|Vol. II, No. 1
Nissan 5604, April 1844
The Jews in China.
But, perhaps, no class of men felt greater concern in the event than the laborious biblical critics of that time. To them the finding of some of that nation "to whom were committed the oracles of God," yet supposed to be of too ancient a separation to be cognizant of either the Samaritan, Septuagint, or Masoretic texts of the Old Testament, yet still guarding their copies of the law of Moses, was a circumstance most pregnant with hopeful interest, and the more a matter of anxiety as these Israelites were represented as almost ceasing to subsist, and there was great possibility that with the failure of Hebrew reading, consequent on the adoption of a novel creed, the manuscripts themselves might be suffered to perish. The subject was referred to in the Prolegomena (iii. § 41) of Walton's Polyglot Bible, and in the preface to Jablonski's Hebrew Bible (§ 38), and further information as to the text of the Chinese copies of the Pentateuch was ardently desired.
A fuller account was afterwards received from Father Gozani, dated Kae-fung-foo, November, 1704, and published in 1707.* During this interval of more than sixty years' residence in the same city, with the only known Synagogue in China, no intercourse had taken place between the missionaries and them, beyond one visit from Rodriguez de Figueredo, and another from Christian Enriquez, but who had shown no curiosity to inspect the Hebrew books, and had made no report on the subject to their superiors; the fact that they had made any visit was only learned by Gozani from the people of the Synagogue. It is true that the Jesuits had found abundant occupation in their direct duties, in political intrigues, and in disputes with their rivals of the monkish orders, but for these latter employments the wise and the learned in Europe had but little cause to thank them.
From the communication of Gozani, it appears that in 1702 he had intended to visit the Taou-kin-keaou, i. e., "the sect who cut out the sinew," as the Israelites were expressly designated, but was deterred by some imaginary obstacles, and by the real difficulty in his ignorance of the Hebrew language, but had resumed the task two years afterwards in obedience to instructions sent from Rome. He commenced by advancing certain civilities; in return they visited him; and then he proceeded to their Synagogue (Le-pae-sze), the distance being only that of a few streets, where he found them assembled. They showed him their religious books, and even led him to the most sacred part of the edifice, to which only the rabbi (Chang-keaou) has right of access. With great politeness they gave him all the explanations he requested as to their Scriptures, their history, and their religious ceremonies. On the walls he perceived inscriptions both in Chinese and Hebrew: these they permitted him to copy, and he despatched the copies with his letter to Rome. The whole reception testified that the unfriendliness of the last half century between the neighbours was not attributable to the Israelite community.
The curiosity of Europeans being only the more excited from this narrative, as there still remained much to learn, at the instance of Souciet, who was compiling a large work upon the Bible, the missionaries Gozani, Domenge, and Gaubil, were successively directed to procure additional particulars on this subject, which they did. Domenge sketched a plan of the Synagogue, and Gaubil copied afresh the inscriptions upon its walls. Shortly after the last of these visits, in 1723, the missionaries were expelled from that province by the Emperor Yong-ching.
An effort was afterwards made by the celebrated Kennicott, of Oxford, to obtain a collation of their Scriptures with our copies, when Sir F. Pigou, being on his way to Canton, carried out for him a printed Hebrew Bible of Amsterdam edition; but the only result has been a letter received in 1769, from a friend there, promising to exert himself for the purpose, and stating that the titular bishop of the province was willing to render his assistance.
The learned Tychsen, upon two later occasions, in 1777 and 1779, forwarded letters to friends in Batavia, addressed to the Synagogue of Kae-fung-foo, but no information has been returned as to their having even reached China.
In 1815, the year previous to the last embassy from England to the Celestial Empire, some Jews of London had despatched a letter in Hebrew to Canton for this Synagogue. It was conveyed thence by a travelling bookseller of the Ho-nan province. He delivered it at Kae-fung-foo, to a person whom he found to understand the letter perfectly, and who promised to answer it in a few days, but the bearer taking alarm at a rumour of civil war, left the place without waiting for the reply.*
The recent missionaries from England have learned nothing concerning this colony, only in 1816 Dr. Morrison heard of them from a Mohammedan near Pe-king,* as subsisting in Kae-fung-foo under their old name of "the religion of cutting out the sinew," an appellation so appropriately Jewish, that no other people than descendants of Jacob could even assign a reason for its origin, if they were to assume the name for any purpose.
Proceeding, then, from the information given by the Jesuits already mentioned, the account in the following chapters of the Synagogue, Scriptures, inscriptions, &c., must be understood only of Kae-fung-foo, and upon the statements there detailed must be based the after-inquiry, as to whether the people are Jews or Israelites, that is, whether emigrants from the Assyrian captivity or the Roman dispersion.