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EDITED BY JOHN KITTO, D.D., F.S.A.
STATIONERS' HALL COURT.
OLIVER AND BOYD, EDINBURGH; AND J. ROBERTSON,
GRAFTON STREET, DUBLIN.
NO. XI.-JULY, 1850.
HISTORY OF THE EARLY STUDY OF
HEBREW IN ENGLAND.
The destruction of the Western Empire by the incursion of northern barbarians tended, for ages, to repress the spirit of literary inquiry. In the East, however, which was less exposed to attack, attention was still paid to learning, and by none more than by the Jews, whose schools flourished in the darkest period of the history of Europe. Circumstances having greatly changed in the course of time, many descendants of Abraham sought that security in the West which was denied them on the eastern continent. The rising sun of grammatical learning,' says the celebrated philologist Delitzsch, which appeared in Persia, passed over in its course to Africa and to Spain ; and, illuminating with its radiance the remotest countries of the earth, penetrated even to Germany'
By the aid of these teachers, scholars in Italy, Spain, France, and England were enabled to form some acquaintance with the Hebrew language. It was during the Saxon period that Jews first made their way into Britain. The “Canonical Exceptions' of Ecgbrith, Archbishop of York, A.D. 740, forbad any Christian being present at Jewish feasts. Still later, in the Charter of Witzlaff, King of Mercia, granted to the monks of Croyland, A.D. 833, all lands bestowed by Christians and Jews were confirmed to them.a In the laws of Edward the Confessor the
following language occurs, which is regarded as genuine by Spelman:-Judæi, et omnia sua, Regis sunt. It was, doubtless, primarily through these Jews that the few Anglo-Saxon scholars acquainted with Hebrew, obtained their knowledge of that language. From them was also procured the Hebrew manuscript mentioned by Alenin, as being among the literary treasures in the library of York.b
The first Hebrew scholar among the Anglo-Saxons, of whom any record remains, was Bede, born A.D. 673. In his writings he very frequently refers to the Hebrew verity ;' and in almost innumerable instances explains the meaning of Hebrew words. When charged with heresy for writing his De Temporibus," he justified himself, in his letters to Plegwin, by asserting that he followed the Hebrew text, not the Septuagint. Still, however, a careful comparison of these passages with Jerome's writings, proves that he was almost entirely indebted to that learned father for his emendations and explanations. Nor, indeed, does he refrain from frankly expressing his obligation ; ‘nos qui per beati interpretis Hieronymi industriam puro Hebraicæ veritatis fonte potamur.'— Opusc. Sc. c. lxvii. Alcuin, another Anglo-Saxon scholar, born at York A.D. 735, and brought up by Bishop Egbert, was taught Latin, Greek, and Hebrew in that city-a city, let it be remembered, where Ecgbrith's canon was passed, and where there were, doubtless, at the time many Jews. The extent of Alcuin's knowledge of Hebrew it is perhaps impossible to discover, since in his extant writings he, like Bede, borrows almost entirely from Jerome, as Vallarsius long ago proved. Still it is sufficiently evident that he had some knowledge of that language, since the statements of his pupil Joseph are such as to show that the study of Hebrew was not neglected in his school.
The disturbed state of England during the incursions of the Danes, and the banishment of the Jews by Canute, proved destructive to the interest of Hebrew study for very many years. At length under William I: Jews again found their way into England from Rouen. By the powerful protection of the Norman princes they flourished greatly, and spread themselves throughout • In his poem De Pontif. et Sanct. Ecc. Eborac. the passage occurs : * Hebraicus vel quod populus bibit imbre superno.'
Alcuin's Works, ed. 1777, ii. 257. • As Bede's knowledge of Hebrew has been too highly esteemed, two other quotations from his works are given, which prove his expressed indebtedness to Jerome:
· Cæterum cunctis in commune suademus, ut sive quis ex Hebraica veritate, quae ad nos per memoratum interpretem pura pervenisse etiam hostibus Judæis in professo est; sive,' &c. (Opusc. Scient., c. 67.) • Apud Hebræos, Hieronymo teste, luna, quam jare nominant mensibus nomen dedit. (Opusc. Sc., c. 11.)
1 The Quest. in Gen., Com. in Eccles., Interp. of the names of the Hebrew progenitors of Christ, contained in Alcuin's works, are not his, but Jerome's.
the whole land. William II. employed them in farming and managing the revenues of vacant bishopricks, and encouraged them to argue with his ecclesiastics. Charters were granted by Henry I. and II, in their favour. During these reigns, and for many years after, their legal privileges were equal with those of their Christian fellow-subjects, although, in that lawless age, they were often peculiarly exposed to the outbreaks of popular fury, and to the extortions of the powerful from their usury and their wealth. The Jewish subject might equally purchase messuages for himself and his heirs with the Christian. Warranties are now in existence which clearly show that Jews might be interested in lands so warranted. They as well as the crown and the Christian subject could advance money and become gagees or mortgagees ; while in trials between Christians and themselves, the venire facias was 'sex probos et legales homines et sex legales Judæos. It was to John, however, that the Jews owed their most important charters. Soon after his accession to the throne, he granted them, by King's_Patent, an officer for life, who is styled in the records both Presbyter and Sacerdos. Coke and Selden regard his office as purely ecclesiastical, and call him High Priest. In the second year of John's reign came out his great charter, giving not only' to English Jews, but to those of Normandy, permission to reside in the King's dominions freely and honourably. It was allowed them to go where they liked with their goods, which were to be considered as safe as though they were the King's goods. They were declared free of all custom, tolls, modiations of wine, as was the King. The liegemen of the crown were commanded to keep, defend, and protect them. On the same day, he granted further to English Jews that all differences among themselves which did not concern the pleas of the crown, should be heard and determined by themselves. (Deducantur secundum legem suam et emendantur, et justiciam suam inter seipsos faciant.*) No sooner was Henry III. on the throne than he followed the example of his father. He commanded all sheriffs to release all Jews that were on any account imprisoned. Many of these writs still exist. Next year he issued writs requiring sheriffs to elect 24 burgesses out of every town where the Jews resided in any number, to watch over them, and particularly
e These particulars are gathered from the Rolls, and from a manuscript in the Lansdowne MSS., 215. 74 h. entitled 'Excerpta ex Instrumentis Publicis de Judæis Angliam incolentibus.'
In the reign of Edward I. the Oxford students petitioned the king for relief, since, having pawned so many of their books to Jews, they could not follow their studies.
& Jews owned three hostells in Oxford. The students were their tenants. These hostells were Lombard Hall, Moses Hall, and Jacob Hall. Rot. Cart. 2 John, n. 49.
i Rot. Cart. 2 John, n. 53. B 2