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Jewish Research Academy Holds Its Annual Meeting

December 27, 1928
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Professor Margolis Presents Plan for Authoritative Bible Text

The annual meeting of the American Academy for Jewish Research was held last night at the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York. In the absence of the president, Prof. Louis Ginzberg, who is now in Palestine, the meeting was opened by the acting president, Prof. Alexander Marx of the Jewish Theological Seminary, who pointed out the progress realized in all fields of humanistic studies through the activities of great academies and emphasized the need of such an organization to advance Jewish learning. He recommended an active campaign to secure new members and patrons of the Academy, to initiate scientific undertakings on a comprehensive scale.

Prof. Max L. Margolis of Dropsie College presented a paper entitled: “A Plan for an Authoritative Edition of the Hebrew Text of the Scriptures.” He pointed out that the Hebrew text of the Scriptures, or the Masoretic text, in the editions commonly used, is unreliable in matters pertaining to vowels and accents, both often bearing on the sense. The better editions for the most part hark back to a text printed in the early part of the sixteenth century, which, despite the learning of the editor, was based on late manuscripts.

“Today we possess a larger number of manuscripts than were known to the two Christian scholars who published the variant readings of the then known manuscripts at the end of the eighteenth century. We can improve on the sixteenth century edition by taking in a larger array of witnesses, by studying the various schools, in the main by using strict philological methods which neither Baer nor Ginsburg, in the nineteenth century, fully possessed,” Prof. Margolis stated.

The plan calls for the immediate publication of a Catalogue of extant manuscripts, whether complete or incomplete or merely in fragments, both in public institutions and in private hands; for an assembly of a large number of them, in photographs, at a central place; for a complete excerption of masoretic notes on their margin; for a critical edition of the Masorah, such as Ginsburg’s is not; for a study and appraisal of the manuscripts; for an assembly of all matters bearing on the text cited in the name of lost monuscripts or contained in mediaeval Jewish writings; for an effort to ascend to the text current in the Babylonian and Palestinian schools antedating the tenth century.

The plan contemplates a body of forty young scholars in Europe, Asia and America working for ten years under the direction of a general head whose duty shall be ultimately to prepare the new authoritative edition.

The Catholics are preparing a new critical edition of their Vulgate, which is to supersede the editions of the end of the sixteenth century. It should be a matter of honor for the Jewish people to present to the world an edition of the original text of the Hebrew Scriptures which shall answer to the erudition of the age, and in the preparation of which Christian as well as Jewish scholars should be invited to cooperate. It must be an undertaking truly international and interconfessional. It should be a great privilege for American Jews to provide the leadership and the necessary capital, Prof. Margolis declared.

Prof. H. H. Wolfson of Harvard University in his paper showed that the hypothetico-deductive method of exact and literal interpretation of texts which is characteristic of Talmudic reasoning is to be employed in the study of the work of mediaeval Jewish philosophers.

Prof. S. Baron of the Jewish Institute of Religion, New York, in discussing “Jost the Historian,” recalled that the year 1928 marks the hundredth anniversary of the completion of the first History of the Jews, from the origins to our own age, written by a Jew in modern times.

Although imperfect in many regards, Jost’s work was fundamental for the further development of both, Jewish historical research and Jewish historiography in the following century. Jost himself in his later works improved his method considerably and in particular the last volumes of his Jewish History “Die neueste Geschichte,” etc., however antiquated in details, remain of permanent value until today. In his method he was much more related to the historiography of the period of Enlightment than to the romantic movement in the historical literature of his own time. The most striking similarities as well as divergencies can be shown in a comparison with two of his prominent contemporaries, with Niebuhr, the historian of Rome, and Neander, the Jewish-born historian of the Church.

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