Sunday, November 08, 2009

What a professor of Hebrew and Oriental languages had to know to qualify for a university chair in 1839.

John Duncan (1796-1870) was Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages at New College, Edinburgh. In a time when loads of educated people had a smattering of Hebrew and Rabbinic knowledge, evidently he was considered to have more than the usual, for he was sometimes nicknamed 'Rabbi Duncan.' (I'm not kidding -- Google returns over 8000 results for "Rabbi Duncan.") It seems that he is known primarily for his aphorisms, but that is not what this blog is about.

Below is the letter he sent in 1839 to the university which would employ him, explaining why he is qualified for the academic post. He refers to "his friend Hoga" Evidently he wasn't a fan of Rashi or the Yalkut Shimoni:

Appended to the letter were testimonials, including one by his Hebrew teacher, who signed his name יהודה אריה בן יעקב:

It would be nice if I could establish the identity of the aforementioned Judah Aryeh ben Jacob (known as Lion), but as of yet I cannot. However, a childhood friend of Duncan's recollects the following regarding their learning the Bible's trop, and evidently this Hebrew teacher was of Spanish-Portuguese Jewish origin:

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