Wednesday, March 22, 2023

A 19th century Christian scholar who liked to write like a rabbi

I was browsing Google Books looking for the use of the term "Palestinian Talmud"when I came across  an 1883 work, "The Mishnah on which the Palestinian Talmud Rests; Edited for the Syndics of the University Press from the Unique Manuscript Preserved in the University Library of Cambridge, Add. 470. 1" by William Henry Lowe, a Hebrew lecturer at Christ's College.

This edition of the Mishna has little to do with the Jerusalem ("Palestinian") Talmud. It is a transcription of a 15th century manuscript of the Mishnah at Cambridge, one of the earliest complete such manuscripts. 

Lowe chose to write the entire work using "Rashi" script, rather than the usual Hebrew scripts. But that isn't the weirdest part.

Lowe wrote the Hebrew title page, and the Hebrew introduction, in the style of Jewish works of scholarship, to the extent that he refers to the decidedly non-Jewish Christ's College becomes "The Beit Medrash for the Group of the Messiah."

Here are the English and Hebrew title pages:

Lowe even lists the (Hebrew) publication year (5)643 by using the gematria of a Hebrew Biblical phrase the way Jewish scholars do, using a verse from Psalms 102:14 which happens to be quite Zionist: "You will surely arise and take pity on Zion, for it is time to be gracious to her; the appointed time has come."

His dedication page and introduction are likewise in the style of Jewish scholars.

The original 15th century manuscript that Lowe transcribed (and commented on) is now online at Cambridge's website. 
My favorite page is this one, where a child decided to practice his or her Aleph-Bet lessons on the bottom margin of the priceless page:

This, to me, symbolizes Judaism's eternal survival. Scholarship is not relegated to the ivory tower; these books were in people's homes where anyone could access them, including six-year olds. 

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Read all about it here!