A Commentary on the New Testament
from the Talmud and Hebraica

John Lightfoot
(1602-1675)

Preface to Geographical Matter

Among all those, who have either published their own chorographical tables of the land of Canaan, or have corrected others,—you can hardly find any, that have consulted with the writers of the Talmud in this matter: whereas, certainly, their consent is by no means in this case to be despised, if, indeed, it be not rather especially to be regarded.

For, besides that they, above all other men, do most curiously inquire of the affairs and of the places of that land,—all the doctors of the Misna, and the Gemarists also of Jerusalem, were inhabitants and dwellers there: and not a few also of those of Babylon well viewed it; eyewitnesses; and who (any reader being judge) could not but have, beyond all others, a most familiar knowledge of that land, dwelling in it: and not only so, but being such as thought themselves bound, by a religious necessity, to inquire after the situation and nature of the places in that land, and to trace them out with an exact search and curiosity.

Let reason, therefore, determine, whether they, above all others, are, either justly or prudently, cast aside in the business of chorography? Whether, among all the means used for the correction and polishing this, the means that the Talmud affords, should, with any merit or equity, be only refused? Why the Jewish chorography of the Jewish country should not be admitted? Certainly, it is unjust, out of prejudice, to reject, or out of ignorance not to entertain, those things, which either might yield us the profit of the chorography of that land, or stir up no unprofitable search into it. If a man would engrave maps of Palestine, surely it is very fit, that he should, together with others, consult those authors, as being the nearest witnesses, inhabiters of the country, and such as most studiously and most religiously describe it. And though you esteem them not worthy of credit, because they are Jews,—yet certainly they are worthy of examination, and may have leave to relate, as they are chorographers.

When, in the reading of these writers, I collected all those things, which I met with relating hitherto, and compared them with the maps and tracts already published, I plainly saw, if my eyes deceived me not, that very many things might be fetched and drawn out of these authors, which might correct the maps; very many things, which might discover places unknown; very many, which might fix those, that were uncertain; very many, which might illustrate those, that were certain; and infinite things, which might some way or other hold out a light to chorography. And if any dexterous and happy artist, versed in the Talmudic writings, and skilled in chorography, would undertake a task and work of this nature, I should expect from such a hand a more polite and correct map, and a more full, plain, and certain description of the lands of Israel, than any the Christian world hath yet seen.

We are far from daring to enter upon such a thing: nor is our hand sufficiently taught for so great a work, or, indeed, teachable. That only, which we have attempted in the following century, was this; that, by some instance, we might a little demonstrate those things, which we speak concerning the writers of the Talmud: and that some specimen might be set before our eyes, whereby the reader may judge of their study, style, use, benefit, in the thing propounded. Nor did we think it the part of modesty, to burden the reader with too much of those things, which perhaps are of dubious acceptation with him; nor the part of prudence, to expose and commit, together at once, all that we have, to one wind and fortune.

From our Study, May 22, 1658

Next Chapter Table of Contents

Copyright 1997-2006 NOR/JCR