BERECHIAH BEN NATRONAIKRESPIA HA-NAḲDAN:
Fabulist, exegete, ethical writer, grammarian, and translator; probably identical with Benedictus le Puncteur, an English Jewmentioned as contributing at Oxford to a donum to Richard I., in 1194. Much discussion has taken place concerning the date and native country of this writer, Zunz ("G. S." iii. 237) placing him about 1260 in Provence, with which conclusion Renan-Neubauer ("Les Rabbins Français," p. 491) and Steinschneider ("Hebr. Bibl." xiii. 83) agreed. Joseph Jacobs, during certain investigations on the medieval history of the fable, arrived at the conclusion that Berechiah should be located in England toward the end of the twelfth century (Jacobs, "Fables of Æsop," i. 175), and this was confirmed by Neubauer's discovery that, in the preface to his fables, Berechiah refers to the "turning of the wheels of fate to the island of the sea [= England] for one to die and the other to live" ("Jewish Quart. Rev." ii. 522), clearly a reference to the English massacre of 1190. The earlier view of Berechiah's date was based on a misreading of a colophon of his son Elijah, which was shown to be dated Wednesday, Oct. 22, 1233 (Jacobs, "Athenæum," April 19, 1890). Steinschneider, however, is still doubtful as to the identification ("Hebr. Uebers." p. 961). The point is of some importance on account of Berechiah's connection with the history of medieval fable.His Fox Fables.
Berechiah is known chiefly as the author of a set of 107 (113) fables, called "Mishle Shu'alim" (Suk. 28a), probably in imitation of the Talmudic "Meshalot Shu'alim." Manuscripts exist at the Bodleian (Neubauer, "Cat. Bodl. Hebr. MSS." No. 1466, 7, originally belonging to Cotton, and 1421, 5, with six additional fables) and Munich (207 written before 1268). The first edition appeared in Mantua, in 1557; another with a Latin version by M. Hanel, Prague, 1661; other editions at Berlin, 1706; Lemberg, 1809; Grodno, 1818; Sklov, n.d.; Warsaw, 1874.
The fables themselves give in rimed prose most of the Beast Tales passing under the name of Æsop during the Middle Ages; but in addition to these, the collection also contains fables conveying the same plots and morals as those of Marie de France, whose date has been placed only approximately toward the end of the twelfth century. It has been suggested that these additional fables were derived by Berechiah from Marie, but this is impossible, as Berechiah's versions are closer to the original and in at least one case (No. 28) he did not make a mistake made by her. The following table exhibits the relationship between Berechiah's fables and those of Marie, as well as their connection with the "Romulus," the Latin prose translations of the medieval Æsop. From this it will be seen that Berechiah has only one-half of the additional fables given by Marie, and that he has as many (about 30) which are not found in her collection. Some of these are from Avian, others from Oriental, sources; and it has been suggested with some reason that both collections are derived from an Arabic series containing 154 fables, most of which could be traced to classical antiquity, and others from the East. The question can not be said to be settled; but neither Neubauer nor Steinschneider will admit that Berechiah knew Arabic ("Jew. Quart. Rev." xii. 607).
|6||[Talmudic Ber. 61b]|
|32||(Chicken and Fox) Gubernatis, "Zool. Myth." ii. 13.|
|36||73 (88)||A. 28|
|59||(same as 26)|
|61||34||iii. 14, 15|
|66||(Mule's Pedigree) Halm 157.|
|68||(Man and Pit) Ḳalila.|
|69||(Partridge, Monkey, and Elephant) "Iātaka," tr. by Rhys-Davids, 310.|
|93||(Lion's Traces) Halm 157|
|95||(Man and Tool) Kalila.|
|102||(Fox and Fleas) Aristotle, "Rhet." ii. 20.|
As an example of his fables, the following may be given as one of those which has a parallel in Marie de France (No. 73), and is derived from an Oriental source, probably the "Vaka Jataka" (Folk-lore Journal, iii. 359):The Wolf and the Animals.
The Wolf, the Lion's prince and peer, as the foe of all flesh did appear; greedy and grinding, he consumed all he was finding. Birds and beasts, wild and tame, by their families urged to the same, brought against him before the Lion an accusation, as a monster worthy of detestation. Said His Majesty, "If he uses his teeth as you say, and causes scandal in this terrible way, I'll punish him in such a way as to save his neck, if I may, and yet prevent you becoming his prey." Said Lion to Wolf, "Attend me to-morrow, see that you come, or you'll come to much sorrow." He came, sure enough, and the Lion spoke to him harsh and rough. "What by doing this do you mean? Never more raven the living, or live by ravening. What you shall eat shall be only dead meat. The living you shall neither trap nor hunt. And that you may my words obey, swear me that you'll eat no flesh for two years from to-day, to atone for your sins, testified and seen: 'tis my judgment, you had better fulfil it, I ween." Thereat the Wolf swore right away no flesh to eat for two years from that day. Off went Sir Wolf on his way, King Lion stopped at court on his throne so gay. Nothing that's fleshy for some time did our Wolf eat, for like a gentleman he knew how his word to keep. But then came a day when he was a hungered and he looked hither and thither for meat, and lo, a fat sheep fair to look on and goodly to eat (Gen. iii. 6). Then to himself he said, "Who can keep every law?" and his thoughts were bewildered with what he saw. He said to himself, "It overcomes me the longing to eat, for two yearsday by day must I fast from meat. This is my oath to the king that I swore, but I've thought how to fulfil it as never before. Three sixty-five are the days in a year. Night is when you close your eyes; open them, then the day is near." His eyes he opened and closed straightway. It was evening and it was morning, one day (Gen. i. 6). Thus he winked until he had numbered two years, and his greed returned and his sin disappears. His eyes fix the goat (sic) they had seen and he said, "See beforehand I have atoned for my sin," and he seized the neck of the goat, broke it to pieces, and filled up his throat as he was wont to do before, and as of yore his hand was stretched out to the beasts, his peers, as it had been in former days and years.
This is nearer the original source than the version of Marie, which gives a Christian turn to the whole story.
Berechiah was also the author of an ethical treatise entitled "Sefer Maẓref" (MSS. at Munich and Parma). The treatise is divided into thirteen chapters: i. Introduction, ii. Lust, iii. Affection, iv. Restraint of the Will, v. Justice, vi. Misfortune, vii. Poverty, viii. Honor, ix. Position, x. Rank, xi. Soul, xii. Hope, xiii. Immortality. In it he quotes R. Abraham ibn Daud (died about 1198) without the formula for the dead, so that it is quite probable that the book was composed before 1180. He does not quote Maimonides' "Moreh," finished in 1191, known in Provence shortly after that date and in north France about 1204. Prof. Gollancz has published an edition of the "Sefer Maẓref" (London, 1902).His Other Works.
In addition to these, Berechiah wrote a commentary on Job (MS. in the Cambridge University Library, 8; Schiller-Sczinessy, "Catalogue," pp. 40-42, 245). He was acquainted with most of the grammarians of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and his "Uncle Benjamin," whom he quotes, has been identified with Benjamin of Canterbury. The writer of the commentary on Job was also the author of a commentary on the whole Bible, passages from which are quoted in a Leyden manuscript.
Berechiah was certainly a translator, his version being extant of Adelard of Bath's "Quæstiones Naturales" (MSS. at Munich, Leyden, Oxford, and Florence), as well as of a "Lapidary" containing a description of 63 species of stones (MS. in Bodleian). Besides these works, Berechiah is also said by Zunz to have contributed to the Tosafot (Sanh. 20b), and, as his name implies, was probably an expert in Hebrew grammar, for which reason he is quoted by Moses ben Isaac of England, in his "Sefer ha-Shoham." As this work was probably written before 1215, these references confirm the date and place suggested above.
Berechiah was one of the most versatile writers of the Middle Ages, and if he can be claimed for England, it raises the literary position of that country, as regards Jewish literature, to a considerable height.
Formerly some confusion existed between Berechiah and another Krespia Naḳdan, the copyist of certain manuscripts and supposed translator of Saadia's "Emunot we-Deot" (see Krespia Naḳdan).
- Zunz, G. S. iii. 237, 238, Renan-Neubauer, Les Rabbins Français, pp. 490-499 (containing full previous bibliography);
- Steinschneider, Hebr. Bibl. xiii. 80 et seq.;
- Jacobs, Fables of Æsop, i. 168-178;
- idem, Jews of Angevin England, pp. 165-173, 196-199, 278-280;
- Neubauer and Jacobs, Jew. Quart. Rev. ii. 322-333, 520-526 (compare ibid. vi. 364, 375);
- Steinschneider, Hebr. Uebers. pp. 958-962;
- Gross, Gallia Judaica, p. 180.