CHWOLSON, DANIEL ABRAMOVICH:
Russian Orientalist; born at Wilna Dec. 15, 1819. As he showed marked ability in the study of Hebrew and Talmud, his parents, who were very religious, destined him for the rabbinate, and placed him at the yeshibah of Rabbi Israel Günzburg; but fate had decided that he should serve his race in a quite different sphere. Up to his eighteenth year he did not know any other language than Hebrew; but in three years, without the aid of a teacher, he acquired a fair knowledge of German, French, and Russian. Chwolson in 1841 went to Breslau, and, after three years' preparation in the classical languages, entered, in 1844, the Breslau University, where he devoted himself to the Oriental languages, especially Arabic. There he studied until 1848, and in 1850 he received the degree of doctor of philosophy at the Leipsic University. Onhis return to his native country he settled at St. Petersburg, and in 1855, being highly appreciated in learned circles, and having embraced Christianity, he was appointed extraordinary professor of Oriental languages in the university. Three years later he received a similar appointment in the Dukhovnaya Akademiya. In 1856 the Imperial Academy issued, at its own expense, Chwolson's first work, which at once established the authority of its author in the field of Oriental research. It was a contribution to the history of religion, entitled "Die Ssabier und der Ssabismus," in two volumes. Three years later Chwolson published another important work entitled "Ueber die Ueberreste der Altbabylonischen Literatur in Arabischen Uebersetzungen" (St. Petersburg, 1859; also in Russian under the title "Novootkrytie Pamyatniki," in "Russki Vyestnik," 1859). This work made a great sensation among scholars by the importance of its discoveries and by Chwolson's brilliant combinations concerning the old Babylonian monuments. It was followed in 1860 by "Ueber Tammuz und die Menschenverehrung bei den Alten Babyloniern" (ib. 1860).His Life-Work.
His reputation being now firmly established, Chwolson devoted himself to his life-task; namely, the defense of his former coreligionists. For blood accusation had been brought against the Jews of Saratov in 1857, and the government now summoned a commission of scholars to see whether any passages could be found in Jewish literature recommending the use of Christian blood for ritual purposes. Chwolson, who was appointed a member of the commission, wrote a report in which he fully demonstrated the groundlessness of the accusations in general, and pointed out that in this particular case of Saratov the evidence given by the two principal witnesses was full of contradictions and absurdities. As the investigation extended over a period of nine years, Chwolson, fearing that meanwhile the Jews of Russia would suffer under this accusation, secured permission to publish his memoir. It accordingly appeared in 1861, in the "Biblioteka dlya Chteniya," under the title "O Nyekotorykh Srednovyekovykh Obvineniyakh Protiv Yevreyev."His Defense of the Talmud.
In 1877 Chwolson had the mortification of seeing a new blood accusation brought against Jews at Kutais, Transcaucasia. At the same time several Russian anti-Semitic writers undertook a campaign against the Talmud, repeating the old charge that it contained blasphemies against Jesus. Chwolson again took up the defense of the Jews, and republished his memoir with many additions (St. Petersburg, 1880). A German edition of this work appeared in the year 1901 under the title "Die Blutanklage und Sonstige Mittelalterliche Beschuldigungen der Juden," Frankfort-on-the-Main. In this edition Chwolson, before entering into a discussion of the blood question, expounds the history of the Talmud, and shows that the "Pharisees" condemned by Jesus in the Gospels were not the Rabbinites in general, since the latter were the advocates of progress at the period of Jesus in history; that he meant by the term rather a certain class of false Pharisees, who were condemned in rabbinical literature also; and that it was not the Pharisees, but the Sadducees, who were the enemies and persecutors of Jesus. He further demonstrates that, according to Talmudical law, Jews were bound to look upon the Christians as their brethren, and that intolerance toward other religions was not a characteristic of the Talmudists. The assertions to the contrary are due partly to misconception, partly to hatred.
The deep-rooted belief that Jesus was crucified by the Jews being the principal cause of the prejudice against them on the part of the Christians, Chwolson, in a dissertation entitled "Poslyedniyaya Paskhalnaya Vecherya Isusa Christa i Den yevo Smerti," in "Christianskoe Chtenie," St. Petersburg, 1875 (German translation, "Das Letzte Passamal Christi," ib. 1892), shows the groundlessness of this belief. He points out that the proceedings of the trial and condemnation of Jesus, as related in the Gospels, were in violation of the rabbinical laws, and consequently could not have been conducted by a Jewish tribunal.Other Works.
The Jewish race, as well as the Jewish religion, was defended by Chwolson. In a work entitled "Kharakteristika Semitskikh Narodov," in "Russki Vyestnik," 1872 (German ed., Berlin, 1872), he draws a parallel between the distinguishing characteristics of the Jew, the representative of the Semitic race, and those of the Greek, the representative of the Aryan peoples, not always to the advantage of the latter. The pamphlet was translated into English under the title "The Semitic Nations," Cincinnati, 1874.
Chwolson is also the author of the following works: "Statistische Nachrichten über die Orientalische Facultät der Universität zu St. Petersburg," Leipsic, 1861; "Achtzehn Hebräische Grabschriften aus der Krim," in the "Mémoires" of the St. Petersburg Academy of Science, 1865 (Russian translation, "Vosemnadtzat Nadgrobnykh Nadpisei iz Kryma," St. Petersburg, 1866); "Izvyestiya o Khazarakh," St. Petersburg, 1869 (notes on the Chazars, Burtars, Madjars, Slavs, and Russians from the Arabic of Ibn Dasta); "Novotkryty Pamyatnik Moavitskavo Tzarya Meshi," ib. 1870; "O Vliyanii Geograficheskavo Polozheniya Palestiny na Sudbu Yevreiskavo Naroda," ib. 1875 (reprinted in "Sbornik Budushchnosti," ii. 1-4); "Vozmozhnyli v Turtzii Reformy?" ib. 1877 (on the Turkish reform); "Die Quiescentes He, Waw, und Iod in der Althebräischen Orthographie," Leyden, 1878 (Russian trans. in "Christianskoe Chtenie," St. Petersburg, 1881; English transl.by T. K. Abbott, Dublin, 1890); "Upotreblyayut li Yevrei Christianskuyu Krov?" 2d ed., St. Petersburg, 1879; "O Mnimoi Zamknutosti Yevreyev," ib. 1880; "Corpus Inscriptionum Hebraicarum," ib. 1882 Russian translation, ib. 1884); "Predvaritelnaya Zamyetka o Naidennykh v Semiryechenskoi Oblasti Siriskikh Nadgrobnykh Nadpisyakh," ib. 1886; "Syrische Grabschriften aus Semirjetschie," ib. 1890, in "Mémoires" of the St. Petersburg Academy; "Hat es Jemals Irgend Einen Grund Gegeben, den Rüsttag des Jüdischen Passahfestes als Πρώτῃ τῶν 'Αζύνων zu Bezeichnen?" in "Zeitschrift für Wissenschaftliche Theologie," v. 38. Leipsic, 1896; "Staropechatnyya Yevreiskiya Knigi," on the Hebrew incunabula, St. Petersburg, 1897 (Hebrew transl., "Reshit Ma'ase ha-Defus," Warsaw, 1897). Mention may be made here of Chwolson's early contributions of Jewish biographies from Arabic sources, especially that of Maimonides by Al-Ḥifta, to the "Orient," 1846.
Chwolson is an indefatigable collector of Hebrew books, and his collection of Hebrew incunabula is one of the most valuable in existence. A catalogue of his Hebrew books was published by him under the title "Reshimat Sifre Yisrael," Wilna, 1897. The Russian government conferred upon Chwolson the title of "Councilor of State" ("Wirklicher Staatsrath").
The learned world in 1899 celebrated Chwolson's literary jubilee by presenting him with a collection of articles written in his honor by prominent European scholars. This was published by Baron David Günzburg under the title "Recucil des Travaux Rédigés en Mémoire du Jubilé Scientifique de M. Daniel Chwolson," Berlin, 1899.
- La Grande Encyclopédie, s.v.;
- Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, s.v.