1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Buxtorf, Johannes (1599-1664)

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BUXTORF, or Buxtorff, JOHANNES (1599–1664), son of the preceding, was born at Basel on the 13th of August 1599, and when still a boy attained considerable proficiency in the classical languages. Entering the university at the age of twelve, he was only sixteen when he obtained his master’s degree. He now gave himself up to theological and especially to Semitic studies, concentrating later on rabbinical Hebrew, and reading while yet a young man both the Mishna and the Jerusalem and Babylonian Gemaras. These studies he further developed by visits to Heidelberg, Dort (where he made the acquaintance of many of the delegates to the synod of 1619) and Geneva, and in all these places acquired a great reputation. In 1622 he published at Basel a Lexicon Chaldaicum et Syriacum, as a companion work to his father’s great Rabbinical Bible. He declined the chair of logic at Lausanne, and in 1624 was appointed general deacon of the church at Basel. On the death of his father in 1629, he was unanimously designated his successor in the Hebrew professorship. From this date until his death in 1664 he remained at Basel, declining two offers which were made to him from Groningen and Leiden, to accept the Hebrew chair in these two celebrated schools. In 1647 the governing body of the university founded, specially for him, a third theological professorship, that of “Commonplaces and Controversies,” which Buxtorf held for seven years along with the Hebrew chair. When, however, the professorship of the Old Testament became vacant in 1654 by the death of Theodor Zwinger, Buxtorf resigned the chair of theology and accepted that of the Old Testament instead. He was four times married, his three first wives dying shortly after marriage and the fourth predeceasing her husband by seven years. His children died young, with the exception of two boys, the younger of whom, Jakob (1645–1704), became his father’s colleague, and then his successor, in the chair of Hebrew. The same distinction fell to the lot of his nephew Johann (1663–1732).

A considerable portion of Buxtorf’s public life was spent in controversy regarding disputed points in biblical criticism, in reference to which he had to defend his father’s views. The attitude of the Reformed churches at that time, as opposed to the Church of Rome, led them to maintain many opinions in regard to biblical questions which were not only erroneous, but altogether unnecessary for the stability of their position. Having renounced the dogma of an infallible church, it was deemed necessary to maintain as a counterpoise, not only that of an infallible Bible, but, as the necessary foundation of this, of a Bible which had been handed down from the earliest ages without the slightest textual alteration. Even the vowel points and accents were held to have been given by divine inspiration. The Massoretic text of the Old Testament, therefore, as compared either with that of the recently discovered Samaritan Pentateuch, or the Septuagint or of the Vulgate, alone contained the true words of the sacred writers. Although many of the Reformers, as well as learned Jews, had long seen that these assertions could not be made good, there had been as yet no formal controversy upon the subject. Louis Cappel (q.v.) was the first effectually to dispel the illusions which had long prevailed by a work on the modern origin of the vowel points and accents. The elder Buxtorf had counselled him not to publish his work, pointing out the injury which it would do the Protestant cause, but Cappel sent his MS. to Thomas Erpenius of Leiden, the most learned orientalist of his day, by whom it was published in 1624, under the title Arcanum Punctationis revelatum, but without the author’s name. The elder Buxtorf, though he lived five years after the publication of the work, made no public reply to it, and it was not until 1648 that Buxtorf junior published his Tractatus de punctorum origine, antiquitate, et authoritate, oppositus Arcano punctationis revelato Ludovici Cappelli. He tried to prove by copious citations from the rabbinical writers, and by arguments of various kinds, that the points, if not so ancient as the time of Moses, were at least as old as that of Ezra, and thus possessed the authority of divine inspiration. Unfortunately he allowed himself to employ contemptuous epithets towards Cappel, such as “innovator” and “visionary.” Cappel speedily prepared a second edition of his work, in which, besides replying to the arguments of his opponent, and fortifying his position with new ones, he retorted his contumelious epithets with interest. Owing to various causes, however, this second edition did not see the light until 1685, when it was published at Amsterdam in the edition of his collected works. Besides this controversy, Buxtorf engaged in three others with the same antagonist, on the subject of the integrity of the Massoretic text of the Old Testament, on the antiquity of the present Hebrew characters, and on the Lord’s Supper. In the two former Buxtorf supported the untenable position that the text of the Old Testament had been transmitted to us without any errors or alteration, and that the present square or so-called Chaldee characters were coeval with the original composition of the various books. These views were triumphantly refuted by his great opponent in his Critica Sacra, and in his Diatriba veris et antiquis Ebraicorum literis.

Besides the works already mentioned in the course of this article, Buxtorf edited the great Lexicon Chaldaicum, Talmudicum, et Rabbinicum, on which his father had spent the labour of twenty years, and to the completion of which he himself gave ten years of additional study; and the great Hebrew Concordance, which his father had little more than begun. In addition to these, he published new editions of many of his father’s works, as well as others of his own, complete lists of which may be seen in the Athenae Rauricae and other works enumerated at the close of the preceding article.