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Olivétan and the Biblia Rabbinica

December 15, 2013

I began to think that Olivétan had surely not come up with the name “Eternel” on his own. He had a library of 70 books with him as a resource. Certainly a great number for that time. In fact, when he died, he left his books to Calvin who sold them all except for the Biblia Rabbinica of Daniel Bomberg.  This Hebrew Bible with Targums and commentary would have cited Maimonides. So we know that Olivétan had some exposure to Maimonides.

Maimonides, in his Guide to the Perplexed cites Targum Onkelos saying, “Eternal, Eternal, All-powerful, All-merciful, All-gracious,” with reference to Exodus 34:6. However, Olivétan does not actually use “L’Eternel” in Ex. 34:6. He does use the term in Ex. 3 but it is later French translators who used it consistently throughout the Hebrew Bible. Without a copy of the Biblia Rabbinica of Bomberg, or a list of his other books, we don’t know exactly what Olivétan had exposure to and what he had read about the use of “Eternel” for God, but probably something.

In an aside, Olivétan seems to have been a least partially responsible for the use of accents in the French language.

As Nina Catach does not exactly place Olivétan with respect to the orthographic revolution of his time, I would like to present a summary. Olivétan proposed his definition of the correct spelling in a little school manual in 1533, of which the printing is produced by Pierre de Vingle: “L’Instruction des enfans contenant la maniere de prononcer et escrire en francoys … ” He showed his concern to promote the usage of diacritics, accents aigu, grave, and circonflexe, tréma, trait d’union, apostrophe. If these signs do not appear [and they don’t usually] in the publications which he confided to Pierre de Vingle, en particular in the Bible, the fault falls to the printer. Vingle only had old materials, limited to the Gothic Batarde. In this script, not an accent, not an apostrophe, not a hyphen: the break that we mark with a comma is indicated by an oblique stroke. Dans L’Instruction of 1533, the reader is warned “You will also have to excuse the printer who has not observed the manner of writing and punctuating, by the lack of characters which he does not have at the moment.”

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Joel permalink
    November 5, 2021 1:40 pm

    I know I’m very, very late to this post, and I’ve just recently started reading this blog. Enjoying it very much! Anyhow, I thought I’d share a reference to Diana Lobel, “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh and the Tetragrammaton: Between Eternity and Necessary Existence in Saadya, Maimonides, and Abraham Maimonides,” Review of Rabbinic Judaism 23 (2020): 89-126. In her surmise, translating the Tetragrammaton as the “Eternal One” was found by Maimonides and his son Abraham Maimonides in Saadia Gaon (10th century), who translated the phrase as “Beginningless Who Does Not Cease to Be,” i.e. the Eternal, and Lobel goes through the allusions to Maimonides makes to Saadia. My question, I suppose, is: could Olivetan have gotten it directly from a translation of Saadia? Or mediated through Maimonides, though, according to Lobel, he seems to have reinterpreted “Eternal One” as less temporal and more “necessary existence.”

  2. November 16, 2021 9:27 am

    Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned from Diana Lobel. And good question. It’s certainly possible that Olivétan borrowed directly, or in some mediated fashion, just as you suggest.
    J. K. Gayle


  1. BLT

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