« IndietroContinua »
Rabbi David Kimchi, commonly called by the Jews from the three initial letters 7'77 RaDak, was probably born at Narbonne, where his father lived.* Reland † considers it doubtful, because, in his printed and manuscript works, he calls himself, “ David, the son of Joseph, the son of Kimchi the Spaniard,” whereas Narbonne is in France. But the vicinity to Spain, and the fact that his family was Spanish, and that he himself was altogether identified with the Spanish school of Hebrew learning, would fully warrant this title. f But, however that be, it is certain that his life and labours present an interesting incident in the literary history of an eventful period.
* Jost in his Geschichte der Israeliten, vol. vi. 104) says unhesitatingly, that he was born there, but the only authority which he gives is that of Wolfius, who does not speak so positively.
+ Vitæ celeb. Rab. p. 81, 82, in his Analecta.
66 Hispanus, Narbonæ, quæ tum temporis Hispanis parebat.”---Bibliothec. Heb. part i. p. 562.
He flourished about the time of the third Crusade, A.D. 1190, and lived through the first quarter of the thirteenth century. Whilst the laity of Christendom were engaged in the attempt to recover the Holy City, and the divines in perfecting and systematising the Christian oral law, or Popish Rabbinism, Kimchi, and other distinguished rabbies of the day, were zealously and laboriously employed in the grammatical study of the Old Testament, and in the improvement of biblical interpretation. Their countrymen were accustomed then, as now, wherever the Talmud is much studied, to follow the Talmudic method of interpretation, and to pay but little attention either to context or grammar, of which, from the method of instruction pursued in Rabbinical schools, they do not so readily perceive the necessity or the value. It would, however, be a mistake to suppose that Kimchi or his cotemporaries 'had discovered the simple and rational method of exposition, or that the Jews, in the long interval between the dispersion and the Crusades, were either ignorant or destitute of the grammatical principle. They carried with them from their country Onkelos's Chaldee translation * of the Pentateuch, as a model of literal interpretation; and the labours of Jonathan, + about two centuries after the dispersion, testify that they knew how to profit by it. The Masora I furnishes another instance of a diligent and accurate grammatical study of the text. “ It is evident,” says Gesenius, § * that its authors were guided by fixed grammatical principles, which, though never collected into one whole, they had deduced for themselves, and according to which they conformed the text, and endeavoured to remove its irregularities and supposed errors. In doing so, they manifest a great accuracy of study.”
* Known by the name of Targum of Onkelos. + Jonathan Uzziel's Targum on the Prophets. | See Buxtorf's Tiberias, or Masoretic Commentary. § Geschichte der Heb. Sprache. p. 75. On the following page he states his opinion that this work was diligently carried on in the sixth century, and finished about the eighth or ninth.
The punctuation, whenever affixed, presupposes no scanty measure of grammatical study; and the system of the accents shows the most accurate and delicate perception of the relation and connexion of words and sentences; and these two together must have ever preserved amongst the reflecting Jews a correct taste for the true principles of interpretation. These works attest the continued existence of grammatical principles amongst the Jews themselves, but it is probable that from the Arabic grammarians they learned method and system; and soon after the triumphs of Mahometanism, and the culture of Arabic, the series of professed Jewish grammarians commenced. t About the beginning of the tenth century, Saadiah Gaon distinguished himself as a grammarian, translator, and commentator, from whom the succeeding commentators often make useful citations. In the latter half of the eleventh century, R. Solomon, commonly called Rashi, furnished a commentary to the
* It may, however, be doubled whether the benefit was an unmixed good; and whether, if the Jews had worked out their own principles to a system, that system would not have been more purely Hebrew, and therefore more correct.
+ Gesen. Geschichte, p. 94.
whole Bible, which, though full of Talmudisms, manifests diligence, acuteness, a thorough acquaintance with the language of Scripture, and a desire to rise above Talmudic interpretation. He was succeeded in the next century by Aben Ezra, who far surpassed him in power and freedom of judgment. And a little later came David Kimchi, who, diligently using the labours of his predecessors, and possessing no ordinary resources of his own, has, besides a grammar and lexicon, left a commentary on most of the books of Scripture, which, though written six hundred years ago, will bear a comparison with any that has appeared even in the nineteenth century. Valuable in itself, it has other points of attraction for the Christian student. It is the work of one to whom the Christian world has been much indebted; for his grammar and lexicon have, until very lately, contributed the main portion of all similar productions, and his commentary has been one of the sources from which commentators since the Reformation have drawn most valuable materials. What Gesenius says generally of the Jewish commentators is particularly true of Kimchi. “The judicious commentator will know how to use much in them that is indisputably true and good; and a facility in understanding these sources is indispensably necessary to every respectable interpreter.”* To the reader of the English Bible, Kimchi is also of value, as he will find the translations generally confirmed, and see how very little that rabbi would have altered. Indeed, a comparison with the rabbies would show that our translators were deeply read in, and diligent in consulting the best Jewish autho
* Gesen. Geschichte, p. 102.