Samuel Bochart was a French Protestant pastor at Caen, who combined the interests of a naturalist, a philologist and a theologian, and who acquired an immense reputation as a scholar and authority on ancient languages. He had spent several months studying in Oxford in 1621. His Geographiæ sacræ of 1646 (catalogue no. 83 ) was particularly celebrated and even provoked Queen Christina of Sweden to write to Bochart personally, expressing a desire to meet him. Accordingly, Bochart travelled to Stockholm in 1652 and spent a year in the Swedish court. The manuscripts he found in Stockholm were useful in the preparation of his Hierozoicon, and one Arabic manuscript on animals was given to him as a parting gift by Christina.
Geographiæ sacræ contains Bochart’s account of the Flood, but it was with his later Hierozoicon, first published in London in 1663, that he became a kind of Noah – not in the material sense of Aldrovandi or Kircher, but by deploying philology and biblical exegesis. This enormous work deals with all the animals mentioned in the Bible and their treatment by ancient naturalists, whether Greek, Roman or Arab, while Bochart demonstrates his facility with a formidable range of languages.
Bochart’s English biographer Edward H. Smith observed in a short account published in Caen in 1833 that, while he seemed to be little known in France, ‘dans ma patrie, au-delà de la Manche, Bochart est vénéré comme un des hommes du plus prodigieux savoir’ (Smith, p. 5). Oldenburg had described him to Samuel Hartlib in 1659 as ‘the great minister of Caen’ (Hall and Boas Hall, p. 330).