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Through defect of documents, we know nothing of the exegetical systems of the Jews before the time of Christ.

Flavius Josephus declares (War I. 5, 2.) that the Pharisees interpret the Law accurately. We can only come at a knowledge of their system through the Talmud, which reflects the Jewish thought of the early ages.

The Talmud is a composite form of the Mishna and the Gemara. The Mishna, from שָׁנָה, has the radical signification of Deuterosis, a repetition of the Law, it being a repetition and explanation of the Law. In the Mishna itself we read:—Why is it called the Mishna? Because it is the second Law. For the first Law which Israel received on Sinai, is the written Law. But Moses received the Mishna from the mouth of the Almighty the second time, and it is the oral Law. It is called Mishna because it is second to the first Law. It is certain that the Mosaic origin of the Mishna is a fable. It is simply a collection of the opinions and legal decisions of the ancient Rabbis. Chief among those who collected the data of the Mishna, was Rabbi Jehuda Hakkadosh, or the Holy, born about the middle of the second century. The Mishna summed up all previous rabbinical labors, and moulded all the subsequent philosophy and theology of Judaism. Rabbinic interpretation is called by the generic term of מִדְרַשׁ Midrash from רְרַשׁ, to enquire. These Midrashim are of two kinds, the Haggadah, חַגָּדָה from נָגַד, to narrate, was a free exposition, inclining to allegory and mysticism, and generally aimed to console the saddened spirit. This was preferred by the Jews in the dreadful calamities which befell them. The other species is הֲלָכָה, Halakah, from הָלַךְ to proceed. This interpretation keeps more strictly to the traditional acceptation of the Law.

These traditional ordinances, as already stated, bear the general name of the Halakah, as indicating alike the way in which the fathers had walked, and that which their children were bound to follow. These Halakoth were either simply the laws laid down in Scripture; or derived from it, or traced to it by some ingenious and artificial method of exegesis; or added to it, by way of amplification and for safetys sake; or finally, legalized customs. They provided for every possible and impossible case, entered into every detail of private, family, and public life; and with iron logic, unbending rigor, and most minute analysis pursued and dominated man, turn whither he might, laying on him a yoke which was truly unbearable. The return which they offered was the pleasure and distinction of knowledge, the acquisition of righteousness, and the final attainment of rewards.

The Halakah indicated with the most minute and painful punctiliousness every legal ordinance as to outward observances, and it explained every bearing of the Law of Moses.

Altogether, the Mishna comprises six Orders (Sedarim), each devoted to a special class of subjects. The first Order (Zeraim, seeds) begins with the ordinances concerning benedictions, or the time, mode, manner and character of the prayers prescribed. It then goes on to detail what may be called the religio-agrarian laws (such as tithing, Sabbatical years, first fruits, etc.). The second Order (Moed, festive time) discusses all connected with the Sabbath observance and the other festivals. The third Order (Nashim, women) treats of all that concerns betrothal, marriage and divorce, but also includes a tractate on the Nasirate. The fourth Order (Nezikim, damages) contains the civil and criminal law. Characteristically, it includes all the ordinances concerning idol-worship (in the tractate Abodah Zarah) and the sayings of the Fathers (Aboth). The fifth Order (Kodashim, holy things) treats of the various classes of sacrifices, offerings, and things dedicated to God, and of all questions which can be grouped under sacred things (such as the redemption, exchange, or alienation of what had been dedicated to God.) It also includes the laws concerning the daily morning and evening service (Tamid), and a description of the structure and arrangements of the Temple (Middoth, the measurements). Finally, the sixth Order (Toharoth, cleannesses) gives every ordinance connected with the questions of clean and unclean, alike as regards human beings, animals, and inanimate things.

These Orders are divided into tractates (Massiktoth, Massektiyoth, textures, webs), of which there are sixty-three (or else sixty-two) in all. These tractates are again subdivided into chapters, (Perakim)—in all 525, which severally consist of a certain number of verses, or Mishnas (Mishnayoth, in all 4, 187). The language is Hebrew, though of course not that of the Old Testament. The words rendered necessary by the new circumstances are chiefly derived from the Greek, the Syriac, and the Latin, with Hebrew terminations. But all connected with social intercourse, or ordinary life (such as contracts), is written, not in Hebrew, but in Aramæan, as the language of the people.

But the traditional law embodied other materials than the Halakoth collected in the Mishna. Some that had not been recorded there, found a place in the works of certain Rabbis, or were derived from their schools. These are called Boraithas—that is, traditions external to the Mishna. Finally, there were additions (or Tosephtoth), dating after the completion of the Mishna, but probably not later than the third century of our era. Such additions are added to fifty-two out of the sixty-three Mishnic tractates. When speaking of the Halakah as distinguished from the Haggadah, we must not, however, suppose that the latter could be entirely separated from it. In point of fact, one whole tractate in the Mishna (Aboth: The Sayings of the Fathers) is entirely Haggadah; a second (Middoth; the Measurements of the Temple) has Halakah in only fourteen places; while in the rest of the tractates Haggadah occurs in not fewer than two hundred and seven places. Only thirteen out of the sixty-three tractates of the Mishna are entirely free from Haggadah.

In course of time the discussions, illustrations, explanations, and additions to which the Mishna gave rise, whether in its application, or in the Academies of the Rabbis, were authoritatively collected and edited in what are known as the two Talmuds or Gemaras. If we imagine something combining law reports and notes of a theological debating club—all thoroughly Oriental, full of digressions, ancedotes, quaint sayings, fancies, and legends, and too often of what, from its profanity, superstition, and even obscenity, could scarcely be quoted, we may form some general idea of what the Talmud is. The oldest of these two Talmuds dates from about the close of the fourth century of our era. It is the product of the Palestinian Academies, and hence called the Jerusalem Talmud. The second is about a century younger, and the outcome of the Babylonian schools, hence called the Babylon (afterwards also our) Talmud. We do not possess either of these works complete. The most defective is the Jerusalem Talmud, which is also much briefer, and contains far fewer discussions than that of Babylon. The Babylon Talmud, which in its present form extends over thirty-six out of the sixty-three tractates of the Mishna, is about ten or eleven times the size of the Mishna, and more than four times that of the Jerusalem Talmud. It occupies (in our editions), with marginal commentations, 2,947 folio leaves (pages a and b). Both Talmuds are written in Aramæan; the one in its western the other in its eastern dialect, and in both the Mishna is discussed seriatim, and clause by clause.

Opposed to the Talmudists were the KARAITES, a sect formed in the seventh or eighth century. They rejected the oral traditions of the Talmud, and while seeking the literal sense, rejected the literalism of the Talmudists.

The ESSENES and the ALEXANDRIAN JEWS adopted a purely mystical interpretation of the Scripture. We may judge of the system of the Alexandrians from their representative Philo. According to him, although at times the literal sense must be developed for rude minds incapable of higher wisdom, the real sense of the Scripture was the occult understanding of the symbols which were contained in the letter. Thus Abraham is the symbol of the learning of virtue; Isaac, of the acquisition of virtue; Jacob, of its exercise. Adam, is a symbol of man in his rude state; Cain, of selfishness; Noah, of justice; Sara, of womanly virtue; Rebecca, of wisdom; Egypt, is a symbol of the body; the dove, of the divine wisdom, etc. Philo compares the literal sense to the body; the allegorical, to the soul, and in many places rejects entirely the literal sense. His work is worthless in exegesis.

THE CABALISTS surpassed Philo in mystic jugglery. The Cabalists derive their name from קַבֵּל, to receive, since they fable that their system was secretly delivered to the elders on Sinai.

Of the Cabalistic theosophy, we shall say nothing. We shall only briefly indicate some of their artifices, by which they find foundation for their vain theories and beliefs.

The first artifice is called Gematria, in which occult senses are drawn from the text, by the numerical value of the letters. For example, the first verse of Genesis and the last verse of the Hebrew Bible, 2 Chron. 36:23. contain six א. The letter א is the first letter of אֶלֶף, a thousand; therefore, the world will endure six thousand years. The first two words of Genesis כְרֵאשִׁית בָרָא by the numerical value of the letters, make 1,116; the same number, results from the numerical value of the phrase בְּרֹאשּׁ הַשָׁנָת נִבְרָא, in the beginning of the year it was created: therefore, the world was created at the autumnal equinox, which is the beginning of the Jewish year.

By another artifice, they accept the several letters of a word for signs of complete words, and thus build a sentence from the letters of one word. For example the first word of Genesis כְרֵאשִּׁית is by this method made to signify the sentence: בָרָא = כ, he created, רָקִיעַ = ר, the firmament, אֶרֶץ = א, the earth, שָׁמַיִם = שׁ, the heavens, יָם = י, the sea, תְּהוֹם = ת the abyss: he (God) created the firmament, the earth, the heavens, the sea and the abyss.

Some Christians have resorted to Cabalistic methods to find the mystery of the Trinity in the same term: בְּן = כ, the Son, רוּחַ = ר, the Spirit, אָב = א, the Father, שְׁלשָּׁה = שׁ, three, יְחִדָה = י unity, תָּמָה = ת, perfect; the Son, the Spirit, and the Father, the threefold perfect unity.

By adopting just the reverse, from the initial letters of מִי יַעֲלֶה־לָנוּ הַשָּׁמַימָה who shall lead us to Heaven? They formed מִילָה, the rabbinic form of מוּלָה, circumcision.

The third artifice, called Themurah from מוֹר to change, is founded in a metathesis of the letters.

This may be wrought in various ways. 1.—The transposition may be wrought of the letters themselves of any word, so that it may change its signification. Thus the מַלְאָכִי, my angel, of Exod. 23:23, by the Themurah becomes מיכאל Michael, the name of the angel.

The second species of the Themurah consists in a substitution of letters, and may be wrought in two ways. It is אתבשּׁ, where the last letter of the alphabet is substituted for the first letter, ת for א; the second last letter for the second, שׁ for ב, hence its name את־בשׁ. The second species is called אלבם, and differs from the preceding only in that they divide the alphabet in two equal halves, and substitute the first letter of the second half, ל, for the first letter of the first half, א, and so through both halves. Some believe that the Masoretic text has suffered an interpolation from the Cabalists in Jer. 25:26, and 51:41, where we read מֶלֶךְ שֵׁשַׁך

No such kingdom is known in history. Jerome informs us that we should read by Athbasch כבל, and he believes that Jeremiah with design concealed the real name, leaving it to the Cabalists to interpret. It is far more probable, that if בבל should be read there, that the text has been corrupted from בבל to שׁשׁךְ by the Cabalists.

The most famous Cabalistic treatise is the Book of Sohar, i. e. the Book of Splendor. Though the Cabalists assign its origin to the second century, it is most probably not more ancient than the thirteenth century.

Though purporting to explain the Law, it is simply a Cabalistic treatise on their occult doctrines concerning God, the Messiah, the Angels, etc. Two minor works of similar argument are the Books Bahir and Jezira.

After the eleventh century of our era a new school of Scriptural interpretation arose among the Jews. The doctors of Judaism began to discard the old fables, and to seek the literal sense of the Scripture. Of course, as they refused to recognize Christ as the Messiah, they could not come at the full sense of the Old Testament. But still their labors are useful to us in giving us a fuller knowledge of the Hebrew tongue. The following are the most famous among these late Talmudists:

RABBI SALOMON BEN ISAAC, frequently called Jarchi, or Rashi, was born at Troyes in Champagne in 1040. He commented the entire Scripture and the Talmud. He obtained great fame among the Jews, and the first Hebrew book ever printed was his commentary on the Pentateuch. His hatred of Christianity is evident in many places in his works. His style is obscure, and he has received many of the fables of the early Talmudists. He died in 1105.

RABBI ABRAHAM BEN MEIR BEN EZRA, commonly called ABENEZRA, was born at Toledo, in Spain, in 1093. He distinguished himself in philosophy, astronomy, medicine, poetry, mathematics, the languages and exegesis. He traveled much, visited the principal cities of Europe, Egypt, and other parts of the East. He died in 1167, on his way from Rhodes to Rome.

He is one of the greatest of the Talmudists. He commented the entire Old Testament except Chronicles. In this commentary he seeks the literal sense of the text, and breaks away from the old fables. He was infected with a certain rationalistic turn of mind, and was most inconstant in his opinions. Though his commentary on the Scriptures is free from the fables of the Cabalists, in other works he indulges his genius in this species of jugglery. He was endowed with prodigious memory, which made him easy master of the Jewish thought of his time.

RABBI MOSES BEN MAIMON, commonly called Maimonides, and sometimes Rambam, was born at Cordova, in Spain, in 1135. Cordova was at that time a Mussulman stronghold, and the vernacular tongue of Maimonides was Arabic. He is styled Rabbi Abram, the last of the sages as regards time, and the first in worth. His life is enveloped in a web of fable. The few certain data attainable are, that he studied medicine, and made such progress in it, that he was made court physician to Saladin of Egypt. He was versed in the Arabic philosophy, and in mathematics, but his greatest claim to fame, is founded on his Talmudic labors. He wrote partly in Hebrew and partly in Arabic. His greatest work is his Mishnah Thorah, a systematic codification of the whole Jewish Law, as found in the Bible, the Mishnah, the Talmud, and minor books. The Jews have held this book in great esteem, and declare that by it Maimonides merits a place next to Moses the Lawgiver. It remains a great source of rabbinic learning, even to this day. Some Jews have even neglected the Talmud, to concentrate their study on Rambam. It forms a sort of tournament for all later Talmudists, and to explain a difficult Rambam, is a test of learning with the Talmudists. A MS. of the work is in the library of Cambridge. Various editions have been printed of it; the last and most complete is that of Leipsic in 1862.

The most important of Maimonides other works is the Dalàlatu 1-Hàirìn in Arabic; in Hebrew מוֹרֶה הַנְּכוֹכִים, The Guide of the Perplexed.

This work essays to explain the difficult passages of the Bible. Maimonides was conversant with Aristotle, and made much use of his philosophy in this work. The work is a curious medley of symbolism, mysticism, Greek philosophy and rationalism. Maimonides left several other works, which merit no special mention here. He died at Cairo in 1204.

The next great Talmudist of the Middle Ages is RABBI DAVID KIMCHI, sometimes called Radak. He was born at Narbonne after 1155, and died probably in the same city about 1235. His father Rabbi Yoseph, or his grandfather Rabbi Isaac (Yishak) Ibn Kimchi, had immigrated into Provence from Spain, whence Arab fanaticism had compelled the Jews to flee. In Provence the family took the Gentile surname of Petit. Rabbi David lost his father (who was himself a grammarian, Bible commentator, and poet of no mean order) very early; but his elder and only brother, Rabbi Mosheh (a fair scholar, but famous chiefly through his younger brother), was his principal oral teacher. The valuable literary treasures of his father, however, falling into his hands, Radak grew strong by studying them, and, as we know, eclipsed them completely, although he lacked his fathers originality. But, if Rabbi David lacked originality, he had abundance of instinct for finding out the best in the works of his predecessors, and abundance of genius for digesting and assimilating it till it became his own in a peculiar way. Although preceded by Hayyuj, Ibn Janàh, and others, and succeeded by Abraham de Balmes, Elias Levita, and others, Kimchi has maintained the position of the greatest Jewish grammarian and lexicographer. And, although much inferior as a Biblical scholar and Talmudist to Rashi, and as a critic and philosopher to Abraham Ibn Ezra, he has outstripped both in the eyes, not only of the Christians, but to some extent even of the Jews, and thus reigned supreme for more than five hundred years, as a commentator on the Bible. From the fact that he was master of the Targums and Haggadoth as few before or after him, that he had Hebrew, Arabic and Greek philosophy at his fingers ends, and that he was endowed with a truly poetical soul, the mystery is explained how the merely reproductive scholar could cause original scholars of the highest eminence, but who were one-sided, to be all but forgotten. Not only have his works, in whatever field they are to be found, been printed and reprinted, but the most important of them are translated into Latin, into Judæo-German, and even into English.

Kimchi has commented all the Old Testament, except the Pentateuch, and of that he commented the greater part of Genesis. His most valuable contribution to Hebrew literature is his Grammar and Lexicon. All subsequent Hebrew lexicographers have drawn from his םֵפֶר שָׁרָשִׁים the Book of Roots. Of course comparative philology has amplified these data, but it has by no means superseded the work of this Rabbi. He died at Narbonne about 1235.

ISAAC BEN JUDA ABARBANEL, or ABRAVANEL, was born at Lisbon in 1437. His family was opulent, and he received a liberal education. He entered the political career, and became Minister of Finance to Alphonsus V. of Portugal, and afterwards to Ferdinand the Catholic of Castile. A decree of expulsion in 1492 forced him to leave Spain, and he withdrew to Naples, where he occupied an eminent post at the Court of Ferdinand I. and his successor Alphonsus II. At the French invasion, he fled to Sicily, and finally fixed his domicile at Venice, where he died in 1508.

During his wanderings, he composed numerous works treating of Holy Scripture. The principal works are Commentaries on Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Kings, on the other four books of the Law, on Daniel, Isaiah, on the other Prophets, and two Dissertations on the Messiah. He has also other treatises on special passages of Holy Scripture. Richard Simon regards him as the most useful of the Rabbis, and makes him equal in Hebrew to Cicero in Latin. This is excessive praise. Like all his class, he hated the Christians, and gives evidence of this hatred in his use of Scripture. At times he is more of a rhetorician than an exegete. Long digressions are often found in his works, made up chiefly of dry, stupid subtilities, and attacks on Christianity.

Other Jewish doctors of minor note are R. Levi ben Gerson, R. Elias Levita, R. Salomon ben Melech, R. Moses Nachmanides, called Ramban, R. Chajim, R. Jacob ben Reuben, R. Aaron ben Joseph, R. Aaron ben Elia, R. Abraham de Balmes ben Meir, R. Abraham Halévi, and Abraham Usque.


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