Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Ezra Stiles, 27 December 1769

From Ezra Stiles

ALS (draft): Yale University Library

Newport Dec 27. 1769

Dear Sir

This acknowledges the Receipt of your Collection of philosophical Letters, and Dissertations in a quarto Volume which with your Letter came safe to hand last Summer.3 For which please to accept my Thanks. They have given me great Pleasure and Instruction.

I have desired Capt. Peck,4 by whom you receive this, to procure me in London

Relands Collection from the Rabbinical Writings showing the Jewish Manner of initiating Proselytes by Baptism &c. I forget the true Title of the Book.5

Zohar. With the latin Translation if to be had: else in Hebrew alone

Acta Pilati: a Book considered as spurious by Divines and Antiquarians; but which I have a Curiosity to see.6

Will you be so kind Sir as to procure them and deliver them to Peck, who will pay for them. I should not give you this Trouble, but that it may be difficult for him to find, especially the two last. The Rev. Samuel Lock of Sherburn is lately elected President of Harvard College in the Room of the late President Holyoke.7 Wishing you every Blessing I am Sir Your obliged Friend and most obedient Servant

Ezra Stiles

Dr. B. Franklin London

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3The book was Exper. and Obser. (4th ed., London, 1769); the letter has not been found.

4William Augustus Peck, a Newport sea captain and member of Stiles’s church.

5Because he forgot the title we have been unable to find it; and so was BF. Adriaan Reland, the Dutch orientalist, was prolific enough to provide a wide choice of titles. In the following September Stiles received from BF “Reland’s Introduction to the Rabbinical Literature”: Franklin B. Dexter, ed., The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles … (3 vols., New York, 1901), I, 70. This was the Analecta Rabbinica …, perhaps the second edition (Utrecht, 1723). It was not what Stiles wanted; at least one of the tracts he was looking for, he decided, was in Reland’s “Hist. Hebraea,” presumably the Antiquitates Sacrae Veterum Hebraeorum (Utrecht, 1708): Stiles to BF below, Sept. 28, 1770. Whether BF eventually located the “collection” before his patience wore out we do not know.

6Zohar was a cabalistic work, introduced into Spain in the 13th century, which appears to have been the product of many hands and many epochs; Stiles received a copy in 1772 of an edition published in Nuremberg in 1768: F. B. Dexter, op. cit., I, 298. The Acta Pilati cannot be identified from such a meager reference. What now goes by that name is usually included in the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus; but the eighteenth century abounded in writings about Pilate, and Stiles may have had any one of a number of books in mind. Whichever he was curious about, we have no indication that his curiosity was satisfied.

7Edward Holyoke (1689–1769) had died on June 1; on Dec. 18 Samuel Locke (1732–78) was elected to succeed him as president. Sibley’s Harvard Graduates, XIII, 620–7.

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