Benjamin Kennicott - Encyclopedia

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BENJAMIN KENNICOTT (1718-1783), English divine and Hebrew scholar, was born at Totnes, Devonshire, on the 4th of April 1718. He succeeded his father as master of a charity school, but by the liberality of friends he was enabled to go to Wadham College, Oxford, in 1744, where he distinguished himself in Hebrew and divinity. While an undergraduate he published two dissertations, On the Tree of Life in Paradise, with some Observations on the Fall of Man, and On the Oblations of Cain and Abel (2nd ed., 1747), which procured him the honour of a bachelor's degree before the statutory time. In 1747 he was elected fellow of Exeter College, and in 1750 he took his degree of M.A. In 1764 he was made a fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1767 keeper of the Radcliffe Library. He was also canon of Christ Church (1770) and rector of Culham (1753), in Oxfordshire, and was subsequently presented to the living of Menheniot, Cornwall, which he was unable to visit and resigned two years before his death. He died at Oxford, on the 18th of September 1783.

His chief work is the Vetus Testamentum hebraicum cum variis lectionibus (2 vols. fol., Oxford, 1776-1780). Before this appeared he had written two dissertations entitled The State of the Printed Hebrew Text of the Old Testament considered, published respectively in 1753 and 1759, which were designed to combat the then current ideas as to the "absolute integrity" of the received Hebrew text. The first contains "a comparison of 1 Chron. xi. with 2 Sam. v. and xxiii. and observations on seventy MSS., with an extract of mistakes and various readings"; the second defends the claims of the Samaritan Pentateuch, assails the correctness of the printed copies of the Chaldee paraphrase, gives an account of Hebrew MSS. of the Bible known to be extant, and catalogues one hundred MSS. preserved in the British Museum and in the libraries of Oxford and Cambridge. In 1760 he issued his proposals for collating all Hebrew MSS. of date prior to the invention of printing. Subscriptions to the amount of nearly £io,000 were obtained, and many learned men addressed themselves to the work of collation, Bruns of Helmstadt making himself specially useful as regarded MSS. in Germany, Switzerland and Italy. Between 1760 and 1769 ten "annual accounts" of the progress of the work were given; in its course 615 Hebrew MSS. and 52 printed editions of the Bible were either wholly or partially collated, and use was also made (but often very perfunctorily) of the quotations in the Talmud. The materials thus collected, when properly arranged and made ready for the press, extended to 30 vols. fol. The text finally followed in printing was that of Van der Hooght - unpointed however, the points having been disregarded in collation - and the various readings were printed at the foot of the page. The Samaritan Pentateuch stands alongside the Hebrew in parallel columns. The Dissertatio generalis, appended to the second volume, contains an account of the MSS. and other authorities collated, and also a review of the Hebrew text, divided into periods, and beginning with the formation of the Hebrew canon after the return of the Jews from the exile. Kennicott's great work was in one sense a failure. It yielded no materials of value for the emendation of the received text, and by disregarding the vowel points overlooked the one thing in which some result (grammatical if not critical) might have been derived from collation of Massoretic MSS. But the negative result of the publication and of the Varic lectiones of De Rossi, published some years later, was important. It showed that the Hebrew text can be emended only by the use of the versions aided by conjecture.

Kennicott's work was perpetuated by his widow, who founded two university scholarships at Oxford for the study of Hebrew. The fund yields an income of £200 per annum.

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