Arnold Boate (1600?–1653), who had served as a physician in Ireland, was another orientalist who received Ussher’s patronage and who was friendly with Hartlib. Resident in Paris during the late 1640s and early 1650s, he reported to Hartlib about natural philosophical developments in the city, and kept Ussher informed about oriental books and manuscripts, and about the progress of French scholarship and theological debate. He was hopeful that the rise of Jansenism might encourage French Catholics to move towards Protestant doctrinal positions, but, at the same time, he was worried about the implications for Protestant theology of contemporary developments in both Catholic and Huguenot biblical criticism.
At the end of the 1630s, Boate had assisted a group of Ussher’s protégés who were working on Aramaic, Greek and Syriac biblical materials. In Paris, he became increasingly suspicious about the uses to which such philological and comparative research could be put. His concerns were aroused by the continuing work of the Oratorian critic, Jean Morin, on the antiquity of the Samaritan Pentateuch (with Ussher’s disciple, Francis Taylor, Boate had already attacked Morin’s writings on the Septuagint in 1636), and by the observations of Louis Cappel, professor of Hebrew at the Protestant Academy of Saumur, on variant readings in the Old Testament. Boate felt that, in the hands of Morin and Cappel, oriental scholarship was being used to undermine the antiquity and authority of the Hebrew text of the Bible. He was particularly disturbed by Cappel’s Critica sacra (Paris, 1650), which raised questions about the age of the vowel points in the Hebrew Bible, among other things, and denied that the surviving Hebrew text preserved the autographs of scripture.
The publication of Cappel’s work (which had been completed by 1636) had been eagerly anticipated by scholars across Europe (Hartlib called it ‘a great booke’ as early as 1642; Hartlib Papers, 30/4/84A [Ephemerides]). It was delayed by worries, which Boate soon came to share, about the orthodoxy of its conclusions and only the intervention of Morin and other French Catholic divines ensured its eventual appearance. In 1650, Boate was active in encouraging Ussher to repudiate Cappel’s work and in prodding Johannes Buxtorf the younger (see catalogue no.74 ) to attack it. He also helped to persuade French Hebraists, at the Collège Royal in Paris and at universities in the provinces, to side with Buxtorf.
Boate’s own work on the certainty and authority of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, which was transmitted to Ussher via Hartlib, argued that Cappel had searched for and applied variant readings indiscriminately, even on occasion making them up. He proposed that Cappel was willing to trust the text of any version of the Old Testament in preference to that of the Hebrew, and that he had not taken account of the possibility that ancient translations of the Bible might have been made from corrupt copies. These did not necessarily represent the real tradition of the text, now accessible to scholars in numerous manuscripts. Boate preferred to trust the opinons of the Fathers, notably Augustine and Jerome, on the authenticity of the text rather than accept Cappel’s conclusions. Boate’s arguments generated a succession of replies from Cappel, and also correspondence between Cappel and Ussher, who was himself eventually tempted into print against the Critica sacra. Despite Ussher’s support for the London Polyglot (catalogue no.73 ), Boate considered that Walton’s work would simply perpetuate Cappel’s errors, and was worried that it would not improve on the printing and editing standards of the Paris Polyglot.
Although Boate’s natural philosophy (see catalogue no.63 ) was anti-Aristotelian, his approach to biblical criticism was in many ways sympathetic to that of the mainstream of contemporary Protestant neo-scholasticism. For those who believed that true Christian doctrine was founded exclusively on the literal interpretation of God’s word in the Bible, it seemed increasingly necessary to defend the antiquity and authenticity of the Hebrew and Greek versions which made up the received text of scripture. Calvinists like Boate and Ussher (and, indeed, Hartlib and Dury) were eager to acquire new knowledge about the text and history of the Bible, but they were also concerned to shape its application in order not to threaten the literal sense or authority of scripture.
This copy of Boate’s De textus hebraici veteris testamenti certitudine belonged to John Selden and bears his motto (see catalogue no.74).