By: Isidore Singer
French historian; born at Montpellier Jan. 5, 1796; died March 17, 1873, at Versailles; buried, at his own request, in the Protestant cemetery of Le Vigan, near Montpellier, in his brother's family vault, the rabbi of Nîmes officiating. Salvador's paternal ancestors, who, according to family traditions, were descendants of the Maccabees, the saviors of Israel—the name "Salvador" meaning "savior"—emigrated from Africa to Spain in the ninth century, and fled from the latter country, to escape the Inquisition, in the fifteenth century, finding a refuge in France.
Salvador received a Jewish education and subsequently graduated at the university of his native town as doctor of medicine (1816), his thesis being "The Application of Physiology to Pathology." He, however, abandoned the medical career, and devoted himself entirely to literature, for which purpose he went to Paris, where he spent the remainder of his life. Being possessed of great wealth, he refused several public offices which were offered to him, preferring to preserve his independence.
His mother (née Elizabeth Vincens) was a Roman Catholic; his brother Benjamin married a Huguenot; while his sister Sophie was married to a Jewish lawyer. He himself remained throughout his life a stanch Jew, and was the undisputed head of this multi-confessional family.
Salvador was the author of the following works: "La Loi de Moïse, ou Système Religieux et Politique des Hébreux" (Paris, 1822); "Histoire des Institutions de Moïse et du Peuple Hébreu" (ib. 1878); "Jésus-Christ et Sa Doctrine," a history of the founding and organization of the Church and of its progress during the first century (ib. 1838); "Histoire de la Domination Romaine en Judée et de la Ruine de Jérusalem" (ib. 1846; translated into German by Ludwig Eichler, 2 vols., Bremen, 1847); "Paris, Rome, Jérusalem, ou la Question Religieuse au XIXème Siècle" (Paris, 1859; 2d ed. prepared by the author in the winter of 1872, and published by his nephew Col. Gabriel Salvador in 1880).
In the first of these works Salvador attempted, through a minute analysis of its inherent spirit, to find a rational basis for the Mosaic legislation. Influenced by the rationalistic spirit of the eighteenth century, he tried to show that the tendency of the ancient legislation was to curb the power of the priest, and to place that of the king on constitutional grounds. In this manner his work touched on some of the most burning questions of the time, and was welcomed and denounced by the constitutionalists and clericals respectively during the controversies which led to the revolution of 1830. The weakness of the book consists in its want of historic conception and its failure to discriminate between the various sources.
The work on Jesus had the merit at least of dealing with the subject, for the first time in France, in a purely historic spirit, and Renan recognizes its merits. This book also aroused considerable discussion and opposition, some of the clericals demanding its suppression, while the liberals welcomed it as a contribution to free thought.
In his work on the fall of Jerusalem Salvador deals with his subject from the point of view of universal history, and regards the destruction of the Temple as a necessary stage in the spread among the peoples of what he would call the Christian form of Judaism.
In his posthumous work Salvador indulges in somewhat wild prognostications of the future of religious thought and its relations to Jerusalem. This had not so much influence on the movement of his time as had his earlier works, which were regardedas important contributions in the struggle against clericalism. Salvador was for a considerable time as important a figure in the liberal camp of theology as Lemennais on the opposite side. He was for nearly thirty years the intellectual representative of French Judaism, though he was not formally connected with any of the great institutions of French Jewry. He was on terms of friendship with the best-known Frenchmen of his day, and fragments of his correspondence with Guizot, S. de Sacy, and Montalembert have been preserved. It would appear that his enthusiasm for Jewish matters was brought about by the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany and the "Hep! Hep!" riots of 1819.
- Adolphe Franck, Philosophie et Religion, 1867;
- Arch. Isr. 1873, pp. 248-253;
- H. S. Morais, Israelites of the Nineteenth Century, pp. 321-329, Philadelphia, 1880;
- Gabriel Salvador, Joseph Salvador;
- Sa Vie et Ses Critiques, Paris, 1880;
- Nouveau Larousse Illustré, 1904;
- James Darmesteter, Joseph Salvador, in Annuaire de la Société des Etudes Juives, i. 5-73.