Abrabanel, Isaac

, a famous rabbi, was born at Lisbon in 1437,. of a family who boasted their descent from king David. He raised himself considerably at the court. of Alphonso V. king of Portugal, and was honoured with very high offices, which he enjoyed till this prince’s death; but, upon his decease, he felt a strange reverse of fortune under the new king. Abrabanei. was in his 45th year, when John II. succeeded his father Alphonso. All those who had any share in the administration of the preceding reign were discarded: and, if we give credit to our rabbi, their death was secretly resolved, under the pretext of their having formed a design to give up the crown of Portugal to the king of Spain. Abrabanei, however, suspecting nothing, in obedience to the order he received to attend his majesty, set out for Lisbon with all expedition; but having, on his journey, heard of what was plotting against his life, fled immediately to his Castilian majesty’s dominions. A party of soldiers were dispatched after him, with orders to bring him dead or alive: however, he made his escape, but his possessions were confiscated. On this occasion he lost all his books; and also the beginning of his Commentary upon the book of Deuteronomy, which he much regretted. Some writers affirm, that the cause of his disgrace at this time was wholly owing to his bad behaviour; and they are of the same opinion in regard to the other persecutions which he afterwards suffered. They affirm that he would have been treated with greater severity, had not king John contented himself with banishing him. They add that by negociating bills of exchange (which was the business he followed in Castile), he got introduced at the court of Ferdinand and Isabella: that he amassed prodigious wealth, by practising the usual tricks and frauds of the Jewish people, that he oppressed the poor, and by usury made a prey of every thing; that he had the vanity to aspire at the most illustrious titles, such as the noblest houses in Spain could hardly attain, and that being a determined enemy of the Christian religion, he was the principal cause of that storm which fell upon him and the rest of his nation. Of the truth of all this, some doubt may be entertained. That he amassed prodigious wealth seems not very probable, as immediately on his settling in Castile, he began to teach and write. In 1484, he wrote his “Commentary upon the books of Joshua, Judges, and Samuel.” Being afterwards sent for to the court of | Ferdinand and Isabel, he was advanced to preferment; which he enjoyed till 1492, when the Jews were driven out of the Spanish dominions. He used his utmost endeavours to avert this dreadful storm; but all proved ineffectual; so that he and all his family were obliged to quit the kingdom, with the rest of the Jews. He retired to Naples; and, in 1493, wrote his “Commentary on the books of the Kings.” Having been bred a courtier, he did not neglect to avail himself of the knowledge he had acquired at the courts of Portugal and Arragon, so that he soon ingradated himself into the favour of Ferdinand king of Naples, and afterwards into that of Alphonso. He followed the fortune of the latter, accompanying him into Sicily, when Charles VIII. the French king, drove him from Naples. Upon the death of Alphonso he retired to the island of Corfu, where he began his “Commentary on Isaiah” in 1495; and, about this time, he had the good fortune to find what he had written on the book of Deuteronomy. The following year he returned to Italy, and went to Monopoli in Apulia, where he wrote several books. In 1496 he finished his “Commentary on Deuteronomy;” and also composed his “Sevach Pesach,” and his “Nachalath Avoth.” In the succeeding year he wrote his “Majene Hajeschua;” and in 1498 his “Maschmia Jeschua,” and his “Commentary on Isaiah.” Some time after, he went to Venice, to settle, the disputes betwixt the Venetians and Portuguese relating to the spice trade; and on this occasion he displayed so much prudence and capacity, that he acquired the favour and esteem of both those powers. In 1504 he wrote his “Commentary on Jeremiah;” and, according to some authors, his “Commentary on Ezekiel, and the twelve minor propnets.” In 1506 he composed his “Commentary on Exodus;” and died at Venice in 1508, in the 71st year of his age. Several of the Venetian nobles, and all the principal Jews, attended his funeral with great pomp. His corpse was interred at Padua, in a burial-place without the city. Abrabanel wrote several other pieces, besides what we have mentioned, the dates of which are not settled, and some have not been printed. The following list appears in the Leipsic Journal (Nov. 1686), and is probably correct: 1. “Commentaries on Genesis, Leviticus, and Numbers.” 2. “Rach Amana.” 3. “Sepher Jeschuoth Moschici, a treatise on the traditions relating to the Messiah.” 4. | Zedek Olammim, upon future rewards and punishments.” 5. “Sepher Jemoth Olam, a history from the time of Adam.” 6. “Maamer Machase Schaddai, a treatise on prophecy and the vision of Ezekiel, against rabbi Mainionides.” 7. “Sepher Atereth Sekenim.” 8. “Miphaloth Elohirn, works of God.” 9. “Sepher Schamaim Chadaschim.” 10. “Labakath Nebhiim.” His “Commentary on Haggai” was translated into Latin by Adam Sherzerus, and inserted in the Trifolium Orientale, published in Leipsic in 1663, where his “Commentary on Joshua, Judges, and Samuel,” was also printed in 1686, folio. In this same year his “Annotations on Hosea,” with a preface on the twelve minor prophets, were translated into French by Francis ab Husen, and published at Leyden. In 1683, Mr. de Veil, a converted Jew, published at London Abrabanel’s preface to Leviticus. His commentaries on the Scriptures, especially those on the prophets, are filled with so much rancour against our Saviour, the church, the pope, the cardinals, the whole clergy, and all Christians in general, but in a particular manner against the Roman catholics, that father Bartolocci was desirous the Jews should be forbid the perusal of them. And he tells us that they were accordingly not allowed to read or to keep in their houses Abrabanel’s commentaries on the latter prophets. He was a man of so great a genius, that most persons have equalled him, and some even preferred him, to the celebrated Maimonides. The Jews set a high value upon what he has written to refute the arguments and objections of the Christians; and the latter, though they hold in contempt what he has advanced upon this head, yet allow great merit in his other performances, wherein he gives many proofs of genius, learning, and penetration. He does not blindly follow the opinions of his superiors, but censures their mistakes with great freedom. The persecutions of the Jews, under which he had been a considerable sufferer, affected him to a very great degree; so that the remembrance of it worked up his indignation, and made him inveigh against the Christians in the strongest terms. There is hardly one of his books where he has omitted to shew his resentment, and desire of revenge; and whatever the subject may be, he never fails to bring in the distressed condition of the Jews. He was most assiduous in his studies, in which he would spend whole nights, and would fast for a considerable time. He had a | great facility in writing; and though he discovered an implacable hatred to the Christians in his compositions, yet, when in company with them, he behaved with great politeness, and would be very cheerful in conversation. 1


Gen. Dict.—Moreri.—Simon Crit. Hist.