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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 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 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
Then there was Rabbi state of Europe at the time of the Pethachia, of Ratisbon, who jourCrusades can only be dimly inferred neyed in the middle of that cenfrom 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 disdoughty 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 centravellers 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 periodjis 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 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 resiand 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
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
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