bodleian," we are told that Dr. Covel obtained the metal Jewish vessel after it had been found by a fisherman in a brook in Suffolk, about 1698. This date is somewhat inexact, for, as we shall immediately see, the vessel was in Dr. Covel's hands at least as early as 1696. The wrong date was derived from Tovey, who, in his Anglia Judaica, says 184</page><page sequence="2">A NOTE ON THE BODLEIAN BOWL. 185 rightly enough that the bowl was found about forty years before his work was written, which was in 1738. It is also from Tovey that the statement is derived that the pot was found " by a Fisherman as he was dragging in a small brook in Suffolk" (Anglia Judaica, p. 248). There is no other evidence for this assertion, which is apparently without founda? tion. On the basis of this supposition, various romantic embellishments have been invented, such as that the bowl was found in the River Lark, which passes through Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. Hence have been derived conjectures as to the association of the bowl with the Jews of Bury ?conjectures for which I have been unable to find any historical grounds. But there exist in the British Museum two letters addressed by Isaac Abendana to Dr. Covel. The first of these letters is dated December 23, 1692, from Oxford, and refers to Abendana's last almanac, and to his sending copies for distribution among the heads of the colleges. In this letter Abendana refers to a former visit of his own to the Cam? bridge University. I may note, in passing, that the same British Museum Codex (Add. 22,910) contains a letter to Covel on the subject of the Jewish Calendar from David Neto (so spelt in the autograph). This letter is dated London, January 18, 1705-6. But now we return to a letter of Isaac Abendana, dated from Oxford on October 9, 1696. The letter purports to be printed in Margoliouth's "Vestiges of the Historic Anglo-Hebrews in East Anglia," but this untrustworthy author has suppressed a most important passage which I proceed to cite. It will be noted without further remark that as this letter dealing with the Bodleian Bowl is dated 1696, Mr. Macray's date for its discovery (about 1698) is obviously inexact. In the catalogue of the Anglo Jewish Exhibition the date is correctly given as "about 1696." Abendana's letter to Covel opens thus :? "Your most kind letter and generous tocken I received by the Windsor carrier, for which I return you many thanks. As for the picture of the pot that was taken out of an old mote in Norfolk, it is a hard matter to conjecture any certainty without some further cir? cumstances that may cleare it." There can be no doubt as to the accuracy of Abendana's statement regarding the provenance of the bowl, for he must have derived it directly from Dr. Covel himself. Hence we arrive at the new fact that the bowl was found in a moat in Norfolk and not in a brook in Suffolk.</page><page sequence="3">186 A NOTE ON THE BODLEIAN BOWL. Unfortunately Covel did not allow Abendana to see the bowl itself, and he sent to Oxford so inaccurate a copy of the Hebrew inscription that, as Margoliouth rightly remarks, Abendana's attempt to read it need not be considered. It would be as well, however, to quote Abendana's suggestion as to the use to which the bowl was devoted. He writes that he knew of no vessels in Jewish use but these : (1) Vessels for priests for washing hands; (2) vessels to go round the synagogue for collecting alms; and (3) vessels for collecting the ashes of some eminent man that died a martyr for his religion. This last species of vessel I confess I have never otherwise heard of, any more than I have heard of vessels of the kind referred to in another letter to Covel, written by the Marquis of Northampton also in 1696. Lord Northampton writes: " The Rabbinical porridge pot is a great mystery. I can conceive it nothing but what is carried about in the synagogues in imitation of the pot of manna, whose form is not very different from the description of this, which may be seen on the shekel." Thus already, in 1696, had begun the series of quaint guesses which the Bodleian Bowl has called forth, and will no doubt continue to call forth. I make no claim whatever that the present paper solves the problems connected wuth the vessel. In 1722 the bowl, as we have seen, was purchased by the Earl of Oxford. John Gagnier was then Professor of Oriental Languages at that University, and it is to him that we owe the first useful reading of the inscription which runs round the bowl. A good deal of unnecessary and undeserved contempt has been poured on Gagnier. For a first attempt, his reading was not at all lacking in acuteness. Gagnier was a Hebraist of some attainments. He edited Joseph ben Gorion in Hebrew and Latin, and his " Letters on Readings of Samaritan Coins " (Ugolinus, Thesaurus, vol. xxviii. p. 1283) certainly reveals sound Hebrew knowledge. Various improved readings have been suggested since Gagnier's time. But before we come to the inscription something must be said of the vessel itself. It is very accurately described in the catalogue of the Anglo-Je wish Exhibition, and there are only two points that I have to add. The beautiful photograph which Mr. F. Haes printed in the edition de luxe of the exhibition catalogue of 1887 gives a good idea of the appearance of the bowl. It is a very finely-cast vessel of bronze or bell-metal; it is</page><page sequence="4">A NOTE ON THE BODLEIAN BOWL. 187 91 inches high, 30 inches round widest circumference; it is a very substantial piece of work, and it weighs 11 lbs. 2 ozs. It has two handles and three hoof-shaped feet. The handles and feet belong to the original casting. Tovey omits the handles, but he also omits the ornaments, and his picture is not to be relied on. Over the feet are grotesques, a bird, a stag, and a circle containing a flowery pattern. These are, Dr. Neubauer conjectured, the armorial bearings of the original French owner of the vessel, but this is unlikely; anyhow, the vessel is obviously French, not only from the two fleurs-de-lys which appear under the handles, but also from the general character of the work. We now come to the Hebrew inscription: i^im hnph h\xm ywon hpw bxw i pn p spv -m nm ?miDiD i^vn npisi iwrop* rm nrsD rmr6 There are, no doubt, considerable difficulties in explaining its exact meaning, but the main philological puzzle has always been the first word Tun. To read it han-neder, " the gift," makes bad grammar; to read it han-noder, " the giver," makes bad syntax. Hence various suggestions have been made for regarding the letters of the word as abbreviations, but none of the suggestions are at all convincing. Dr. Kaufmann sug? gested Tn )123n, but the reading is not -)mn but n^n. It is unneces? sary to discuss other suggestions of this kind, as the real solution lies in a different direction. It had always been noticed that some letters were missing at the end of the inscription, but it had not occurred to previous inquirers that something was also missing at the beginning. The true reading is probably TO n[Tl, " this is the gift of." This suggestion was made independently by Mr. Cowley of the Bodleian and myself. The point is of no great importance, except that the rest of the Hebrew is so excellent in style that it was incredible that so elementary a blunder should have been made by the author at the start. Then again there are letters missing at the end. These, following the example of most of those who have dealt with the subject, I have supplied as niDD, "from death," as the citation is from Proverbs x. 2, 1' Righteousness delivereth from death." Dr. Simonsen, of Copenhagen, in a private letter, has made an ingenious suggestion. The inscription is in rhyme and the rhyming syllable is always el (^). Is it possible to find a synonym for "death" or " calamity," which ends with the required</page><page sequence="5">188 A NOTE ON THE BODLEIAN BOWL. syllable! Dr. Simonsen thinks that this is to be found in the text, Numbers xxiv. 23, tobp HW ^K, and that the inscription ended with the punctuated words cited from Balaam's parable. At all events the inscription would mean something like the following:? "This is the gift of Joseph, the son of the Holy Rabbi Yechiel, may the memory of the righteous holy be for a blessing, who answered and asked (i.e. directed) the congregation as he desired (or thought fit) in order to behold the face of Ariel as is written in the law of Yekuthiel (i.e. Moses), * And righteousness delivers from death.' " That the inscription is defective at both ends is certain, and I originally thought that I could explain this by the theory that the strip of metal containing the Hebrew was added after the bowl had been cast. But Sir I. Spielmann has convinced me that this theory is untenable. I append his report on this point:? " In the first place, if the inscription, which is in high relief, were made on a piece of flat bronze, the metal would, of course, be wrought and not cast; and, in order to obtain the letters in high relief, the metal surrounding the letters must have been hammered down by 'punches.' On very close examination of the Bowl, however, there is not a single punch mark to be found on its entire circumference. On the contrary, the metal surrounding the letters is as smooth as it is on all the other external parts of the Bowl? as smooth, in fact, as an egg. If, also, the strip of metal were sunk into a recess on the circumference of the Bowl as suggested, it would be impossible to obtain so close a fit on the entire circumference as to be imperceptible to the eye. I tried to insert the edge of a small blade of a knife in various parts of the edge of the so-called strip of metal, but there is no trace of a join anywhere. " Then, as regards the method of fixing the metal-collar to the Bowl, it would be no easy matter now-a-days with our modern appliances to attach a circular and slightly-tapering collar round a Bowl so exactly and with so perfect a fit, and, at the same time, to leave no sign as to how it was done. It could not have been 1 sweated' on ; consequently, it could only have been soldered or riveted to the Bowl, but there is no sign even under a strong glass of either of these methods having been employed. " Finally, a Bowl composed of two pieces would not have the very perfect ring which the Bodleian Bowl has when struck. I examined the inscription most carefully, as well as the recessed metal round it and the rest of the Bowl, through a strong glass, and all alike have the distinct appearance of cast bronze, and in one piece.</page><page sequence="6">A NOTE ON THE BODLEIAN BOWL. 189 "Mr. Nicholson, the Curator of the Bodleian, and Mr. Charles Read of the British Museum?whom I had the good fortune to meet at the Bodleian? fully confirmed my opinion after a similar examination of the Bowl on their part. " I am perfectly satisfied in my own mind that the entire Bowl with its inscription is a casting, that it is of French origin and of the thirteenth century." This emphatic opinion, while it shatters my particular theory in one point, confirms it in another ? the date and provenance of the bowl. On one point there can be little doubt. The inscription has some reference to pilgrimage to Palestine. This seems first to have been pointed out by Margoliouth ("History of the Jews in Great Britain," i. 297); it was adopted by Mr. M. D. Davis and by Dr. H. Adler (" Papers read at Anglo-Jewish Exhibition," p. 265). The text referred to from the "Law of Yekuthiel," would be Deut. xvi. 16. Who then is Joseph son of Yechiel % No plausible suggestion has been made as to any English Rabbi who fulfils all the conditions. Mr. M. D. Davis, with much ingenuity and learning, proposed Josce til Benedict of Colchester, and even saw in the word ^KiriD a hidden allusion to Cole. But this is no more probable than former proposals to read Kowal in Poland, or Hull in England. We must look to France. Dr. Neubauer hinted that the Yechiel might be the famous Yechiel of Paris, but he did so in a sentence curiously full of inconsistencies. "Whether," he said, " this Yechiel is the learned Rabbi of Paris who had the con? troversies with Donin, or a descendant of his; whether the vessel belonged to the synagogue of St. Edmund or not, we cannot decide. As to the Hebrew characters of the inscription, we think they are of the fifteenth century" (Academy, vol. i. pp. 187-8). Now, Yechiel of Paris belongs to the thirteenth century; the synagogue of St. Edmund's to the twelfth; and yet the letters are fifteenth-century. There is nothing in the letters which makes us go beyond the thirteenth century; and the ^ is, I think, particularly thirteenth-century French in form. I think, further, that the evidence in favour of identifying Yechiel with Yechiel of Paris is weighty. In the first place, the inscription points to a distinguished rabbi; and as no one suggests an earlier date for the vessel itself than the thirteenth century, we require a famous</page><page sequence="7">190 A NOTE ON THE BODLEIAN BOWL. thirteenth-century Yechiel. There was, of course, Yechiel, father of Asheri, but one must look for a French, not a German Yechiel. Not only did Yechiel of Paris have a son Joseph, but both of them were very closely connected with the revival of pilgrimage to Palestine in the thirteenth century. Of one of Yechiel's sons, Dieulesaut (perhaps the same as our Joseph), we are told that he was once imprisoned, and vowed in public that he would go to Palestine, but his father annulled the vow because of his father's honour, his father Yechiel being still alive. The very phrase D^ITD reminds us of the opening of the inscription on the bowl, especially as Gross (p. 92) argues that Dieulesaut and Joseph are identical (see Gross, Gallia Judaica, p. 91; also Neubauer, Cat. BodL, No. 781, fol. 675). But more than this, Yechiel suffered such bitter persecution in France, that about 1260 he transferred his Tal mudic College to Palestine, taking his son Joseph with him. In Palestine, too, his son Joseph was buried?a record of the fact being preserved. But, it may be urged, Yechiel of Paris was, though a great sufferer, not precisely a martyr. How then comes it that our Yechiel, if it be he, is described as ?&gt;npn ? Now, I would urge that it is unsafe to assume that the epithet fc^np, from the thirteenth century onwards, necessarily means "martyr." But I need not rely on conjecture. For Yechiel of Paris is frequently cited with the epithet Bnpn. In ^ne Orchoth Cliayim of Aaron of Lunel (i. 3/;), written before 1327, occurs a citation with reference to the laws of Zizith: h"i bxw irm mipn D^n .riEm noDn inn:n. Cp. also Kolbo, ? 22. These references are given in Gross (Gallia Judaica, 526, &amp;c). Again, in a description of Palestine, written by a pupil of the almost contemporary Nachmanides, the very son of Yechiel named Dieulesaut appears with the epithet b"pm (Revue des Etudes Juives, x. 106), though he was buried in Palestine and was not a martyr. Further, we find in the r6npn rbvhw Yechiel of Paris referred to as KTTpn n?. The term t?npn is sometimes synonymous with TDnn, and occasionally means a man possessed of a reputation for recondite powers. Whether Yechiel of Paris was so named on this account is uncertain. But the authority last named relates some remarkable tales of Yechiel. " Thanks to his knowledge of the Cabbala, Yechiel was able to construct a lamp which, being kindled on Friday eve, burned the whole week without oil in his study. Again, in order to keep off the troublesome visitors who knocked at his door by night,</page><page sequence="8">A NOTE ON THE BODLEIAN BOWL. 191 Yechiel made a patent lock which threw to the ground any one who tried to open the door. Once the king, curious as to Yechiel's lamp, met this untoward fate, but Yechiel appeased him by thoroughly explaining the mechanism of the famous lamp " (Gross, op. cit., p. 529). Though these stories are legendary, they show that Yechiel had an artistic reputation, and it is by no means inappropriate to find him associated with the casting of so fine a piece of founder's work as the Bodleian Bowl. As to the use of the bowl one cannot speak with any certainty. Its weight and solidity made it impossible for it to have been carried about. But beyond this there is nothing intrinsically absurd in most of the variety of uses which have been suggested for the bowl. Still, some of them are out of count. Tovey's notion that it was used to hold con? tracts ; Dr. Neubauer's that its purpose was for pouring water over the corpse before burial; Dr. Asher's contention that it contained balsam or some confection of egg and wine for anointing the dead?all of these suggestions fail to convince. One might rather believe that the bowl was a stationary receptacle for gifts for the Holy Land. It is true that the pot does not seem to have had a lid; there is no mark on the vessel such as a lid would have made. Is it likely that an open pot would have been deposited for the receipt of donations % It is certain that the closed box, designated htflW* yiK HD1p ("Box for the Land of Israel"), came into use after the thirteenth century, and open plates for the receipt of money gifts are still used at Be vis Marks, just as they were used in Dusseldorf in the seventeenth century. (A specimen of such a plate is shown -in the D?sseldorf Museum.) That it was still a new custom in the early part of the fourteenth century or end of the thirteenth century to present gifts for travellers to Palestine may be seen from Maharil (Hilch. Purim.): " I have seen men of means, and also those not unusually wealthy, give half a shekel specially for those who were going to the Holy Land." The terms used indicate that the custom was still strange. Yechiel of Paris was probably the first to found the custom of making collections for the Holy Land (see "Jewish Encyclopedia," vi. 179). As we further know that of the three hundred disciples who accompanied him to Palestine in 1257, many came from England, we have a plausible explanation of the presence in the country of a thirteenth</page><page sequence="9">192 A NOTE ON THE BODLEIAN BOWL. century pot bearing a reference to Yechiel. The first recorded Palestinian envoy, commissioned to collect money for the Holy Land, is R. Jacob of Paris, a pupil of Yechiel. Bibliography.?Besides the works referred to in the course of the pre? ceding note, reference may be made to the following communications pub? lished in the Jewish Chronicle in 1887 : John Symon (April 22); M. D. Davis (Aug. 12 ; Aug. 19 ; Sept. 2) ; Joseph Jacobs (Aug. 19 ; Sept. 2 ; Sept. 9) ; D. Kaufmann (Aug. 26); Dr. A. Asher (Aug. 26 ; Sept. 9).</page></plain_text>