Page images
PDF
EPUB

that resemblance in grammatical terminology, the not understanding of which has caused Clericus to detract greatly from the honor due to the Fathers; and finally that midrashic volubility which took its rise partly from the fact that they as well as the doctors of the Talmud were (as is evident from their vacillating pronunciation)* destitute of the masoretic punctuation, whose invention is an enigma more obscure than Plato's number, and the want of which gave rise to a multitude of monstrous forms. Whatever they knew of the Hebrew language they had learned from the Jews, by whom it was still employed, in like manner as a traveller, passing through the borders of a foreign country, partially acquires its language and afterwards forgets it. Of grammatical principles they, as well as the native scholars, were ignorant; and, making use of the language for no other purpose than to explain the Scriptures, they give themselves no concern respecting its laws or internal analogies. The cognate languages, as the Punic and Syriac, which some of them were acquainted with, they knew not how to use, and hence were forced to depend entirely on Jewish tradition; this they are wont to follow in accordance with the analogy of faith, and if they occasionally desert it, they are apt to fall into absurdity. Hence we are justified in terming this the lowest stage of the Hebrew language in the Church.

In what may be called its middle stage, the study of Hebrew literature made less progress than might have been expected from these preparatives; and we here behold the Synagogue pressing forward with rapid strides, while the Church lags at a languid pace behind. The Jews in the time of the Geonim, being impelled thereto by an emulation of the Arabian scholars, returned to the study of the liberal arts and sciences, and applied themselves to grammatical investigations, which had received a new impulse in the ninth century. In this respect they far excelled the Arabians, inasmuch as they did

= prius אולם ; (מאי הר סיני הר שירדה שנאה לאה עליו .58

.bat

. f

from Aram. N9D, 90 (Cyprian Opp. p. 459 Rigalt; comp. b. Sa

); = Aram. 8598-70(Jerome ad Gen. 28: 19).

* Thus Jerome, in epist. ad Evangelum (II. p. 570. Par.): “ Nec refert utrum Salem an Salim nominetur, cum vocalibus in medio literis perraro utantur Hebræi, et pro voluntate lectorum ac varietate regionum eadem verba diversis sonis atque accentibus pronuncientur."

not treat the Hebrew as a solitary language, separate from the Aramaic and Arabic, but embraced the whole Shemitish family in their researches.* Already had Judah ben-Karish (about 880) revived the study of the Targums, which in the increasing spread of the Arabic language had become neglected, and demonstrated by ingeniously selected examples the use of both the Aramaic and Arabic in the illustration of the Hebrew. How long ago, too, by the labors of Saadias of Fayum (d. 942), was the doctrine of the roots, the forms, and the points of the sacred language explained in works written in Hebrew and

* We find no use made by the Arabs of comparisons either with the Shemitish or with other languages. Their labors in the investigation of their mother-tongue were so extensive and profound, that, restricted to it as they were by their religious scruples, they did not pass beyond its bounds. Hence in their productions they constantly betray their ignorance of the cognate languages; and the etymologies of Hebrew names given in the Koran rarely even approach the truth. They knew more of the Aramaic than of the Hebrew, as the Jews dwelling in Arabia and in the neighboring countries made use of the Aramaic until they acquired the Arabic language; so that when a word is called Hebrew by Arabian writers, it is usually Aramaic. But the few words which they accidentally became acquainted with, however closely resembling the Arabic in form and meaning, they were incapable of using in the prosecution of further comparisons with the Hebrew or Arabic. For whatever presented a similarity to the Arabic language, seemed to them to have degenerated from the perfect model of their native tongue; which God himself, as well as the angels and saints that dwell in paradise, were feigned to speak. They held that the entire knowledge both of the materials and structure of their language was to be drawn from the ante-mohammedan poems and traditions, the Koran, the traditions of Islam called Hadith, and lastly from the pure

domestic and native speech of the Bedouins. If any one had attempted to deduce a knowledge of the language from any other source, he would doubtless have been looked upon as heretical. They scarcely even dreamed of what might have been done for the elucidation of their language by internal comparison alone; there are indeed a few specimens in the commentaries of Beidhawi of what may be effected in this way, but they are scarcely the first beginnings of this important matter. The above has been kindly and liberally furnished me by H. L. Fleischer, the light and ornament of our University.

[ocr errors]

Arabic, and made use of in translating and expounding the sacred volume! Another distinguished individual was Judah ibn-Chayuj, of Fez, called also Abu Zekeriya, who is justly styled the Father of Hebrew Grammar, and who, opposing the license of the elder grammarians, was the first that confined within certain limits the theory of verbal roots, and confirmed the doctrine of their triliteral form. A little of his learning found its way into the Church ; but wonderfully perverted, and in no wise improved upon, much less perfected. He is followed by a host of distinguished grammarians, among whom are the well known names of Abulwalid Merwan ibn-Ğanah, the author of seven books of grammar; Samuel Nagid, who left twenty-two books; Moses Gecatilia, Jakob Elazari, Ibn-Ezra, the Tibonida, and the Kimchis.*

But we are ashamed to confess that the Church, in which the written word of God was becoming daily of less esteem, left the grammatical works of the Jews, from which in her lack of other aids she might have derived the greatest benefit, completely untouched. Indeed, the less the holy Scriptures were had in honor, the less were Hebrew studies prosecuted; so that when any applied themselves to them for controversial purposes, they were found unequal to the Jews in point of skill. In the time of Charlemagne, the Hebrew language was indeed publicly taught by the Emperor's orders, but the experiment was not attended with much success, nor was it persevered in. The study of the Oriental languages, which had sunk under the barbarism of ages, found a champion in the great Frederic II., the son of Henry VI. and Constantia, daughter of the king of Sicily, who undertook an expedition to Palestine in 1228, and, having conquered Jerusalem and a great part of Syria, brought back into Europe, among the richest of the spoils taken from the Orientals, a number of Hebrew and Arabic manuscripts. Of those in Arabic, he had many translated into Latin by the scholars of Bologna, and into Hebrew by one Jacobus Anatolius, a Jew; but this latter was so wedded heart and soul to the Arabic, and with it to the religion of Islam, that he was unable to do much for the restoration of Hebrew learning, especially in

* S. David Luzzatto, Prolegomeni ad una Grammatica Ragionata della lingua Ebraica. (Padova, 1836.) p. 26. ss.

+ Cuspinian. de Cæsaribus, p. 419. Boxhorn, Hist. Univers. p. 779. Carionis Chron. p. 517,

the rude and benighted age in which he lived. Thus the Church suffered several centuries to elapse, in which to her shame and disgrace, while the power of the Roman pontiffs kept continually increasing, the study of letters was neglected and laid prostrate, and even the remembrance of the Hebrew gradually faded away and become extinct.

Yet, even in these wretched and lamentable times, the knowledge of the Hebrew language in the Church received some additions. For even in the tenth and eleventh centuries, a wonderful series of events imposed on the Church the necessity of providing against harm to herself, from her ignorance of Oriental letters. The descendants of the Moors and the Saracens, who were bound up in the Mohammedan superstition, had now long held possession of Spain, and had reduced it almost completely under their sway. Nor less great was the concourse of Jews who had collected there from the time of Adrian, and whose number was continually augmented by the arrival of those who, driven out of their settlements in Babylonia, sought a refuge in the West. Both of these classes turned their whole energies to the study of theology, medicine, and the philosophy of language; while in the Church the cultivation of polite letters was entirely given up and abolished. Their distinguished erudition left the Church ages behind, and armed them with an almost incalculable power against her, sunk as she was in ignorance and barbarism. Their singular industry caused them also greatly to excel the Christian clergy in a knowledge of the arts and sciences; so that, in their encounters with Christians, who were ignorant both of philosophy and philology, they were wont to bear away the palm. The Christians, therefore, lest they should become the sport and ridicule of their enemies, and suffer from the mouths and pens of those whose swords they had already so severely felt, now turned their attention to those branches of learning in which they found that their enemies excelled. They apapplied themselves, accordingly, to philosophy and physics, and also, that they might be a match for the impiety of the Mussulmans and the obstinacy of the Jews, to the languages of both these people. And now again, as in former times, the Church was compelled to have recourse to the Synagogue. She did not, however, employ the aid of Jews remaining in connexion with the Synagogue to prove the way to the requisition of the Hebrew, but of proselytes who come over to her,—the most of whom, however, appear to have been but little skilled in the language and literature of their forefathers. Raymundus de Penna Forti, a Dominican (b. 1175, d. 1275) of the convent of Toledo, 1250, in consequence of magnificent rewards offered by the kings of Arragon and Castile, proposed to his colleagues that they should begin to study the languages of the Moors and Jews; and also instituted an Oriental Seminary, at the royal expense, that a knowledge of these languages might thus be brought into the Church. Raymundus Martini, a Catalonian (b. 1236), a celebrated defender of the Church, was at this time superintendent of one of the Oriental schools; he studied with one Paul, a convert, who, in 1263 and again in 1264, obtained the favor of the king in a contest at the court of Barcelona with Nachmen of Gerona, and was the first since the time of Jerome who can be considered as at all learned in the Hebrew.

At the commencement of the fourteenth century, Clemens V. endeavored to reinstate the institutions of Raymond de Penna and the kings of Spain, which, either through the carelessness of the times or the want of means, had been suffered to sink into neglect. In the Council of Vienna, in 1311, he published a decree that in every university there should be established six professors of the Hebreu, Chaldee, and Arabic languages, and this for the same purpose as formerly, namely, that the Church might thus be able either to repulse her enemies or to win them over to herself. On the promulgation of this pontifical decree, , which was repeated and confirmed in the Council of Basle, the doctors of the Church, who, after their many vain attempts, had not yet mastered the language, had again recourse to the aid of Jewish proselytes; but as the Church had of late obtained but few of these, and still fewer who could be called men of learning, it was found impossible to appoint a single professor of the Hebrew for two entire centuries in any university, if we except a solitary one at Oxford.* But finally in the fifteenth century, when learning began gradually to revive, and the decree of Vienna was renewed, many, stimulated thereto by the Jews who had adopted the profession of Christianity, applied themselves to the study of the Hebrew language. The number of converts indeed in this century was much greater than in the preceding one and among them there occur to us some who were rather distin

• Ulrich, De Linguæ Ebraicæ inter Christianos ante Reuchlinum cultu, Halæ 1751. Reinhard, De Fatis Studii Hebræo. Biblici inter Christianos, Vitembergæ 1721. ·

« PreviousContinue »