BUXTORF (BUXTORFF), JOHANNES (usually called "Father," or "the Elder"):
The principal founder of rabbinical study among Christian scholars; born Dec. 25, 1564, at Kamen, Westphalia; died Sept. 13, 1629, at Basel. He studied at Marburg and afterward at Herborn, where Johann Piscator persuaded him to study Hebrew. He continued his studies at Basel in 1584, where he became the close friend and tutor of the children of Leo Curio, whose daughter Margaret he afterward married. In Aug., 1590, he graduated as doctor of philosophy, and in the following year was appointed professor of Hebrew at the University of Basel, which position he continued to fill until his death.Fined for Attending a Circumcision.
Buxtorf displayed remarkable enthusiasm and diligence in the investigation of Jewish science. In order to obtain a thorough knowledge of the Bible—which book he chose as his basis of inquiry—he was led to the study of the Masorah, the Talmud, and the Targum; and as many books were requisite to this end, he gradually acquired a valuable Hebrew library, and, unconsciously, obtained a knowledge of bibliography which eventually carried him to the threshold of post-Biblical Hebrew literature. By the publication of a catalogue of his Hebrew books, hemade one of the first attempts in the wide field of Jewish bibliography. For the correction of his edition of the Bible, as well as for his personal instruction, he employed from 1617 onward the services of two Jews, one of whom was the learned Abraham ben Eliezer Braunschweig. These men naturally were compelled to live in the neighborhood of Buxtorf's house. As, however, since the year 1557 "the Jews had been absolutely forbidden to enter Basel during the merchants' fair and at other times," Buxtorf was compelled to secure a special permit for them from the municipal authorities. When, in 1619, a son was born to Abraham Braunschweig, curiosity and zeal for investigation induced Buxtorf, accompanied by his son-in-law, the printer König, and the sergeant of the common council, to attend the circumcision. For this offense Buxtorf and König were fined each 100 gulden. Though Buxtorf was not a friend of the Jews, as is evident from his "Synagoga Judaica," he nevertheless maintained a correspondence with a number of Jews in Germany, Amsterdam, and even in Constantinople. His eulogists declare that his writings were welcomed and extolled in synagogues in every part of the world, and that Jews everywhere were accustomed to regard him as their leading oracle even on the most subtle questions of their belief. But this statement is undoubtedly an exaggeration.His Zeal Against Judaism.
The mainspring of his activity in the domain of Jewish literature was his polemical zeal against Judaism, the ultimate object of which was the conversion of the Hebrews. Hence it comes that his first work was the above-mentioned "Synagoga Judaica," which, under the title of "Juden-Schül" (Basel, 1603), appeared in several editions (with additions, 1664), and was translated into Flemish and Latin. Even Buxtorf's contemporaries condemned the superficial and malicious character of the book and its numerous intentional distortions of fact. Moréri criticizes the work as "très peu judicieux, et il s'y est trop attaché à des bagatelles, et à ce qui peut rendre les Juifs trop ridicules." Buxtorf's attention was constantly directed toward the conversion of the Jews; and from 1615 on he entertained the design of editing again the notorious "Pugio Fidei Contra Mauros et Judæos" ("Judendolch"), or "Dagger [Defense] of the Faith," of the Dominican Raymund Martin, a manuscript copy of which had been sent to Buxtorf by Philipp Mornay-Plessis of Saumur. This design was defeated by his death.Lexico-graphical Works.
The most noteworthy of Buxtorf's publications is his rabbinical Bible, containing the Hebrew text, the Masorah, and various commentaries, published in two folio volumes (Basel, 1618-19), together with a supplement entitled "Tiberias, Commentarius Masorethicus" (1620), which for a long time was the best work of its kind. The best grammatical work of Buxtorf was the "Præceptiones Grammaticæ de Lingua Hebræa" (Basel, 1605), later published under the title "Epitome Grammaticæ Hebrææ," and afterward successively edited about sixteen times by Buxtorf's son and others, and translated into English by John Davis (London, 1656). Buxtorf's work as a lexicographer began with the "Epitome Radicum Hebraicarum et Chaldaicarum" (Basel, 1607, not 1600), afterward published in numerous editions at Basel (1615-1735), Amsterdam (1645), London (1646), and Franeker (1653-54), under the title "Lexicon Hebraicum et Chaldaicum." An extract from it also appeared at Basel (1612; 6th ed., 1658), under the title, "Manuale Hebraicum et Chaldaicum." As especially important may be mentioned his "Concordance," based upon the older work of Isaac Nathan ben Kalonymus, and published after Buxtorf's death by his son; and his "Lexicon Chaldaicum Talmudicum," begun by Buxtorf in 1609, and completed by his son in 1639, after nine years of indefatigable labor. This lexicon, despite its numerous imperfections and errors, became an indispensable guide to specialists; a new but very imperfect edition was published as late as 1866. As the "Bibliotheca Rabbinica"—containing about 324 rabbinical writings arranged according to the Hebrew alphabet—was the first serious endeavor toward a compilation of a Jewish bibliography, so the "De Abbreviaturis Hebraicis," which was first published about the same time (Basel, 1613, 1640; Franeker, 1696; Herborn, 1708), and is still useful, furnished the basis for a knowledge of the Hebrew abbreviations. Finally, it is necessary to mention Buxtorf's "Institutio Epistolaris Hebraica, sive de Conscribendis Epistolis Hebraicis Liber, cum Epistolarum Hebraicarum Centuria" (Basel, 1610; "Cum Append. Variarum Epistolarum R. Maiemonis et Aliorum . . . Excell. Rabbinorum," Basel, 1629), a work containing over one hundred family and other letters, partly supplied with vowels, and partly translated into Latin and furnished with explanations of words; the letters being taken from the epistolary guide,"Megillat Sefer" (Venice, 1552), the "Iggarot Shelomim" (Augsburg, 1603), and the "Ma'ayan Gannim" of Archevolti (Venice, 1553).
- Buxtorf-Falkeisen, Joh. Buxtorf, Vater, Erkannt aus Seinem Briefwechsel, Basel, 1860;
- E. Kautzsch, Joh. Buxtorf der Aeltere, Rectorats-Rede, Basel, 1879;
- Steinschneider, Bibliograph. Handbuch über die, Theor. und Prakt. Literatur der Hebr. Sprache, pp. 28 et seq., Leipsic, 1859;
- Fürst, Bibliotheca Judaica (containing many inaccuracies), s.v.