Hebrew Studies (in the Christian Church)

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Though the constitution of 1311 of Clement V advised that Greek and Hebrew should be taught at every university, it cannot be said that the late medieval Church favored the study of Hebrew by Christians. The fear that the prestige of the Vulgate and the theological exegesis based on it would be impaired by a return to the original languages of the Bible explains much of the opposition of the schoolmen to Hebrew studies. But since the battle cry of the 16th-century humanists was ad fontes (back to the sources!), a clash with the traditional view was inevitable. This methodical return to the sources had two important results. By drawing attention to the original texts it was possible to go back to a tradition earlier than that of the schoolmen and thus to adduce testimonies acknowledged by everybody. The second result was the recognition that every interpretation has to start from the original and not from the translation. This assumption, which is still valid today and is one of the lasting achievements of humanism, obviously led to a lowering of the value of the Vulgate. The development of humanistic thought toward a new method of Bible interpretation and translation was mainly the work of two men, Johann reuchlin (14551522) and Desiderius erasmus (14661536), whose Bible studies in Hebrew and Greek, respectively, occupied a central place in their lives.

Christian Hebraists of the Renaissance. The victory of the humanist ideal that every man of culture should be trium linguarum gnarus, that is, he should know Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, led to the founding of the trilingual colleges. In England Bp. Richard foxe (c. 14481528) founded Corpus Christi College, Oxford. In Spain Cardinal ximÉnez de cisneros (14361517) established the new University of alcalÁ, which soon concentrated its attention on trilingual studies. In France Francis I (14941547) provided the noble et trilingue Académie, the Collège des Lecteurs Royaux, later to be called the Collège de France. In Germany Frederick the Wise of Saxony (14631525) endowed the University of Wittenberg with chairs in the three languages. After considerable initial opposition a trilingual college was founded at Louvain. The peculiar problem of Hebrew studies was the suspicion that they all too readily aroused. A monk of Freiburg (where Reuchlin studied) said plainly in 1521, "Those who speak this tongue are made Jews." Jews themselves discovered that they might suffer if they taught Christians Hebrew, for they could be accused of destroying the faith of their pupils. Thus the suspicion they aroused and the fear that the authority of the Vulgate would be undermined were real obstacles to Hebrew studies at the end of the 15th century and the first quarter of the 16th.

Johann Reuchlin. The first Hebrew grammar ever to be published in a European language was by Konrad pellicanus (14781556), a Franciscan from Alsace, who later was to become a follower of Huldrych zwingli. It was published at Strassburg in 1503 or 1504 and was poor in content, with types neither beautiful nor clear. Pellicanus obtained his knowledge from various sources. In addition to his early instruction from Johannes Pauli (c. 14541533), a baptized Jew, he had been in contact with Reuchlin and had read the books of peter nigri (schwarz) (143483). Pellicanus' grasp of Hebrew was very elementary, since he had not yet understood the basis of Hebrew verb formation. In 1506 Reuchlin's De rudimentis Hebraicis was published in Pforzheim, marking the beginning of Hebrew studies in Europe. From this date on, it was possible to learn Hebrew. In fact, Reuchlin could justify his own estimate of himself as the first important Christian Hebrew scholar of the West. Referring to the dictionary contained in his De rudimentis, he said, "Before me among the Latins no one appears to have done this." This German layman, doctor of law, and professor of Greek and Hebrew set down in the preface of his De rudimentis an account of his work for the world of scholarship in Latin and Greek and complained about the amount of money he had to pay learned Jews for instruction in Hebrew. His book consists of a description of the alphabet, a dictionary in two parts, and a brief but adequate grammar of Hebrew. It is a handsome volume printed so as to be read from the back page forward, like a Hebrew Bible, in the current fashion characteristic of the pedantry of those who published works on Hebrew. It brought him what he wanted: undying fame as a scholar. Not the least of his achievements was the fact that he influenced princes and humanists to establish chairs of Hebrew in the universities of the empires, and through his pupils and correspondence on Hebrew studies, raised up scholars to fill them.

Reuchlin propounded the philological method that traces the meaning of every word in the original Hebrew. No theological argument was ever used by Reuchlin. He was no theologian and openly admitted, "I do not probe the meaning as a theologian but discuss the words as does the grammarian." This thought epitomizes his attitude toward philological studies, and brought him into open conflict with philosophers and theologians throughout his life. His opponents, however, had to face the awkward question whether Hebrew studies should be forbidden. Yet they could not attack him on that account, for there was the advice of Clement V that Hebrew should be studied.

Other Pioneers. There are other names to record, such as Nicolas Clénard (Cleynaerts) of Louvain (14951542) and Santes pagnini of Lucca (14701536), men who unlike Pellicanus and Wolfgang capito (14781541), author of a small Hebrew grammar at Basel in 1518, remained Catholics. But the great name after Reuchlin, who remained a Catholic and died one, is that of Sebastian Münster of Basel (14881552). He had Pellicanus as his teacher and dedicated a lifetime to Hebrew studies, producing more than 40 books, which show a capacity for work as prodigious as his range of subjects. In 1527 he published the first Aramaic grammar written by a Christian. He made available to Christian scholars through his Latin translation the best work of Elias Levita (c. 14681549), the greatest of Jewish grammarians in that age. Münster wrote that "in the grammatical works written by Christians before Elias had begun his task, the true foundation was missing." By his self-effacing devotion, Münster laid this foundation and through Levita learned how to explain the use of the dagesh point. Two Protestants might also be mentioned. Paul Fagius of Strassburg (150449), who in his early days as schoolmaster at Isny (Allgäu) set up his own Hebrew press, after leaving Strassburg became Regius professor of Hebrew for a time at Cambridge and translated into Latin the pirke avoth and later the Targum of Onkelos. Of less distinction was Johann Forster of Wittenberg (14961558), who issued a Hebrew dictionary in 1557. This did not meet the need for a dictionary of Hebrew that could match the Latin and Greek dictionaries of the estiennes, nor had the similar work of others who preceded him done so. The greatest Christian Hebraist in the post-Reformation period was Johannes Buxtorf the Elder (15641629), whose Praeceptiones Grammaticae de Lingua Hebaea (later entitled Epitome Grammaticae Hebraeae ) went through 20 editions between 1605 and 1716.

Christian Hebraists of Modern Times. The first to use Arabic in a scientific way to illustrate Hebrew grammar and to treat Hebrew as a branch of the family of Semitic languages was Albert Schultens of Leiden (16861750), who published in 1737 his Institutiones ad Fundamenta Linguae Hebraeae. This meant a final break with the rabbinic tradition of the incomparable lingua sacra. He placed the comparison of Hebrew and Arabic on a sound basis and so influenced all future lexical study. J. D. Michaelis (171791), in his Supplementa ad Lexicon Hebraicum (1786), drew out the implications of the work of Schultens for Hebrew philology. Supreme among students of Hebrew grammar was Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius (17861842), who published the first edition of his Hebräische Grammatik in 1813; the 14th to 18th editions were revised by E. Rödiger (180174), the 22d to 28th, by E. F. Kautzsch (18411910), and the 29th, by G. Bergsträsser. The 28th edition was translated into English in 1909 by A. E. Cowley. Other widely used teaching instruments have been, in German, the grammars by G. H. A. Ewald (180375),J. Olshausen (180082), H. Böttcher, B. Stade, E. König, and H. Bauer-P. Leander; in French, by P. Joüon and Mayer Lambert; in English, by A. B. Davidson and S. R. Driver, Hebrew Tenses.

Gesenius is considered the father of modern Hebrew lexicography. In 1810 he published his Hebräisch-Deutsches Handwörterbuch über die Schriften des Alten Testaments, the basis of his Thesaurus philologicus Criticus Linguae Hebraeae et Chaldaeae Veteris Testamenti (182942), completed by Rödiger (185358). Gesenius's Lexicon Manuale Hebraicum of 1833 was translated into English by Edward Robinson, and this formed the basis of the well-known A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament by F. Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs. Other notable dictionaries are those of Julius Fürst, Hebräisches und Chaldäisches Handwörterbuch über das Alte Testament (1867), F. Zorell, Lexicon Hebraicum et Chaldaicum (1940), and L. Koehler-W. Baumgartner, Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros (German and English, 1953), with a Supplementum (1958) serving as a second edition.

Bibliography: a. e. cowley and e. kautzsch, eds., Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar (2d ed. Oxford 1910; repr. 1946) 1723. w. schwarz, Principles and Problems of Biblical Translation: Some Reformation Controversies and Their Background (Cambridge, Eng. 1955). s. l. greenslade, ed., The Cambridge History of the Bible (Cambridge, Eng. 1963).

[m. j. dahood]