top of page
< Back

The Beginnings of Anglo-Jewish Biblical Exegesis and Bible Translation

Samuel Daiches

<plain_text><page sequence="1">The Beginnings of Anglo-Jewish Biblical Exegesis and Bible Translation By Samuel Daiches The last quarter of the eighteenth century saw the beginnings of Anglo-Jewish Biblical exegesis and Bible translation. In 1775 appeared, in English, the first book by an Anglo-Jewish Hebrew scholar which can be regarded as a contribution to Biblical exegesis. The name of that scholar was Raphael Baruh, a member of the Spanish and Portuguese community. In 1773 he published, in elegant Paitanic Hebrew, an Elegy on Haham Isaac Nieto. The Jews had been living openly in England for over one hundred years. They brought their faith and their Torah with them. It did not take long before Hebrew books were printed in England, but it took apparendy over one hundred years before the community produced Hebrew scholars who wrote in English. Raphael Baruh was one of them. He was, it seems, born abroad, as he speaks of himself as "a foreigner." Baruh's work was an endeavour to vindicate the Hebrew Text of the Bible against the criticisms of Dr. Kennicott. Kenni cott had collected many Biblical manuscripts, pointed out the varying readings in them and drew the conclusion that there were many mistakes and corruptions in the Hebrew Text of the Bible. He had various critics, such as Fowler Comings and Julius Bate, but also many followers. One of these was the author of a small anonymous book called Critica Sacra, or, A Short Introduction to Hebrew Criticism, published in London in 1774. The writer wanted to show in brief " by what means these corruptions [in the text of the Hebrew Scriptures] can be discovered, removed, and rectified." 20</page><page sequence="2">THE BEGINNINGS OF ANGLO-JEWISH EXEGESIS 21 He suggests the collating of " correspondent or parallel passages of scripture," the comparing of which may help in " correcting the Errors, and supplying the defects of the present text." " But if it should be thought too prolix for the mere purpose of collecting" he proposes " a more contracted scheme," exemplified in a specimen given on pp. 26-9. In 1775 there appeared a criticism of this anonymous book by the Raphael Baruh who has been mentioned above, under the tide Critica Sacra examined: or An Attempt to show that a New Method may be found to reconcile the seemingly glaring variations in Parallel Passages of Scripture. And that such variations consequently are no Proofs of Corruptions, or Mistakes, of Transcribers, (vii ' + 254 pp.: printed in London, by W. Hay, and " sold at his shop next to the Academy of Artists, near Exeter Exchange, Strand.") Baruh collated the whole of the Book of Chronicles with all the parallel passages in the other Books of Scriptures and studied that book with great care and assiduity, as far as his " small abilities could reach," and he hoped " to have discovered some lights which may merit attention." He examines altogether fifty-eight collations? i.e. passages in the Book of Chronicles and parallel passages in other parts of the Bible. At its end there is a very interesting attempt to explain the differences in the Decalogues in Exodus xx, 2?17, and Deuteronomy v, 6-21. The Preface is very interesting. Baruh writes: Therefore, all that I aim at is to show that no passage, or even a single word, or letter of Scripture, should be deemed corrupted, nor should any different reading be adopted as original upon mere conjectures or the authority of parallel passages, unless corroborated and supported by a great number of ancient copies of known and established character and upon very mature deliberation. . . . How? ever, if such passages (which of late are set forth as plain corrup? tions) cannot be corrected by proper authority of other ancient copies we should endeavour to reconcile or explain them by studying with great attention the genius of the Hebrew language. On p. vii he admits the merits of Kennicott's vast undertaking c</page><page sequence="3">22 MISCELLANIES IN HONOUR OF E. N. ADLER (" having spared neither pain nor expence in making such vast collations "). At the end of the Preface he says: I have only to add that, sensible of my deficiency in the English language, though enamoured with its copiousness and energy, I entreat for the indulgence which a foreigner may claim from British candour and generosity. " The prevailing taste of the learned of the present age seems to be that of Scripture Criticism," writes the author at the beginning of his book. One feels tempted to quote page after page from the work, as Baruh's arguments and expositions show sound learning and good common-sense. But for the sake of economy in space I must refer the reader to the book itself. I shall quote only sparingly. It is necessary for me here to mention that since the time the excellent Dissertations on the state of the printed Hebrew Text by the learned and indefatigable Dr. Kennicott came to my hand, I made it my particular business (as I then enjoyed some leisure) to collate the whole of the Book of Chronicles, with all the parallel passages in the other Books of Scripture: and have studied that book with great care and assiduity, as far as my small abilities could reach, and I hope to have discovered some lights, which merit attention. A few able and candid friends encourage me thereto. But, upon the whole, I unluckily differ in opinion in many very material points with the above-mentioned learned man. However, as that perfor? mance is not a short one, I do not suppose it will ever see the light. But when, lately, the above Critica Sacra fell into my hands, the author of which has taken vast pains in pointing out almost all the parallel disagreeing passages throughout the Old Testament (see p. 8), recommending those who are happily endowed with more leisure to note the variations that occur in those passages in order to discover and rectify the mistakes; I could not help extracting out of my said work whatever could serve to reconcile those seeming variations, and, such as my observations are, I humbly lay them before the Public (pp. 5-6). Baruh preferred to confine himself to the passages dealt with in Critica Sacra. On pages 9-26 he deals with collations 1-11 {Critica Sacra, p. 9.); on pages 26-42 with collation 12 {Critica Sacra, p. 10); on pages 42-54 with the collations referred to in Critica Sacra, page</page><page sequence="4">THE BEGINNINGS OF ANGLO-JEWISH EXEGESIS 23 io, note *; on pages 55-222 with the fifty-eight collations enumerated on pages 12-14. There are additional notes in an Appendix (pp. 223-248). On page 248, Baruh writes : This is the whole of what I intended to offer to the public in this performance; but lest it should be thought that though we may be able to account for the differences between Chronicles and other parts of Scripture, we should not succeed so well in the other col? lations proposed by the author of Critica Sacra in Section IV under the third class, I therefore deem it expedient to attempt a recon cilation of the two decalogues, in Exodus xx, 2-7, and Deuteronomy v, 6-12, the first collation in that set (p. 19). Critica Sacra Examined ends with these words : I shall only add that should this attempt be favourably received by the learned and meet with encouragement, I pledge myself to undertake the laborious task of reconciling all the material variations in the collations of other parts of Scripture. Critica Sacra Examined is a valuable exegetical work. It repays careful study even to-day. I should like to refer especially to pages 14 and 15 (fine sense of the Hebrew language), pages 20 and 21 (interesting footnotes), pages 26 and 27, page 41 (second footnote), pages 59 and 60, 68, 155XT. (collation 37), page 165 (the Vulgate quoted), pages 196 ff. (collation 53); and the attempt to reconcile the two Decalogues (pages 248-254) is very fine indeed. Baruh quotes Dr. Bayly's Hebrew Grammar, published in 1773, and his Hebrew and English Bible. The work is learned and is pervaded by a very fine scholarly and gentlemanly spirit. The beginning of Anglo Jewish Biblical exegesis represented by the work of Raphael Baruh is very creditable. In the same year (1775) the author of Critica Sacra published a reply to Raphael Baruh, which he called Supplement to Critica Sacra. In this reply he gave his name. The title-page of the brochure reads: Supplement to Critica Sacra, in which the Principles of that Treatise are fully confirmed, and the objections of Mr. Raphael Baruh clearly answered. By the Rev. Dr. Henry Owen, Rector of St. Olave, Hart Street, and Fellow of the Royal Society. London. Printed by W.</page><page sequence="5">24 miscellanies in honour of e. n. adler Bowyer and f. Nichols, 1775. Dr. Owen devotes 31 pages to an attempt to re-assert his own position. The last page is worth read? ing; I do not want to quote more than is absolutely necessary. We do not know whether Baruh replied to this brochure. One may assume that he was not impressed by the author's second attempt. Owen could collate parallel passages, but Baruh under? stood the soul of the Hebrew language of the Bible. Neither do we know whether he undertook the " laborious task," of which he spoke at the end of his work. In connection with the work of Kennicott I should like to mention a pamphlet published in London in 1760. It is entitled A Dialogue between Doctor Cunningham and Sir Charles Freeman, Bart., concerning Mr. Kennicott's method of correcting the printed Hebrew Text. It is a very interesting, almost fascinating brochure. It is full of wit and humour and scholarly reasoning. Dr. Cunningham comes to Sir Charles Freeman to ask him for a subscription for the work of collecting Bible MSS. That work cost over ^9,000, the enquiry having been carried on for three years, under the patronage of the King of Great Britain, and of several eminent Jews.1 Sir Charles Freeman is approached by Dr. Cunningham to support Dr. Kennicott's work. A discussion develops between the two men on the merits and demerits of textual criticism of the Bible. The discus? sion is fresh and learned, and could be held to-day. I will quote only the last two sentences of the Dialogue : Dr. Cunningham : " I presume then, I must not hope to be favoured with your subscription." Sir Charles : " I do not positively say I will not subscribe; I have no objection to collecting MSS., though I have to bold and arbitrary alterations of the text; but think, Doctor, it will be prudent to post? pone it till Mr. Kennicott gives a better account of himself and his scheme than he has done; and pardon me if I add it would have looked as well in my superiors (various bishops) if they had done the same." On this note the Dialogue ends. 1 Picciotto, Sketches of Anglo-Jewish History, pp. 172-173.</page><page sequence="6">THE BEGINNINGS OF ANGLO-JEWISH EXEGESIS 25 If the Jewish Historical Society could see its way to re-publish this pamphlet, it would, I think, render a service to the history of Biblical research. Let us now turn to the Bible translations. In 1774, the Bible, the Old Testament, was published in Hebrew and English by a Christian English scholar, Dr. Anselm Bayly. It has two title-pages, one in Hebrew and one in English. The Hebrew page reads as follows: d^vidi nwz: min n^inni D^Kiip nnp? r^s^nn nipn t^di mirr ins -i^d anna froston* iew Dnwn n nryn5? n^D mmtr nannte rmnoi *npDn ?n^n nn nrp d^d maps npn pai ^p&amp; ^n Q^?^n ?HDpam pan MwsirD p:to oena ?jten tznp&amp;n p"?^ i^pn It was, as far as I know, the first occasion on which the Old Testament was published in Hebrew and English. The English tide page is also worthy of note. It reads : " The Old Testament, English and Hebrew, with remarks critical and grammatical on the Hebrew, and corrections of the English. By Anselm Bayly, LL.D., Sub-Dean of His Majesty's Chapels, London. Printed by George Pigg and Edward Cox, at Newton's Head, in the Strand, 1774." The Hebrew text is printed on the left, and the English transla? tion on the right. The translation is that of the Authorised Version. " Corrections of the English " is not to be taken seriously. There may be slight modifications here and there. There are a number of short explanatory notes. " Some are only hints," as Bayly says in the Preface. Dr. Bayly appreciates the value of the Authorised Version. He says in his Preface to the English translation : " which, however defective, may, upon the whole, be considered as one of</page><page sequence="7">26 MISCELLANIES IN HONOUR OF E. N. ADLER the best in the world." On the same page he says : " The word of God is a feast." The headings of the chapters are shortened. He is fully alive to the importance of Hebrew, and at the end of the Preface he speaks of the importance of the study of Hebrew, especi? ally for the clergy, for whom (he says) " it is a shame if not a crime, to be unacquainted with this language." In his Hebrew Grammar he says (p. vi): " The first word of God comes to us through the Hebrew." Bayly's Hebrew and English Bible consists of four volumes. He left out the accents and " notes under the Hebrew," in order not to spoil " the beauty of the page." Eleven years later, in 1785, the Pentateuch, with the Haftaroth, in Hebrew and English, was published by a Jew, A. Alexander. It has both Hebrew and English title-pages. This was the first time that a Jewish edition of the Pentateuch in both languages appeared in England. It was a novelty, and the editor was fully aware of it. This is evident from the following words on the Hebrew tide-page: pa ism irn ,wu win my ,tann tamp 2jnr nab an .vrbuv ywiz atavi im ,*nna pisa " Here is for you, holy seed (people), a new fruit; assemble, hasten, come near (ittfU f?r lt?tt)&gt; see and behold a structure distinguished in beauty, well explained in the English tongue." Then are added the words n^atfa n?E3 baNDH d^tOl " And the taste of the food is found in the eating." We can almost see the people rushing to get copies of the new Pentateuch. It is well printed and bound. The Jewish worshipper will now have his own Hebrew-English Penta? teuch on Sabbath morning. The first Pentateuch published by a Jew in England must have made a great impression on the Jewish community of the eighteenth century. It was printed in London, in the house and the printing office of A(lexander) Alexander and Son, at No. 11, Church Street, Spitalfields, in 1785. On the Hebrew 2 jnr UZb KH is taken from Genesis xlvii, 23; PIT is given here a different meaning.</page><page sequence="8">THE BEGINNINGS OF ANGLO-JEWISH EXEGESIS title-page his name is given as y^T 3^ mW n"3 TUD3^R He was in partnership with his son.3 In Hebrew is added ? TUMte 3^ mvp Father and son were thus associated in the production of the first Jewish Hebrew-English Pentateuch. On the English title-page it is stated that it contains " Remarks Critical, and Grammatical, on the Hebrew, by A. Alexander." The English translation is that of the Authorised Version. In the Pentateuch, Alexander also gives the marginal notes of the Authorised Version under the translation : in the Haftaroth he omits the marginal notes. There are explan? atory notes in the Pentateuch. The notes are straightforward and useful, but it would take too long to deal with them. To give one or two illustrations: On Ch. xxi, 6, he remarks: "I cannot help thinking that the word which we have translated * laugh' had much better have been translated * rejoice,' especially in Ch. xvii, 17, when Abraham, it is said, fell on his face and laughed even in the presence of the Divine Being. Such behaviour is not at all con? sistent with the respectful conduct of the Patriarch at other times." See also note on Gen. xxv, 1; xxvii, 35. There are more notes in Genesis than in the other four books of the Pentateuch. The note on Shiloh, in Genesis, ch. xlix, 10, is short and quite good. The headings of the chapters are short, as in Bayly's Hebrew and English Bible. In the Haftaroth, at the beginning of the translation of each Haftarah, the first two Hebrew words are printed in English letters. We see from most of these transcriptions that the pronunciation of Hebrew was in the German manner. fi3 is transcribed by " Kow Omar," and similarly throughout. Some transcriptions show a leaning towards the Spanish and Portuguese pronunciation. The print is very good. It is a pleasure to look at this Pentateuch even to-day. Two years later, in 1787, another Hebrew-English Pentateuch was published in London. It was printed by Lion Soesmans and Co., at 3 See on A. Alexander and his son Levi Alexander, Cecil Roth, "The Origin of Hebrew Typography in England," in The Journal of Jewish Bibliography, October, 1938, p. 7.</page><page sequence="9">28 MISCELLANIES IN HONOUR OF E. N. ADLER 9 Duke Street, Aldgate. There is only an English title-page in this Pentateuch. The title-page, after the word " Genesis," reads : " In Hebrew, with the English translation on the opposite page, with Notes, explanatory, practical, critical, and grammatical, by Lion Soesmans. Corrected and translated by David Levi." It has a note on the word " Genesis " similar to that in Alexander's Pentateuch, only a little longer. The same applies to the other four books. Similar notes are given in the general English Bibles. It is clear that the work was done by David Levi. The English trans? lation is that of the Authorised Version with the addition of the marginal notes. The explanatory notes are more numerous and more elaborate than the notes in Alexander's Pentateuch. See for instance, notes on Genesis xviii, 12 (he quotes Nachmanides), xxii, 1; or Genesis xlix, 10 (Shiloh). Sometimes there are also notes in Hebrew when they concern points of Massorah (cf. Genesis xxvi, 22; xxviii, 2). The Haftaroth have no words in English transcrip? tion. It is interesting to note that Alexander transcribes the word JTHDSn (printed in Alexander's Pentateuch JlllftDn) " Haphtaras," and David Levi transcribes it " Haptorath." The print, both of the Hebrew and the English, is larger and the volumes are thicker. But the print of the notes is very small. It is difficult to say what made a second publication of a Hebrew English Pentateuch necessary only two years after the Alexander Pentateuch had appeared. It may be that Soesmans did not want to be outdone by Alexander and also wanted to print and publish a Pentateuch with the English translation and notes. And he asked David Levi to edit this work for him. What does " corrected and translated by David Levi" mean? " Corrected" no doubt refers to the notes, and " translated" to the English translation. For " corrected and translated " we would probably say to-day " edited." The publication of this Pentateuch was thus the work of David Levi. When a revised edition was published by L. Alexander, the son of A. Alexander, over thirty years later, it was stated on the general tide-page in " Bereshith " : " The Notes explanatory, practi? cal, critical, and grammatical of the late David Levi." There are</page><page sequence="10">THE BEGINNINGS OF ANGLO-JEWISH EXEGESIS 29 some interesting additions, also woodcuts, in that edition, which was published by N. Barnett, Bookseller, 2 St. James Place, Aldgate, and printed by and for L. Alexander, Whitechapel Road. Whether both Pentateuchs held the field, or David Levi's became the favourite it is difficult to say. The latter was probably the case, since David Levi was known as a great Hebrew scholar. The L. Alexander edition of 1824 would also show that. In passing, one may ask this question. In 1783, the Pentateuch with a German translation and commentary was published by Moses Mendelssohn in Berlin. Were Alexander and Levi influenced by the Mendelssohn edition of the Pentateuch? I think the answer must be in the negative. The whole mode of the work of Alexander and Levi was English. The translation was that of the Authorised Version. The notes were in the same manner as the notes in the English Bibles (cf. Bayly and others). Even the wording on the title-pages with regard to the nature of the notes was the same as on the title-pages of the English editions of the Bible, " explanatory, historical, critical and practical," or " grammatical." We find even the " Argument," so popular in the English Bibles of the period, at the end of each book in Alexander's edition. The " Argument," is a sort of general survey of the contents of each book. We can say that the Pentateuchs of Alexander and Levi were pure Anglo Jewish productions. David Levi was an intellectual giant. He dominated the scene of Hebrew learning in England for at least two decades. He pub? lished several important works. In the year in which he published the Pentateuch, 1787, he completed the publication of his Lingua Sacra in three volumes. The Lingua Sacra consists of a Hebrew Grammar and a Hebrew-English Dictionary. The Hebrew Gram? mar occupies half of the first volume, and the Dictionary the remaining two and a half volumes. The three volumes together contain nearly three thousand pages. The Dictionary contains more than two thousand. The Dictionary is a supremely great work. How a man who had to earn his living by his handiwork, by mend? ing shoes or dressing hats, could produce such a work as this and</page><page sequence="11">30 MISCELLANIES IN HONOUR OF E. N. ADLER his other works is almost impossible to understand.4 In some parts the Dictionary becomes an Encyclopaedia. There is also a great deal of Biblical exegesis in the Dictionary. Where did he acquire his learning? We know that his great-grandfather was a Rabbi in Poland, who in his old age migrated to Palestine. David Levi was born in London.5 His father was Mordecai Levi, a member of the London congregation of German and Polish Jews. He must have had good teachers. His Hebrew learning was very great indeed. His English is good. He writes with ease and vigour. At the beginning of his Preface to his Lingua Sacra he says: " The Hebrew hath such an emphatic energy, a comprehensiveness, and sublimity, which it is impossible for the versions to reach." He also quqtes there the sentence from Anselm Bayly's Preface to his Hebrew and English Bible, which is mentioned above (p. 26). Of his Lingua Sacra he says in his letter to Anti-Socinus ( ? A.B.) " that darling of my soul, in whom all my joys are treasured up." It appears that David Levi had the intention of publishing a new translation of the entire Bible. But this intention was, as far as we know, not realised. At the end of Vol. Ill of Lingua Sacra, in an epilogue " to the Public " he says (p. 7) : " And I have since, by the assistance of some friends, been able to make a collection of books equal to the great task I promise myself the pleasure of going through, provided the blessing of God affords me health and time to execute it. I mean a new translation of the Bible, with a copious commentary, on a plan never before attempted; and in which the errors of the present translation will be clearly pointed out, the difficult passages explained and the seeming contradictions recon? ciled." We do not know of any such work by David Levi. 4 In his later years he printed books in Hebrew, e.g. Milchamoth Adonai (1794) and Binah La-itim (1795), Eliakim ben Abraham (Jacob Hart: see Transactions, J.H.S., xiv, 211). The Hebrew note on the title-page of Milchamoth Adonai reads ?1 *lbn WTO in m Y'iro did-d Dsn: and of Binah La-itim dib-qi n^ss dstj /?ftn WTO in (W us"! mn 1133) Vina, This shows that David Levi was held in high esteem as a scholar. On David Levi as printer, see Roth, loc. cit. 5 For a short account of David Levi's life and work, see S. Singer, " Early Translations and Translators of the Jewish Liturgy in England," in Transactions J.H.S., iii, 59-71.</page><page sequence="12">THE BEGINNINGS OF ANGLO-JEWISH EXEGESIS 31 Apparently it was not given to him to carry out his plan. At the end of page 7 and beginning of page 8 he writes : "for part of my time was also occupied in answering Dr. Priestley's first letters to our nation; and in translating the notes, and in correcting the press for Lion Soesman's Bible, which has lately been published." It is not clear what he means by " translating the notes." The list of subscribers at the end of Lingua Sacra is very interest? ing. Among the subscribers was 4 4 The Learned Society of Berlin and Koenigsberg. Fifty sets." David Levi must be regarded as the greatest English-born Jewish Hebrew scholar. According to the Dictionary of National Biography he was born in London in 1740. According to Picciotto, p. 228, the Gentleman s Magazine, May 1799, and the Jewish Encyclo? pedia, he was born in 1742. I think the Jewish Historical Society should commemorate the bicentenary of his birth. Even if the date is as given in D.N.B. (1740), it is not too late. It will not be difficult to find the form which this commemoration should take. A special lecture might be devoted to his Dictionary. A tablet might be affixed to the house that stands on the ground on which stood the house in which he lived. According to his 44 Letters to Dr. Priestley " he lived in 1793 in Green Street, Mile End New Town, and had his printing office at 26 Baker's Row, Whitechapel Road. Four years earlier he was living at 57 Church Street, Mile End New Town. David Levi's high place in Anglo-Jewish Hebrew learn? ing ought to be proclaimed and established. He should not be referred to any more as 44 the erudite hat-maker of Whitechapel." He should be called 44 the great Anglo-Jewish Hebrew scholar of the eighteenth century." Now a few remarks on another translation of the Pentateuch, published in 1789 by Isaac Delgado. This was not a complete translation, but only of those parts in which a version differing from the Authorised one is given. Its value as a translation of the Pentateuch is, therefore, limited. Delgado called his work 44 the new translation," and the book, with its notes, is interesting as showing the author's capacity for independent interpretation,</page><page sequence="13">32 MISCELLANIES IN HONOUR OF E. N. ADLER although it does not always lead to acceptable results. But it is not in line with the other Pentateuch translations reviewed here. It requires to be treated in a special lecture or article. We shall, there? fore, leave Delgado's Pentateuch for another occasion. David Levi died in 1801. In the Gentleman s Magazine for October of that year an elegy on him by Henry Lemoine was pub? lished. (The date of his death is not given.) The poem consists of ten strophes, of which the following two may be quoted : He's gone! The pride of Israel's busy tribe; No more he wearies at the midnight hour, 'Midst dust and dictionaries unwearied scribe, To fix a vowel's doubtful point or pow'r; From Moses to Malachi to explain, What Rabbies thought, or dreamt they did contain. Wisdom, in earliest life, he chose his guide, I knew him when he earliest form'd his plan; Mark'd all his steps, exulting to reside Where knowledge, without pride, discover'd man! And where shrewd critic taste without controul, Bespoke the elevation of the soul.</page></plain_text>

bottom of page