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Bacon, Roger°


BACON, ROGER° (c. 1214–1294), English philosopher and Hebraist. Bacon studied at Oxford (probably) and – from 1236 at the latest – Paris. He learned Hebrew, and his transliterations, reflecting Sephardi pronunciation, imply Jewish assistance. Bacon's advanced criticisms of scientific and theological methodology led Bonaventura, general of the Franciscans, to stop his teaching at Paris; after Stephen Tempier's Paris condemnation (1277) of the 219 propositions and of magical instruction, he was allegedly imprisoned for 14 years by Jerome de Ascoli, later Pope Nicholas iv. Meanwhile, in 1266, Clement iv (Guy du Foulques) had directed him to disregard his order's instructions and to write up, in extenso, his scholarship and views on ecclesiastical abuses. Bacon's resultant writings contain frequent references to Hebrew as the fountainhead of all philosophical knowledge and as indispensable for Bible study, all Latin versions being corrupt. While criticizing *Andrew of Saint Victor for his addiction to Jewish exegesis and deprecating contemporary acknowledgment of Andrew as authoritative, Bacon commended the former's resort to the original Hebrew text. He extolled Robert Grosseteste's endeavors to promote Hebrew studies, and a certain "homo sapientissimus" (probably William of Mara) for pursuing them.

Besides substantial competence in biblical Hebrew, Bacon evinced interest in the Jewish calendar and a grasp of linguistic science; he appreciated the affinity of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic as comparable to that of the Romance languages. He contemplated writing a Hebrew grammar, and a fragment – the earliest known Hebrew grammar by a named gentile scholar in the West – survives (Cambridge Ms. Ff. 6. 13; appended to Bacon's Greek Grammar, ed. E. Nolan, 1902). Hirsch, who assembled and translated the relevant passages in Bacon's works, tentatively connected some correspondence (Ms. Toulouse 402) regarding Hebrew grammar and the calendar with Bacon (S. Berger, Quam Notitiam… (1893), 37–38).


S.A. Hirsch, in: JQR, 12 (1899/1900), 34 35; B. Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages (19522), index; A.G. Little, Roger Bacon (1928). add. bibliography: B. Clegg, The First Scientist: A Life of Roger Bacon (2004); odnb online.

[Raphael Loewe]

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