Thursday, May 21, 2009

What does a Chinese chumash look like?

Relating to the Kennicott post below, Europeans had known of the existence of Jews in China since the 16th century, when an Italian monk named Matteo Ricci, in China, received a visitor. This visitor had heard that a man from far away was in town, and from a description it appeared that he was monotheistic. Perhaps something about the man's relationship with the Bible reached his ears too, so thinking he was a fellow Jew he went to meet him. For his part, Ricci figured that the visitor was Muslim. After some time it became clear that the man was a Jew and, to the visitor, that Ricci was not. They probably had a good laugh.

In any case, from this point on Europeans were aware of contemporary Chinese Jews. Their origin, customs and knowledge of Jews and Judaism is interesting, but should wait for another time (except to generally mention that Chinese Jews seem to have their origin in Persia). What is important is that Europeans assumed that the Chinese Jews, like all Jews, had Bible manuscripts. This became particularly important in the 18th century, when great research projects probing exact text of the Hebrew Bible, based in large part on manuscripts, were attempted. It was believed that the Chinese manuscripts were most likely the least corrupted from outside influence due to the remoteness of the Chinese Jews. It was thought essential to track down and see these Chinese Bible manuscripts.

Here are Kennicott's references to sources on Chinese Bibles:

Text not available

Since you and I would probably already be aware if something fantastic were discovered in Chinese Bibles, and we are not, we realize that the hopes proved entirely without merit. Chinese Bibles were . . . Bibles. Like the other Bibles. I would like to hear Chinese trop though. Look below:

From the rare volume Fac-Similes of the Hebrew Manuscripts, obtained at the Jewish Synagogue in K'ae-Fung-Foo, Shanghai 1851. Printed with wood blocks on rice paper!

It's interesting to see the appearance of the letters, which obviously are influenced by Chinese writing. This well illustrates a principle of Hebrew paleography mentioned here:

The geographical factor and the influence of imitation of other scripts. The Jewish script, and later the Hebrew script, evolved many styles due to contact with foreign scripts. Already before the dispersion of the Jews throughout the world, the Jewish script came into contact with the Greek and Latin scripts as well as the Nabatean script. In later times many new script-styles evolved among the Jewish communities in the different countries, with the influence of the foreign scripts as well as the use of different writing implements and materials. The changes in the letter-forms were sometimes due to deliberate imitation and they sometimes occurred unintentionally, mainly because the continual use of foreign scripts together with the Hebrew script occasionally caused changes in the hand-movement of bilingual scribes. Thus the Hebrew scripts in the Islamic countries show affinities with the Arabic script while the Hebrew scripts in Christian Europe show affinities with the Latin script-styles used in the different countries.

And I would add, the Hebrew script[s?] in China show affinities with the Chinese writing.


Another practical example:

The script used in the 14th century Munich manuscript of the entire Talmud obviously show a similarity to the kind of script used in the German lands of the period, or at least it is obvious that it was produced not in Spain, but in Germany!


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