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Hebrew Authors and Their Opponents.

(Continued from p. 40.)

This was in the two hundred and eighty-third year of the sixth millennium,* when we received, through a Venetian vessel,† a communication <<130>>from the Land of Beauty,‡ written in the Hebrew language, informing us that a certain Jew, from the tribes of Israel, had arrived there, declaring many novel things concerning them.

* A. C. 1532, according to R. Joseph Hacohen in his דברי הימים למלכי צרפת. Hyde, (note 6, page 91,) writes it 1534, and then proceeds as follows: “This fable of the Jew, who was sent from Arabia to his Holiness Pope Clement VII., has been sharply, but meritedly, attacked by Bartolloci, (Bibl. Rabb. pp. 42, 43,) where he has nevertheless admitted that this most impudent falsehood (putidissimum mendacium) has some true points in the following passage: “As regard the credibility of the rest of this narration, it is true that Clement VII., (A. D. 1533,) did receive letters from David, king of the Ethiopians, in which this monarch declared his allegiance to the pontiff. They were carried by Fr. Alvarez, ambassador at Rome of John, king of Portugal, with other despatches of the said king, dated Sertual, May 1532. He delivered them to his Holiness, as may be seen in Robert Momachus and other authors, but nothing concerning a Jewish ambassador was contained in them, nor indeed was there any mention made elsewhere of such a personage. Concerning this embassy, the kingdom and manners of the Ethiopian people, see farther the said Robert Momachus. The letters were translated from the Ethiopic tongue into the Lusitanian, and from Lusitanian into Latin by P. Jovius. They were also translated into Italian and printed by Jac. Keymolen, (4to. 1533) with the title L’Ambusciaria di David Re dell’ Etiopia, &c. These Hebrew authors..... believed David to be the name of an ambassador sent from the king of Ethiopia, or from some Israelitish kings reigning in parts of India. In the same manner was deceived R. Ghedalia Aben Jechia, who lived contemporary with the event, and who in his book, Shalsheleth Hakabbala, acknowledges his belief in the story, in the passage commencing וכן בשנת אלפים.” (For quotation see end of this chapter.) To this we would add, that not only does our author and R. Ghedalia “acknowledge their belief in the truth of this story,” i.e. in the arrival of a Jew at Rome, professing to be an ambassador of the Ten Tribes, but another esteemed Hebrew author, R. Joseph Hacohen, bears his testimony to the very same fact. Now if the whole affair were nothing more than an impudent falsehood, it does appear somewhat remarkable that three such men, men of acknowledged intelligence and worth, should not only affirm that they themselves saw the man, but that they should also attest the fact, (and only the fact) of his being a Jew, of his having arrived in Venice from the Holy Land, and of his having been sent, according to his own assertions, as a messenger from the tribes. (See our author above.) Still more remarkable is it that these several authors should have published the history with few or no variations, and this too without being accused of misrepresentation or falsehood, or being at all called to account by those numerous Italian Jews whom they represent as having taken an actual part in the affair, by receiving R. David most kindly. These considerations, we humbly conceive, would be in themselves quite sufficient to establish the truth of that fact, for which alone R. Abm. Peritsol vouches; but we think it due to our author to examine a little more closely into this “merited attack” of the learned Bartolloci, of which Hyde speaks. It would surely be a very illogical and incorrect deduction to affirm that, because Pope Clement VII. received letters from one David, calling himself king of Ethiopia, carried by an ambassador of the court of Portugal, and dated Sertual, therefore Pope Clement VII. could not have received letters from another David, representing himself as a delegate from the ten tribes, he himself carrying letters dated Chabor, a place of scriptural authority. Supposing even the ambassador to have been an impostor, it does not seem impossible, nay not at all improbable, that Clement VII. should have been imposed upon. Popes have been deceived as well as kings, and Perkin Warbeeks and Pretenders have found as much credit with these, whom some style the infallible successors of St. Peter, as they have with those who would be accounted by the same persons as mere erring and short-sighted creatures. That Robert Momachus should have said nothing about a Jewish ambassador is not at all surprising, since he does not profess to discourse of one, but of an ambassador from the king of Ethiopia; no more right have we to be surprised thereat, than that M. Lamartine in his “Histoire des Girondins,” does not speak of Pandulph, the nuncio sent from Rome to England in the thirteenth century, because he speaks to us of the mission of M. de Segur, despatched from France to Berlin, in the eighteenth century. Again, we must recollect that at this period Christian authors were accustomed to say but little of the state and circumstances of the Jews, and indeed scarcely to mention them but in religious controversial works. Hence do we consider the declarations, that “these Jewish authors supposed the ambassador of David, king of Ethiopia, to have been from the ten tribes,” and that “the author of the ‘Shalsheleth Hakabbala’ with others, &c., were deceived,” to be assumptions entirely gratuitous.

דוגיות, the small boats belonging to ships called cock boats. Hence in Baba Batrah מוכר את הספינה מוכר את הדוגית, “He that sells the ship sells the cock-boat with it.” See Lingua Sacra, Radix דגה. Here most probably trading smacks.

‡ Or the land of the gazelle (text ארץ הצבי) the graceful, the beautiful land, the gazelle being a graceful and beautiful animal. See Hyde. The term, however, is also expressive of honour, majesty, glory, &c. (See Gesenius Heb. Lex.) In this sense it is used in Daniel, chap. 11:16. “And he shall stand בארץ הצבי in the glorious land, &c.,” or according to a marginal reading in Bagster’s Polyglot, “the land of ornament, or goodly land.” See also verses 41 and 45 of the same chapter, again Ezek. 20:6, 15, and Jer. 3:19, &c. Redak, in his “Sepher Hasherashim,” after adducing the various instances in which it is used for glory or beauty, adds the following: ודעת רז״ל כי לפיכך נקראת ארץ ישראל צבי מה צבי קל ברגליו מכל החיות אף ארץ ישראל קלה לבשל פירותיה מכל הארצות “And our Rabbis (of blessed memory) opine that the Holy Land is styled the land of the Gazelle, (or goat,) because even as the gazelle is faster than all other animals in its movements, so is the land of Israel quicker than any other country in bringing its fruits to perfection.”

<<131>>The details, however, were not made public, until, after having crossed the sea in the two hundred and eighty-fourth year of the sixth millennium, he arrived at Venice, and thence proceeded to Rome, where he was favourably received by all those who became acquainted with the object of his journey and the nature of his mission. As understood from his own assertions, this Jew was from the company of the two tribes,* and he farther said that he was an inhabitant of those deserts, and, like the Rechabites,† dwell in tents, and that his station was in the Desert of Chabor, which is in Asia Major. Beneath them were the rest‡ of the ten tribes, near to the deserts adjoining Mecca and Gjudda,§ which are adjacent to the Red Sea.

* See note, (p. 39,) supra.

† The Rechabites were descendants of Jonadab the son of Rechab, who assisted Jehu in destroying the house of Ahab and the worshippers of Baal. He required of his descendants three things, which they scrupulously observed. 1. That they should not drink wine; 2. That they should not possess fields and vineyards or occupy houses, but 3. That they should dwell in tents. The Rechabites became dispersed after the captivity.

‡ In Bartolloci’s Bibliotheca Rabbinica, (p. 122,) it will be found that השלום (peace) has been read for תשלום the rest or completion!

§ Hyde, (note 8, p. 92,) bearing testimony to the correctness of our author here, in placing Mecca near Gjudda, (Judda or Gjudda, and as styled by European navigators Ziten or Ziden,) says, “This Gjudda is a maritime territory and city adjoining Mecca, viz., on the coast of the Maris Meccani, or Red Sea, and where,” adds he, “rocks and shallows are very common. Here,” he continues, “collect religious strangers, who freely dispense charitable gifts, are transported thence from western countries, and who with a prosperous gale are wont to cross the sea in twenty-four hours. There is a port in this place, called by our merchant navigators Mucha, whence they bring us white stones of the same name cut into figures of herbs, &c.”

They have each and all of them their chiefs|| <<132>>and princes, and the people are as the sand of the seashore for numbers.* They raise spices, pepper in particular, as also medical drugs; and, indeed, they possess many excellent things, as we shall show hereafter. Living between these two sections of the Jewish people, however, there is a strong and mighty people who are followers of Mahomet. These, with their numerous kings, render a communication among the Jews exceedingly dangerous,† and they will not permit one party to approach the other. Many years had they been thus widely separated, endeavouring to approach each other, but finding it impossible to do so, when they were apprised of the arrival of some Christian ships of very large and mighty proportions. They also heard, and, indeed, saw, that the Christians had in their hands certain hollow metal instruments of war designed to throw stones by means of fire,‡ and which could destroy any fortress or village. Whereupon, the Jews of Mount Chabor, according to his statement, determined upon sending him to the great king of all the Christians,§ with the credentials then <<133>>in his possession, as before stated, in order to authenticate his assertions.

|| Text מלכים Kings. Mr. Grant in his very interesting work, “The Nestorians,” in which he endeavours to show the identity of the Nestorian Christians, who inhabit the regions adjoining the country of which our author speaks above, with the lost tribes of Israel, says on page 180, (Lon. ed.,) “Most of the Nestorian Christians, like the ancient Israelites, live in separate tribes. * * * They sustain the same relation to each other that the Hebrew tribes relatively held. Their chiefs or nominal heads retain the Hebrew appellation Melek or Malek, which designated the royal head of the nation of Israel. This term, it is true, has found its way to other oriental languages; but I know of no other people in the East with whom it is in common use to designate their civil head, as it was among the Hebrews, and is now among the Nestorians.” It is doubtless in this sense that Peritsol uses it above.

* R. Abraham will not be accused of hyperbole by those accustomed to read the Jewish writings. His expression is only tantamount to an assertion that “the Israelites of those deserts” were very numerous. That such is indeed the meaning he intends to convey is proved by his subsequent assertion, that the Mahometans living between the divided tribes prevented their approaching each other; therefore the Mahometans, (according to this representation,) must have been more numerous than the Israelites. The reader need surely not be told, that whenever the expression occurs in Scripture it is merely figurative.

† Vide preceding note.

‡ Guns, which may mean either cannon or muskets. The use of field pieces, at the period of which R. Abraham speaks, was only just then commencing to be known. For, although guns are said to have been used in China during the latter part of the first century of the Christian era, still, cannon, as such, were not used in Europe till after the time of Bacon, (the latter part of the 13th century,) when gunpowder was invented. If we are disposed to take the words of our author literally, (he says, the guns were “in their hands,”) we must recollect that muskets were used as early as the siege of Rhege, (1521 C. Æ.) and as he speaks of a period some twelve years later than this, our author may be considered as correctly speaking of muskets, which then began to be in general use, though in rests. Hyde briefly remarks on this passage, “En descriptionem Bombardarum et Scloporum.”

§ It may, perhaps, be worth noting here, the terms employed by an Italian Israelite, in speaking of the Pope, about fifteen years after Luther had commenced preaching against “the errors and corruptions of the Church of Rome.” Might we not suppose from the use of the expression, “great king of all the Christians,” the dominion of the Pope to be here considered as universal in respect to Christians, although the Reformation, commenced by Luther, had then spread far and wide through Germany, Switzerland, &c., and even through England? Different the sentiments of Italian Christians of the present day, when they have not hesitated to drive forth the head of their church from amongst them—refuse to recognise him as their Prince, and maltreat the Jews because of their allegiance to him as their civil head.

These credentials were confirmed by the king of Portugal who then navigated the regions of the Hodiyim (or Indies), and who knew of the existence of a Jewish community there. He also wrote to the Pope, (whose glory be exalted,*) that the above mentioned Jew was worthy of credit, as were also his declarations. But be this Jew what he may, and be his words true or false, it is sufficient for us, in our captivity and in our dispersions (to know), that the existence of the ten tribes was acknowledged by kings, by princes, and by many influential persons in Rome—that Ephraim existed, even then—a numerous people with their rulers; be this Jew, who came to us, who and what he may.†

* The respectful terms used by Jewish authors, in speaking of those who are set in authority over them, and who are not of their faith, bear a favourable comparison with the epithets applied to them and their writings by the majority of their opponents.

† This passage is, in itself, sufficient to show how unjustly our writer has been charged with “inventions” and “impudent falsehoods,” in his history of the arrival of R. David in Italy. That he should, so soon after the occurrence of this event, declare that besides his coreligionists, there were many Christians of high standing, who could attest the truth of what he has just asserted in respect to this matter. Without warrant or foundation for this, his declaration would be an impertinence, with which we cannot in common reason dare to charge him. Again, he here tells “us expressly, that he is not entirely satisfied that R. David is exactly what he pretends to be, and that all the particulars which R. David advances relative to the ten tribes are in reality truths, though he himself is apparently inclined to believe that both messenger and mission are true; but, he says, if he and his people have been deceived, others, non-Israelites have been deceived too, hereby showing us that the considerations for believing the assertions of the messenger were more weighty. than those which might induce them to reject them.

Since the existence of these Israelites and their kings has been thus acknowledged; we may be permitted to state, that this Jew came by the way and in the manner following: From the desert of Chabor he journeyed with a caravan, which is the usual mode of travelling in these places. This was heard from his own lips and so recorded. <<134>>Passing through Arabia Felix, he arrived at the Red Sea descended into Egypt, thence journeyed to the Holy Land, where he awaited the arrival of a ship from Venice, by which he might proceed to Italy. He reached Rome, and resided there about eight months, until the reply of the king of Portugal had been received, which authenticated his mission.

(To be continued.)