Boo the Cat. 1987-2002.
Alexander Ross (1652) Arcana Microcosmi, Book II, Chapter 12, pp. 161-165.
1. The Picture of Jephtha, sacrificing his daughter maintained. 2. The Baptist wore a Camels skin. 3. Other pictures, as of S. Christopher, S. George, &c. defended. 4. The antiquity, distinction and continuance of the Hebrew tongue, of the Samaritans, and their Letters.
THe picture of Jephtha sacrificing his daughter; is questioned by the Doctor (5 Book c. 14, 15, 16, &c.)1 because (saith he) she died not a natural but a civil kind of death. Answ. Indeed her death was neither natural nor civil, but violent, being sacrificed by her father. This he denieth, because she bewailed her virginity, not her death. Answ. She had no reason to bewaile her death, to which she freely offered herself; but to die childlesse deserved lamentation, because that was a curse among the Israelites. 2. Because the women went yearly to talk with Jephtha's daughter, which had she been sacrificed they could not have done. Answ. The word Letannoth from Tanaw, signifieth to lament, and so it is rendered drenein, by the Seventy; and Leallaah by the Chaldee Paraphrast; so it is interpreted by Munster, by the old Latin Edition, by the French and English translation. But suppose the word were derived from Tanah, to declare or speak, yet this will not prove Jephtha's daughter was alive: For in mournfull complaints and lamentations over the dead, words and Elegies were oftentimes epxressed, and Prosopoeia's are used to them as if they were alive; as we see David's Lamentation for Jonathan, and in other places both of sacred and profane writ. So did that sorrowful mother speak to her dead son Euvlatus; and Aeneas, to dead Pallos in the Poet. 3. Because it is said in the Text, And she knew no man, he inferred, that virginity was her onely death. Answer. These words, she knew no man, are added to shew the cause why the women so much lamented herr death, in that she died childlesse. 4. The offering (saith he) of mankind was against the law of God. Answ. True: But will it therefore follow, that Jephtha did not sacrifice his daughter. He may as well infer, that David committed not adultery and murther, because these were against the Law of God. How often are Gods Laws violated by the best of his servants? 5. He thinks the Priests and people would have hindred this sacrifice; and that Jephtha was no Priest; and that he had evasion for his vow by redeeming his daughter; and that his vow of Sacrifice was to be understood only of that which was sacrificeable and lawfull. Answ. These are but the conjectures of those who would defend Jephtha: for it is more likely neither Priest nor people durst oppose his resolution, being now strong and crowned with victory; and though he was no priest, yet it was no unusual thing for Princes and great Commanders sometimes to perform the Priests office;2 and though he might have evaded his vow, yet it seems he knew not so much, for superstition had blinded him: therefore he saith, I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot go back. And doubtless he thought that the sacrificing of his daughter was lawfull; grounding this his conceit upon Gods command to Abraham, and commendation of him for his readiness to sacrifice his son. Lastly, he saith, the 31 verse may be thus rendred, It shall be the Lords; or I will offer. Answ. Most Translations have it, and I will offer; although the Hebrew, Ve, sometimes signifies Or; but this is seldom. Hence then we see, the Painter is not to be blamed who in representing Jephtha's sacrifice, is warranted by the Scripture, by Austin, Ambrose, and Hierom, by the ancient Rabbins and Josephus, besides reasons. For what needed Jephtha so to vex himself, and tear his cloathes, if he meant only to sequester his daughter from marriage and humane society?3 Again, there was neither Law nor President for him to vow his daughter's virginity; nor could such a vow be effectual without her consent. It was a curse also in Israel to be childless, and it had been ridiculous in him or her, to vow virginity and then lament it.
II. He excepts against the picture of John Baptist, because he is painted in a Camels skin, whereas the text saith his garment was of Camels hair.4 Answ. It was fit the Baptist, who came to preach repentance for sin, should wear a garment of skin, which was the first clothes that Adam wore after he had sinned; for his fig-leaves were not proper, and this garment also shewed both his poverty and humility: For as great men wear rich skins, and costly furs, he was contented with a Camels skin. By this garment also he shewes himself to be another Elijah, (2 Kings.) who did wear such a garment,5 and to be one of those of whom the Apostle speaks, who went about in skins, of whom the world was not worthy. Neither was it unusefull in Johns time, and before, to wear skins; for the prophets among the Jews, the Philosophers among the Indians, and generally the Scythians did wear skins; hence by Claudian they are called Pellita juventus. Great Commanders also used to wear them; as Hercules the Lyons skin, Acestes the Bears,6 Camilla the Tigers.7 Johns garment then of Camels hair, was not as some fondly conceit, a Sack-cloth, or Chamblet, but a skin with the hair on it. So in Exodus (Chap. 25.) the people are commanded among other skins, to bring to the Tabernacle Goats hair: not as if they were to pluck off the hair for Aaron, and keep the skins to themselves, but to offer both: therefore in the originall Hairs is not expressed, but the word Goats.8
III. In some subsequent Chapters the Doctor questions the pictures of S. Christopher carrying Christ over the river, of Saint George on Horse-back killing the Dragon, of S. Jerom with a clock hanging by, of Mermaids, Unicorns, and some others, with some Hieroglyphick pictures of the Ægyptians. In this he doth luctari cum larvis, and with Æneas in the Poet,9
Irruit & frustra ferro diverberat umbras.
He wrastles with shadows: for he may as well question all the Poetical fictions, all the sacred Parables, all tropicall speeches; also Scutchions, or Coats of Armes, signes hanging out at dores, where he will finde blew Boars, white Lions, black Swans, double-headed Eagles, and such like, devised onely for distinction.10 The like devices are in military Engines. Felix Prince of Salernum had for his device, a Tortoyse with wings flying, with this Motto, Amor addidit; intimating, that love gives wings to the slowest spirits. Lewis of Anjou, King of Naples, gave for his device, a hand out of the clouds, holding a pair of scales, with this Motto, Æqua durant semper. Henry the first of Portugal, had a flying Horse for his Device. A thousand such conceits I could alledge, which are symbolical, and therefore it were ridiculous to question them, as if they were historicall. As for the Cherubims, I find four different opinions: 1. some write they were Angels in the form of birds. 2. Aben Ezra thinks the word Cherub signifieth any shape or form. 3. Josephus will have them to be winged animals; but never seen by any. 4. The most received opinion is, that they had the shape of children: for Rub in Hebrew, and Rabe in Chaldee, signifieth a child; and Che, as: So then, Cherub signifieth, as a child, and it's most likely they were painted in this form.11
IV. For the Doctors questioning divers superstitious observations, (5. book, c. 22.) as the crossing of a Hare, the breaking of Eggshels, and such like: I have nothing to say, but to conclude with him, that they are superstitious, yet ancient. But when he asks, 12 whether the present Hebrew be the unconfounded language of Babel. I answer, That if by the present Hebrew he mean the language which they now speak, it is not: for as the greatest part of the world lost that tongue (except Hebers family) at the confusion of Babel, so Hebers family (the Jewes) lost it themselves in the captivity of Babel; for being mingled with the Chaldeans, they made a mixt language of Hebrew and Chaldee, which for distinction sake was called Syriac; and sometimes Hebrew, because the Jewes, Hebers posterity, spake it. Hence S. Hierom is to be understood when he writes, that Matthew penned the gospel in Hebrew,13 and Eusebius when he calls it his native language, they mean the Siriac, which was now the language of the Hebrewes; and S. Paul in the Acts is said to have made a speech to the people in Hebrew,14 the meaning is, he spake in Syriac; for they understood not the ancient Hebrew, onely the Priests and Lawyers kept the knowledge of it. Therefore it had been in vain for Matthew to write his Gospel, or for Paul to speak in pure Hebrew to those that understood it not; yet there is an Hebrew Gospel of S. Matthew extant, which some think was written by S. Bartholomew and by Pantæus, coetaneal with Origen brought from the Indies; this imperfect and torn Copie, Munster saith he extorted from the Jewes.15 But if his question be whether that Hebrew text now extant, be the ancient Hebrew tongue before the confusion; I answer It is: for though the Jewes lost their ancient language in respect of speaking and use, yet the Bible was carefully retained in the true Hebrew without any alteration, save onely in the Characters or Letters, which about the captivity were changed by Esdras, as Hierom (de emendit. temp. p. 621.) Joseph Scaliger, Joh. Drusius Casper Waserus, lib. 2. of his old Hebrew coin, and Sethus Calvitius in his Chronological Isagoge witnesseth, that this was done by Esdras to debar all commerce with the Samaritans, not the Israelites, which were long before carried away by Salmanasser; who also were called samaritans from their chiefe Citie Samaria, but I understand that rable of Nations which Salmanasser brought in to possesse the Israelites lands. These with so many of the ancient Samaritans or Israelites as remained in the land, retained the ancient Hebrew characters in which the Law was given by Moses; and these letters for for distinctions sake were named Samaritan; and those of Esdras called Hebrew, and square from their form. Some ancient coins, as Sicles, have been found with Samaritan characers on them, which shew this difference. The form of these letters may be seen in the Samaritan Alphabets. As these Samaritan retained the ancient characters, so they did the ancient Pentateuch of Moses, and no more. Now that Hebers posterity retained their language without mixture after the Flood, is proved by Austin out of Jerome out of the Hebrew Names given to the creatures before the Flood. It stood also with reason that Hebers family should not be partakers of the worlds punishment in this confusion of tongues, seeing they were not guilty of their sins.
1. Pseudodoxia Epidemica V.14. (Ross's other references, 15, 16 "&c.", are to parts of Pseudodoxia he will answer later in the chapter.)
2. It is to be noted that Ross does not give an example of this. There is no example in the Bible of a "Prince" or "great Commander" who is disqualified for the priesthood performing the office of priest.
3. And yet Ross said above that it is perfectly reasonable that the daughter should be more upset over her childless condition than over her death.
4. Pseudodoxia V. 15. Ross's observations are specious and unwarranted by the text, either of Browne or of the Bible; indeed, they support the position that skins are not involved, in their invokement of the various direct statements that certain humans are wearing skins. The argument of "fitness" that is, the statement that the desiderated conclusion is in accord with the prejudice of the author is to be disregarded, like the arguments of, say, Namier or Stanley Fish.
5. In 2 Kings 1:8, Elijah is said to be an hairy man, girt with a girdle of leather.
6. According to Virgil. Aeneid V:37.
7. Camilla, who is fictional, was also raised on the milk of mares and suckled on the dugs of bears and other wild beasts, and could thus have been brought up earlier. On the tiger-skin, worn instead of clothes and attached to her head, see Virgil: Aen. XI: 577. It must have been quite a sight.
8. Exodus 25:4. The word "hair" is supplied by the translator and does not occur in the original. "Skins" is suggested by the following item; thus, "goats' ... and rams' skins". This example supports Browne.
9. Virgil Aen. IX, more or less. On the various items discussed by Browne, see Book V, Chapters 16 to 18; on the various minor points mermaids, spiders, cherubim, etc. see chapter 19. It may be worth pointing out, as we do in every chapter, that Browne is more interested in the origin of error than in its correction; and that "error" is a very broad term.
10. Had he done so, Ross would no doubt have provided proofs of the existence of all of them. Such signs are not "errors" because they are regarded only as signs unlike, say, St. Christopher or St. George, who are, or are felt to be, historical figures and proper objects of veneration. This passage is one of the clearest examples of Ross's complete incomprehension both of Browne's motives and of his procedure. However, to judge from what is coming, Ross must have got his hands on a book of emblems, and we cannot (much) begrudge him his new toy.
11. This is an unlikely etymology. They are indeed commonly depicted as children (or as children's heads) with two or four wings. But the cherubim attached to the Ark were ten cubits high, and must have looked monstrous: imagine a winged baby doll thirty of forty feet high.
12. In Pseudodoxia V.23.
13. Probably, although it is certainly possible that he wrote in "real" Hebrew, whose use, although practically dead in the vernacular, survived in liturgical situations. St. Jerome, in particular, learned Biblical Hebrew and is unlikely to have confounded Hebrew and Aramaic.
14. Acts 21-22.
15. The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew is usually considered to be a 14th-century work by one "Shem-Tob", but a substantial and erudite minority believes it, mostly on linguistic grounds, to be an earlier work, possibly as early as the late first or second centuries. Munster's is one of the two major manuscripts of the work.
This page is by James Eason