JOSEPH BEN JOSHUA BEN MEÏR HA-KOHEN:
Historian and physician of the sixteenth century; born at Avignon Dec. 20, 1496; died at Genoa in 1575 or shortly after. His family originally lived at Cuenca, then at Chuete, Spain; when the Jews were expelled from Spain it settled at Avignon. At the age of five Joseph left Avignon with his father and went to Genoa, where they remained until 1516; driven from that city, they went to Novi, but returned to Genoa in 1538, where Joseph practised medicine for twelve years. On June 3, 1550, he and all his coreligionists there were driven from Genoa as a consequence of the rivalry of the non-Jewish physicians. Joseph then settled at Voltaggio, at the request of the citizens of that small town, practising there down to 1567. When the Jews were driven-out of the territory of Genoa, he went to Costeletto (Montferrat), where he was very well received; in 1571 he was again established at Genoa, where he died.
Joseph ha-Kohen had three sons (Joshua, Isaac, Judah) and two daughters. He was highly regarded, not only as historian and physician, but also for the interest he took in all Jewish matters. One of his chief concerns was the release of the many Jewish captives taken by the vessels of the Italian republics and by the Corsairs; as in 1532, when André Doria captured many Jews on taking Coron, Patras, and Zante; in 1535, when the emperor Charles V. took Tunis; in 1542, when the galleys of Cegala Visconti had imprisoned a number of Jews.
In Hebrew literature Joseph ha-Kohen achieved prominence by two great historical works. The first of these, "Dibre ha-Yamim le-Malke Ẓarfat we-'Oṭoman," is in the nature of a history of the world, in the form of annals, in which he represents the sequence of events as a conflict between Asia and Europe, between Islam and Christianity, the protagonist for Islam being the mighty Turkish empire, and for Christianity, France. With these two great groups he connects European history, beginning with the downfall of the Roman empire. The work was completed Nov., 1533, printed the next year at Venice, and reprinted at Amsterdam in 1733; parts were translated into German and French; the entire work was issued in English, but badly translated, by Bialloblotzky.
Joseph was a careful historian. He gathered his facts from all possible sources, made notes, kept registers, and conducted a wide correspondence. He added continually to the first redaction of his works, carefully dating each one. Of the "'Emeḳ" he made, or caused to be made, at least nine copies; of the "Book of India," at least five. His work is valuable also on account of its brilliant narrative, excellent characterization, and fine Biblical style. Having lived in Italy from his childhood and become acquainted with persons prominent politically, he is a valuable source for the history of his time; concerning many events, he had closely examined competent witnesses. He also mentions a number of important facts ignored by other historians. He is less happy in the treatment of ancient history, for which he often was obliged to consult untrust-worthy sources.His Jewish Annals.
In writing his annals Joseph ha-Kohen at first intended to devote a special work to the great Jewish persecutions, with which he had become acquainted through then unused sources, and accounts of which he inserted in the annals. This idea he carried out, drawing upon Samuel Usque's "Consolaçam as Tribulaçoens de Ysrael" (1557), in his "'Emeḳ ha-Bakah," in which he dwells upon the sorrows and sufferings the Jews endured in various countries in the course of centuries. The book, which is a martyrology from beginning to end, closes with the 24th of Tammuz, 5335 (1575). The author's moderation and self-control are admirable. He does not make use either of the chronicle of Abraham ibn Daud or of those written by any of the other Judæo-Spanish chroniclers. Variants to the printed text will be found in "R. E. J." x. 248, xvi. 5.
Joseph ha-Kohen began this work in 1558, at Voltaggio, and concluded it, in its initial form, toward the end of 1563, the book circulating in Italy in manuscript. It was finally carried by the author down to 1575. M. Letteris has edited it with notes (Vienna, 1852), and M. Wiener has issued a German translation (Leipsic, 1858).
Joseph ben Joshua wrote also a Hebrew version, with the title "Meḳiẓ Nirdamim," of Meïr Alguadez's Spanish medical work giving prescriptions for the healing of various diseases; to these prescriptions he added some of his own (comp. Wolf, "Bibl. Hebr." iv. 853 et seq.; Steinschneider, in Berliner's "Magazin," x. 166; idem, "Hebr. Uebers." p. 775; idem, in "J. Q. R." xv. 137).Other Works.
Less known is his work upon the New World ("Dibre ha-Yamim"). It contains a reference to Columbus (whom, however, he confounds with Amerigo); the work is very meager in its information (Harrisse, in "Centralblatt für Bibliothekswesen," 1888, p. 136). After writing it he became acquainted with Francisco Lopez de Gomara's "Historia General de las Indias" and Joan Boemus' "Omnium Gentium Mores Leges et Ritus." From these, in 1557, he compiled his "Maẓẓib Gebulot 'Ammim" (see Deut. xxxii. 6), a history of the conquest of Mexico, to which he added a full account of the discoveriesof Columbus. A small work of a different kind was his "Peles ha-Shemot," written in 1561, containing an alphabetical list of Hebrew nouns, with Scripture illustrations of their occurrence given for the purpose of fixing their gender—a matter in which (as he says) "many writers in Hebrew erred." He also compiled, in 1567, a book of polite formulas to be used in addressing letters, and a large number of verses, which are found, written in his own hand, at the end of his works. A large number of letters, evidently meant to serve as models, are found in the MSS. Rabbinowicz, No. 129 (now in the library of the Alliance Israélite Universelle at Paris); two-thirds of these are by Joseph ha-Kohen; they give a good insight into his private life.
- M. Letteris, introduction to the Hebr. edition of 'Emeḳ ha-Bakah;
- Wiener, introduction to the German edition of the same work;
- Grätz, Gesch. 3d ed., ix. 324 et seq.;
- especially Isidore Loeb, Josef Haccohev et les Chroniqueurs Juifs, in R. E. J. xvi. 28 et seq. (also published separately).
- See also R. Gottheil, Columbus in Jewish Literature, in Publ. Am. Jew. Hist. Soc. ii. 129 et seq.