1902 Encyclopedia > John Buxtorf, junior

John Buxtorf, junior
(John Buxtorf, junior)
Swiss Hebrew and rabbinical scholar
(1599-1664)




JOHN BUXTORF, or BUXTORFF, (1599-1664), commonly called "junior," to distinguish him from his father, the subject of the preceding notice [JOHN BUXTORF]. He was born at Basel on the 13th August 1599, and at a very early age displayed remarkable aptitude for the acquisition of languages. When only four years old he was sent to school, at which age he is said to have been able to read Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, in which he had been instructed by his father. At the age of twelve he entered the university, where he speedily distinguished himself above not only his equals, but his seniors in years, to so great a degree that when only sixteen he received the diploma of master of arts from the hands of his own father. From this time he devoted himself to the study of theology, turning his atten-tion especially to the Hebrew language and its cognate dialects, and then proceeding to the study of rabbinical Hebrew, in which he soon attained such proficiency, that he is said, while still a young man, to have read through not only the Mishna, but also the Jerusalem and Babylonian Gemaras, or commentaries upon the text of the Talmud. In conformity with the excellent custom, so long prevalent on the Continent, of visiting several universities before finally settling down to life-long professional work, Buxtorf proceeded to Heidelberg in 1617, where he listened to the prelections of the theologians Bareus, Scultetus, and the elder Alting. In 1619 he repaired to Dort, while the famous Synod was still sitting, and there made the acquaintance of many of the divines who took part in its proceedings. At the close of the Synod he made a short journey in company with the deputies from Basel, through the Netherlands and England, and thence through France back to Basel. On his return he found that his father's great Babbinical Bible was in course of publication, and as there was no lexicon suitable for the study of the Chaldee Targums, comprised in the work, he undertook the compilation of such a lexicon, which appeared at Basel in 1622 under the title of Lexicon Chaldaicum et Syriacum, with a recom-mendatory preface from his father, detailing the circum-stances under which the work had been executed. Still thirsting for knowledge, he repaired in 1623 to Geneva, to-enjoy the instructions of the elder Turretin, Diodati, and Tronchin ; while in return Turretin and Dav. Clericus did not disdain to avail themselves as pupils of his pre-eminent knowledge of Hebrew and of the rabbinical dialect. So-great by this time had become his reputation as a scholar, that he was offered by the authorities of the city of Bern the chair of logic at Lausanne, which he declined, preferring to return to Basel, where in 1624, he was appointed general deacon to the church of Basel (Communis Ecclesiae Basileensis Diaconus), and three years later deacon of St Peter's church. On the death of his father in 1629, Buxtorf was unanimously designated as the fittest person to succeed so distinguished a Hebraist; and by the advice of his physicians, who were of opinion that the labours involved in the discharge of the duties of a public preacher would be injurious to one whose constitution was feeble, he finally accepted the office. From this date until his death he remained at Basel, declining two offers which were made to him from Groningen and Leyden, to accept the Hebrew chair in these two celebrated schools. To mark their appre-ciation of his patriotic conduct, the governing body of the university founded in 1647, specially for his behoof, a third theological professorship, that of " Commonplaces and Con-troversies," the duties of which Buxtorf discharged for seven years along with those of the Hebrew chair. When, however, the professorship of the Old Testament became vacant in 1654 by the death of Theodore Zuinger, Buxtorf resigned the chair of theology, and accepted that of the Old Testament instead, holding both offices, and for some time' that also of chief librarian to the university, untU his death, in 1664. The course of his private life was chequered by many domestic bereavements. He was four times married, his three first wives dying shortly after marriage, and the fourth predeceasing her husband by seven years. His children also all died young, with the exception of two boys, the younger of whom, John James, became first his father's colleague, and shortly after his successor in the chair of Hebrew.





A considerable port-ion of his public life was spent in controversy regarding disputed points in Biblical criticism, in reference to which he had to defend the views advanced by his father. The attitude of the Reformed churches at that time, as opposed to the Church of Rome, led them to take up and maintain many opinions in regard to Biblical questions, which were not only erroneous in point of fact, but which were altogether unnecessary for the stability of their position. Having renounced the dogma of an infallible church, it was deemed necessary to maintain as a counterpoise, not only that of an infallible Bible, but, as the necessary foundation of this, of a Bible which had been handed down from the earliest ages to the present time without the slightest alteration or change in its text. The letters in which the Old Testament was written, were, it was asserted, the same as those in which the two tables of the law had been written ; the vowel points and accents which accompanied them had been given by divine inspiration; and the words themselves had not undergone the slightest change from the time they had flowed from the pens of the respective writers. The Masoretic text of the Old Testament, therefore, as compared either with that of the recently discovered Samaritan Pentateuch, or of the Septuagint, or of the Vulgate, was alone the " Hebrew Verity," wherein the true words of the sacred writers were to be found. Although many of the Reformers, as well as learned Jews, had long seen that these assertions could not be made good, there had been as yet no formal controversy upon the subject. It was reserved for a learned and acute Frenchman, Ludovicus Cappellus the younger, professor of Hebrew at Saumur, to enter the field, and by a series of controver-sial writings effectually to dispel the illusions which had long prevailed in many minds. As early as 1622 or 1623, Cappellus had submitted in manuscript to the elder Buxtorf a work on the modern origin of the vowel points and accents, which he had been led to undertake in consequence of the statements made by the Swiss pro-fessor in his Tiberias, or Commentary on the Masora, in which he had controverted the views of Elias Levita on the late origin of the points. Buxtorf saw the force of the arguments employed by Cappellus, but counselled him not to publish his work, pointing out the injury which it would do to the Protestant cause, and the advan-tage which it would afford to Romish controversialists on the ques-tion of the infallible accuracy of the text of Scripture. Cappellus, however, was not to be deterred by fear of consequences. He sent his MS. to Thomas Erpenius of Leyden, the most learned Orientalist of his day, by whom it was published in 1624, under the title Arcanum Punctationis revelatum, with a laudatory preface, but without the author's name In this work Cappellus adduced those arguments and considerations which have satisfied most scholars since his day that the vowels and accents are the invention of the Masoretes, and that they are not older than the fifth century of the Christian era. It is worth noting that although the elder Buxtorf lived five years after the publication of the work, he made no public reply to it, and it was not until 1648, nearly a quarter of a century afterwards, that Buxtorf, junior, published his Tractatus de punc-torum origine, antiquitate, et authoritate, oppositns Arcano puncta-tionis revelato Liidovici Cappelli. In this treatise he endeavoured to prove by copious citations from the rabbinical writers, and by arguments of various kinds, that the points, if not so ancient as the time of Moses, were at least as old as that of Ezra, and thus pos-sessed the authority of divine inspiration. In the course of the work he allowed himself frequently to employ contemptuous epithets towards Cappellus, such as "innovator," "prophet," "revealer," "a seer of visions," "dreams," &c. Cappellus was not the man to remain silent in such circumstances. He speedily prepared a second edition of his work, in which, besides replying to the argu-ments of his opponent, and fortifying his position with new ones, he retorted his contumelious epithets with interest. Owing to various causes, however, among which may be mentioned the distrust with which Cappellus was coming to be regarded on account of his critical opinions among Protestants themselves, this second edition did not see the light until thirty years after his death, when it was published at Amsterdam in 1685, in the edition of his collected works. Besides this controversy, Buxtorf engaged in three others with the same antagonist, on the subject of the integrity of the Masoretic text of the Old Testament, on the antiquity of the pre-sent Hebrew characters, and on the Lord's Supper. Into the details of these, however, our space does not allow us to enter. In the two former Buxtorf supported the untenable position that the text of the Old Testament had been transmitted to us without any errors or alteration, and that the present square or so-called Chaldee characters were coeval with the original composition of the various books. These views were triumphantly refuted by his great oppo-nent in his Critica Sacra, and in his Diatriba de veris et anliquis Ebraicorum Uteris. Besides the works which have been already mentioned in the course of this article, Buxtorf edited the great Lexicon CJialdaicum, Talmudicum, et Rabbinicum, on which his father had spent the labour of twenty years, and to the completion of which he himself gave ten years of additional study, and the great Hebrew Concordance, which his father had little more than begun. In addition to these, he published new editions of many of his father's works, as well as others of his own, complete lists of which may be seen in the Athence Rauricce, and other works enu- merated at the close of the preceding article. (F. C.)







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