Monday, August 31, 2009

Moses Marcus on Ba'alei Shem, defending the Masoretic Bible, circumcision and my possible sighting of a literary forgery.

A little while ago I posted about an 18th century Jewish apostate named Moses Marcus, who wrote a book critical of Judaism noteworthy for his spotlighting a contemporary Hebrew work defending Judaism by Haham David Nieto, the Chief Rabbi of London's Sephardic Jews, the Matteh Dan, or, Kuzari Sheni, which is considered a classic in the field.

Moses Marcus (Moshe Mordechai) is noteworthy also for his lineage. His grandmother, who was still living when he converted, was Glukl of Hameln, matriarch of one of the most distinguished German Jewish families of the time. She would achieve posthumous immortality with the publication of her very interesting memoirs at the end of the 19th century, which give a unique window into the life of an elite early modern German Jewish family. Marcus's father, Marcus Moses (Mordechai Moshe), was married to Freudchen, who was one of Glikl's dozen children. He was one of the founders of London's Hambro' Synagogue.

Here is an interesting excerpt from the book which the prior post focuses on, as it is discusses בעלי שם, several of whom Marcus says he himself witnessed in action:

In any case, the present post focuses not on Marcus's Principal Motives and Circumstances [for leaving the Jewish faith], but on another book referred to by Wolf, below:

Here Wolf makes mention of a translation by Marcus of a work by the learned Hebraist Carpzov. This 1729 work is called A Defence of the Hebrew Bible in Answer to the Charge of Corruption directed against William Whiston, who had written defense of New Testament prophecies in a manner which amounted to a scathing critique of the integrity of the masoretic text. Marcus therefore translates a part of Carpzov's Latin introduction to the Old Testament, which has a section attacking Whiston. Marcus refers to Carpzov by reputation as a "second Buxtorf" in his introduction .


In addition to this translation, Moses Marcus also entered the fray in another contemporary Christian controversy, namely circumcision. Although circumcision itself was entirely academic for Christians, the fact remained that it was a biblical command. The question was, how should Christians relate to circumcision in the Bible? Naturally there were two camps, pro and con. Although more or less all Jewish apostates could be counted on to write or express deeply negative views about Judaism (and Marcus's Principle Motives is no exception, to put it mildly) these apostates then seemed to fall into two camps, those who nevertheless defended Judaism from Christian attack and those who did not. Marcus fell into the former camp, and just as he came out firmly on the side of the Hebrew Bible, he also came to the defense of circumcision in a work called An answer to the letter to Dr. Waterland. In Relation to the Point of Circumcision: Wherein the Letter-Writer's Gross Mistakes are Examin'd and Confuted.

The theme is the same in this as in similar works; the apostate is pretty scornful of the Hebrew knowledge of the object of his attack, and basically accuses them of being total am haratzim and therefore unable to offer a sound opinion. For example, on page 5 of this work he writes to Dr. Waterland that "I am apt to believe, you are not much acquainted with the Hebrew Language, because you have implicitely trusted others, and have not consulted it, where you ought to have done it : How then can you pretend to be a proper Judge in an Affair of such great importance?" On page 15 he takes Waterland to task for relying on a translation of a Talmudic passage by Lightfoot, "who has told us the Story by Halves." "For the Story of Rabby Nathan, in the Jerusalem Talmud, infers no such Things as you fondly imagine, from the Scrap you had seen of it in English only." What could Waterland say to that?

In any case, the must-read book about Moses Marcus is David Ruderman's Connecting the covenants: Judaism and the search for Christian identity in Eighteenth-Century England. There is, in fact, an entire chapter on Marcus and his translation of Carpzov.

However, quite by accident I discovered something which Dr. Ruderman agreed was "amazing" (I hope I am not out of line citing this one word out of a private email).

It seems that at least someone out there basically accused Marcus of being guilty of the same sin he accuses others; they don't know Hebrew, and he doesn't know Greek and Latin. How then did he translate Carpzov? He didn't. So he's guilty of an even worse sin.

Someone else said that Marcus didn't translate it, and couldn't translate it, but he himself did:

This little aside seems quite out of place in this context. This is from the published proceedings of the Old Bailey (a London criminal court). The accounts are by the Ordinary, or chaplain, of Newgate, the prison attached to the Old Bailey. James Guthrie was the Ordinary of Newgate, and as you can see, here it is: James Guthrie writes here that Moses Marcus did not translate and write the Defence of the Hebrew Bible in Answer to the Charge of Corruption but that he himself did.

Here the trail runs cold as I have not pursued it further except in a very superficial way. I have no idea what the circumstance of this accusation is, and it raises many questions (is Marcus being accused of stealing and publishing the manuscript in his own name? Was James Guthrie a ghost-writer originally and then decided to out Moses Marcus? Was someone else behind the deception? Is Guthrie himself lying?) but if it is true then it would be amazing, as Ruderman says, or at least call for revision of our image of Moses Marcus and an entire chapter of Ruderman's book.

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