Halévy, Joseph

views updated


HALÉVY, JOSEPH (1827–1917), French Orientalist and Hebrew writer. Halévy began his career as a Hebrew teacher in his native Adrianople, Turkey, and later taught in Bucharest, Romania. In 1868 he visited Ethiopia under the auspices of the Alliance Isráelite Universelle to study the Falashas (*Beta Israel). His report (not published), affirming the Jewishness of that forgotten tribe, led to a widespread philanthropic campaign on their behalf. The scientific results of his journey on the Beta Israel's language, literature, and customs, important in themselves, interested the French Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, which subsequently commissioned Halevy to explore Southern Arabia for Sabean inscriptions. For self-protection he traveled in the guise of a Jerusalem rabbi collecting alms for the poor. Ḥayyim *Ḥabshush, a Yemenite Jew who acted as Halevy's guide, described this expedition in Travels in Yemen (Arabic text, ed. and summarized in Eng. by S.D. Goitein, 1941; Heb. tr., Mas'ot Ḥabshush, 1939).

The rich scientific harvest was 686 inscriptions, which were partly in Minean, a sister language of Sabean. Halévy published them under the title Études Sabéennes (1875; = Journal Asiatique, 1 (1873), 305–365; 2 (1874), 497–585). He also wrote reports of his journeys, Rapport sur une Mission Archéologique dans le Yémen (1872), and Voyage au Nadjran (1873). The researches were of importance not only for the knowledge of Sabean language and culture but for biblical studies as well. In 1879 Halévy began teaching Ethiopic at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris and became the librarian of the Société Asiatique. In 1893 he founded the Revue Sémitique d'Epigraphique et d'Histoire Ancienne, to which he contributed a great many articles on Semitic epigraphy and Bible studies. In the latter, published separately as Recherches Bibliques (5 vols., 1895–1914), he interpreted the first 25 chapters of Genesis on the basis of Babylonian-Assyrian discoveries, rejecting the Graf-Wellhausen documentary hypothesis (see *Bible: biblical criticism). He also discussed problems in the Bible in the Revue des Etudes Juives, Revue Critique, and Revue de l'Histoire des Religions. Halévy dealt with recently discovered parts of the Hebrew texts of Ben Sira in Le nouveau fragment hébreu de l'Ecclésiastique (1902); with the origins of Christianity in Etudes évangéliques (1903); and with Ethiopian, particularly Beta Israel, literature in Seder Tefillot ha-Falashim (1876), Te'ezaza Sanbat ("Sabbath laws"; 1902), La guerre de Sarsa-Dengel contre les Falachas (1907), and others.

Prompted by his "Semitic" pride, Halévy argued obstinately against the view that Sumerian was a non-Semitic language, which with Sumerian culture and cuneiform scripts preceded its Semitic successors. Halévy rejected this now accepted view, believing Sumerian to be not a language but a hieratic, artificial script invented by the Assyrian-Babylonian priesthood for its own purposes. One of his works on this subject is his Le Sumérisme et l'histoire babylonienne (1900). In contrast to the assimilationist trend among French Jewry, Halévy was an ardent Hebraist and Ḥovev Zion. In his youth he was a regular contributor to Hebrew periodicals, such as Ha-Maggid, Ha-Levanon, and Yerushalayim, both in prose and in poetry, which were later collected and published under the title Maḥberet Meliẓah va-Shir (1894). The titles of his poems, such as "Admat Avotai" ("Land of My Fathers"), "Al ha-Yarden" ("By the Jordan,") and "Tikvati" ("My Hope") revealed his strong attachment to Ereẓ Israel. Halévy translated into Hebrew poems by Schiller, Byron, Victor Hugo, and others. In an article in Ha-Maggid of 1861 he proposed the establishment of a society, Marpei Lashon, for the development of the Hebrew language, an idea later realized in the Va'ad ha-Lashon ha-Ivrit and its successor, the Academy of Hebrew Language.


N. Sokolow, Ishim, 4 (1935), 144–92; F. Perles, in: Ost und West, 17 (1917), 105–10; M. Schorr, in: Deutsche Literaturzeitung, nos. 19–20 (May 12, and 19, 1918), 595–601, 627–33; D. Sidersky, Quelques portraits de nos maîtres des études sémitiques (1937), 59–63; M. Eliav, in: Tarbiz, 35 (1966), 61–67; T.B. Jones, Sumerian Problem (1969), 22–47. add. bibliography: Y. Tobi, "Yosef Halevi ve-Ḥeker Yehudei Teiman," in: Pe'amim, 100 (2005), 23–71.

[Hans Jacob Polotsky]