French Catholic theologian, historian, and Biblical scholar; born 1672 at Mesnil-la-Horgne in Lorraine; died 1757 in Paris. In 1688 he entered the Order of St. Benedict, and began his studies. Coming across the smaller Hebrew grammar by Buxtorf and some other Hebrew books in the abbey of Münster, he undertook the study of the language, assisted by the Protestantpastor Faber. From 1696 to 1704 he was instructor in the abbey of Moyen-Moutier, and there wrote his commentary on the Bible. After various ecclesiastical appointments, he became abbot of Senones (in Lorraine), in which position he remained until his death.
Of Calmet's numerous works (a full list of which is given by Fangé, and in the "Nouvelle Biographie Générale") only four need be mentioned here: (1) His first exegetical work, on which rests his reputation as a Biblical scholar, is the commentary "La Ste. Bible en Latin et en Français avec un Commentaire Littéral et Critique" (1707; 4th ed., 1729). He was the first prominent Catholic theologian who abandoned the allegorical and mystical method of interpretation, and undertook to give the literal sense of the Bible words. The value of this book lies, however, not so much in its exegesis as in the dissertations attached to it, which treat such topics as Hebrew poetry, music, weights and measures, medicine, marriage customs, burial customs, military organization, circumcision, the Sanhedrin, and Hebrew schools and sects, and are, for his time, remarkably full and judicious, though now superseded. They were published separately under the title "Dissertations qui Peuvent Servir de Prolégomènes à l'Ecriture Sainte" (1720). An extract of his Bible editions is known under the title "Bible de l'Abbé Vence." The "Trésor d'Antiquités Sacrées et Profanes" (Paris, 1722, three volumes) is substantially the same work. An English translation of a selection from the dissertations appeared in 1727, and they were also translated into other European languages.
(2) Closely connected with the commentary is his "Dictionnaire Historique et Critique Chronologique, Géographique et Littéral de la Bible" (1722; Supplement, 1728), which is chiefly a collection of the explanatory remarks in the commentary. Many editions and many translations of it have appeared, among them a good translation into English by D'Oyly (1732), and one by Taylor (1795, 1800) with a worthless appendix (American reprint of Taylor, 1812). The best-known American edition is that of Edward Robinson (1832), in which Calmet's material is condensed and revised. This dictionary was the first work of the kind, and was the point of departure for all others. (3) "Histoire Sainte de l'Ancien et Nouveau Testament et des Juifs," etc. (1718; English translation, 1740), extending to the destruction of Jerusalem. (4) "Histoire Sacrée et Profane Depuis le Commencement du Monde Jusqu'a Nos Jours" (1735), coming down to 1720. In these works, which are mere compilations, Jewish history is treated sympathetically; but Calmet's ignorance of Talmudic and rabbinical literature makes his account of the times after the destruction of Jerusalem meager and misleading, and he has no sympathy whatever with the post-Biblical thought of the Jews.
- Calmet's Autobiographie, in his Bibliothèque Lorraine, 1728;
- Fangé, Vie de Dom Calmet, 1763;
- Ersch and Gruber, Encyc.;
- Nouvelle Biog. Générale;
- Migne, Dictionnaires Chrétiens;
- Herzog-Hauck, Real-Encyc.