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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Basnage, Jacob Christian
Protestant pastor; born at Rouen, France, Aug. 8, 1653; died in Holland Dec. 22, 1725. At the age of twenty-three he took charge of the Protestant Church of Rouen, succeeding Etienne Le Moine, who had been called to Leyden as professor of theology. After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and the consequent suppression of the Reformed Church in his native city, Basnage was called in 1686 to the pastorate of the Walloon Church at Rotterdam; and in 1691, at the instance of his friend Heinsius, grand pensionary of Holland, he was chosen pastor of the Temple of The Hague.
Is a Skilful Diplomat.
Though Basnage acquired a reputation as a skilful diplomat (see analysis of his letters of 1713 by M. Levesque, in "Les Mémoires de l'Académie des Sciences et Lettres de Rouen," 1859, pp. 269 et seq.), his interest for the present article consists in the fact that, like his friend Fontenelle, he employed his leisure hours in writing on theology and on the history of religion. His workson these subjects are enumerated as twenty-five in "La France Protestante" by Haag (Paris, 1846-58; 2d ed., 1877, vol. i, s.). Chief among them is "L'Histoire et la Religion des Juifs Depuis Jésus Christ Jusqu'à Présent," intended as a supplement and continuation to Josephus (Rotterdam, 1706-11).
His "History of the Jews."
This work is in five books, forming seven volumes, the sixth of which has the following title: "L'Histoire des Juifs Réclamée et Rétablie par Son Véritable Auteur, M. Basnage, Contre l'Édition Anonyme et Tronquée Qui s'en Est Faite à Paris, chez Roulland, 1710; avec Plusieurs Additions pour Servir de Tome VI. à Cette Histoire." The mutilated edition mentioned in this remarkable title was by Du Pin. A long preface to the sixth volume, in twenty-eight paragraphs, contains remarks on the criticisms passed upon Basnage's "History of the Jews" in the "Journal des Savants" of the time. Very justly Basnage protests against the accusation that he had "rejected the testimony of a contemporary author who states facts," whereas he had examined and discussed it ("Histoire des Juifs," 1st ed., book , ch. 14:1265), as he had done, for instance, in reference to the decree of Arcadius compelling the Jews to abide by the Roman laws (II Codex Theodosianus, 1:87).
This pirated edition testifies to the success of the book, which on its appearance was translated into English by Taylor, London, 1706, and later condensed into two volumes by Crull, London, 1708. In the same year was published "Remarks upon Mr. Basnage's History of the Jews," London, 1708.
A second and enlarged edition was brought out some years later (The Hague, 1716-26; 7 books in 15 volumes), revised in accordance with the criticisms made upon the first edition, and enriched by the author's new researches. The changes are apparent even in the first book, to which was added the genealogy of the Hasmoneans and of the Herodians in three parallel columns, the first of which is according to the first edition of the "De Numeris Herodiadum" by P. Hardouin, disproved by Basnage; the second is the same changed by P. Hardouin in his reply to Basnage; the third is according to the system of Josephus, followed by Basnage.
Voltaire's Favorable Estimate.
Voltaire, in his "Siècle de Louis XIV.," 1830, 19:55, in placing Basnage among the French writers of that period, says: "Among the most valued of his books is his 'History of the Jews.' Books on current events are forgotten with the events; books of general usefulness survive." This history is in fact the most important of Basnage's works, in quality as well as in bulk. At the beginning of the work he calls it "a survey of all that pertains to the religion and the history of the Jews since Herod the Great." And he goes on to say: "I have followed this nation into every corner of the world where it has sought refuge, and have brought to Light the Ten Tribes that seemed buried in the East. I have studied the schisms, the sects, the dogmas, and the ceremonials found in that religion."
The contents of the seven books of the history are as follows:
Book : The condition and the government of Judea under the Herodians.
Contents of the Work.
Book : The history of the sects at the time of Jesus and the destruction of Jerusalem; the origin, dogmas, progress, and present condition of the Samaritans, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Essenes, and the Herodians.
Book : The history of the patriarchs who ruled in Judea, the princes of the Babylonian captivity, and the successive generations of important rabbis since the destruction of Jerusalem; the character and works of the Talmudists, Amoraim, Pyrrhonists or Skeptics (perhaps he meant the Epicureans), "Excellents" or Geonim, Masoretes, and Cabalists, together with a description of the Cabala and of its famous teachers.
Book : The Jewish dogmas and confession of faith, and the history of the Jewish religion from the destruction of the Temple.
Book : Jewish rites and ceremonies.
Book : The dispersion of all the tribes in the Orient and the Occident, up to the eighth century.
Book : The history of the dispersion from the eighth century to the eighteenth century.
Of these chapters, Richard Simon (according to Haag, "La France Protestante") praises especially those on the Karaites, the Masorites, and the Samaritans. It is a matter of regret that the portions relating to modern times are not more complete. Basnage apparently did not know that in his day there were already many European Jews in America, occasionally banded together in religious communities;nor was he aware of the fact that Spanish Jews had accompanied Columbus to the New World; while he assumed, following Manasseh b. Israel (see the account of Aaron Levi, or Antonio de Montazinos, at the end of "L'Esperança d'Israel"), that the remnants of the Ten Tribes, after living in Tatary, had in the dim past crossed the Pacific to America. This defect is perhaps due to the motives which governed Basnage in his choice of sources. At the end of his preface Basnage says:
"In writing this history, we have given preference to the writers of the Jewish nation, so long as reason and the love of truth have not constrained us to discard them. The dogmas and the religion we have gathered from the writings of Maimonides, Abraham ibn Ezra, Abravanel, Manasseh b. Israel, and the chief Cabalists. The Mishnah and its commentators have furnished us with the rites and ceremonies. It has been more difficult to deduce the history, since the authors of chronicles, both short and long, Abraham b. Dior, Gedaliah ibn Yaḥya, David Gans, and Solomon ibn Verga, dwell upon the names of the elders of tradition rather than on general and particular events. If Manasseh and Barrios ('Historia Universal Judaica,' Amsterdam, 1683) had fulfilled their promise to write this history, we should have found it most helpful. As they were not able to carry out their plans, we had to be satisfied with what we could find."
After this general résumé, Basnage gives a list of the authors he has cited, of which the following is a summary arranged according to subject-matter:
On Bible exegesis (of which, if he read English, he must have had first-hand knowledge): Henry Ainsworth, "Annotations upon the Five Books of Moses," London, 1639; John Edwards, "A Discourse Concerning the Authority, Style, and Perfection of the Books of the Old and New Testament." London, 1693; P. Alix, "The Judgment of the Ancient Jewish Church Against the Unitarians," London, 1699; Humphrey Hody, "Contra Historiam Aristeæ de LXX" (Oxford, 1685); idem, "De Bibliorum Textibus Originalibus Versionibus," etc., Oxford, 1705, in addition to the works of Everard van der Hoogt, Johann Heinrich Hottinger, and others. Here may be added the works on Hebrew philology cited by Basnage: Cappel, "Arcanum Punctationis Revelatum"; Drusius, "Quæstiones Hebraicæ"; Fagius, "Targum Hierosolymitanum"; Gousset, "Commentarii Linguæ Hebraicæ." The Hebrew writers, however, Basnage had to read in Latin versions, so far as they had been translated; and here again he made reservations in regard to dogmas contradictory to Christianity. Thus, in citing the commentary on Isaiah by "R. Moses Al-shik" he adduces for a corrective, as it were, C. L'Empereur (Leyden, 1631); and in order to provide a refutation of Abravanel, of whom he knew only his commentaries on Isaiah and Obadiah, he adduces C.L'Empereur against the former commentary (Leyden, 1613) and Sebaldi Snell (Nuremberg, 1647) against the latter. Moreover, for historic purposes he did not make use of the prefaces written by the exegete Snell to the commentaries on other books. Of Abraham ibn Ezra he knew only three short treatises, extracted by Buxtorf from his large Bible commentary, and appended to the version of the "Cuzari," Basel, 1660.
Whatever knowledge of the Talmud he could under these circumstances possess, he derived from the Latin version of the Mishnah by Surenhuys, with the commentaries of Maimonides and Obadiah de Bertinoro, Amsterdam, 1700; from a translation of the Pirḳe Abot; and from the Latin version of the two Talmudic treatises Sanhedrin and Makkot, by John Coch or Coccejus (Amsterdam, 1629). He had some knowledge even of the two Midrashim, one on the Book of Esther, the other on Lamentations; and he was well acquainted with all the works of Maimonides that had been translated into Latin, with the exception of "Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah."
Basnage's conception of Jewish theology and his interpretation of the religious controversies bear the marks of the same lack of direct knowledge. In this connection he cites Carpzov, "Introductio ad Theologiam Judaicam" (Amsterdam); Carret, "Judæus Convertus" (appended to the "Synagoga Judaica" of Buxtorf); "Colloquium Judæo-Christianum"; Fetchius, "Ecclesia Judaica," Strasburg, 1670; St. Augustine, "Altercatio Synagogæ et Ecclesiæ" (ed. Benedictine, , Antwerp, 1700); and Wagenseil, "Tela Ignea Satanæ." To these may be added, as a doubtful source, P. Alix, "De Adventu Messiæ, Dissertationes Duæ Adversus Judæos," London, 1701. Through such reading the most impartial mind must become biased.
Historical and Geographical Sources.
For purely historical material, Basnage consulted, in addition to the authors named in his preface, the writings of the bishop of Lyons, Agobard, Arias Montanus, Miguel de Barrios, Isaac Cardoso, "Las Excellencias de los Hebreos" (Amsterdam, 1683); Cunæus, "De Republica Hebræorum"; Frischmuth, "De Gloria Templi Secundi"; the works of Manasseh b. Israel, collections of the reports of councils, and the Roman codes, as well as others. For chronology, he cites, among others, Henry Dodwell, "De Veteribus Græcorum Romanorumque Cyclis, Obiterque de Judæorum Cyclo Ætate Christi," Oxford, 1701; P. Hardouin, "De Paschate," Paris, 1691, and Selden. As a historian he was therefore a popularizer.
For geography, Basnage carefully read: Adrichom, "Descriptio Terræ Sanctæ," Cologne, 1682; "The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela," translated with notes by Constantin L'Empereur (Leyden); William Baldensel, "Odœporicon ad Terram Sanctam," in the "Lectiones Antiquæ" of Canisius,; Bochart, "Phaleg" (Caen), and "Hierozoicon" (London). When he refers to the book of Eldad ha-Dani in only its Hebrew form, he confesses thereby his ignorance of its contents. In the same way he shows lack of knowledge with regard to Pethahiah of Regensburg, and Abraham Farissol he misnames "Peritsul."
Basnage profitably used the five volumes of the "Bibliotheca Rabbinica" of Bartolocci, Rome, 1675, together with all the works of the two Buxtorfs. He also studied the Karaite sect in the extract from the Bible commentary of the Karaitic Jew, Aaron b. Joseph, translated and annotated by Louis Frey of Basel, Amsterdam, 1705, and in Simonville's "Supplement to Leon of Modena"; and information concerning the Samaritans he obtained from Christoph Cellarius, "Collectanea Historiæ Samaritanæ" (Cizæ [Zeitz], 1688). He also could get a fair picture of Jewish rites and usages from the book of Rabbi Isaac Arias, "Tesoro de Preceptos Adonde se Encierran las Joyas de los 613 Preceptos queEncomendos el Señor a su Pueblo con su Declaracion, Razon y Dinim Conforme a la Verdadera Tradicion," Amsterdam, 5449 (1689).
His One Deficiency in Reading.
Jewish philosophy Basnage knew only at second hand, through Buddeus' "Specimen," Halle, 1702. He was acquainted also with the works of Maimonides and his followers; but of Moses Naḥmanides, or of Ḥizzuḳ Emunah, he had at his command only the extracts given by Wagenseil in his "Tela Ignea." To judge from his knowledge of the mysticism of the Zohar, he must have read the analysis and the fragments found in Knorr von Rosenroth's "Cabbala Denudata," in four large volumes, containing a number of dissertations, including the "Sha'ar ha-Shamayyim" of Abraham Cohen Herrera (whom Basnage calls Irira). The "Sefer Yeẓirah," which he used in the translated and annotated form by Rittangel, Amsterdam, 1642, like all his forerunners, he ascribed unhesitatingly to the patriarch Abraham; and, probably, had he known the "Sefer Raziel," he would have ascribed it to Adam. This one deficiency in his wide reading and deep study need not prevent due acknowledgment of the depth of his researches.
Basnage's other books also cover the field of his Jewish studies. Before publishing his large history, he issued a "Histoire du Vieux et du Nouveau Testament, Representée par des Figures Gravées en Taille-Douce par Romain de Hooge, avec des Explications dans Lesquelles on Éclaircit Plusieurs Passages Obscurs," etc., Amsterdam, 1704. Under each one of these figures are verses by La Brune. The nine editions of this book prove its success. It was even pirated under the title "Grand Tableau de l'Univers." Basnage's part in the work, however, is confined to short explanatory notes on the pictures. In later editions he added annals of the Church and of the world, from the Creation to the death of the apostles, and a "Géographie Sacrée."
Later he published the "Antiquités Judaiques, ou Remarques Critiques sur la République des Hébreux," Amsterdam, 1713. Although this is hardly more than a sequel to G. Goerrée's translation and continuation of Cunæus' "De Republica Hebræorum" (three volumes), it yet reveals Basnage's personality and independence. He does not believe, for instance, that Moses was the first of the world's lawgivers, nor that men like Lycurgus, Solon, and Pythagoras borrowed from the Bible whatever was excellent in their laws.
Not confining himself to political history, he touches upon theology; he discusses the ideas of the Jews on demonology and divine inspiration; and examining the opinions of the fathers of the Church on the pagan oracles, the Sibylline Books, and other fictitious works, he does not hesitate to accuse them either of ignorance or of unfairness.
Voltaire, in "La Bible Enfin Expliquée par Plusieurs, Aumôniers" ("Mélanges," , ed. Beuchot, p. 366), in speaking of a captive priest of Samaria, who had returned and taught his countrymen how to worship God, adds in a note:
"Basnage in his 'Jewish Antiquities' says that some scholars take this to be the Hebrew priest, sent to the new inhabitants of Samaria, who wrote the Pentateuch. They base their opinion on the fact that the Pentateuch speaks of the origin of Babylon and of other Mesopotamian cities which Moses could not have known; that neither the ancient nor the later Samaritans would receive the Pentateuch from the Hebrews of the kingdom of Judah, their bitterest enemies; that the Samaritan Pentateuch was written in Hebrew, the language of this priest, who would not have had time to learn Chaldee; and finally they point out the essential differences between the Samaritan and our Pentateuch. It is not known who these scholars are; Basnage does not name them."
Le Vier, the editor of one of Basnage's posthumous works, pays the following tribute to his character in the preface to the second volume of the "Annales des Provinces-Unies": "In his works his candor, frankness, and sincerity are no less evident than his great scholarship and sound reasoning."
- Mailhet, Jacques Basnage, Théologien, Controversiste, Diplomate, et Historien, Geneva, 1880.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Basnage, Jacob Christian'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/b/basnage-jacob-christian.html. 1901.