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MANASSEH BEN ISRAEL TO THE READER.
OUR ancient Sages established it as a maxim of civil justice, that, in all contracts, the vendor is bound to give to the purchaser every particular respecting the article he wishes to dispose of; otherwise he would act dishonestly, and the contract would thus become null and void.
Acting in conformity to this rule, kind reader, it appears to me proper, and even obligatory, to explain fully in this Preface the contents of this my work, in order, that should the purchase thereof appear advantageous to you, it may be made at your pleasure. I here present to you all the passages of the Holy Scriptures which are apparently repugnant to each other-a new work, never undertaken by any one of our nation, and, indeed, a subject worthy of a much more elevated genius than mine.
But, if the maxim be true, that labour overcomes every thing, I acknowledge it has not cost me a little; for after spending years in collecting all the contradictions, and the texts that prima facie appear contradictory, I resolved to reconcile them.
Then, I found that the contradiction might arise, either from both being understood literally or metaphorically, where from some adequate reason one only should be; from a condition in one of them being deficient; or from the ambiguity of the words, the subjects being different.
And the Bible being in the highest degree true, it cannot contain any text really contradictory of another. I have therefore entitled this work, "The Conciliator," or reconcilement of the passages of the Holy Scripture apparently repugnant to each other, from having found admirable and excellent explanations of every text; for, as the learned Aben Ezra says, if a person on a clear night should say the light was from the moon, he would speak the truth, yet so also would one who said it was from the sun, since the moon derives her light from him.
It is shewn in Question 5, that the moon is termed great and small and she is both; small in comparison to the sun, and great as compared to minor planets in respect of her own light. In the same manner we often assert of God
things apparently diametrically opposite, for we say, God is not in any particular place, and yet that He is omnipresent; that He is the beginning and the end; shewing that, according to circumstances, two opposites terms are sometimes applied to the same object.
Searching diligently the works and sayings of ancient and modern Sages, I not only found the interpretation of all the passages, but the verses also reconciled in various ways, agreeable, conformable to natural reason and to the texts. I have left to the reader the selection of the one he may most approve; it not being my intention, by preferring some and rebutting others, to interfere between such ancient and learned Sages: besides, it will be seen, that there are so many varied opinions, that the one I should approve might be disapproved of by others; I have, therefore, selected those most conformable to the letter, for the purpose of solving the doubts in a variety of modes, as all appear to square with the texts.
I conceive that any work will be acceptable to the learned; for if duly examined, we shall find that the study and lecture of the Talmud were not considered unimportant; for, setting aside the solution it gives of many of the present questions, (some of which, as curious, learned, and worthy of being known, were asked by the Alexandrians of R. Joshua ben Hanina, an illustrious and learned sage, as stated in the Guemara of Mida) we also learn, from Berachot, Holin, and other parts, that some heathen princes mooted similar doubts to the ancients, who, as disciples of the prophets, could alone interpret and solve many passages, which, from their difficulty, would otherwise have been unintelligible.
No little honour will accrue from it to the Hebrew nation, and the Sages of Israel; as the knowledge and intelligence they possessed will be clearly seen in this work.
To demonstrate the labour I have had, I must state, that,
First. The sayings and decisions of the ancients on the subject, I have illustrated by natural reason and easy explanations.
Second. I have carefully sought in the works of the ancients for many things which I found stated in modern writers, and then applied them to the original author.
Third. The sentences and sayings of modern writers I have in many instances corroborated, not only by reasons, but by various texts of the Holy Scriptures.
Fourth.—I have been the faithful interpreter of those most difficult authors, Jarchi (or Rashi), Aben Ezra, Nachmanides, and Maimonides; for in upwards of 2500 quotations in this work, I always sought, by ocular demonstration, the verification of the original at the fountain head.
Fifth and lastly. To those I have added, in many instances, my own ideas and conciliation, as well as in some, on which neither ancients nor moderns have written; for, as it is said in the Guemara of Holin, the ancients left room for every one to raise himself by his own works and arguments.
Aristotle also held, that it was not because the ancients had given their opinions, posterity should be precluded from giving theirs; and as Quintilian observed, but little talent and genius is displayed in repeating only what others have said. Plato, Cicero, Chrysostom, Jerome, and Augustin also, stamp a value on this observation.
I have not been choice in the selection of my phrases; for, in truth, the rules prescribed by the ancients for correct writing are so difficult, that it would be impossible for me to do all that is requisite to render the work perfect in that respect.
Language, in the Guemara of Meguila, is compared to coin; coinciding with the relation of Plutarch, that Poliestrus established a law, that language should have the property of good money-great value in small weight; that is, comprising much meaning in a few words. R. Joseph signified the same in saying that it ought to be like fine flowers-free from weeds or superfluity. Rabanan even went farther: he said, "A person should not be judged only by what he says, but to what purpose, and with what intention it is said; because a sentence or word may be appropriate in one place, that would be incorrect in } another." This is his meaning in saying, "Language should be like a good mixture composed of milk and honey-soft and sweet." Much more has been written on the subject: but were we to judge strictly by these rules, how seldom should we be satisfied with others, and how much less satisfaction should we ourselves afford; for this combination of knowledge and eloquence is rarely / met with. Therefore, for the comfort of those who cannot do better, the saying of Plato and Nicephorus has always appeared to me the best that one who does not pick his words, completes sentences with greater facility; for, as Diogenes Apolloniatus says, "A plain and chaste style is all that is required for speaking and writing well." Quintilian said, " A person ought to use a soft style, easy to be understood;" this simple condition appeared sufficient to Lactantius and Suetonius. This work, therefore, goes forth in the poverty of my style; because I wrote as leisure permitted me, seeking to benefit the worthy members of my nation; who, for the most part, stand in need of enlightenment on the Hebrew language; and I hope shortly to extend it to other languages besides the Spanish.
I have made the same division of the Sacred Books as the ancients; that is, into three parts the Law, D'' the Prophets, and on the Writings, or Hagiography; which, acccording to the "Ephodi," correspond with the Universe and Tabernacle. He compares the Law, or Mosaical Precepts, to the intellectual world and the Holy of Holies; the Prophets to the celestial and interior; and the Hagiography, to the elemental and court-yard.
I now present the first part to the public; in which some of the highest and noblest points of the Law are explained. Should the work (as I hope it will) be favourably received, with the Divine help, I will shortly bring to light the re maining parts, together with other works I have in hand; it ever having been my wish to render my labours of public benefit and for general advantage.
With this view, I last year completed, in four parts, a Hebrew Grammar, entitled, "The Pure Lip."
Now, kind reader, where the purchaser is made completely acquainted with the article offered, there can be no deception on the part of the vendor ; having fully detailed the contents of the work, I leave it to your judgment to approve of it or not.
As it is a maxim of the ancients, that it is right to judge every one indulgently, I hope, conformably thereto, to have your kind judgment; and my endeavours shall be to deserve it.
May God ever guide and direct our actions, that they may always be in accordance with the desire of being acceptable to him!
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTICE OF THE AUTHOR.
MANASSEH BEN ISRAEL, the author of this learned work, was a Portuguese Jew, having been born in Lisbon, in the year 1605. His father fled from that city to avoid the persecution of the Inquisition, by which tribunal he had twice been examined and released. Being again seized and incarcerated in its prison, ne escaped by scaling its walls, succeeded in secretly leaving Portugal, and settled at Amsterdam.
At this period Manasseh must have been very young; for his Hebrew education commenced in the latter city, under the tuition of R. Isaac Uzieli, on whose death he succeeded to the posts his preceptor had held. He made such astonishing progress in his studies, that at the early age of seventeen, he began to compose his Hebrew Grammar, under the title of "The Pure Lip," which was circulated only in manuscript.
His great abilities procured his admission into the Hebrew College of Amsterdam, and the appointment of Preacher to the Synagogue of that city, when only eighteen years of age. Shortly after, he married Rachel Soeiro, a relative of the Abarbanel family, by whom he had two sons and a daughter. Το increase the means of providing for his family, he entered into business with his brother-in-law, Ephraim Soeiro, who went to the Brazils.
Manasseh remained at Amsterdam pursuing his studies, and became a proficient in the Arabic, Greek, Latin, Spanish, and Portuguese languages, which he wrote with elegance and fluency. His literary fame procured him the esteem of the learned throughout Europe, with many of whom he was in regular correspondence.
He states, in one of his prefaces, that he was acquainted with ten languages; a knowledge rarely attained even in the present enlightened age.
In 1632, in his twenty-seventh year, he published the present volume—a lasting monument of his deep research and profound knowledge; not alone of Hebrew literature, but of his general acquaintance with ancient profane authors, and many of the early Christian writers, from whose works he makes numerous quotations.