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COLONY OF JEWS IN CHINA," by James Finn, M.R.A.S., late Her Majesty's Consul for Jerusalem and Palestine (Nisbet and Co., Bernersstreet), to which we must refer our readers for more ample details than we have room here to present.
At the close of the British Chinese war in 1842 attention was directed to the subject of a colony of the Jews in China, and Mr. Finn mentions, among other details recorded in Jesuit missionary reports of the seventeenth century, that a stranger visiting Father Ricci at Peking, announced himself as a fellow-servant of the one true God, as distinguished from the idols of the country, that he in the chapel mistook the picture of the Virgin and Child with the infant Baptist, for Rebekah with Jacob and Esau. He supposed also the twelve apostles, when mentioned to him, to be the twelve sons of Israel ; and was able to recognise Hebrew print when shown him, though he could not read it. A further visit was received from two or three of these native Israelites, who came from the province of Honan, and its ancient capital Kae-fung-foo, and these men spoke of former settlements of their people at Nankin and Ningpo. About 1723 the Romish missionaries were expelled from China, and so the Chinese Israelites were heard of no more for a long period. The record of them, however, remained, and had been conveyed to Europe. There was said to be a Tablet in their synagogue at Kae-fung-foo which declared that their ancestors first entered China during the Han dynasty, which includes two centuries before, and two centuries after the birth of Christ ; seven hundred years therefore before their Christianized brethren, the Nestorians of the Segnanfoo Tablet. Kae-fung-foo is on the Yellow river, 700 miles from Shanghae. The synagogue tablet states that their religion came from India, and that a second emigration of seventy families in 1163, bearing a tribute of Western cloth, were allowed to settle in Kae-fung-foo and to occupy afresh the place that had been hallowed by the worship of their forefathers. In 1279 their ancient synagogue was rebuilt, and their privileges ratified, and in the fourteenth century they had a number of mollahs, or teachers, among them. A flood that took place in 1461 from the overflow of the Yellow river almost destroyed the building, but it was again restored, and an additional portion annexed. At the close of the sixteenth century they were again deprived of their books, but this time by a fire, and the loss was in part supplied by the purchase of a roll of the law from a Mohammedan at Ning-Keang-chow, in Shen-se, who had received it from a dying Israelite at Canton, and from this Hebrew roll they were able to make several copies. Some claim the age of 400 or 500 years for this roll.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries much fresh interest was awakened concerning this long enduring colony, and in 1850 and 1851 Dr. Smith, the Bishop of HongKong, sent two able messengers to make inquiries concerning the people at Kae-fung-foo itself, and after the second visit they returned with copies of long inscriptions found in the temple, of which the Jesuit reports had only been summaries ; also with six of the twelve synagogue rolls of the law, which they had purchased. Two members of the body also came with them, described as entirely Chinese in costume, speech, and customs; one of them, however, having a Jewish cast of countenance.
Ere long becoming restless they returned to their homes. One of these rolls was forwarded to the London Jews' Society, one to the British Museum, one to the Bodleian at Oxford, and one to the University Library of Cambridge—the latter was on white parchment, and was pronounced to be the work of an ignorant scribe. No variations of any consequence, however, were detected in the text of the rolls from those of our printed polyglotts.
These messengers found the “ Taou-kin-keaou” people (the extracting-sinew sect), as they called themselves, few in number. They lived in small apartments round their temple, and had just spread out a great quantity of cabbages beside it. Many of these residents were women, who said they were nearly starved, that all who could read these rolls had been scattered abroad ; however, as we told them we had brought them a letter from their people, we found at the temple next morning several professors, who inquired our object. Their edifice faced the east; the congregation were not allowed to enter with their shoes, nor the women with their head-napkins. The priest wore a blue dress and blue shoes. Before entering the holy place they had all to wash, for which there were at each side of the temple baths and wells. They are not allowed to intermarry with heathens or Mohammedans (though it is often done), or to marry two wives ; also they are forbidden to eat pork, and they are required to keep the Sabbath holy.
We heard that whenever any one was known to belong to the Jewish religion he was soon despised and became poor ; none of the Chinese would make friends with them, and they were treated as outcasts. Still some professed the religion, though in secret. They told us they daily lifted up their hands and prayed to Heaven, but that since their temple was neglected, many had gone astray. The Emperor issued no command to repair or rebuild it, so that it was falling into ruins. They called it privately “ Yeh-sze-lo-nee" (the Chinese way of writing “ ISRAEL”), but there was only written over it, “True and pure temple,” which the Mohammedans also had written over their temple in Kae-fung-foo.
This Israelitish building had been planned to imitate the ancient Tabernacle and Temple ; it consisted of three successive open, courts with a covered sanctuary at the end, the last court partitioned from the sanctuary by an elevated marble balustrade with an ascent of steps at each end.
Within the sanctuary were tables, lamps, and vessels for incense, and both sanctuary and holy place were without windows. In or upon this inner building alone were HEBREW inscriptions to be found, and in one of the Chinese tablets in the outer courts there is an allusion to the glory of the Schechinah, as “the presence with incense to be burnt before it."
“ Before the wide empyreal we burn the fragrant incense
The most particular recess was appropriated to be a repository of twelve rolls of the law, so far resembling the “ark” of a modern synagogue. The name
Israel” is found on the first of the large Chinese Tablets, copied by the messengers.
The fact of Ezra, the restorer of religion, being a priest of the family of Aaron, was known in China and recorded on the Second Tablet. The colony, therefore, could not have been one derived from the period of the First Temple. The usual name for God on these tablets is, “Teen” (or Heaven) and they also speak of Taou, often translated as "eternal reason,” but also a technical name in the Buddhist philosophy equivalent to the Greek Logos of the New Testament of the Alexandrian Jews and of the Targums. The Jewish books employ it as the Hebrews writing Chaldee did for the “Word” or the “Wisdom,” or the Son of God in Proverbs viii., and these Chinese Israelite inscriptions have remarkable passages implying the personality of this Eternal Reason, and pointing to it as an object of adoration.
“ Those who practice this religion wherever they are met with throughout the whole world, without exception, honour the sacred writings and venerate Eternal Reason.” “Let them avoid superstitious customs, and not make molten or graven images,* and in everything
* Gutzlaff, in his Three Voyages in China, says on his approaching
follow the ceremonies that have been introduced from INDIA" (then follows a list of moral and dutiful occupations], and “Let them thus lay up a store of good works, while they repress trifling animosities in order to complete great affairs."
“From the beginning of the world our first father, Adam, handed down the doctrine to A-woo-lo-han (Abraham), Abraham handed it down to Isze-ho-kih (Isaac), Isaac handed it down to Ya-ho-keŭe-wŭh (Jacob), Jacob handed it down to the twelve Patriarchs, and they to May-she (Moses), Moses to A-ho-leen (Aaron), Aaron to Yue-suh-wo (Joshua), and Joshua to Ye-tsze-la (Ezra), by whom the doctrines of the holy religion were first sent abroad, and the letters of the Yew-thae (nation of Judæa) first made plain. * "
“All who profess this religion should cultivate personal virtues, and bring eating and drinking under proper regulations, making the sacred writings their study and their rule, obeying and believing them in every particular.” “We have engraved this tablet and placed it in the synagogue, to be handed down to distant ages, that future generations may carefully consider it.”
It is erected by the families Yen, Le, Kaou, Chaou, Kin, E, and Chang, in the Ming dynasty, A.D. 1511.
A more recent source of information concerning this colony carries us on to the year 1866, when Mr. W. A. P. Martin, an American Presbyterian minister, also visited Kae-fung-foo, and, seeking the synagogue, came upon an open square, in which stood a solitary stone, on one side of which was an inscription concerning the first arrival of the Jews in China, and their second settlement in A.D. 1163.
“I then asked if any among the crowd which surrounded me were Jews. 'I am one, responded a young man, whose face corroborated his assertion; and then another and another stepped forward, till I saw before me representatives still of six out of the seven families into which the colony is now divided.
“There on this melancholy spot, where the very foundations of the synagogue had been torn from the ground, and there no longer remained one stone upon another, they confessed to me that their "holy and beautiful house' had been demolished by their own
Pekin,“ We observed a shop on the opposite bank having a sign with this inscription :-Idols and Buddhs of all descriptions newly made or repaired.'”
* Does this imply the common notion of Ezra first using the Square Hebrew alphabet ?
hands : it had long been in ruins. · They had no money to repair it; they had lost all knowledge of the sacred tongue; they had yielded to the pressure of necessity, and disposed of the timber and the stones to obtain relief for their bodily wants. In the evening they brought me a roll of the law, and listened attentively to what I had to say concerning the relation of the law of Moses to the Gospel of Christ. “ There are few
them that are not pinched by poverty. The first man I saw was a money-changer, others keep fruit-stores, or old clothes' shops, and others are gone into the army. They still estimate their numbers at from two to four hundred; but as their place of worship is gone, no bond of union remains for them; and one has become a priest of Buddh. The large tablet, which had on it the name of Israel, is appropriated by a Mohammedan Mosque, while the practices of the people differ so little from their Moslem neighbours, that the heathen cannot distinguish them. One of my visitors was the son of the last of the Rabbis, with whom perished the knowledge of Hebrew."
How touching and mournful a story,—the “witnesses” for the One God, and for his holy ancient Word, of which they still possess the roll, which they cannot read, -dumb witnesses, both in speech and life, yet with a sad consciousness of their seeming inevitable destiny, and inquiring still with interest of the visitor concerning their ancient place in history! Mr. Finn sorrowfully remarks, that all that has been done for them is in literary or newspaper proposals, which have produced no result of true missionary effort. A colony 2,000 years old, and now dying out! Not long ago it was proposed to expose their parchments to public view in the market-place, in hopes they might attract the attention of some wandering Jew, who would be able to restore to them the language of their fathers. Oh! where is the missionary who will bear to these children of Moses the promises of the Gospel ? Where the converted Israelite to do so ? Is he to be found on the shores of Europe or America ? Will he come once more from Kurdistan ?
And there may be more relics of Israel in “the flowery land” than these. The little book contains interesting particulars of letters, once exchanged with this colony by Mr. Finn from Jerusalem ; and its closing paragraph is as follows :
“We do still hope that other Jews may be found in the more remote provinces, just as of late a large group of cedars has been