Jacobs, Joseph

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JACOBS, JOSEPH (1854–1916), Jewish historian, folklorist, and scholar. He was born in Sydney, Australia, studied in England, and, after graduating in history in Cambridge, went to complete his studies in Berlin where he worked under Steinschneider. On his return to England he became an author and journalist. He was an extremely prolific writer and worker. In the general sphere, he had a reputation as a folklorist and student of comparative literature, publishing large numbers of books and articles on these subjects; and he was for some years editor of the periodical Folk-Lore. Even as his specialized interest in folklore made him a researcher into Jewish ethnology, his interest in statistics led him to another branch of anthropology, namely the study of the "racial" characteristics of Jews. Still another anthropological interest is evident in his application of the method of comparative institutional archaeology to the Bible in his Studies in Biblical Archaeology (1894). But his Jewish enthusiasms were uppermost. With Lucien *Wolf he organized the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition of 1887 and edited its monumental catalog and bibliography. He took the lead in organizing British public opinion at the time of the Russian Jewish pogroms in 1882 and was editor of the periodical Darkest Russia. He founded and edited (1896–99) the Jewish Year Book. His writings on medieval Anglo-Jewish history, culminating in his Jews of Angevin England (1893), set the study of that subject on a new basis. In 1888 he went to Spain to inquire into the Jewish historical material there, the result being his An Enquiry into the Sources of the History of the Jews in Spain (1894). In 1900, he was called to the U.S. as one of the editors of the Jewish Encyclopaedia. He not only edited, and largely wrote, the articles in the departments of anthropology and Anglo-Jewish history, but also gave direction to the whole work and wrote many articles on diverse subjects (e.g., bibliography) in emergency. At the same time, he lectured at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, edited the American Jewish Year Book and the American Hebrew, etc. A work on Jewish Contributions to Civilisation was issued posthumously. He wrote a novel on the life of Jesus, As Others Saw Him (1895). His output was vast and generally well written, and on a very high level. It is sometimes, however, marred by carelessness and haste – a result of economic conditions – and (especially in his early work) by the inadequacy of his Hebrew knowledge.


jhset, 8 (1915–17), 129–52; A. Marx, Essays in Jewish Biography (Philadelphia, 1947), 251–4; dab. add. bibliography: odnb; B. Maidment, "The Literary Career of Joseph Jacobs," in: jhset, 24 (1970–73), 101–13.

[Cecil Roth]