Teaching Romanticism and Translation through British Hebraism

Teaching Romanticism and Translation through British Hebraism

Daniel DeWispelare
George Washington University, USA

1.        This essay presents the history of Hebrew-to-English translation as a platform for teaching Romantic-era translation theories and methodologies more generally. To this end, the following pages describe a strategic rather than exhaustive assortment of primary and secondary texts on the nature, status, and translatability of the biblical Hebrew language. The premise is that these combinations will enable students to learn the topic while also allowing them to see how they might transfer the translation studies insights they gain to other cultural and temporal contexts. In both undergraduate and graduate classes on the Long Eighteenth Century or the Romantic period, the contentious history of Hebrew-to-English translation is uniquely suited for linking together and recapitulating topics already intimately familiar to scholars of the period, irrespective of previous experience with British Hebraism. In fact, debates surrounding Hebrew-to-English translation during this period meaningfully overlap and inform cultural phenomena that Romanticists have long been investigating. Some of these I will discuss in detail, including (a) the history of marginalized groups in Britain; (b) the political backgrounds of religious dissent; (c) the development of empire and orientalism; and (d) primitivist theories of poetic genius.

2.        As with any topic addressing translation studies, this one presents a challenge to the monolingual limitations of many anglophone students. However, British Hebraism is actually a flexible and approachable translation studies topic to introduce to students who lack fluency in biblical languages. The reason for this is that given the impressive number of translations from biblical material done during this period, it is possible (though obviously not ideal) to lead a comparative conversation about various different translations without consulting the original source text. For example, one can combine translations of specific passages from the King James Version (KJV) alongside various eighteenth-century, nineteenth-century, and contemporary reworkings in order to see how biblical translation theories and methods have changed over time. This allows students a way into translation studies and will perhaps interest them in mastering the linguistic prerequisites necessary for pursuing the topic in the future. I will speak in detail about sample texts one can use in class later in this essay, but for now I would like to mention that the Psalms and the Book of Job are particularly useful biblical books for demonstrating larger changes in translation practice over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Especially with the Psalms, one can juxtapose the KJV translation alongside early-eighteenth-century traditions of hymnody as well as alongside Romantic-era translations, all of which are dramatically and informatively different.

(a) British Hebraism and the History of Marginalized Groups in Britain

3.        The last two decades have seen stunning research on diverse forms of British Hebraism during the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. The best of this research has come out of the field of British Jewish studies, and for this reason, the situation of British Jews can be used to historicize broader discussions about the history and representation of marginalized ethnic, religious, socio-economic and racial groups during the period. Historian Todd Endelman's The Jews of Georgian England (1999) is a crucial text for anyone pursuing this angle. Not only does it narrate the growth (and growing pains) of a linguistically, socially, and politically varied British Jewish community, it introduces terminology central to grasping the more focused complexities of Hebrew-to-English translation as it occurred during this period. For example, Endelman brilliantly discusses anti-Semitism alongside "philo-Semitism," a term he uses to refer to the period's widespread Christian eschatological fascination with the ways Jews were implicated in the unfolding of Christian revelation. He likewise provides instructive socio-political background on the passage and repeal of the "Jewish Naturalization Act of 1753," to which much British Jewish (and anti-Jewish) political activity in the Romantic period implicitly responds.

4.        David Ruderman's treatment of the same period, Jewish Enlightenment in an English Key (2000), has more to say about translation studies. Ruderman argues that methodological disagreements about translating the Hebrew Bible into English must be mapped onto contemporaneous political and theological debates between religious communities, including a British Jewish community that became both increasingly anglophone and outspoken throughout the period. [1]  In Ruderman's account, seemingly narrow arguments about translating biblical Hebrew—especially its vowel marking systems—are always also the terrain of an intricate argument-by-proxy over the evolving criteria of political inclusion within a schizophrenic polity that in 1753-4 granted and then immediately rescinded citizenship rights for British Jews, rights that were only fully granted through piecemeal legislation of the mid-to-late-nineteenth century. I will return to the details of these debates shortly, but for now I would like to dwell on the wider implications of Ruderman's interrogation of cultural politics and otherness. The political restrictions that defined life for British Jews in the eighteenth-century resonate with the experiences of other actively disenfranchised groups, including Catholics, Quakers, Methodists, and the panoply of colonial subjects, whether in the British Isles or abroad. Endelman and Ruderman's histories of Jewish attempts to navigate language, identity, and assimilationist pressure can be compared with other investigations vis-à-vis other marginalized populations, like Robert Crawford's Devolving English Literature (1992), for instance, which contains a trenchant analysis of the geographical, educational, and linguistic trajectories by which Scots and other non-English subjects questioned, subverted, and sometimes even reinforced English metropolitan hegemony within the ever diversifying British Empire.

5.        While Endelman and Ruderman's texts are informed by the methods of cultural and political history, Sheila Spector's work on the Jewish community of Romantic-era Britain is more directly related to literary Romanticism. Spector's monographs foreground the role of Jewish cultural practices in the formation of the poets Blake and Byron. The contexts she outlines facilitate a host of new ways to read these figures, including Blake's Kabbalistic subtext [2]  and Byron's Yiddish- and Hebrew-language afterlives. [3]  Moreover, the best essays in Spector's three edited volumes interrogate Romantic representations of Jews and Jewish culture, thereby shedding refreshing light on familiar texts like Scott's Old Mortality (1816), Edgeworth's Harrington (1817), and Dickens's Oliver Twist (1838). [4]  In short, Spector and the authors collected in her edited volumes are the central figures for any research into the "interaction" and "blending" that occurred between "British and Jewish cultures" during the Romantic period (Spector, British Romanticism and the Jews 1, 2, 9, et passim). Their purposeful yoking of British Romanticism and British Jews brings to the fore previously overlooked Jewish writers and translators—like David Levi (1742-1801), Isaac D'Israeli (1766-1848), and Hyman Hurwitz (1770-1844)—in the same way recent studies from other fields have recuperated writers previously omitted from discussion. The argument that Romantic writing's diversity far exceeds the formerly hermetic Romantic canon will be familiar to anyone who has had contact with the valuable archives of women's writing, Scottish writing, Irish writing, counterflows to colonialism, slave narratives, and other work by writers of color, all of which the field owes to research of the past several decades.

6.        Obscure and yet prolific London-born Jewish scholar David Levi, for example, can only be understood as someone who straddled overlapping cultural milieux. He was an accomplished anglophone writer who sparred in journals with Thomas Paine over Paine's excoriations of prophecy, as well as with Joseph Priestley over Priestley's "amicable" invitation for Jews to "study" (and thereby acknowledge) the evidence of Christianity. [5]  As a true multilingual, Levi's commitment to Jewish political rights and religious heritage resulted in a comprehensive intervention into his era's translation practices. The three successive volumes of Lingua Sacra in 1785, 1789, and 1803 took the form of a comprehensive Hebrew-to-English lexicon and commentary, in which Levi approached biblical Hebrew and the rabbinical tradition as a steward, one whose knowledge of Jewish tradition allowed him to advance British Jewish interests by rectifying biblical mistranslations on which both anti-Semitic and philo-Semitic discourses were based. Lingua Sacra's title page displays this will to correct Christian mistakes and typological interpellations:

[E]nriched with Notes; in which are shewn the Grammatical Errors and Inaccuracies of the most distinguished Grammarians, and other Writers in the Hebrew Language [. . .]. The more difficult Words and Passages in the Sacred Writings will be explained, according to their true Meaning, and the lively Oracles of GOD rescued from the Errors of real or disguised Friends, and the Attacks of open and professed Enemies, whether Deists or Atheists. [6] 
"Deists" and "Atheists" get top billing as "Enemies" to the Jews here and throughout the work, but the more profound intervention occurs with regard to "real or disguised Friends," by which Levi means devout Christian Hebraists using Hebrew translation as a way to confirm their own religious sensibilities.

(b) British Hebraism and the Politics of Religious Difference

7.        When David Levi was writing in the 1780s and 1790s, he was responding directly to Hebrew translation practices as they had been elaborated over the course of the eighteenth century, during which time all British religious communities contributed to the translation boom surrounding the Authorized Version's English form. Jonathan Sheehan's Enlightenment Bible (2005) has documented these preoccupations with renovating biblical material, attributing them to a prevailing sense that parts of the Bible suddenly appeared distant, barbaric, and antiquated rather than omnitemporal or universally applicable. Historian Neil Hitchin has analyzed the retranslation frenzy by focusing on attempts to create a governmentally sponsored Bible retranslation committee like the one that had produced the King James Version in 1611. Though Hitchin omits Jewish voices entirely, he elucidates details of the eighteenth century's (Christian) "cultural politics of religion" (68), which included dissenters seeking a greater stake in national religious life and certain pillars of the Anglican establishment seeking measured changes to official translations that would protect the Church's stability and authority. [7]  The essential point is that working out these "cultural politics of religion" occasioned a rise in differing methods of reading, translating, and "knowing" the Hebrew language (some far more accurate than others). It was the most radical Christian ways of "knowing" the language that Levi would ultimately seek to discredit and debunk. [8] 

8.        Here it is important to note that within British Christian communities Hebrew had traditionally occupied an odd position in the Hebrew-Greek-Latin scriptural triumvirate. Amongst Anglicans, it was less taught and less well known than the others, likely because Greek and Latin both had non-religious histories that were embedded in the educational system's admiration of the classical world. Commentators noticed the pall of low Hebrew literacy amongst the Anglican clergy. The publishing industry responded with a sudden boom in Hebrew pedagogical materials, many of which criticized clergymen for their poor knowledge of Hebrew grammar. These pedagogical texts promised that enhanced teaching methods would benefit Church leaders while building a pediment on which to erect a national spiritual revival, or as Hitchin has it, "a nationally comprehensive, protestant Church of England" (70). An analogous situation held true in the British Jewish community, as Endelman and Ruderman both point out. [9]  Jewish leaders wanted to improve Jewish Hebrew literacy in Hebrew, as this would surely help steady the growing community during times of increasing assimilationist pressures and dwindling Hebrew literacy.

9.        One way to trace the entwined political and theological interests that sought updates to anglophone scriptures is through the slew of Hebrew grammars that hit the markets between roughly 1740 and 1830, many of which were designed for novice and autodidact readers. While Christians produced the majority of them, British Jews also published anglophone grammars. [10]  Put in a way that highlights the cultural specificity of these texts, grammars promising to teach the Hebrew language to Christians and written by Christians circulated alongside grammars written by Jews with the stated aim of teaching the holy language solely to wayward British Jews. A third and hybrid typology is also visible: anglophone grammars and lexicons like Levi's that promised to reveal the true character of Hebrew to both Jews and misled Christians. It is important to reiterate that Standard English was the new framing language for these new grammars. Whereas early-eighteenth-century Hebrew grammars circulated mostly within Anglican universities, Jewish community schools, and dissenting academies, thereby presupposing knowledge of Latin or Rabbinic (Mishnaic) Hebrew, the anglophone materials of the second half of the century facilitated access to a larger readership. In this way, Hebrew literacy spread to women, dissenters, and figures like Joseph Priestley, a man kept out of a traditional Anglican university by his convictions and the Test Acts. For their part, British Jews like Levi increasingly chose English over German, Spanish, Portuguese, Rabbinic Hebrew, Yiddish, and other Jewish heritage languages. Suffice it to say, the accessibility of anglophone-Hebrew learning materials bred new and sometimes schismatic translation theories and practices.

10.        One of the most influential of these theories involved the wholesale cultural decontextualization of the language and is best broached through the work of theologian John Hutchinson (1674-1737). Hutchinson's belief in timeless rabbinic deceit drove his attempts to purge Hebrew of its Jewish traces. In one publication, Hutchinson identifies five sorts of treacherous men:

1. Men who pretend to be directed by the Scriptures, but never learn to read and understand them. 2. Men who allow the Scriptures to be read, and construed, as the apostate Jews have pointed and explained them. 3. Men who pretend the Church of Rome has a power to construe and supersede the written Rules in Scripture. 4. Men who pretend to have a supernatural Director within each of them, which they are to follow, without regard to the Scripture. 5. Men who neither regard Scripture, Church, nor, &c. any farther than it serves their turns; but will each form Schemes, and determine everything by his own Reason, and demonstrate from his own Data, by Mathematics and Experiments (Covenant 2-3).
Referencing theological contempt of Jews, Catholics, Deists, and atheists here, another passage renounces Jewish writing altogether: "We have nothing to do with the Translations or Paraphrases of the Apostate Jews" (Treatise 5), a claim that underlies Hutchinson's severing of biblical Hebrew from the Jewish commentaries, glossaries, and translations on which Christian translators had always relied. [11]  His protégé Julius Bate regularly borrows such rhetoric, as here: "It is our own fault to let the Jews mislead us; we are forbid in the strongest manner to have any dealings with them" (292). Contrasting with the goal of partial formal equivalence that had subtended the production of the KJV, Hutchinsonian thinking characterizes the writings of Alexander Catcott, Benjamin Holloway, George Horne, William Jones of Nayland, and later John Parkhurst, all influential writers who contributed to the most polemical and anti-Semitic Hebrew translation practices during the period.

11.        For these Hutchinsonians, the central translation problem involved the nature of the Hebrew writing system, which can be described as an abjad of consonantal characters surrounded by diacritic dots and dashes that mark vowel quality, accentuation, and cantillation. Hebrew vowel markers (niqqud, pl. niqqudot) were frequently referred to as "points" during the period, and Hutchinsonians renounced them by calling them Jewish impositions that debased a once divine script. The claim that "points" occluded true Christian meanings was but one prong of a much larger rejection of all the cultural history contained in the Masorah, or traditional Jewish textual commentary. Historian David Katz describes the Hutchinsonian method as follows: "Grammar and the history of linguistic development are angrily thrust aside, as Hutchinson and his followers argued that this [the appearance of irregularity], like all features of the Old Testament, had been planned by God himself" (Skeptics 240). Eliminating "points" from the Hebrew writing system produces considerable lexical and interpretive difficulties, especially for beginners. [12]  Stripping texts of one of their most crucial signification technologies allowed for exceptional and even egregious interpretive license, one of the reasons why unpointed texts received a sympathetic audience in politically charged eighteenth-century religious discussions. Hitchin writes, "Dissenters often described literal translations as 'slavish and literal' [. . .]. Liberty and freedom in translation were prized by translators in the republican or neo-Roman tradition" (72). While Hutchinsonianism was not necessarily dissent, its will to get out from under a perceived Jewish yoke takes on and reflects the rhetoric of emerging ideas about individual sovereignty.

12.        Hutchinsonian translator and grammarian John Parkhurst saw himself as a defender of the Anglican faith who, like Hutchinson himself, was charged with fighting a holy war via grammar, for while the "superstitions of Popery" threatened one flank, "the wicked reveries of the enthusiastic, self-illuminated Sects" menaced another. [13]  The Hutchinsonian sense that Christianity had superseded Judaism to the point of nullifying Jewish techniques for preserving Hebrew literacy colors Parkhurst's An Hebrew and English Lexicon. First printed in 1762 and subsequently republished in 1778, 1799, 1807, 1811, and 1823, the work rehearses the line that Hebrew was easier to acquire (and distort) "when unembarrassed with Points" (xii). Here Parkhurst brazenly promises the reader that study of Hebrew "unadulterated with the Rabbinical Points, in a few months, [would] enable him to read in the original with ease and delight, most parts of those Holy Scriptures, all of which, St. Paul assures us, were given by inspiration of God, and are able to make us wise unto salvation, through Faith, which is in Jesus Christ" (10-1). After this polemic, the text lists and defines Hebrew words according to an exceptionally idiosyncratic understanding of the language. This work perpetuates the Hutchinsonian opinion that Hebrew writing was divine, but its itinerant vowel systems were illegitimate, an assumption that was then transmitted to eager autodidact translators like Elizabeth Smith, a fascinating writer whom I have written about in a different context. [14] 

13.        I have dwelled on the Hutchinsonian lineage of Hebrew-to-English translation because it represents a mode of theological and teleological translation that was eccentric, philosophically bankrupt, and inevitably moribund even upon its first appearance. While it was influential, many dissenters and Anglican theologians reacted against the obvious revisionism inherent in the Hutchinsonian system, a system that unmoored biblical Hebrew from any verifiable historical and cultural contexts. By contrast, dissenting preacher John Taylor's The Hebrew Concordance (1754-7) included all niqqud and masorah and self-consciously based itself on the models of dissenter theologian Joseph Priestley and Unitarian minister Theophilus Lindsey, both of whom argued that historically accurate knowledge of Hebrew justified dissenting religious doctrines. Priestley, for instance, rooted his interpretations of Hebrew in philological comparisons of related Semitic languages, as he describes in his memoirs of teaching: "I instructed in Hebrew, and by that means made myself a considerable proficient in that language. At the same time, I learned Chaldee and Syriac, and just began to read Arabic" (Memoirs 9). Anglican theologian Anselm Bayly's 1773 Hebrew grammar strikes an ecumenical and empirical tone as a foil to the excesses of Hutchinsonian thinking:

Men of letters, with respect to the Hebrew [. . .] are unhappily divided into two parties, the Jews with some Christians for the Points, as absolutely necessary, and some Christians against them; who [. . .] have run to the other extreme by maintaining, that the Points are so far from being of any use at all, that their design was to confound and mislead.
Bayly continued by reaching out to British-Jewish scholars and advocating a collaboration that would have been patently offensive to Hutchinson's followers: "to effect a real and lasting union," Bayly writes, "the best method perhaps would be, for some person of candor and moderation, who is conversant in the Rabinical [sic] writings, to lay open the Points, or however the ground of them, faithfully and plainly" (2). This statement evokes the long tradition of Jewish-Christian lineages of tutoring, teaching, and transmission, and I mention it because it is firmly within this tradition of intellectual and philosophical exchange that we should locate Hyman Hurwitz, one of the most interesting Hebraists the period produced.

14.        To understand the unique challenges and opportunities in Hurwitz's career, a brief note on the history of Jewish Hebrew teachers in Britain is in order. Though technically expelled from England from the late-thirteenth century until the 1650s, grammatical, religious, and kabbalistic works circulated into Britain from Jewish centers in Iberia, Amsterdam, and Eastern Europe, while a small network of crypto-Jews lived on discreetly in London, Cambridge, Oxford, and other port cities. [15]  Christian students were known to hire recently converted or Jewish Hebrew tutors to facilitate their studies. In Philo-Semitism, David Katz cites biographical sketches of John Immanuel Tremellius, Jacob Wolfgang, and Jacob Barnet to document this very point. After the Jewish resettlement in 1655, eighteenth-century historian D'Blossiers Tovey hearkened back to the eleventh-century reign of William Rufus to explain the role of Jewish tutors in education, a pedagogic necessity that would have been familiar to students at Oxford in his own day: "In one of the parishes [of Oxford] they also had a School, or Synagogue; wherein certain Rabbies instructed, not only their own People, but, several of the Christian Students of the University, in the Hebrew Learning and Language" (9). Though there had been Hebrew chairs at Oxford and Cambridge since 1540, it is clear that the Christian establishment continually relied upon Jewish scholarly help in translation and exegesis. [16] 

15.        The details of Hurwitz's life are simple but unusual. Immigrating to Britain around 1800, he spent a brief stint as a Hebrew teacher at a Christian school before opening a school for Jewish youth known as Highgate Academy. [17]  Through mutual acquaintances he became the friend and tutor of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a relationship I will discuss through reference to a Coleridgian translation in the final section of this paper. In 1828, Hurwitz's personality, openness, and writings secured him an appointment as the first Jewish professor of Hebrew at University College London, an institution that did not require its professors to conform to the Test Acts. The Bibliotheca Anglo-Judaica deems the Elements of the Hebrew Language (1828) to be his most important work, noting that it "went through many editions, and was for a long time the standard Hebrew grammar among English Jews" (Jacobs and Wolf 223). As in Levi, this text attacks those who would dissociate biblical Hebrew from its cultural context, but it does so in a way that still invites novice readers of any faith into the pleasures of the Hebrew language. This is attributable to Hurwitz's vocation as an educator for all levels and confessions, but it also derives from his uniquely cosmopolitan cast of mind.

16.        Cultural ecumenism can be seen in Hurwitz's Essay on the Uninspired Literature of the Hebrews as well as the playful Rabbinic parables of Hebrew Tales (1826) that the essay introduces. As a translator and defender of Mishnaic literature, Hurwitz accentuates the antiquity of the Jewish lore while dressing it in an appealing and contemporary anglophone style. Judith Page has written about Hurwitz's engagement with the British literary tradition, and one example of his Mishnaic glosses will serve here to confirm Page's point. Like many, the section from the Hebrew Tales called "Milton's 'Dark from Excess of Light'" presupposes the reader's familiarity both with Book Three of Paradise Lost and with the Mishnaic book Kodoshim. With these subtexts, Hurwitz launches into cultural syncretism, describing how Rabbi Joshua asked Emperor Trajan to stare at the sun after Trajan had questioned God's omnipresence. When the sun's brightness blackens Trajan's vision, Rabbi Joshua asks, "Thou art unable to endure the light of one of his creatures and canst thou expect to behold the resplendent glory of the Creator?" (Tales 64). The image of God's "excessive brightness" in Milton's Christian epic is here given a Jewish precursor. [18]  Working on the British canon, Hurwitz's translation is almost the inverse of Christian typology as it locates Jewish subtexts for Christian stories. The goal is to formulate a cultural history in which Jewish thought and philosophy are recognized as constitutive of British identity and not opposed to it. Hurwitz's "Essay on Uninspired Literature" and the Hebrew Tales have been compared to Wordsworth and Coleridge's preface to Lyrical Ballads, but they can also be likened to phenomena like Ossianism, Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765), or the diverse texts of overseas orientalism. [19]  After all, Hurwitz makes Jewish cultural relics into sources for contemporary art and knowledge; he asks history to relate its lessons to the present, not in the service of narrow national or ethnic ends, but for all Britons.

(c) British Hebraism, Empire, and Orientalism

17.        Thus far, the frameworks within which I have been describing British Hebraism and Hebrew-to-English translation have been too-narrowly restricted. There are broader contexts within which to understand this movement, and one of these concerns the expanding British empire's production of novel cultural contacts, its exoticizing interest in foreign linguistic traditions, and its diverse new lines of translation. As scholars have long recognized, empire brought British economic power to bear on cultural exchange, thereby facilitating the importation of new manuscripts, the hiring of native informants, and the rise of a class of professional translators charged with making the East legible to the colonial apparatus. Since biblical Hebrew was by its very ontology simultaneously European and non-European, "occidental" and "oriental"—a language at the center of Christianity and at its edges—studying its relationship to orientalism shows that orientalism borrowed from while also reinforced theories generated first in studies of the Hebrew scriptures.

18.        The geopolitical configurations underwriting new interest in biblical Hebrew translation are perhaps best introduced through the work of another Anglican theologian, Benjamin Kennicott, the leader of a massive biblical collation project. Brilliantly brought to life in Ruderman's Jewish Enlightenment in an English Key, Kennicott was, like Hutchinson, antagonistic to the Jewish tradition, protesting of the Hebrew Scriptures in 1774, "They have indeed undergone many great and grievous Corruptions, occasioned by the ignorance or negligence of transcribers" (Sacra 3). Kennicott's sense of scriptural "Corruption" provoked his attempt to execute an end-run around Jewish intermediaries by way of other near Eastern languages like Samaritan and Aramaic. Having collated and compared roughly seventy extant manuscripts, Kennicott concluded in his first dissertation, The State of the Printed Hebrew Text of 1753, that textual variations among them engendered enough doubt as to require an extensive (Christian) reassessment of the Old Testament canon. In his second dissertation of 1759, he legitimized the continuation of his project in the following way,

The chief argument, for the usefulness of such an undertaking, was founded upon the discovery of many Heb. MSS, which contain'd very material variations; and such, as would render it probable—that mistakes more in number, and more considerable in their nature, would appear to have been made by the Jews, in their transcripts of the old Testament (notwithstanding their so-much-boasted accuracy) than appear to have been made by the Christian transcribers of the new Testament. (State 7)
Though he pretended to a sort of proto-scientific objectivity, the ideological nature of Kennicott's project was reinforced by the way that his italicized chiasmus forced the reader to digest again the oft-repeated Christian mantra that "the Jews" were to "the old" as "the Christian" was to "the new." Kennicott's goal was to break the perceived transmission monopoly that Jewish sources had over the biblical corpus. By 1760, he was soliciting financial support toward the goal of purchasing as many biblical manuscripts as possible from across the world; over £12,000, twenty years, and 30 volumes later, his new Bible collation was complete. The Kennicott Bible was published at Oxford between 1776 and 1780. It claimed to feature the most accurate possible conflations of 684 manuscripts, and is still regarded as one of the largest and most significant collation projects undertaken in modern biblical history.

19.        The implications of Kennicott's orientalism for translation studies are critical: like Hutchinsonians, Kennicott annexed to himself the authority to rewrite the scriptures through contrived textual sciences as a way to bypass traditional Jewish learning. Of course, the other interesting aspect of Kennicott's project is the way it configures the Near East as a distinct repository of authentic cultural material upon which a British scholar could bring the money and linguistic skills necessary for gleaning specifically Christian truths. As Hitchin writes, "Improving access to near eastern lands was a boon to translators. Comparing Arabic and Syriac words with ancient Hebrew words was increasingly treated as an indispensable adjunct for biblical philology" (79). In this respect, Edward Said's link between biblical study and orientalism in the sense of the East as a career-making object of study is borne out most obviously. [20]  The East produced by Kennicott's comparative philology is only one such discursive East, another comes through in the simultaneously primitivist and orientalist translation work of Bishop of London Robert Lowth (1710-1787).

(d) British Hebraism and Primitivist Theories of Poetic Genius

20.        Closely related to the admittedly brief preceding section on British Hebraism and orientalism is the primitivist underpinnings of much Hebrew-English translation during this period. A teacher interested in this angle should begin, as others have, with the writing and translations of Bishop of London Robert Lowth, for Lowth's notes on method in De Sacra Poesi Hebraeorum Praelectiones Academicae Oxonii Habitae (1753; English Version 1787) and his fulfillment of that method in Isaiah: A New Translation (1778) were vital reference points for a generation of translators and poets irrespective of interest in Hebrew. M.H. Abrams writes of Lowth's lectures, "Such an elaborate and comprehensive critical examination of the Hebrew Bible, considered as a collection of poetic documents, was bound to have a radical impact on the accepted system of criticism" (76). The influence of Lowth's lectures on poetic and translation practice was similarly profound.

21.        In his writings, Lowth's basic assertion is that Hebrew poetry operates according to its own logic, a logic entirely separate from more familiar Greek and Latin poetic conventions: "Whatever it might be that constituted Hebrew verse, it certainly did not consist in rhyme, or similar and correspondent sounds at the ends of verses [. . .] it is manifest that rhymes, or similar endings, are not an essential part of Hebrew verse" (Isaiah viii). Eschewing Hutchinson's paranoid venom against perfidious Jews, De sacra poesi Hebraeorum claims merely that attenuated lines of transmission brought Hebrew to eighteenth-century England and thus the true nature of Hebrew verse had been obscured: "Not so much as the number of syllables [. . .] could with any certainty be defined [. . .]. He who attempts to restore the true and genuine Hebrew versification, erects an edifice without a foundation" (Lectures 39). Just like an antiquarian deciphering a runic inscription, Lowth compensates as best he can, for absent any exact system of versification, the poet-translator-theologian must reinvent the English dress that Hebrew will take on.

22.        Lowth is best known for advancing the thesis that three types of thematic parallelism structured biblical poems. [21]  First was synonymous parallelism, wherein two parts of one verse echoed one another, as in the first line of Psalm 114: "When Israel went out of Egypt, / the house of Jacob from a people of strange language." The second type of parallelism fuses two antithetical half-verses, as in 1 Samuel 2:4-5: "The bows of the mighty are broken / and they that stumbled are girded with strength." The third variety of parallelism repeats a grammatical form over multiple verses like in Psalm 19:8-11: "The law of Jehovah is perfect, restoring the soul; / The testimony of Jehovah is sure, making wise the simple; / The percepts of Jehovah are right, rejoicing the heart; / The commandment of Jehovah is clear, enlightening the eyes." The unfolding of the four lines is parallel, but also additive; the sum of the four offers more than each line individually. Lowth's focus on reproducing these biblical Hebrew traits in eighteenth-century English goes so far as to alter—or augment—English's capacities. Lowth makes English speak in Hebrew's forms rather than the other way around. He uses space, parallelism, and repetition to produce a translation distant from English poetic traditions, especially the traditions of paraphrase and versification associated with Isaac Watts and others.

23.        Lowth's translation of Isaiah takes this logic into another dimension, criticizing translators for rendering prophetic writings as prose when in fact Lowth saw them as poetry. His updating of Isaiah 53, one of the most celebrated typological moments in the Bible, exemplifies how translation can pursue Anglican prophecy through anglophone Hebrew poetry. [22]  The KJV's Isaiah 53:2 serves up serial prose fragments with incidental rather than intentional parallelism. [23]  By contrast, Lowth fashions a poem with line breaks conforming spatially to Hebrew grammatical units and employing synonymous parallelism:

For he groweth up in their sight like a tender sucker;
And like a root from a thirsty soil:
He hath no form, nor any beauty, that we should regard him;
Nor is his countenance such, that we should desire him (Isaiah 154).
A similarly subtle use of spatial arrangement and discursive purgation is visible in 53:7. Where the KJV reads, "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumme, so he openeth not his mouth," Lowth reformulates the lines,
It was exacted, and he was made answerable; and he opened not his mouth:
As a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before her shearers,
Is dumb; so he opened not his mouth (Lowth, Isaiah 155).
Here Lowth locates synonymous parallelism in the second and third lines. Additionally, because poetry is meant to enhance prophecy, Lowth establishes a link between the passive niggas ('exacted') and the passive causative na'aneh ('made answerable'). His changes produce a strange sort of poem on the page, and while still replete with Christological symbolism, it acts on English-language aesthetic traditions in a way that prefigures other intentionally archaized writings of the period, such as Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancyent Marinere" (1798) or "Christabel" (1797-1800). [24] 

24.        In fact, this archaizing impulse in Coleridge is one of the ways British Hebraism can supplement our knowledge of the period. Coleridge obtained Lowth's De Sacra Poesi Hebraeorum from the library in Bristol in 1796 (Halmi 352; Whalley 114-42). When he translated the opening of the "Song of Deborah" (Judges 5:1-10) in December 1799—before he had ever studied with Hurwitz—it is clear that from Lowth he had developed his own conception of how biblical Hebrew material operated (Halmi 352-4). For one, Coleridge quotes Lowth several times in Lectures on Revealed Religion (1795) (McKusick 412). Additionally, he rehearses Lowth's theory of biblical parallelism in an explanatory note: "The Song of Deborah, translated in the * parallelisms of the Original / (* that is, so that each Line or member of a sentence is counter-balanced by the following, either by difference or similitude, or by the repetition of the same thought in different words or with a different Image" (Poems 254). In his deployment of these forms, Coleridge shows that he is interested in "The Song of Deborah" as a historical relic unique to a specific time and place, but also that he is interested in the passage as a transcendental and even transhistorical overflow of powerful feelings, what James McKusick terms a "crisis of mental activity finding a volcanic outlet in language" (414). [25]  In fact, his understanding of the Hebrew song as local in origin yet universally sublime in expression offers an interesting new origin for Romantic aesthetics as they are typically understood.

25.         Coleridge judges the "Song of Deborah" to be "as simple a dithyrambic production as exists in any language" (Shakespearean Criticism 426). And indeed, "The Song of Deborah" is widely believed to be one of the oldest, if not the oldest piece of poetry in the Hebrew corpus even though the difficulties in dating it are many (Globe 495; Smith 81). Coleridge knew about the song's antiquity and in Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit he even adduced it as evidence arguing against the scriptures being dictated by an "infallible Intelligence" (31). Rather than considering the Bible as "a hollow passage for a voice, a voice that mocks the voices of many men" (32), Coleridge saw the Bible as a composition, animated but not dictated by a holy spirit,

All the several books bound up together in our precious family Bibles were composed in different and widely distant ages, under the greatest diversity of circumstances, and degrees of light and information, and yet the composers, whether as uttering or as recording what was uttered and what was done, were all actuated by a pure and holy Spirit [. . .] one Spirit, working diversly. [26] 
To paraphrase, the Bible unfolds in time as a holy spirit activates people from vastly different eras.

26.        His poem attempts to reconstruct an authentic feeling of that historicity through language and form. He confesses in his letter,

As long as I have the image of Deborah before my eyes, and while I throw myself back into the age, country, circumstances, of this Hebrew Bonduca in the not yet tamed chaos of the spiritual creation;—as long as I contemplate the impassioned, high-souled heroic woman in all the prominence and individuality of will and character,—I feel as if I were among the first ferments of the great affections—the proplastic waves of the microcosmic chaos, swelling up against—and yet towards—the outspread wings of the Dove that lies brooding on the troubled waters (34-5).
Deborah's fervid song celebrates an Israelite victory, and while trying to make her language historically specific, Coleridge writes her genealogy through his own context, firstly through Christian patrimony and secondly through his evocation of "Bonduca" or Boudica, the rebellious Celtic warrior-queen. He locates and transmits "great affections" across the "proplastic waves of the microcosmic chaos," a strategy he would later use in his other archaizing poetry.

27.        "The Song of Deborah" incorporates praise, prayer, and even curses. Coleridge's translation appears on the left as juxtaposed to the KJV translation on the right:

Judges 5:1-11
Then sang Deborah,
And Barak, Abinoams's Son,
On that day sang they thus:
That the Leaders of Israel led on,
And the People willingly followed
Praise ye the Lord!
Ye Monarchs, hear!
Give ear, ye Princes!
I sing to the Everlasting,
To the Everlasting will I play & sing praises,
To the Lord God of Israel.
Lord God, Eternal!
When thou marchedst out from Seir,
When thou marchedst on thro' Edom,
The Earth trembled,
The Heavens dissolved,
The Clouds poured,
Mountains melted away from the Lord,
Mount Sina from before the face of Jehovah,
The Lord God of Israel.
In the days of Samgar, the Son of Anath,
In the days of Jael lay waste the High roads,
The Travellers went not save by crooked by-ways
Suspended were the assemblies of Israel,
They ceased, till I arose, Deborah,
Till that I arise, a mother in Israel.
To themselves they had chosen strange Gods;
And close to their gates came War.
Not a Shield was there seen, nor a Spear
Among the twice twenty Thousand of Israel.
My Heart, it swells high to the Rulers of Israel,
O ye, who offered yourselves freely among the People,
Praise the Everlasting One.
Ye that ride on white asses,
Ye that sit on seats of costly Coverings, or embroidered Seats
Ye that walk on High roads, frame a Song.
A Song for the Voice of the herdsmen, who beside thee draw wells
Draw water for the Herds and Flocks!
For there will they sing the Deeds of Jehovah,
His deeds will the People of Israel praise.

Judges 5:1-11
1 Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day, saying,
2 Praise ye the Lord for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves.
3 Hear, O ye kings; give ear, O ye princes; I, even I, will sing unto the Lord; I will sing praise to the Lord God of Israel.
4 Lord, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water.
5 The mountains melted from before the Lord, even that Sinai from before the Lord God of Israel.
6 In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways.
7 The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel.
8 They chose new gods; then was war in the gates: was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?
9 My heart is toward the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless ye the Lord.
10 Speak, ye that ride on white asses, ye that sit in judgment, and walk by the way.
11 They that are delivered from the noise of archers in the places of drawing water, there shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the Lord, even the righteous acts toward the inhabitants of his villages in Israel: then shall the people of the Lord go down to the gates.
The effect of Coleridge's rendition is immediate. It strips away traditional verse numberings in favor of formulating nine discrete stanzas. Within the first three lines of his first stanza, Coleridge launches a formal revision of the song in which he completes in the third line the syntactic palindrome begun by the first ("sang Deborah"; "sang they"), while simultaneously redoubling its semantic content. The intervening line, "And Barak, Abinoams's Son", possesses its own synonymous parallelism in the metonymic apostrophe to Barak's name. This three-line stanza is all the more striking given that in neither the Hebrew version nor the KJV are these lines are part of the song. Verse II reiterates and extends this pattern. The first and last lines echo one another, and the lines between them proceed strictly in parallel: two lines narrating God's movements, three beautifully simplistic lines describing the sublime effect of God's presence, and two lines depicting the annihilation of mountains, themselves already a sublime object of contemplation. The interlocking diction contributes to the image's sublimity: when God moves, everything is destabilized and liquid. In the KJV's "the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water" (Judges 5:4), the image of rain is more emphatic and more restrictive of creative interpretation. Coleridge's version, however, makes rain but one in a number of possible interpretations of the semantic chain "dissolved," "poured," and "melted." When God marches, dissolution ensues: of the physical world, of spiritual enemies, and of the self.

28.        As a Hebrew victory-ballad, "The Song of Deborah" stands out in the Bible as a ritualized performance. It caps and extends the prose narrative of Judges 4 with a triumphant prayer celebrating the community's fortification. In Verse III, Coleridge attends to Deborah's role as prophetess and warrior, intervening with a significant shift in verb tense, from the past "arose" to the present "arise" in the translation of shakkamti. Thematically, this shift stresses the lasting implications of Deborah's bravery for the community. McKusick attributes Coleridge's variation to a discovery of how to express shifting tense that occurs frequently in the Bible, "as Coleridge could have learned from any grammar book" (414). This reading points to the importance of the new Hebrew grammatical tradition. [27]  For my part, I want to suggest that Coleridge is deliberately invoking an antithetical parallelism between "They ceased, till I arose, Deborah" and "Till that I [Deborah] arise, a mother in Israel." My reading emphasizes that these two events reference different moments in the historical narrative. Deborah's song first thinks back to the moment before she went into battle, just after she "arose," and then jumps forward to the moment after the war's victory when she "arise[s], a mother in Israel" or, equivalently, when she arises as the mother of Israel. Such a reading corresponds to the emphasis on Deborah's motherhood in Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit, at the same time as it equates Deborah-as-mother and Deborah-as-warmonger storming the Caananites' gates (Verse IV, line 2).

29.        More can be said about Coleridge's unpublished translation, and firmer lines can be drawn to his other work, but what I have tried to do here is simply reveal a local example of the effect biblical translation discourses had on literary production. In fact, throughout the entirety of this essay, I have opted for strategic rather than exhaustive descriptions of how to integrate British Hebraism into courses. As any reader of this likely feels, there is obviously more work to be done. Sketching various lines of lineage between British Hebraism and orientalism, for instance, is an ideal topic for an undergraduate research or graduate seminar paper. Other topics have equal potential, and I hope that what has been only gestural in this paper will be realized in the work of others.

Works Cited

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Bowdler, Henrietta Maria. Fragments in Prose and Verse by Miss Elizabeth Smith, Lately Deceased. London: R. Crutwell, 1809. Print.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit. Ed. Henry Nelson Coleridge. London: William Pickering, 1840. Print.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Complete Poems. Ed. William Keach. New York: Penguin Books, 1997. Print.

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Crystal, David. Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.

Daiches, David. The King James Version of the English Bible: An Account of the Development and Sources of the English Bible of 1611 With Special Reference to the Hebrew Tradition. Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1968. Print.

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Halmi, Nicholas. "Coleridge on Allegory and Symbol." The Oxford Handbook of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Ed. Frederick Burwick. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. 345-358. Print.

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[1] For population statistics, immigration patterns, and other socio-historical information about the British Jewish community and its links to Europe, see Endelman's The Jews of Georgian England. BACK

[2] An interesting new deciphering of Blake's Hebraism is Abraham Samuel Schiff's "Blake's Hebrew Calligraphy," in Blake 46.2 [accessed Nov. 27, 2012] BACK

[3] See Spector's Glorious Incomprehensible and Byron and the Jews. BACK

[4] Spector's edited collections include British Romanticism and the Jews: History, Culture, Literature, The Jews and British Romanticism: Politics, Religion, Culture, and Romanticism / Judaica. BACK

[5] See Joseph Priestley's Letters to the Jews; Inviting Them to an Amicable Discussion of the Evidences of Christianity, Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason: Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology, and David Levi's Letters to Dr. Priestley in Answer to Those He Addressed to the Jews and Dissertations on the Prophecies of the Old Testament. BACK

[6] As Levi wrote, "Consequently, no just, or critical knowledge of the Sacred Writings of the Old Testament, can be obtained through their [Existing English Bibles'] means; and which I opine to be the principal cause of the encrease [sic] of Deism." At this point in time the Jewish anglophone Bible was the Old Testament of the Authorized Version, the selfsame translation Christians used. Solomon Bennett issued A Specimen of a New Version of the Hebrew Bible in 1836 and he included significant reworkings of a number of the most important passages and books. It was, however, canonically incomplete. It was not until 1851 in England and 1853 in America did complete, specifically anglophone-Jewish translations of the Tanakh appear. The first two were Abraham Benisch's A Translation of the Old Testament, Published with Hebrew Text (1851) and Isaac Leeser's The Twenty-four books of the Holy Scriptures (1853). BACK

[7] A broad and useful account of dissent and Romanticism is Dan White's Early Romanticism and Religious Dissent. BACK

[8] An equally important angle on this involves aesthetics, and I will discuss it in the fourth section. For his part, Hitchin summarizes some of aesthetic motivations for his retranslation in the following terms: "Many felt that the old translation [the KJV] left much to be desired from the point of view of English-language usage. Diction and style were much changed in the intervening time" (75). BACK

[9] See note #6. BACK

[10] These publishing data are drawn from the grammatical sections of Joseph Jacobs and Lucien Wolf's Bibliotheca Anglo-Judaica, as well as Cecil Roth's Magna Bibliotheca Anglo-Judaica. BACK

[11] A 47-person team of Anglican clerics produced the translation that came to be known as the Authorized Version in three centers of translation: Oxford, Cambridge, and Westminister. One of the stated operational principles of this team was to rely heavily on earlier versions such as the Geneva, Coverdale, Tyndale, and Bishops's Bibles. All of these and the King James Bible as well required textual and personal consultation with the Jewish Tradition. For approachable introductions to the KJV translation, see Alister McGrath's In the Beginning and David Crystal's Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language. For more scholarly analyses, see in particular the "Introduction" to the Oxford World Classics edition of the King James Bible (2008) and David Daiches's The King James Version of the English Bible: An Account of the Development and Sources of the English Bible of 1611 with Special Reference to the Hebrew Tradition. BACK

[12] See for instance the discussion of רקיע in Katz's "Hutchinsonians" 240. BACK

[13] John D. Haigh, "Parkhurst, John (1728–1797)," in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edition, January 2008 [accessed August 8, 2010] BACK

[14] Daniel DeWispelare, "An Amateur's Professional Devotion: Elizabeth Smith's Translation of the Book of Job." In Literature and Theology, Vol. 25, No. 2 (May 2011). BACK

[15] For the historical details see in particular Cecil Roth, A History of the Jews in England. BACK

[16] See in particular the "Introduction" to the Oxford World Classics edition of the King James Bible (2008) and David Daiches's The King James Version of the English Bible: An Account of the Development and Sources of the English Bible of 1611 with Special Reference to the Hebrew Tradition. BACK

[17] [Anon.], "Hurwitz, Hyman (1770–1844)" , rev. Sinéad Agnew, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [accessed 10 Dec 2010] BACK

[18] The relevant lines are:

"[. . .] thee, Author of all being,
Fountain of light, thyself invisible
Amidst the glorious brightness where thou sit'st
Thron'd inaccessible, but when thou shad'st
The full blaze of thy beams, and through a cloud
Drawn round about thee like a radiant Shrine,
Dark with excessive bright thy skirts appeer,
Yet dazle Heav'n, that brightest Seraphim
Approach not, but with both wings veil thir eyes [. . .]" (Milton, iii.376-382)

[19] The comparison with Wordsworth can be found in Judith Page's "Hyman Hurwitz's Hebrew Tales (1826): Redeeming the Talmudic Garden," in British Romanticism and the Jews: History, Culture, Literature, Sheila Spector, ed. (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002), pp. 197-213. BACK

[20] See reading of Lowth in Edward Said's Orientalism (17). BACK

[21] For a more contemporary reading that preserves some of Lowth's structures, see James Kugel's The Idea of biblical Poetry: Parallelism and Its History. BACK

[22] In the chapter, a servant sings of the suffering to which he has submitted before God. Christians read this chapter as a prefiguration of Christ whereas Jews tended to identify the suffering servant with the nation of Israel. BACK

[23] The KJV wording is: "For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness: and when we shall see him there is no beauty that we should desire him." BACK

[24] We can also trace Lowth's influence through biblical translations, a large number of which came out in his wake. Genesis underwent seven separate complete or partial translations, Exodus was translated thrice, and assorted chapters of Numbers and Deuteronomy were published as well. Ecclesiastes, that mystical book, was retranslated and published on at least four separate occasions. In the 90-year period between 1750 and 1840 there appeared fourteen separate Hebrew-to-English translations of Song of Songs. Perhaps the most difficult and yet most popular of biblical translation projects besides the Psalter, the Book of Job, was translated at least fifteen separate times. BACK

[25] The title "The Song of Deborah" is a product of convention. In Hebrew, however, the first verse does make clear that it is indeed a shir, or poetic song. BACK

[26] Coleridge makes a critical distinction between 'diversely' and 'diversly' here. "The same Spirit may act and impel diversly, but, being a good Spirit, it cannot act diversely" (Confessions 33). BACK

[27] It is worth noting that the translation of this verse is actually quite complicated and even controversial. The 1917 Jewish Publication Society's English language Bible, the standard English-language Jewish Bible opts for an entirely different verb person, "The rulers ceased in Israel, they ceased, until that thou didst arise, Deborah, that thou didst arise a mother in Israel." BACK

Published @ RC

July 2014