Joseph Ben-chija

Joseph ben-Chija (in the Talmud simply styled Rabbi Joseph), one of the greatest of Israel's Rabbis, was born in Babylon about A.D. 270. Rabbi Joseph was a disciple of Jehudah ben-Jecheskel, the founder and president of the college at Pumbadita, and a fellow student and intimate lifelong friend of the celebrated Rabba ben-Nachmani, commonly called Rabba, the reputed author of the Midrash Rabba, or the traditional commentary on Genesis, whom he succeeded in the presidency at Pumbadita about A.D. 330. He died, however, only three years after (about A.D. 333). Joseph deserves our notice not so much from his connection with the school at Pumbadita, which, though brief, was yet of marked benefit to the development of Biblical scholarship at that center of Jewish learning, as for his Chaldee versions of the Hebrew Scriptures (i.e. the Psalms, Proverbs, and Job), particularly of the Hagiographa, of which alone the authorship can be ascribed to him with any certainty (comp. the Rabbinic Bibles). Some Jewish critics credit him with a version of the whole O. Test.; and, indeed, from passages quoted in the Talmud (comp. Moed Kafon, 26. a; Pesachim, 68, a; Menachoth, 110, a; Jama, 32, b; 77, b; Aboda Sara, 44, a; Kiddushin, 13, a; 72, b; Nedarim, 38, a; Baba Kanma, 3, b; Berachoth, 28, a) from a paraphrase with which he is accredited, it would appear that he translated Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hoses, Amos, Obadiah, Zephaniah, and Zechariah, since these passages, are from these books, and are distinctly cited with the declaration כדמתיגםרב יוסŠ, "as R. Joseph has rendered it into Chaldee." These renderings are, however, almost exactly those given in the Targum of Jonathan ben-Uzziel (a fact which has led some to suppose that this Targum ascribed to Jonathan is in reality Joseph's); and he himself even declared on several occasions, when discussing the meaning of a difficult passage in the Scriptures, "If we had not the Targum on this passage we should not know what it means" (see Sanhedrim, 94, a; Moed Katon, 28, b; Megilla, 3, a). It is therefore unreasonable to suppose him to have himself actually rendered into Chaldee more than the Hagiographa contained (with a Latin version) in the Polyglots of Antwerp (1572), Paris (1645), London (1657), etc. In his day, Joseph b.-Chija must have enjoyed a very enviable reputation for erudition. His knowledge of traditional lore is said to have been so extensive that he was surnamed, both in Palestine and Babylon, Joseph of Sinai, i.e. one acquainted with all the traditions in succession since the giving of the law on Sinai (Horajoth, 14, a; Sanhedrim, 42, a). One of his favorite studies was the Cabalistic Theosophy, the mysteries of which, being contained in the vision of Ezekiel respecting the throne of God (מעשה מרכבה), he endeavored to propound (Chagiga, 18, a). See Bartolocci, Bibliotheca Magna Rabbinica, 3, 814; Wolf, Bibliotheca Hebroea, 2, 1171 sq.; Zunz, Die Gottesdienstlichen Vorträge der Juden, p. 65, etc.; Fürst, Kultur und Literaturgesch. der Juden in Asien, p. 144-155; Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, 4, 408 sq., 553 sq.; Ersch u. Gruber's Allgemeine Encoyklopaidie, sec. 2, vol. 31, p. 75; Etheridge, Introd. to Heb. Lit. p. 165 sq.; Kitto, Bibl. Cyclop. s.v.

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