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Hebrew Authors and their Opponents

The אגרת וארחות עולם (Cosmography) of R. Abraham Peritsol.

(Continued from vol. vi., p. 599.)

This work, although not so well known as the itinerary of R. Benjamin, of Tudela, is nevertheless well known, and frequently quoted, both by Jewish and Christian writers, with especial reference to the ten tribes. Besides discoursing on this subject, it is, as its title implies, a treatise on “the various parts, cities, and nations of the globe.” It was first printed at Venice, in 1587, and reprinted in 1691, at Oxford, by Thomas Hyde, with a Latin translation, and notes in the same language, justly styled by De Rossi as “dotissime note.” The Venetian edition was so very rare that Hyde never saw it, and even doubted its existence. He published his version from a MS. in the Bodeleian library, Oxford, having had the additional advantage of a Venetian MS., which he obtained, as he himself tells us, through the kindness of Thomas Boon, a merchant of London. “This book,” he continues, “is written for the most part in pure biblical style; but rabbinical phrases and modes of expression are by no means of infrequent occurrence.” Our author is very methodical, and Hyde seems to <<38>>think more of him than of R. Benjamin; for he says, “Benjamini Itinerarium multis post se Parasangis relinquens.” A more extended notice of the book or of its author would, perhaps, be out of place here. We have, however, farther to remark that although the “cosmography” of R. Abraham has been very much praised, it has been very much condemned, more especially that portion of it which relates to the arrival in Rome of a messenger from the ten tribes. Basnage will have that all he advances on this subject is pure invention of his own,* and Hyde says that the recital is nothing but “an impudent falsehood.”

* “Il invente un grand païs, enfermé par des montagnes inconnuës, et borné par l’Assyrie, dont il fait un roiaume, qu’il nomme Perriche, dans lequel il enferme une grande multitude de Juifs. Il en place d’autres dans le desert de Cabor, qui y vivent à la manière des anciens Rechabites, sans maisons, sans semer, ni boire de vin, et afin qu’on ne s’imagine pas qu’il debite une chimere il trace la route pour aller a ce desert, &c.”Hist. des Juifs, tom. iv, p. 950, ed. Fr.

We present our readers with a translation of the chapter which relates in particular to the mission of the ambassador, after perusing which, we flatter ourselves they will conclude, with us, that our author is at least innocent of this count of the indictment preferred against him. We have added notes wherever we thought that the meaning was a little obscure, or should be insisted upon. It will be found that what R. Abraham, or rather, what R. David, (the messenger) advances in this chapter respecting the lost tribes, is not one whit more fanciful thin any of the thousand and one theories propounded on this subject in such works as “The Star in the West,” “American Antiquities,” “Identity of the Druidical  and Hebrew Religions,” “Tribes of Israel Historically Identified,” et mult. al. And, also, that we are not justified in speaking with more bitterness and contempt of the writings of Peritsol, than of the highly prized productions of Herodotus, Livy, &c., or the scarcely less esteemed works of the old English chroniclers. But we will allow our readers to judge for themselves on this point, by introducing them without farther preface to our author at his fourteenth chapter, which treats

Of a Jew from the Ten Tribes; his mission, and journey from the Desert of Chabor, according to the relation of the historians; his arrival in Egypt from the Deserts of Asia and Arabia Felix, in the year 5283, A. M.

One of the chief advantages of this treatise, which I, Abraham Peritsol,* have compiled for the instruction of such as are unacquainted with <<39>>the science of cosmography, will be found, in that I have determined to devote this chapter to a relation of the journeyings of a Jew† of the tribes,‡ or of Judah,§ called David ben Shelomoh, “Captain of the host of <<40>>Israel,” who came to this our country of Italy, where we ourselves have seen him.|| He came, according to his own assertions,¶ from the Desert of Chabor.** Those who read concerning him, will find that which will delight their souls, and those who have a desire (to learn something relative to the ten tribes of Israel), will receive this account with much satisfaction; for I will not err in narrating what I have received from honourable men, and seen in the writings of creditable persons.†† He who alone is true, knows my veracity, and that I am a person who gives but little credence to vanities.‡‡

* The Venetian manuscript, which Hyde used for collation, reads here Abr. ben Peritsol.  Much difference of opinion exists respecting the true orthography of this name. It is commonly read פריצול Peritsol; but De Rossi thinks that the vero cognome is פריסול Farissol or Frissol. See his Diz. Stor. degli Aut. Eb., vol. i, p. 117, Parma ed. He cites R. Menasseh ben Israel, who, in his “Esperança de Israel,” styles him Frissol. Hyde mentions a rather fanciful hypothesis, according to which it is synonymous with Parasol; in his preface to the reader he says: “Aliquando paulo aliter scribitur פריסול et uturmque rectius pronuntiandum est Parasol, vel potius Parasol cujus significatio appelativa est i. q. Quittesol sue une ombrelle qua in calidioribus regionibus utuntur homines ad caput a sole teundum ejusque calorem arcendum et ardorem amoliendum.” Bartolloci, in his Bibliotheca Rabbinica, and our author himself sometimes writes it either אברהם בן פריצול Abraham ben Peritsol, or אברהם בן מרדכי פריצול Abraham ben Mordechai Peritsol. He was born in Avignon about the middle of the fifteenth century, but most of his works were composed in Ferrara. In addition to the work from which we quote, he wrote the following:—1. פרחי שושנים a short commentary on the Pentateuch; 2. פירוש על איוב commentary on the Book of Job; 3. פירוש על ס' קהלת do. on Ecclesiastes. The above, says De Rossi, are unprinted and very little known. On No. 2 Hyde says, “Dicitur etiam scripsisse commentarium,” &c. 4. מגן אברהם “The Shield of Abraham,” in which he defends Judaism and combats Christianity. The MS. is in the Bodleian.

† The term יהוד, or Jew, is used here without reference to tribe, it being indiscriminately applied to the two nations of Judah and Israel, even before the close of the canon of Scripture. See Esther, 2:5, where Mordecai is called איש יהודי “Judah-ite or Jew, the son of Yahir, a Benjaminite.” See too Chizzook Emunah.

‡ Viz., of the ten tribes. Bartolloci in his citation of this passage for the plural שבטים reads the dual שבטים but השבטים when used as here, absolutely, always means the ten tribes.

§ This is added conjecturally. Hyde think that in this place there is a great contradiction in our author’s narrative, since he first says that the ambassador was of the tribe of Judah, and afterwards he declares him to have been מכת שני שבטים “from the company of the two tribes,” (see infra.) This contradiction would, no doubt, be a very grave one did it exist; but if there is any error it is not on the part of our author, but of his annotator. It is somewhat surprising that the learned Hyde, when he appended his note to this passage, does not appear to have paid sufficient attention to the textual reading, notwithstanding that his translation is most unexceptionable; had he done so, the contradiction must immediately have vanished; because, as the reader will not fail to remark, R. Abraham is most careful in reminding us that he gives the particulars of this very interesting narrative, as they reached him, therefore to be taken as such, and not as having been given on his own authority. And so in the present passage, where he has been so unaccountably called to task by Hyde, he first writes as if he was uncertain in the matter, and therefore says, R. David “was of the (ten) tribes or of Judah,” and presently adds, “as understood from his own assertions, this Jew was from the company of the two tribes. Hyde appears to have overlooked the circumstance that when R. Abraham speaks conjecturally in the first instance, he is evidently alluding to birth and not to dwelling-place, (compare suprs,) and that in the subsequent passage creating the supposed contradiction, he speaks of the regions whence R. David had been sent, and not of his birthplace. He also seems to have forgotten that R. David may have been “of Judah” (by descent) and yet an inhabitant of those deserts, i.e. in the same place where the ten tribes were reputed to exist. The mistake would be the same to suppose that every Englishman must live in England, or every Frenchman in France. Hyde continues to remark that R. Ghedaliah aben Jechia in his book, “Shalsheleth Hackabala,” calls R. David a Reubenite, and then very unjustly adds, “Tantum in fabulosa historia dissident nugatores,” an observation which, however correct in the abstract, is here most undeservedly applied, because on comparing the two authors, (Ighereth, pp. 90, 91, and Shalsheleth, p. 34, b. Amst. ed.,) it will be found that nothing that can be at all construed into a contradiction is discoverable. These authors both lived contemporarily with the event spoken of, and they both give its details as they heard them; besides which R. Abraham, as already remarked, is most anxious that we should receive the narrative as being given not on his own authority, but on that of the parties who related it to him. A convincing proof of this is afforded by the fact of his constantly using such expressions as “According to his own assertions,” “As was understood from his words,” “So we heard,” &c. Therefore, as far as these two circumstances, viz., the apparent self-contradiction of our author above noticed, and the difference between his and R. Ghedalia’s account, are concerned, we contend that there is not the least warrant for the application of such terms as nugatores and fabulosa historia. The notice of the Shalsheleth Hackabala will be found at the end of this chapter.

|| This direct assertion of our author leads us to examine the probability of the actual arrival of R. David in Italy. We have devoted a note farther down to this inquiry.

¶ It will be found that R. Abraham makes use of this and similar declarations more than once.

** Menasseh ben Israel, referring to this history of R. David Reubenita in his “Esperança de Israel,” says (§ 27) that Tabor is identical with and corrupted from the Chabor (Habor) of 2 Kings (ch. 17:6), to which place Salmanasar transported the ten tribes. He writes, “Y ya peude ser que esta provincia de תבור corrupto algo el nombre, sea la de חבור de que se haze mencion en el 2 de los Reyes cap. 17:6, donde se dize que Salmanasar los trasporto para Halah y Habor &c., por la semejança que tienen estas dos letras ח Het y ת Tav.

†† No doubt our author alludes here to other writings than those of R. Ghedalia aben Jechia and R. Joseph Hacohen, but which have not been published. Hence does his assertion that he himself saw the messenger receive strong support. But see the note farther down.

‡‡ This solemn declaration of R. Abraham forms a very favourable contrast with the flippant style in which his defamer Basnage indulges.

(To be Continued.)