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Note on Isaac Abendana

Dr I. Abrahams

<plain_text><page sequence="1">note on isaac abend ana. 221 Note on Isaac Abendana. By Dr. I. Abrahams. In the account of Isaac Abendana's Latin translation of the Mishnah, printed in an earlier volume of the Transactions,1 I suggested various reasons why the version was not printed. This was a remarkable fact, in view of the great interest felt in the work by prominent scholars, especially in Cambridge, where the translation was made, and where it still exists in MS. One reason for the failure to print the book?possibly the decisive reason?escaped my memory. It is supplied by a letter written from Cambridge to Professor Bernard in Oxford, under date October 9, 1673. The letter was published by Mr. W. D. Macray, from a Bodleian Manuscript (Smith MS. 8, p. 95), in the Steinschneider Festschrift of 1896, on pp. 89-90. As the volume named is somewhat inaccessible, I now reprint the text of the letter from Mr. Macray's edition. The letter runs thus : Charissime Domine Professor, Et serius quam tu expectabas (Vir humanissime), et brevius fortasse quam uterque nostrum vellet, respondeo litteris tuis, quod si tibi notum esset quam diu et graviter segrotarem erit humanitatis et prudentise tuse silentium meum in bonam partem accipere. Quod miseris titulum Penta teuchi, gratissimum fecisti, et maximas ago gratias; quid de illius versione Graeca sentiam rogas ? Ego certe nunquam ut memini earn vidi, earn tarnen citat Azarias Edumseus, in libro suo *VlND&gt; pag. 146, vocat que versionem Judseorum GraecGrum. Puto earn concinnatam a pluri mis doctis viris, non ab uno authore, ita uti fuit versio Hispanica Ferrariensis, Judsei enim nullam admittunt Bibliorum versionem, nisi ea sit a doctis approbata, nec versio Arabica R. Saadiae sine plurimorum approbatione divulgata fuit. Sed quid meum judicium ! Ubi potius meum est a vobis audire. De mea versione Mishnse quid dicam ? Deum testor me tarn libenter earn mundo communicaturum quam vivo, sed si nosces quomodo se res habent mecum ft)^ pp"^ ^J^n? e* n^ esset quod foveam spem me ali quando earn absoluturum, jam diu ex consilio amicorum desererem Angliam. Paravi nuperrime versionem gnp^n 1V2 ^3 Maymonidis, atque notis satis 1 Transactions, vol. viii. pp. 98-121.</page><page sequence="2">222 NOTE ON ISAAC ABENDANA. amplis illustravi; earn libenter typis darem, sed hie desunt characteres Hebr. Quod si in vestra Academia commode fieri posset, experirer ego ami corum meorum favorem ut earn meis sumptibus divulgarem. Quod si tibi (Vir dignissime) videbitur, mittam tibi ipsam versionem cum notis; et si digneris mihi significare quid vester Typographus postularet pro singulis foliis, et qua ratione posset imprimi, me in aeternum devincies. Poteris, si placet, rescribere per postam, ut quamprimum possim disponere res meas. Optarem aliquid speciminis mundo dare mei erga litteras animi. Is qui tibi hasce litteras traddet est Germanus vir doctus, qui visendi academias vestras et contrahendi amicitiam et notitiam virorum doctorum desiderat. Sed tibi peregrinum commendare non opus est, cum omnes te agnoscant peregrinorum patronum. Vale, Vir clarissime, et meis conatibus fave. Tuae clarit. ad omnia paratiss. Cantabrigise, 9 Octobris, 1673. Isaac Abendana. The letter proves that, at the time, no Hebrew type was to be found in Cambridge. Though Abendana's version is in Latin, yet there is a considerable use of Hebrew in the notes. Hence, apart from other considerations, it would have been impossible to print the work in Cambridge, and this fact may have been the real reason why the learned world was compelled to wait for Surenhusius, who utilised Jacob Abendana's Spanish version (still in manuscript) of the Mishnah, though not Isaac Abendana's Latin version (which would not have been available in Amsterdam). It is a little strange that Isaac Abendana found no Hebrew type in Cambridge in 1673, for in 1658 Cudworth was able to print a Hebrew poem in the University, and in 1660 the same is true of him and of Thomas Smith.2 Though there was only a very limited supply of Hebrew type in Oxford in 1603, there was more in 1660.2 Earlier still, Pocock in 1655, and later Prideaux in 1679, were able to print books with a good deal of Hebrew type in Oxford. While on the subject of Isaac Abendana, a reference may be made to an allusion to him for a knowledge of which I have to thank Mr. Wilfred S. Samuel. In a letter to Robert Boyle, by Henry Oldenbury (Secretary of the Royal Society), occurs this passage 3 : 2 See Transactions, vol. v. pp. 90, 109. 3 The Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle, 6 vols., 1772; see vol. i. p. 5. The original letter, as Mr. Samuel tells me, is in the British Museum, Add. MSS. 3428.</page><page sequence="3">NOTE ON ISAAC ABEND ANA. 223 London, Jan. 28, 1667. As I was writing this, there came to visit me the Rabbi Abendana whose brother is now at Oxford. He mentioned what had been done in his business of vending some Hebrew manuscripts, and that it was likely some would be bought at Oxford and particularly that you had expressed an intention to buy some of them for yourself. I told him, that I was persuaded you would assist Dr. Barlow in furthering this matter as much as you could; and he desiring me that I would recommend it to your particular care, I promised him to do in it, what you see here I do ; intreating you withal to present upon occasion my humble service to Dr. Barlow and to give him many thanks from me for considering my note I sent to him by these Hebrews when he was at London for recommending their desires to him, I being then so unfortunate that I always missed of Dr. Barlow when I was to wait on him at his lodgings in Holborn. Isaac Abendana was, at the time, resident in Cambridge, but we already knew that he made occasional journeys to Oxford, and this note adds a detail to our previous information. More interesting is the reference, however, as enabling us (thanks to Mr. Samuel's suggestion) to clear up an obscurity concerning Jacob Abendana, who became Haham in London in 1680-1. In 1668 the sum of ?10, we read, was expended in London for " a Regalo " for the Haham Jacob Abendana. " He may," comments Dr. Gaster,4 " have been here on a flying visit, and have made the acquaintance of the people who were afterwards to appoint him their spiritual guide." It is clear that Jacob Abendana's visit was begun as early as January 1667 ; possibly he came for literary purposes. He may also have participated in the supply of Hebrew MSS. to Oxford. In 1668 his brother Isaac received ?37 from the Bodleian for a collection of such MSS.5 Macray refers to Hearne's statement that Abendana was himself the author of a " piece " on Chess, which Thomas Hyde printed as an ancient text.6 Whereupon, Macray observes: " But is it possible 4 History of the Ancient Synagogue of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews (London, 1901), p. 37. 5 Macray, Annals of the Bodleian Library, ed. 1890, p. 134. (Compare Transactions, vol. viii. p. 103.) 6 Hyde prints three Hebrew texts on Chess in the second (Hebrew) part of his Mandragorias (Oxford, 1694). The first is assigned to Ibn Ezra, the second to Ibn Yahya Bonsenior, while the third is anonymous. Hyde makes no claim as to it3 antiquity.</page><page sequence="4">224 NOTE ON ISAAC ABEND ANA. that this last statement is correct, and that Abendana imposed upon the learned Librarian of the Bodleian ? " Were that the case we might say of Hyde, as Hyde said of the scholiast who read an allusion to Chess in Theocritus, " quantum hallucinatus est scholiastes." But the suspicion is entirely unfounded. In the first place, Hyde does not describe the text in question as ancient, and in the second place, the style and contents quite preclude the conclusion that it can have been written in the late seventeenth century at all, or by Abendana in particular. The letter reprinted above adds the information that Abendana had completed, with adequate notes, a Latin translation of Maimonides' Vessels of the Sanctuary, and that the volume was ready for printing. Nothing is otherwise known of this work ; it is not preserved at Cam? bridge. We gather further that Abendana was discontented with his experiences in this country, for he states that but for his desire to complete his translation of the Mishnah he would long since have left England. His reference to his long illness adds pathos to the loss which the world sustained by the non-publication of the works at which he toiled under difficult circumstances. The esteem of his many Oxford and Cambridge friends must have been some solace.</page></plain_text>