Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Buxtorf, John (1564-1629)

BUXTORF, or Buxtorff, John (1564-1629), the first of a line of distinguished scholars, whose Hebrew and rabbinical learning shed lustre upon the university of Basel during the 17th century, was born at Camen in Westphalia on the 25th December 1564. The original form of the name was Bockstrop, or Boxtrop, from which was derived the family crest or insignia, which bore the figure of a goat (Bock in German signifying " he goat"). His early education was received at the schools of Hnmm and Dortmund. After the death of his father, who was minister of Camen, Buxtorf resumed his studies, which had been interrupted for a short time by that event, at Marburg, and the newly-founded university of Herborn, at the latter of which Olevian and Piscator had been recently appointed professors of theology. It was under the teaching of Piscator that Buxtorf first imbibed a love for the Hebrew language and literature, that department in which he was destined afterwards to become so famous. So great was his progress in these studies, that Piscator acknowledged that he was far surpassed by his pupil. At a later date Piscator received the assistance of Buxtorf in the preparation of his Latin translation of the Old Testament, which was published at Herborn in 1602-3. From Herborn Buxtorf repaired to Heidelberg, and thence to Basel, to which latter university he was attracted by the reputation of John James Grynseus and Hospinian. After a residence of some time at Basel, Buxtorf proceeded to Zurich, for the purpose of attending the lectures of Bullinger, and after that to Geneva, where he enjoyed for a short time the instructions of Beza. On his return to Basel, Grynaeus, who had been greatly impressed by the character, talents, industry, and great learning of the youth, and was desirous that the services of one who promised to become a scholar of great distinction should be secured to the university, procured him a situation as tutor in the family of Leo Curio, son of Coelius Sccundus Curio, so celebrated for his sufferings on account of the Reformed faith. This arrangement exercised a decisive influence upon the future life, public and private, of Buxtorf. At the instance of Grynaeus, Buxtorf undertook the duties of the Hebrew chair in the university, and discharged them for two years with such ability and acceptance, that at the end of that time he was unanimously appointed to the vacant office. From this date (1590) to his death in 1629, a period of thirty-nine years, Buxtorf remained in Basel, and devoted himself to the study of Hebrew and rabbinical literature with an energy and zeal that have rarely been paralleled in the history of any scholar. He is said never to have devoted fewer than eight or ten hours daily to study. Not satisfied with perusing the works of the rabbins, he received into his own house many learned Jews, that he might discuss with them the more difficult and abstruse points treated of in the writings of their countrymen. So great, indeed, became his reputation for profound and extensive knowledge of rabbinical books, that he was frequently consulted by Jews themselves on matters relating to their ceremonial law. Probably no Protestant scholar ever possessed so complete a knowledge of the contents of the rabbinical writings as Buxtorf, and he seems to have well deserved the title which was conferred upon him of "Master of the Rabbins." His partiality for Jewish society exposed him, indeed, on one occasion to considerable annoyance. He had received a Jew named Abraham into his house in order to assist him in the editing of his great Rabbinical Bible. Abraham's wife was confined of a boy, whose circumcision, agreeably to Hebrew usage, had to take place on the eighth day after birth, and it was necessary that at least two Jewish witnesses should be present at the ceremony. Buxtorf obtained permission from the chief officer of the town council to allow two Jews from a distance to assist on the occasion, while he himself, his son-in-law, and two citizens of Basel, were also present. This proceeding, however, gave great offence to the authorities of the city, the laws against the Jews being at this time exceedingly stringent. The result was that Buxtorf and his son-in-law were each fined 100 florins, the father of the boy 400 florins, while the officer of the municipality and the two citizens were punished with three days imprisonment. Notwithstanding this occurrence, however, Buxtorf's relations with the city of Basel were of a friendly kind. He remained firmly attached to the university which first recognized his merits, and declined two invitations which were offered him, from Leyden and Saumur successively, to fill the Hebrew chair in these famous schools. His correspondence with the most distinguished scholars of the day was very extensive, and in the rich collection of letters preserved in the library of the university of Basel, are contained materials for a literary history of the time which it is hoped may be one day utilized.

The works which Buxtorf published during his life are too numerous to be all enumerated in this brief notice, and for a complete list of them the reader is referred to the authorities cited at the close of the article. The following, however, may be mentioned. In 1602 appeared his Manuale Hebraicum et Chaldaicum, which reached a seventh edition in the year 1658. In the following year was published his Synagoga, Judaica, which appeared first in German and was afterwards translated into Latin in an enlarged form, and which constitutes a valuable repertory of information regarding the opinions and ceremonies of the Jews. In 1607 he published his Lexicon Hebraicum ct Chaldaicum cum brcvi Lcxico Rabbinico PMIosopliico, which was reprinted at Glasgow so recently as 1824. In 1618 there appeared in two folio volumes his great Rabbinical Bible, containing, in addition to the Hebrew text, the Chaldee Paraphrases or Targums, which he punctuated after the analogy of the Chaldee passages in Ezra and Daniel (a proceeding which has been condemned by Richard Simon and others), and the Commentaries of the more celebrated Rabbins, with various other treatises. Of this work it may be said that Rosenmuller's judgment will approve itself to most Hebrew scholars, that "this edition is indispensable to every one who desires thoroughly to study the criticism and exposition of the Old Testament." (Rosenmuller, Handbuch fur die Literatur dcr Biblisclien Kritik und Exegese, vol. i. p. 259). The Bible was followed by his Tiberias, sive Commcntarius Masorcticus, so named from the great school of Jewish criticism which had its seat in the town of Tiberias. It was in this work that Buxtorf controverted the views of Elias Levita regarding the late origin of the Hebrew vowel points, a subject which gave rise to the. famous controversy between Cappellus and his son John Buxtorf, which will be referred to in the following article. Buxtorf did not live to complete the two works on which his reputation chiefly rests, viz., his great Lexicon Ohaldaicum, Talmudicum, et Rabbinicum, and the Concordanticc Bibliorum Hebraicorum, both of which were edited by his son. They are monuments of untiring, labour and industry, and possess an enduring value. The former work has been recently (1869) republished at Leipsic with some additions by Bernard Fischer, Ph.D., and the latter was assumed by Fürst as the basis of his great Hebrew concordance, which appeared in 1840. For additional information regarding his writings the reader is referred to Athcncc Rauricce, pp. 444-448; to the article "Buxtorf" in Ersch and Gruber's Encyclopaedia; to the Theological Cyclopaedias of Herzog, and of Wetzer and De "Welte, sub voce "Buxtorf"; to Niceron's Memoircs, vol. xxxi. pp. 206-215; to Sclu-okh sKirchengcschichte, vol. v. (PostReformation period) pp. 72 sq., Leipsic, 1806; and to Meyer's Gcschichte der Sclirift-Erkliiruiuj, vol. iii., Gottingen, 1804.(f. c.)