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The Spirit of Democratic Tyranny, 101
ticle in the “Edinburgh Review"
tee appointed to Inquire into
Present Exertions of the Church,
JULY 1, 1835.
THOUGHTS ON THE UTILITY OF STUDYING THE
RABBINICAL WRITERS. What is rabbinical literature ? and where is it to be found ? are questions which, a few years ago, were rather difficult of answerat least, to the satisfaction of the inquirer. But now, since the Oppenheim library has been safely deposited at Oxford, the answer is as easy as it is obvious. Go to Oxford, and look at that library,* collected by one individual, a rabbi at Prague, about a century ago.
Contemplate the vast assemblage of manuscripts and printed books, the variety of the subjects, the multiplicity of the editions, the caligraphy of the manuscripts, and the beautiful typography of many of the printed books. You will then have some idea of rabbinical literature; and, when you begin to estimate the labour, the zeal, the industry, and the princely fortune which were spent in collecting that library, you will come to the conclusion that the purest and most noble love of literature
dwell in the heart of a Jewish rabbi. You may, perhaps, feel your curiosity awakened, and desire to know something of the contents of asl these monuments of Jewish intellect. But then comes the question—what use is there in the knowledge of the rabbies? I might answer, in the words of a very wise man,“ In all labour there is profit,” and time was when the accuracy of the reply would have been fully acknowledged ; but that time is gone by, when learning was valaed simply because it was learning, and when intellectual labour was loved for its
• The Catalogue, which is itself of great value, was published at Hamburg, 1826, entitled —" Collectio Davidis ; i.e., Catalogus celeberrimæ illius bibliothecæ Hebrææ, quam indefesso studio magnaque pecuniæ impensa collegit R. David Oppenheimerus, &c.
It is to be hoped, however, that the University of Oxford will soon furnish the public with a complete catalogue.
Vol. VIII. -July, 1835.
These scientific times undertake no work without first making a bargain, and fixing the rate of wages. It is not, therefore, sufficient to declare the general profit of all literary attainments, nor to remind the student that, as the Jews are our religious kinsmen, an offspring from the same stock as ourselves, this one fact must give their writings an interest not to be found in those of any other religionists, who either preceded or followed the establishment of Christianity; we must point out the specific advantages of this particular line of study.
The first use of rabbinical study is, to borrow a couple of German terms, philological and exegetical.
Many persons take upon themselves to expound the writings of the Old Testament. Some are solemnly and lawfully called to do
Now one of the first requisites in any commentator is familiarity with the language of the book which he interprets. If this be not a living language, the only way to acquire familiarity is by extensive reading, by seeing the store of words (Sprachvorrath) variously employed by different authors, and by observing how the idiom is still preserved. It is true that the Old Testament is the work of several writers; but we labour under a disadvantage in reading either the Old or New Testament-we are already familiar with the subject, and thus our faculty of observation is in a measure lulled. The way to revive it is to read other books in the same language. Let it not be objected that the style of the rabbies is so different from that of the Bible. The idiom of the Hebrew language is still preserved, and, in some cases, the style is pure. At all events, a familiarity not otherwise attainable must be acquired from finding the Bible stock of words variously employed, and Bible passages constantly cited and explained. Jewish tradition, as contained in Jewish writers, is one of the three sources of all our knowledge of the Hebrew language ;* and even if it be admitted that rabbinical Hebrew is different from Biblical Hebrew, still it must be considered the nearest akin of all the cognate dialects, and, for the generality of students, the most easy of acquisition. Since the time of Pococke and Schultens, the study of Arabic has been preferred to that of Rabbinical. That it is useful and desirable no one will deny, but the student ought to ask himself whether he has the time and means of acquiring such a knowledge of Arabic as will enable him judiciously to apply it for the purposes of interpretation and criticism. An acquaintance with the grammar, and the ability to turn out a word in Golius, is not a knowledge of Arabic. This can only be acquired by years of patient study, and by extensive reading. The question is, if he have not time for both,—which is the most useful, and the most within his reach ? Allowing that a certain knowledge of Arabic
• See Gesenius' Preface to the 2nd edition of the Handwörterbuch, p. x.
grammar is necessary for the right understanding of the Hebrew structure and forms, I cannot help thinking that rabbinical is the more useful acquisition. A man who studies the best authors in Latin will be a more successful commentator on a Latin book than he who neglects them in order to study the cognate dialects,-the French, Italian, &c. But if this be refused as a parallel case, there can be little doubt but that the student will acquire more familiarity with the words, phrases, and idiom of Biblical Hebrew by reading the rabbies, than by the study of any other more remote cognate dialect. Many of the rabbinical books are, moreover, professed expositions of the words and sense of the Old Testament text, which the Arabic are not. Among the rabbies are to be found the oldest Hebrew grammarians and lexicographers, and it is with me a question whether any of the moderns have excelled them as commentators. When a difficulty occurs, I generally find as much, and sometimes more, satisfaction in consulting Kimchi or Aben Ezra, than in referring to Gesenius, De Wette, or Rosenmüller. At the same time I cannot read these rabbies without making a practical use of the Hebrew which I possess, nor without acquiring more.
Rabbinical literature is, at the least, as useful as Arabic to the expositor ; but to the student of Hebrew and Jewish antiquities, and such every expounder of the Old and New Testaments ought to be in some degree, its help is far greater. An expositor of the Gospels, Acts, but particularly of the epistles, ought to be acquainted with the opinions, manners, customs, laws, and theology of the Jews of that time. And whence is this knowledge to be derived ? Philo may furnish a little, Josephus much more, but in the Talmud and rabbinical writings we have the Pharisees themselves discussing their own opinions. Indeed the writings of the rabbies furnish a species of evidence for the anthenticity and genuineness of the New Testament which is highly satisfactory. Let any one read the rabbinical laws, about the honour due to the rabbies, the washing of hands, the authority of the traditions, and the observance of the Sabbath ; let him consider the mode of disputation pursued in these writings, and the nature of the objections urged against opponents, and then let him turn to the New Testament, and read of the Pharisees : he must say, these are the very men.
And, if he then turn to the character and discourses of the Lord Jesus Christ—so distinct from that of all those by whom he was surrounded, so unlike anything in his own nation, so opposite in sentiment to all the opinions and manners of the day-he must at once recognise the divinity of its original.* Lightfoot, Selden, Lundius, Vitringa, &c., have done much to illustrate the New Testament and Jewish antiquities;
The force of this argument is admitted by the more candid of the German writers. Sce Müuscher Geschichte der Dogmatik, vol i., p. 103.