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Art. V. The Reasons of the Laws of Moses : from the “More Ne
vochim " of Maimonides. With Notes, Dissertations, and a Life of the Author. By James Townley, D.D. 8vo. pp. 434. Price 10s. 6d. 1827.
MAIMONIDES has long been a celebrated name in
Jewish literature. As a commentator and expounder of the Mosaic writings, and as a writer on Hebrew antiquities, this Rabbi holds a distinguished rank; and his merit is supported by the testimony of the most learned authors who have treated on subjects of biblical erudition and Jewish legislation, who refer to him as an authority of the highest character and importance. He was by birth a Spaniard, but is sometimes described as of Egypt, in which country he resided as physician to the Sultan, and where his voluminous works were principally written. Of these, the More Nevochim is the most generally known and approved. It is å critical, philosophical, and theological work, intended to explain the difficult passages, phrases, parables, allegories, and ceremonies of the Old Testament, and comprises the exposition of the grounds and reasons of the Mosaic laws, which Dr. Townley has detached and published in the translation before us. Though frequently referred to and copiously cited by British theological writers, it has never before appeared in an English version. The work was originally written in Arabic, and in the life-time of the Author, was translated into Hebrew by his disciple, R. Samuel Aben Tybbon. A Latin version of the More Nevochim by Justinian, bishop of Nebis, was published in 1520 at Paris; and in 1629, a new Latin translation executed by the younger Buxtorf, was printed at Basil, with a preface including a biographical account of the Author. To the version before us, Dr. Townley has added a copious appendix of notes and illustrations, and has prefixed, besides a brief memoir of Maimonides, Dissertations on, l. The Talmudical and Rabbinical Writings. 2. The Zabian Idolatry. 3. The originality of the Institutions of Moses. 4. The Mosaic distinction of Clean and Unclean Animals. 5. The prohibition of Blood. 6. The typical character of the Mosaic Institutions. 7. The Leprosy. 8. Talismans and talismanic Figures. 9. Judicial Astrology.
Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon, or Maimonides, called from the initials of his name Rambam, was born at Cordova in Spain, in the year 1131, or, according to some, 1133 A.D. He appears to have received his earliest education under the immediate superintendence of his father, who sustained the office of judge among his own nation, and who was descended from illustrious
ancestors. Subsequently, he placed himself under the tuition of the most learned Jewish instructors, and prosecuted with ardour the study of the Mosaic law and the Talmudical and Rabbinical commentaries. Afterwards he became a disciple of the Arabian philosopher and physician, Averroes, and made acquisitions in learning which raised him to distinction among the chief men of the age in which he lived. He excelled in the knowledge of the Hebrew and Arabic languages, and was not only well acquainted with these and some other oriental tongues, but was as proficient in the Greek language, and read, in their originals, the works of Plato, Aristotle, Galen, and others. He was well skilled in logic, and in the mathematical and medical sciences.
Averroes was suspected of defection from the Mohammedan faith, and, through the persecution of his opponents, was removed from his office of chief magistrate at Cordova; upon which Maimonides, to avoid the perils to which, from his devotedness to his preceptor, he found himself exposed, withdrew from Spain, and removed to Egypt. He settled at Cairo, where his genius and learning attracted the attention of the Sultan Alphadel, who appointed him his physician, and allowed him a pension. His daily avocations are thus described by himself.
I generally visit the Sultan every morning; and when either he, or his children, or his wives, are attacked with any disorder, I am detained in attendance the whole of the day; or when any of the nobility are sick, I am ordered to visit them. But, if nothing prevent, I repair to my own habitation at noon, where I no sooner arrive, exhausted and faint with hunger, than I find myself surrounded with a crowd of Jews and Gentiles, nobles and peasants, judges and tax-gatherers, friends and enemies, eagerly expecting the time of my return. Alighting from my horse, I wash my hands, according to custom, and then courteously and respectfully saluting my guests, entreat them to wait with patience whilst I take some
Dinner concluded, I hasten to inquire into their various complaints, and to prescribe for them the necessary medicines. Such is the business of every day. Frequently, indeed, it happens, that some are obliged to wait till evening; and I continue for many hours, and even to a late hour of the night, incessantly engaged in listening, talking, ordering, and prescribing, till I am so overpowered with fatigue and sleep that I can scarcely utter a word.'
pp. 15, 16. The time and the influence of Maimonides were devoted to the promotion of Jewish learning. Favoured by the Sultan, he was able to extend protection to the less fortunate of bis brethren, and founded at Alexandria a seminary for his nation, which flourished for a period. His industry was great, and
Vol. XXIX. N.S. HH
the chief fruits of it appeared in a digest of the
Hebrew laws, collected from the Talmud, which he entitled " Yad Hachazakah," “ The Strong Hand;" and in the “ More Nevochim,” which he completed in his fiftieth year. The publication of this work
xcited the most violent opposition from many of the Rabbins, who were alarmed by the preference which they saw given in the statements of Maimonides, to the Scriptures and reason above the glosses of the Talmud. The Rabbins of France burnt his books, and excommunicated those who read them, or who engaged in the study of foreign languages and science. The Rabbins of Spain defended Maimonides against the Rabbins of France. Excommunications and anathemas were employed by both parties, one against the other; and the consequences of the controversy were becoming perilous to the Jews, when the Rabbins of France submitted, and revoked their censures and decrees. Maimonides died at the age of seventy, and was buried in the land of Israel. A general mourning of three successive days testified the honour in which he was held.
In the portion of the “More Nevochim” before us, Maimonides has treated with great brevity on the reasons of the Mosaic laws. Occasionally we perceive in his comments, the influence of Talmudical prejudices; but the instances in which it appears, are so few as to excite our surprise that a writer so profoundly versed in rabbinical learning, should have proceeded with so much sobriety in his explanations. Sometimes these are more fanciful than just; but they supply, as a whole, very gratifying evidence of their Author's deference to the genuine methods of determining the import of Scripture. Dr. Townley has rendered a service to English readers by enabling them to peruse this part of a' work of so much celebrity as the “ More “ Nevochim,” or “Teacher of the Perplexed,” which has hitherto been accessible only to the learned, and the interest of which he has increased by the information embodied in his notes. The reader of this work, however, must not expect to receive from it very extensive or very profound knowledge of the subjects of the ancient Jewish legislation. They are considered chiefly in their religious connexions.
The Originality of the Institutions of Moses, is the subject of Dr. Townley's third Dissertation. He acknowledges his obligations for the observations which it contains, to a treatise on this subject printed in Northumberland, America, 1803, and to Dr. Wait's Course of Sermons, preached before the University of Cambridge, 1826. On this question, there is not to be obtained the evidence which is necessary to the determination of every particular included in the inquiry. The Mosaic laws themselves furnish proof that some of their regulations were founded on existing customs. Ancient usages were confirmed or modified in various instances by the Hebrew Legislator. It is reasonable to presume, that a lawgiver would not, in forming a national code, reject entirely the customs which he found established in the practice of a people. Many of the usages existing among the ancient Israelites, were doubtless of unquestionable excellence and utility; and it could not be necessary to discard or to change them: others were deeply rooted in the prejudices and habits of the nation, and these, we know, were continued, but with such checks and modifications as tended to their improvement. But the opposition of the Mosaic statutes, in the religious institutions and observances which they comprise, is too real and striking to admit of their being referred to the imitation or adoption of previously existing ordinances and customs. As a religious ritual, the Mosaic laws are sui generis, and contain the evidences of their being unborrowed from the customs of another people. In the concise statement of their peculiarities which this Dissertation exhibits, there is a sufficient number of examples to support the affirmative of the question. They comprise, among others, the Unity and Moral Government of God, in respect to which the representations and inculcations of Moses are so important and sublime as to exclude the supposition that he derived his knowledge of them, or imported his laws relating to them, from Egypt, or any other country. An originality of character, it may confidently be affirmed, attaches to his Institutions in respect to these objects. Our means of estimating the religious knowledge of the most ancient times and countries are, indeed, not extensive; but the examination of all that profane ancient literature has preserved, justifies the conclusion, that there was no nation that had statutes and judgements comparable to those which the Hebrew Lawgiver taught and the Israelites received. Other instances relate to purity of morals, and to worship, in its varieties of time, place, offerings, &c. From this class, we select the following remarks.
6. If the heathen had any Temples before the time of Moses, which is uncertain, and not probable, they were constructed in a very different manner from the tabernacle or the temple of Solomon. We no where read of such divisions as that (those) of the Hebrew temple; of such a symbol of the divine presence as the covering of the Ark between the Cherubim, in the Holy of Holies; there was no table of shew-bread, nor such a candlestick as was in the holy place. The fire and the lamps, also, evidently had their use, as appointed by Moses; but though sacred, there was nothing in them to divert the reverence of the worshipper from the invisible Jehovah. This could not be said of the perpetual fires, either of the Persians, or of the Vestals at Rome : these were debasing superstitions.
7. Both the Hebrews and the heathen allowed the Privilege of Asylum to those who fled to their temples. But, with the heathens, this was carried to a length equally superstitious and dangerous to the community ; because, whatever was the crime with which any person was charged, the criminal could not be apprehended, and much less could he be punished, without incurring the vengeance of the deity who, it was supposed, protected him. ( Potter's Antiquities, Vol. I. p. 201.) But no person, charged with any crime, was protected by flying to the altar of the Hebrews, except till the cause could be heard by regular judges; when, if he appeared to be guilty, he was ordered to be taken from the altar itself, and put to death. Even the City of Refuge could not protect him who was found, upon inquiry, to have killed his neighbour with design.
8. Had Moses copied any thing from the heathen, he would probably have introduced something of their Mysteries, which were rites performed in secret, and generally in the night; to which peculiar privileges were annexed, and which it was deemed the greatest crime to reveal. The most remarkable of these Mysteries were the Eleusinian, which were celebrated at Athens every fourth year. Whatever these rites were, (and they were of a very suspicious nature,) it was made death to reveal them; and if any person, not regu. larly initiated, was present at this exhibition, he was put to death without mercy. Vile as these mysteries must have been, according to the habits of the initiated, yet it was taken for granted, that those who had performed them, lived in a greater degree of happiness than other men, both before and after death.--Potter's Antiquities, Vol. I.
Nothing like this can be found in the Institutions of Moses. There was no secret in the Hebrew ritual. Every thing is described in the written law; and though none but the Priests could enter the holy place, and none the Holy of Holies, besides the High Priest, every thing that was done by them there, is as particularly described, as what was to be done by the people without.' pp. 54, 55.
The Mosaic distinction of Animals (Dissert. 4.) has been treated of by Michaelis at considerable length, and with his usual acumen, • That in so early an age of the world,' he observes, we should find a systematic division of quadrupeds, so
excellent as never yet, after all the improvements in natural • history, to have become obsolete, but, on the contrary, to be • still considered as useful by the greatest masters of the science,
cannot but be looked upon as truly wonderful.' This, however, is one of the instances in which he thinks ancestorial usages were prescribed by Moses as express laws. Clean and unclean, he considers as equivalent to usual and unusual for food. That this distinction was admirably adapted to promote the design of the Lawgiver to keep the Israelites in a state of separation from other nations, is apparent. A cherished abhorrence of the food which others eat, is one of the strongest