Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Advice from William Wotton on how a Christian should study the Mishnah
William Wotton (1666-1727) had an interesting approach to Jewish texts, and himself translated and annotated two mishnah tractates into English (see here). He did not originate this perspective (he refers to the Latin translation of the Mishnah with the commentaries of Bertinoro and Maimonides by Surenhusius (1664-1729), who preceded him), but was a premiere advocate of it in England. In essence, he believed that the Mishnah is "a noble and authentic collection of what the Jews have built upon Moses's law in every particular" and could be reliably depended upon with a firm historical basis, and because of that be used to illuminate the meaning of the Pentateuch and many passages, customs and words that are found in the New Testament.
As for his suggestion to avoid the order of the tractates, it should be noted that in Jewish study the order of the Mishnah tractates are generally paid no heed as well, unless someone is particularly attempting to study them all.
For more info, consult David B. Ruderman's work.