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THE TRAVELS OF RABBI BENJAMIN OF TUDELA.
It is a curious fact that, while we away the whole as useless. Those are fairly well acquainted with the were days when accurate knowledge geography of the ancient world, was not so easily acquired, when and still better with that of modern verbal information had to be largely times, dating from the Reforma- relied on, and the result was a tion, a great blank occurs in our strange commingling of fiction and knowledge about the period of the fact. Middle Ages. The downfall of the Besides Marco Polo, the name of Roman Empire and the occupation Abdallatif is familiar as an of Western Europe by barbarous Egyptian traveller to whom we owe nations, ignorant of even the ele. the narrative of the failure that ments of civilised life, extinguished occurred in the Nile inundations all scientific research. Many cen towards the end of the twelfth turies elapsed before geography, century, when for a time canwhich had to share the fate of the nibalism was practised in the other sciences, was revived. The Delta. Then there was Rabbi state of Europe at the time of the Pethachia, of Ratisbon, who jour. Crusades can only be dimly inferred neyed in the middle of that cen. from the romantic narratives and tury. Pethachia was probably a chronicles of the period that deal rich man, impelled to travel by with the valiant deeds of the a strong desire to visit his dis. doughty knights. Travellers for tant brethren and the graves of the business were probably but few in Hebrew saints, an object quite in those days; travellers for pleasure accordance with the spirit of the still fewer, if they existed at all; day. His narrative, which has and such as there were were in all come down to us much mutilated probability illiterate, and hence and abridged, is, for the period, unable to comply with Bacon's copious in description, but his facts primary demand from a traveller, are not always accurate. To Edrisi that he should keep a diary and we owe the first real geographical register his observations.
treatise, written for Roger II., King The most notable of all mediæval of Sicily, and which for three cen. travellers is, of course, Marco Polo turies formed the basis of all geoWe should certainly have been graphical knowledge. We have great losers had he not recorded only one more name to add, that of his adventures at the court of Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, and Kublai Khan, and we have at the scanty record of the period is length passed the ignorant stage substantially closed. Perhaps of that sneers at or rejects all that all these travellers the name of this seems strange and unwonted as Jew is the least familiar-certainly mere fiction. We have learnt to not as familiar as that of Marco sift the valuable grain from the Polo, with whose narrative his chaff without arrogantly tossing Itinerary presents some striking
similarities, though he lived before The Jewish congregation of him, and was consequently the first Tudela, a little town on the Ebro, European who penetrated so far had even actively asserted their eastward.
equality with the Christians and It is presumed by scholars that Mahommedans of the place, and this Itinerary of Rabbi Ben- possessed a military tower for their jamin shared the fate of Marco proper security. Rabbi Benjamin Polo's travels in being abridged was a native of this town, and his from the original journal by copy. birth must certainly have occurred ists and translators, and since no in the early part of the twelfth complete and genuine MS. has as century. The object of his travels yet been discovered, we are obliged is never stated by him, but it was to content ourselves with those that probably of a mercantile character. exist, fragmentary and imperfect His descriptions are such as a though they are. The work, which sober merchant, voyaging for his was well known to the learned in business, but observing besides, the thirteenth, fourteenth, and would be likely to give. This view fifteenth centuries, and had gained is further confirmed by the accucredit among Jews and Christians, racy with which he notices the was never printed until the six- state of trade in the various places teenth century, when an edition he visits. Besides this, it is very appeared at Constantinople, printed evident that Rabbi Benjamin
-as it had been written-in the endeavoured to become acquainted Rabbinic character. This edition is with the state of his brethren in extremely rare; the Bodleian pos the countries through which he sesses an incomplete copy. In the passed. He sought out all the seventeenth century the work was Jewish synagogues, and has retranslated into Latin, and since corded the names of the various then into French, English, Dutch rabbis, the principal Jewish resi. and German. Probably few general dents, and the number of their readers have taken the trouble to congregations. Hence his narrative peruse the quaint, brief utterances contains the fullest account extant of this ancient Spanish Jew; and of the state of the Jews in the yet his narrative, for all the narrow twelfth century. He is accused, space in which its information is on insufficient grounds, of having compressed, by no means lacks overstated these numbers for the interest, and will, we hope, be found purpose of glorifying his nation, to repay analysis.
and the fidelity of his work has The first object of interest to us been impugned as having been is naturally the writer himself. written only for the purpose of Little is known about him, and celebrating his own people. That only by inference from the events the writer was a pious Hebrew is named by him can we fix the exact very obvious, and a fact he never date of his visit to various cities. even attempts or seeks to disguise ; He was a Spaniard, and lived but why this fact should invalidate before the Jews were persecuted the veracity of a very plain, and oppressed in the name of straightforward, and unimaginacharity and love; indeed, in his tive Jewish merchant is not so day the Jews held a respected obvious. It is highly probable position in Christian Spain. They that with his commercial objects filled posts of honour and were he combined a curiosity similar to permitted to bear arms and rank that of the Chinese traveller Faas knights.
Hian, who early in the seventh
century visited India to investigate Rabbi Benjamin, that we might the condition of his Buddhist co- even have remained ignorant of religionists. We do not, therefore, his name, but for a preface written doubt his geographical accuracy, by some later hand, whose authenwhenever he turns aside to make ticity has never been doubted. It any statement of this nature. As embodies all known to us of our Gibbon justly remarks, “ The traveller. errors and fictions of the Jewish “ This book,"* so runs the prerabbi are not a sufficient ground face, “ contains the report of Rabbi to deny the reality of his travels." Benjamin, the son of Jonah of Moreover, Rabbi Benjamin is par- blessed memory, of Tudela in the ticularly remarkable for his cau- kingdom of Navarre. This man tion; and it is here that the con- travelled through many and distant trast between him and Pethachia, countries, as related in this account, between the commercial traveller and wrote down in every place and the tourist, is so amusingly whatever he saw or what was told marked, in parts where they have him by men of integrity, whose traversed the same ground. So names were known in Spain. Rabbi cautious indeed is Rabbi Ben Benjamin also mentions some of jamin, that he draws a careful dis- the principal men in the places he tinction between “ what he heard” visited, and when he returned he and “what he saw.” Considering brought this report along with him the state of knowledge at the time to the land of Castile in the year when he wrote, the marvel is not 933 (1173). at the fables and fictions that have “ The above-mentioned Rabbi crept into his narrative, but that Benjamin was a man of wisdom and these are so few and that the whole understanding, and of much inforis distinguished by such accuracy mation; and, after strict inquiry, and sobriety.
his words were found to be true It has been computed that the and correct, for he was a true man." Itinerary refers to a period extend Then follows the diary: ing over about fourteen years, “I first set out from the city of falling between the second and Saragossa, and proceeded down the third crusade-probably from 1159 river Ebro to Tortosa," says Rabbi to 1173. Tibet appears to have Benjamin, thus plunging into been the furthest goal of the medias res, and stating neither date rabbi's journey. He probably thus nor mode of conveyance, though in combined the object of a pil. this instance it can be inferred. grimage with his commercial pur That he does not mention his means poses. Jerusalem and Bagdad of locomotion is to be regretted, were to Jews what Mecca is to but he is always careful to tell us the Mahommedan. Jerusalem was how many days' journey the places the city of their hopes, while he visits lie apart. Two days' Bagdad was in those days the seat journey, he tells us, brought him of the last princes of the Jewish from Tortosa to Tarragona, that nation ;' for the eastern Jews at most ancient city of Spain, which is that time enjoyed, to some extent, supposed to have been built by the the right of self-government. Phænicians, and whose Cyclopæan
Now, so mutilated, incomplete, remains evidently impressed the or abridged is the Itinerary of Rabbi, though he only notes down
* We have throughout availed ourselves of A. Asher's translation of the Hebrew tert (London and Berlin, 1840).
the fact of their existence with favour, and the protection of the the unpretentious solemnity that ruler required, in order to shelter characterises his narrative. Two the Israelites from those who were more days brought him to Barce, then, as now, jealous of their supelona. “ The city, though small, is rior wealth. They cannot, howhandsome, and is situated on the ever, have laboured under any seashore. Merchants resort thither crushing restrictions, as was the for goods from all parts of the case in later times. Both at Semel world-from Greece, from Pisa, and Beaucaire the Jews presided Genoa, and Sicily, from Alexandria over a university, where they taught in Egypt, from Palestine and the Scriptural and Talmudic learning ; adjacent countries.” Four days and at Bourg de St. Gilles, a place and a half brings him to Narbonne; of pilgrimage to pious Christians, this journey must have been per- who here visited the shrine of St. formed by sea. Narbonne would Ægidius (St. Giles), a Jew was one appear to have been a place of re- of the household officers of Raypute among the Jews of that time, inond, the Prince of Toulouse, who in consequence of the study of the took so active a part in the Crusades. Law carried on there, which spread We are very fond of vaunting our thence over all countries. Rabbi superior toleration as opposed to Celonymos (honourable name) is that of the dark ages, but when we mentioned as a teacher of great meet with statements like these we distinction, “and a descendant of are forced to pause and consider the house of David,” adds R. whether we have really advanced Benjamin, “as proved by his pedi. so much in this, the greatest of all gree.” This latter addendum is social virtues. characteristic of our author's cau. From Marseilles our author took tion. The weakness of boasting of ship for. Genoa, a journey then of noble descent would appear to be about four days, where he only as old as the world, and Davidites, found two Jewish residents. Genoa or descendants of the house of was at the time engaged in one of David, were naturally held in espe its numerous wars with Pisa. cial reverence as the tribe whence “Pisa,” he tells us, “is of very the Messiah should issue. In con- great extent, containing about ten sequence of exterminating wars and thousand houses, from which war the dispersion, the records of the is carried on in times of civil comold families had been often lost, and motion. All the inhabitants are spurious pedigrees grew by no brave, no king nor prince rules over means uncommon. This man's them, the supreme authority being pedigree seems, however, to have vested in senators chosen by the satisfied R. Benjamin as to its people.” Only twenty Jewish resigenuineness, and a remark he goes dents were discovered here; at on to make concerning him gives a Lucca there were forty, but in striking picture of the political Rome, to which a six days' journey state of the French Jews of that brought our author, matters stood time, which was apparently by no well with his Hebrew brethren. means as favourable as that of their He found two hundred Jews living Spanish brethren. “ This man there, much respected and exempt. holds landed property from the from tribute. Those were not the sovereigns of the country of which days when nobody can deprive him by force.”
“Rome made amends for Calvary ! ” The permission to hold property in land was evidently granted as a the days of the Ghetto, the badge
of shame, or the annual Christian all other buildings on the face of sermon at which the Jews were the earth. The extent of ground driven like cattle to attend, and covered by ruined and inhabited sundry wretched ones suffered Rome amounts to four and twenty themselves to be converted time miles." He then proceeds to after time in consideration of a mention a few of its wonders, and few pieces of silver; Christian finally winds up as though wearied attentions abolished by Pius IX. out, “Rome contains many other These were the days of Pope remarkable buildings and works, Alexander III., the wise and firm the whole of which nobody can pontiff who resisted Frederic enumerate.” The list of those Barbarossa, and supported the which he does enumerate shows Lombard League. He was ex. a quaint mixture of fact ceedingly well disposed towards and absurdity; but in those days the Hebrews; many of them were even Romans knew so little officers in his service, and a Rabbi regarding the monuments of their was actually steward of his house. city, and even the learned, as hold, and minister of his private shown by Gibbon, gave credence property. In the third General to such fantastic myths, that a Council of the Lateran, Alexander charge of excessive credulity can accorded to them yet further hardly be brought against this privileges, notwithstanding some simple Jewish traveller. Besides, obstinate resistance evinced by ought we to say anything, who various divines attending the know how much even the modern assembly. The only restriction tourist absorbs ? R. Benjamin imposed on them was a tells us that, “In the outskirts of prohibition against keeping · Rome is the palace of Titus who Christian servants. No wonder was rejected by three hundred Rabbi Benjamin was pleased at senators in consequence of his the condition of his Roman having wasted three years in the brethren ; no wonder that Jews conquest of Jerusalem, which task, honour the memory of this Pope, according to their will, he ought to and that on his return from the have accomplished in two years.” exile into which he had been Now, the so-named ruins R. forced by the pretension of the Benjamin doubtless saw, and the anti-Pope, they went out in pro. story was told him. He also cession to meet him, bearing flags visited the hall of the palace of and the roll of the law. It would Vespasian ; the “ large place of appear that R. Benjamin's visit worship called St. Peter of Rome, occurred soon after this event and the large palace of Julius
At Rome our author went to Cæsar.” He was shown a cave see some of its sights, besides wherein he was told Titus hid the visiting the Hebrew congregations. vessels of the Temple of Jerusalem, It is not said how long he stayed, and another cave that was said to but his visits in most places were hold the bones of the ten Jewish brief, which once more supports martyrs, teachers of the Mishna, the idea that they were prompted who suffered violent death about by business, and not by pleasure. the time of Hadrian. At San After recording that Rome is Giovanni in Porta Latina he was divided into two parts by the shown the two copper pillars that Tiber, he narrates that “ the city had been constructed by Solomon, contains numerous buildings and whose name they bore engraved, structures entirely different from and the Jews in Rome told him