Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lightfoot, John (1602-1675)

LIGHTFOOT, JOHN (1602–1675), biblical critic, born at the rectory-house of Stoke-upon-Trent 29 March 1602, was second son of Thomas Lightfoot, at the time curate of Stoke and subsequently rector of Uttoxeter from 1622 till his death on 21 July 1658 in the eighty-first year of his age. His mother was Elizabeth Bagnall, of a well-known family settled at Newcastle-under-Lyme, who died 24 Jan. 1636–7, aged 71. After attending the school of Mr. Whitehead at Morton Green, Congleton, Cheshire, he entered in June 1617 Christ's College, Cambridge, where his tutor was Dr. William Chappel [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Cork. He distinguished himself in classical scholarship at college, and gave promise of high gifts of oratory. After graduating B.A. he spent two years as assistant at a school in Repton, Derbyshire, taught by his old master, Whitehead. Then, taking holy orders, he was appointed to the curacy of Norton-in-Hales, Shropshire, where he became acquainted with Sir Rowland Cotton of Bellaport, who appointed him his domestic chaplain, and encouraged him in the study of Hebrew and the cognate languages. When Cotton, shortly afterwards, removed to London, Lightfoot followed him. He next became rector of Stone, Staffordshire, where he remained about two years. In 1628 he removed to Hornsey, Middlesex, chiefly with a view to easy access to the rabbinical treasures of Sion College. Here, in 1629, he wrote his first work, ‘Erubhim, or Miscellanies, Christian and Judaical,’ penned for recreation at vacant hours, dedicating it to his patron, Sir Rowland Cotton. From this date his pen was seldom idle. In September 1630 he was presented by Cotton to the rectory of Ashley, Staffordshire, where he ministered with exemplary diligence. He built a study in his garden, in which he devoted all his spare time to researches in Hebrew. He took the parliamentary side in the civil war, and in June 1642 resigned the living of Ashley in favour of his younger brother, Josiah, and settled in London. In 1643 he obtained the rectory of St. Bartholomew's, near the Exchange, London, residing in Moor Lane. He was a member of the Westminster Assembly, and took a prominent part in the debates, siding with the Erastian section on questions of church government, and as a presbyterian boldly resisting what he called ‘the vehemence, heat, and tugs’ of the independents. He was frequently invited to preach before the House of Commons, and his vindications of the presbyterian position made him popular with the members of that religious persuasion. In 1644 he received the rectory of Great Munden, Hertfordshire, which he held till his death. When noting in his register the execution of Charles I on 30 Jan. 1648–9, he added the word ‘murder'd.’ In November 1650 he was appointed by the parliamentary visitors of Cambridge master of St. Catharine Hall, in succession to the ejected Dr. William Spurstow (Heywood and Wright, Cambridge Transactions, ii. 531). In 1652 his university conferred on him the degree of D.D., when he took for the subject of the customary thesis, ‘Post canonem Scripturæ consignatum, non sunt revelationes expectandæ.’ In 1654 he became vice-chancellor. While holding this office, he pronounced at the commencement of 1655 a panegyric on Cromwell for having encouraged him and others to complete the great Polyglot Bible, but he showed his characteristic moderation by calling attention in the same speech to the pitiable plight of the clergy of the church of England. At the Restoration he offered to resign his mastership to Spurstow, its former holder, but the offer was declined, and Sheldon, archbishop of Canterbury, in recognition of Lightfoot's learning, confirmed him in both the mastership and his living. He took part in the Savoy conference of 1661, siding with the presbyterians. When the Act of Uniformity came into force in 1662 he complied with it, though he is said to have been not very scrupulous in fulfilling its provisions. On 22 Jan. 1667–8 he was appointed to a prebend at Ely, and he died there 6 Dec. 1675. He was buried three days later at Munden.

Lightfoot married, first, in 1628, Joyce (d. 1656), daughter of William Compton of Stone Park, and widow of George Copwood; and, secondly, Anne (d. 1666), widow of Austin Brograve, esq., apparently son of Simeon Brograve of Hamells, Hertfordshire. By his first wife alone he had issue, viz. four sons and two daughters. Of the sons, John was chaplain to Bryan Walton, bishop of Chester; Anastasius Cottonus Jacksonus—the two latter names commemorated Lightfoot's friends, Sir Rowland Cotton, and Sir John Jackson—became vicar of Thundridge, Hertfordshire, 25 June 1661; Anastasius was a London tradesman, and Thomas died young. Of the daughters, Joyce married, on 8 Jan. 1655–6, John Duckfield, rector of Aspeden, Hertfordshire; and Sarah became wife of a Staffordshire gentleman named Colclough.

He bequeathed his oriental books to Harvard College in America, where they were burnt in 1769. Many of his papers passed to his son-in-law, Duckfield, who communicated them to John Strype.

Lightfoot holds a very high rank among Hebrew scholars. His rabbinical learning was very wide, and, according to Gibbon, he, ‘by constant reading of the rabbis, became almost a rabbi himself.’ He set himself to illustrate from Talmudical and like authorities the phraseology of the Old Testament, and to explain the customs mentioned both there and in the New Testament. To him is ascribed the credit of opening to the modern world ‘the fountains of Talmudical learning.’ Schoettgen, a German scholar who followed half a century later the same line of study, wrote, ‘Nisi Lightfootus lyrasset, multi non saltassent.’ Dr. Adam Clarke considered Lightfoot to be the first of all English writers in biblical criticism as regards learning, judgment, and usefulness. In his own day his eminence as a Hebrew scholar was recognised abroad, and Frederic Miege, Theodore Haak, J. H. Otho of Berne, Knorr, the Silesian cabbalistic scholar, and the younger Buxtorf, were among his correspondents or visitors. Publishers, however, he complained to Buxtorf, would rarely undertake to print his works at their own risk. Most of them appeared at his own expense.

Among his chief works were: ‘Harmony of the iv Evangelists among themselves and with the Old Testament, with an explanation of the chiefest difficulties both in language and sense,’ pt. i. London, 1644, 4to; pt. ii. London, 1647, 4to; pt. iii. London, 1650, 4to; ‘Harmony, Chronicle, and Order of the Old Testament,’ London, 1647, and of the New Testament, London, 1655, with a discourse on the ‘Fall of Jerusalem.’ But Lightfoot is mainly remembered by a series of volumes entitled ‘Horæ Hebraicæ et Talmudicæ,’ of which the earliest, ‘impensæ I. in chronographiam aliquam Terræ Israeliticæ; II. in Evangelium S. Matthæi,’ appeared at Cambridge in 1658, 4to, dedicated to the students of Catharine Hall, and was followed by similar studies ‘In Evangel. Marci’ with ‘Decas Chorographica’ (Cambridge, 1663, 4to), dedicated to Charles II; ‘In Epistolam S. Pauli ad Corinthios’ (Cambridge, 1664, Paris 1677, Amsterdam 1677, and Leipzig 1679), dedicated to Sir William Morice; ‘In Evangel. Johannis,’ with ‘Disquisitio Chorographica’ (London, 1671, 4to), dedicated to Sir Orlando Bridgman; ‘In Evangel. S. Lucæ,’ with ‘Chorographia pauca’ (Cambridge, 1674, 4to), dedicated to Archbishop Sheldon; and posthumously—‘In Acta Apostolorum et in Epistolam S. Pauli ad Romanos’ (London, 1678, 4to), prepared for the press by Richard Kidder [q. v.] The ‘Horæ’ on the Four Evangelists, together with the chorographical essays, were edited by the Hebrew scholar Carpzov at Leipzig (1675 and 1684), and those on the Acts, Romans, and Corinthians by the same editor, Leipzig, 1679. Schoettgen reprinted the greater part of Lightfoot's ‘Horæ’ in his own ‘Horæ Hebraicæ et Talmudicæ in universum Novum Testamentum,’ 1733, 4to. An edition of the whole, in an English version, was edited by Robert Gandell [q. v.] in 1859 (4 vols.)

Lightfoot's other works, apart from sermons, published in 1643 (two), 1645 (two), and 1647 were:

  1. ‘A Few and New Observations on the Book of Genesis, the most of them certain, the rest probable, all harmless, strange, and rarely heard of before,’ London, 1642.
  2. ‘A Handful of Gleanings out of the Book of Exodus,’ London, 1643, 4to.
  3. ‘A Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles, chapters i–xii.,’ London, 1645, 4to.
  4. ‘The Temple Service as it stood in the Dayes of our Saviour,’ London, 1649, 4to; dedicated to William Lenthall, speaker of the House of Commons.
  5. ‘The Temple, especially as it stood in the Days of our Saviour,’ London, 1650, 4to; also dedicated to Lenthall; a manuscript copy is in Chetham's Library, Manchester.
  6. ‘Concerning the Anathema Maranatha,’ 1652.
  7. ‘On the Canon of Scripture,’ 1652.
  8. ‘Collatio Pentateuchi Hebraicæ cum Samarabico,’ London, 1660.
  9. Some posthumous ‘Remains, viz.: (1) Rules for a Student of the Holy Scriptures; (2) Meditations upon some Abstruse Points of Divinity; (3) An Exposition of two select Articles of the Apostles' Creed, viz. the Holy Catholic Church and the Communion of Saints,’ 1700.

The first collected edition of Lightfoot's works—all translated into English—was published in London in 1684 (2 vols. fol.), revised and corrected by George Bright, rector of Loughborough, dedicated to Mary, princess of Orange, and prefaced by a memoir of Lightfoot by John Strype, with an account of Lightfoot's papers. The second volume contains the ‘Horæ,’ which are described as ‘published by the care and industry of John Strype,’ and are specially dedicated to Henry Compton, bishop of London. The volume concludes with forty-six sermons, and ‘a discourse upon the fourth article of the Apostles' Creed—“He descended into Hell.”’ In 1686 followed a collected edition in Latin, edited by Johannes Texelius (2 vols. fol.). Another Latin edition, in three volumes, was prepared by Johannes Leusden at Utrecht, and some previously unpublished pieces were contributed by Strype. In 1823 John Rogers Pitman issued a complete edition of Lightfoot's works in thirteen volumes. The first volume contains a life and elaborate bibliography, and a piece not previously attributed to Lightfoot (pp. 371 sq.), viz. ‘A Battle with a Wasp's Nest, or a Reply to an angry and railing Pamphlet written by Mr. Joseph Heming, called “Judas Excommunicated, or a Vindication of the Communion of Saints” wherein his Arguments are answered, his abuses whipt and stript, the question whether Judas received the Sacrament debated, and the Affirmative proved by Peter Lightfoot,’ London, 1649, 4to. The last volume of Pitman's edition contains a journal of the Westminster Assembly, while much of Lightfoot's correspondence with Buxtorf and other scholars is printed for the first time from Strype's manuscript collection in Lansdowne MS. 1055.

Lightfoot aided Walton in the arrangement of his Polyglot Bible (1657), for which he revised the whole Samaritan version of the Pentateuch, supplied a geographical commentary on the ordinary maps of Judea, corrected errata in the Hebrew text, and procured subscriptions. Similar assistance was rendered by him to Matthew Poole's ‘Synopsis Criticorum’ (1669, 5 vols. fol.); and he encouraged Castell to persevere with his ‘Heptaglot Lexicon.’ Samuel Clarke submitted to his judgment his translation of the Targum on Chronicles. Lightfoot also contributed a memoir of his friend, Hugh Broughton, to the edition of Broughton's ‘Works’ (1662).

His chorographical essays and his accounts of the Temple appear in Latin in Ugolino's ‘Thesaurus Antiquitatum Sacrarum,’ in vols. v. and ix. respectively (Venice 1746 and 1748). In Gerdes's ‘Miscellanea Duisbergensia’ (1732), vol. i., appears ‘Observatio Lightfootiana de nomine Sethur cujus litteræ faciunt numerum 666 ad Num. xiii. 4 coll. Apoc. xiii. 18.’ Adverse criticisms of Lightfoot figure in G. H. Goetze's ‘Sylloge Observationum Theologicarum J. Lightfoot oppositarum’ (1706), in Rheingerd's ‘Dissertatio Philologica de decem otiosis Synagogæ’ (1686), in C. Vitringa the elder's ‘De decemviris otiosis Synagogæ’ (1687), and in Basnage's ‘De Rebus Sacris et ecclesiasticis Exercitationes Historicocriticæ,’ Utrecht, 1692, 4to.

A fine portrait of Lightfoot, who is described as ‘comely in his person, of full proportion, and of a ruddy complexion,’ is in the hall of St. Catharine's College, Cambridge. He wears a skull-cap and bands. An engraving by R. White forms the frontispiece of the edition of his works dated 1684. A memorial brass was placed in his honour in the church of Great Munden a few years ago by Joseph Barber Lightfoot [q. v.], bishop of Durham, and Archdeacon Lightfoot, rector of Uppingham.

[Life prefixed to folio edition of works, 1684; Biographia Britannica; Mitchell's Westminster Assembly; Hetherington's Westminster Assembly; D. M. Welton's John Lightfoot, the English Hebraist, Leipzig, 1878; Mullinger's Cambridge Characteristics in the 17th Century; John Ward's Stoke-upon-Trent, 1843, pp. 482–488; Lightfoot's Works, ed. Pitman, vol. i.; information kindly supplied by the Rev. the master of St. Catharine's College, Cambridge, and by the Rev. A. J. Tuck, rector of Great Munden.]

T. H.