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Joseph Ha-Kohen


JOSEPH HA-KOHEN (1496–1578), historiographer, physician, and philologist active in Italy. His parents were originally from Spain, and, after the expulsion of the Jews from that country, went to Avignon. In 1501/02 they moved to *Genoa, where Joseph received a comprehensive education, including languages, history, literature, and medicine, in which he specialized and became celebrated. With the expulsion of the Jews from Genoa in 1516, Joseph moved with his family to Novi, where he married the daughter of Abraham b. Moses ha-Kohen, one of the most prominent rabbis of Italy. Joseph subsequently moved from place to place. In 1538 he returned to Genoa, and in 1550, when the Jews were expelled from there a second time, he was invited by the inhabitants of Voltaggio to settle in this town as their physician. Seventeen years later a decree ordering the expulsion of the Jews from Voltaggio was issued, and although the townsmen obtained permission for him to stay, Joseph refused to dissociate himself from the rest of the community. Joseph did much to assist in the ransom and rehabilitation of Jewish captives brought to Italy, contributing to this from his own resources. The loss of his three sons caused him bitter grief.

Joseph's writings evince his versatility. His first historical work was Divrei ha-Yamim le-Malkhei Ẓarefat u-le-Malkhei Beit Ottoman ha-Togar (Sabbioneta, 1554; Amsterdam, 1733), a history of the kings of France and Turkey, which earned him the title of the "second Josephus" from the Hebraist Jacques *Basnage. The first part deals with the period from the downfall of the Roman Empire until 1520 and dwells particularly on the Crusades and events close to them. The second part deals with the period 1520–53 and contains a description of events in the author's own generation. The work is a general history and includes some events concerning the Jews, such as the exile, persecutions, and massacres. His knowledge of Latin and other languages gave him access to various sources, and his conclusions are well based and objective. A Latin summary of the first two parts of this work was printed in 1670, and an English translation in 1835–36. The third part, dealing with the period 1554–75, was first published in 1955, in Hebrew. After the publication of Samuel *Usque's Consolaçam as tribulaçoens de Ysrael in 1552, Joseph decided to compose a similar book in Hebrew, which appeared in 1558 under the title Emek ha-Bakha ("Valley of Tears"; cf. Ps. 84:7). In it he tells of the "hardships which befell us since the day of Judah's exile from its land." In the second edition he added events of his own day. A complete edition, with additions until 1605 by an unknown editor, was prepared by S.D. *Luzzatto and published in Vienna in 1852 by M. Letteris. Passages from the Emek ha-Bakha, which list at length the sufferings, persecutions, expulsions, and forced conversions undergone by the Jews, were read in some of the Italian communities on the Ninth of Av. The work was translated into German in 1858 and French in 1881. Other works by Joseph have been preserved in manuscript on various subjects – geographical-historical themes, linguistics and medicine. They include Maẓiv Gevulot Amim, a translation from the Italian version of Boemus' work Omnium gentium mores leges et ritus, a geography of Africa, Asia, and Europe; Sefer ha-India and Sefer Fernando Cortes, a two-part translation of Francisco López de Gómara's Historia General de las Indias, and La Conquista de Mexico, a description of the lands of South America and Mexico, and of their conquest by the Spaniards; and Mekiẓ Nirdamim, a translation of a medical treatise by the physician Meir *Alguadez, to which Joseph added a chapter on "remedies for the French disease." Several poems by Joseph were published at the end of Sefer Sha'ashu'im by Joseph b. Meir Zabara (published in New York, 1913).


A. Kahana, Sifrut ha-Historyah ha-Yisre'elit, 2 (1923), 91–108; D.A. Gross (ed.), Joseph ha-Kohen, Sefer Divrei ha-Yamim le-Malkhei Ẓarefat u-Malkhei Beit Ottoman ha-Togar (1955), introd.; M.A. Shulwass, Ḥayyei ba-Yehudim be-Italyah bi-Tekufat ha-Renaissance (1955), index; M. Wiener (trans.), Joseph ha-Kohen, Emek habacha (1858), introd.; I. Loeb, in: rej, 16 (1888), 28–56; 212–23; M. Steinschneider, Die Geschichtsliteratur der Juden (1905), 101–3; G. Musso, in: Scritti in Memoria di L. Carpi (1967).

[Ephraim Kupfer]

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