Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Scholars and Scholarship, 1600–60 > Hebrew scholarship
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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

XIII. Scholars and Scholarship, 1600–60.

§ 9. Hebrew scholarship.

From this brief review, it is evident, especially as to the years immediately preceding 1660, that the attraction in Greek studies is drawing towards Biblical literature; and Hebrew is becoming a necessary learned language. From the time of the new Elizabethan and Stewart foundations of grammar schools, the three “holy” languages—Latin, Greek and Hebrew—had been the aim of protestant workers in education, not only for providing antagonists capable of meeting Catholic opponents in disputation, orally and in books, but, also, for coming “nearer” to the primitive times of the Christian era. Boys in school were to learn their catechism in a Greek text, read the New Testament in Greek, learn, if might be, to speak in Greek. The aim of school and university, in their Greek studies, was, in the long run, theological. Theological study required, in addition to Latin, a knowledge of the Greek language; if possible, of Hebrew also; and Busby, at Westminster, tried the daring experiment of adding oriental languages (Arabic particularly). For The Authorised Version of the Old Testament (with the Apocrypha), thirty-two Hebrew scholars were chosen. These included that “second Mithridates” in learning, bishop Lancelot Andrewes; Adrian Saravia, who was the teacher of the still more learned oriental scholar Nicholas Fuller; Lively, for thirty years regius professor of Hebrew at Cambridge; Chaderton, the famous master of Emmanuel college, Cambridge; Spalding, from whom Gataker learned the rudiments of Hebrew; John Rainolds of Oxford, the redoubtable controversialist; Holland, of the same university, “mighty in the Scriptures”; Kilby, rector of Lincoln college; Miles Smith, of whom Wood says that he had Hebrew “at his fingers’ ends,” and to whom Chaldee, Syriac and Arabic were “almost as familiar as his native tongue”; Samuel Ward, who was the constant correspondent of Ussher in Biblical and oriental criticism; John Bois, who was at least as learned in Greek as in Hebrew; and that “eminent light” in all learning, bishop Bilson, the great theologian, and a reviewer of the whole translation. Cambridge and Oxford were thus fully represented, and the needs of a great joint work of learning were readily and adequately met by the supply of scholars.   23
  Whilst The Authorised Version of the Bible itself marked an era, the progress of oriental learning was carried to far greater heights in the succeeding half century. William Bedell read the Greek Fathers and historians in Greek, attained “no mean skill” in the Syriac, Arabic, Chaldee and Hebrew tongues, wrote (as already mentioned) an English grammar for Italians to read English divinity, and produced the Old Testament in Irish when he became bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh. James Ussher, archbishop of Armagh, investigated, by inductive and comparative methods, a basis of universal chronology. With indefatigable zeal, he worked on the antiquities of Irish history, collected and collated oriental MSS., was permeated with patristic knowledge and did much original critical work in editions of several of the early Fathers—Polycarp and Ignatius and St. Barnabas. He was a voluminous correspondent with all great researchers into antiquity—classical, hebraistic, early Christian and oriental. In short, he was one of the very greatest of English scholars. Thomas Gataker, puritan rector of Rotherhithe, wrote his Cinnus, sive Adversaria Miscellanea and learned commentaries on books of the Old Testament, and established for himself as high a reputation for oriental scholarship abroad as in England. John Selden, in his De Dis Syris (in Latin), 1617, investigated the history of the idol deities mentioned in the Old Testament, and made his work a comprehensive enquiry into both Syrian and other heathen theologies. Joseph Mede, an encyclopaedic scholar in mathematics, physics, botany, anatomy and astrology, was, also, a profound “Hebrician,” and added to the store of scholarship in Egyptology and in the origin of Semitic religions. Brian Walton’s great polyglot Bible, in progress from 1652 to 1657, must rank as the highest peak of English co-operative scholarship in a period which was remarkable both in its wealth of eruditional effort and in the significance of its concentration of deepest learning on the Bible centre. This stupendous polyglot Bible uses altogether nine different languages, Greek, Hebrew, Samaritan, Chaldee, Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Persian, Latin, though no part of the Bible is given in more than six or less than three languages simultaneously. In addition to texts, there is a vast body of apparatus, e.g. treatises on weights and measures, geographical charts, chronological tables and prolegomena, Chaldee Targums; and one of the six folios consists of various readings and critical remains. Brian Walton, the editor, afterwards bishop of Chester, published an introduction to oriental languages, but was by no means the most learned scholar assisting in the polyglot. Among the collaborators were Ussher and Selden, already mentioned; John Lightfoot, the greatest Hebrew scholar of that age; Abraham Wheelock, first lecturer in Arabic combined with (Anglo-)Saxon at Cambridge, and an acknowledged scholar in Persian; Samuel Clarke, architypographus of Oxford university, “inferior only to Pococke in Eastern learning.” Finally must be mentioned Meric Casaubon, son of Isaac Casaubon, who published classical commentaries on Marcus Antoninus (1643), and Epictetus (1659), and had written in 1650 a commentary on the Hebrew and (Anglo-)Saxon languages. Curious as the combination of Old English and Hebrew may seem, it marks the two new directions of English research in the period, the joy of the discovery that Britain, too, had antiquities and an ancient church history. From various sources, the conviction gathered strength that there were more ancient civilisations than Greece, which threw light on the classics and on Jewish history. The supply of Hebrew grammars, even of English production, was adequate; and, in 1646, Edward Leigh’s Critica Sacra was published, the best Hebrew lexicon which had yet been produced in England. In 1644, an ordinance of the Lords and Commons, “after advice had with the Assembly of Divines,” required, amongst other qualifications of candidates for the ministry, “that trial be made of skill in the Original Tongues by reading the Hebrew and Greek Testaments and rendering some portions of them into Latin.”   24
  Sixteenth century classical studies had provided huge quarries from which the seventeenth century dug out further materials; but, with their instruments sharpened and improved by practice, scholars proceeded to undertake pioneering operations on a wider scale. The pedagogical maxim of “turn all knowledge to use” was now more sedulously followed. The knowledge of Hebrew and oriental languages developed with amazing rapidity, even as scientific studies advanced by leaps and bounds, after Bacon’s summons to make good the deficiencies of past ages in the world of knowledge. In both cases, however, this splendid progress was due to the incessant and life-long toil of classical humanists and grammarians in perfecting methods of enquiry and research, in firing the imagination with re-constituted empires and literatures and in framing standards of evidence. The intellectual recovery of Roman and Greek literature and antiquities had shown the way for discoveries in ancient life and institutions, and had taught men how to treat, for purposes of illustration and comparison, the civilisations of Hebrew and the other oriental peoples, our own Old English antiquities and those of ancient Ireland. The investigation of those languages, literatures and institutions made necessary an enquiry into ancient times, and scholarly methods were required for this. In this respect, scholars like Gataker, Selden, Wheelock and Ussher obey the traditions of Budaeus, Casaubon and Scaliger, though in other directions, and often non passibus aequis. But, in the case of English scholars of this period, there is this difference—the scholarly aim in all directions was subservient to the religious interest.   25

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