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Eldad Ben Mahli

ELDAD BEN MAHLI, also surnamed had-Dani, Abu-Dani, David-had-Dani, or the Danite, Jewish traveller, was the supposed author of a Jewish travel-narrative of the 9th century A.D., which enjoyed great authority in the middle ages, especially on the question of the Lost Ten Tribes. Eldad first set out to visit his Hebrew brethren in Africa and Asia. His vessel was wrecked, and he fell into the hands of cannibals; but he was saved by his leanness, and by the opportune invasion of a neighbouring tribe. After spending four years with his new captors, he was ransomed by a fellow-countryman, a merchant of the tribe of Issachar. He then (according to his highly fabulous narrative) visited the territory of Issachar, in the mountains of Media and Persia; he also describes the abodes of Zabulon, on the "other side" of the Paran Mountains, extending to Armenia and the Euphrates; of Reuben, on another side of the same mountains; of Ephraim and Half Manasseh, in Arabia, not far from Mecca; and of Simeon and the other Half of Manasseh, in Chorazin, six months' journey from Jerusalem. Dan, he declares, sooner than join in Jeroboam's scheme of an Israelite war against Judah, had migrated to Cush, and finally, with the help of Naphthali, Asher and Gad, had founded an independent Jewish kingdom in the gold Land of Havila, beyond Abyssinia. The tribe of Levi had also been miraculously guided, from near Babylon, to Havila, where they were enclosed and protected by the mystic river Sambation or Sabbation, which on the Sabbath, though calm, was veiled in impenetrable mist, while on other days it ran with a fierce untraversable current of stones and sand.

Apart from these tales, we have the genuine Eldad, a celebrated Jewish traveller and philologist; who flourished c.A.D. 830-890; to whom the work above noticed is ascribed; who was a native either of S. Arabia, Palestine or Media; who journeyed in Egypt, Mesopotamia, North Africa, and Spain; who spent several years at Kairawan in Tunis; who died on a visit to Cordova, and whose authority, as to the lost tribes, is supported by a great Hebrew doctor of his own time, zemah Gaon, the rector of the Academy at Sura (A.D. 889-898). It is possible that a certain relationship exists (as suggested by Epstein and supported by D.H. Müller) between the famous apocryphal Letter of Prester John (of c.A.D. 1165) and the narrative of Eldad; but the affinity is not close. Eldad is quoted as an authority on linguistic difficulties by the leading medieval Jewish grammarians and lexicographers.

The work ascribed to Eldad is in Hebrew, divided into six chapters, probably abbreviated from the original text. The first edition appeared at Mantua about 1480; the second at Constantinople in 1516; this was reprinted at Venice in 1544 and 1605, and at Jessnitz in 1722. A Latin version by Gilb. Génébrard was published at Paris in 1563, under the title of Eldad Danius ... de Judaeis clausis eorumque in Aethiopia ... imperio, and was afterwards incorporated in the translator's Chronologia Hebraeorum of 1584; a German version appeared at Prague in 1695, and another at Jessnitz in 1723. In 1838 E. Carmoly edited and translated a fuller recension which he had found in a MS. from the library of Eliezer Ben Hasan, forwarded to him by David Zabach of Morocco (see Relation d'Eldad le Danite, Paris, 1838). Both forms are printed by Dr Jellinek in his Bet-ha-Midrasch, vols. ii. p. 102, etc., and iii. p. 6, etc. (Leipzig, 1853-1855). See also Bartolocci, Bibliotheca magna Rabbinica, i. 101-130; Fürst, Bibliotheca Judaica, i. 30, etc.; Hirsch Graetz, Geschichte der Juden (3rd ed., Leipzig, 1895), v. 239-244; Rossi, Dizionario degli Ebrei; Steinschneider, Cat. librorum Hebraeorum in bibliotheca Bodleiana, cols. 923-925; Kitto's Biblical Cyclopaedia (3rd edition, sub nomine); Abr. Epstein, Eldad ha-Dani (Pressburg, 1891); D.H. Müller, "Die Recensionen und Versionen des Eldad had-Dani," in Denkschriften d. Wiener Akad. (Phil.-Hist. Cl.), vol. xli. (1892), pp. 1-80.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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