English Christian Hebraist; born at Totness, England, April 4, 1718; died at Oxford Aug. 18, 1783. He was, at first, master of the "Blue Coat," or charity, school at Totness. Attracting the attention of the local gentry by some poems, he was sent to Wadham College, Oxford, where he became interested in Hebrew through the lectures of Professor Hunt, becoming Hody (Hebrew) Exhibitioner (1745-47) and taking the degree of B.A. (1747). He took holy orders, and ultimately became canon of Christ Church, Oxford (1770), and vicar of Mynhenyote, Cornwall (in the same year). Soon after he had taken his degree, Dr. Lowth suggested (1751) to him that he should do for the Old Testament what Mills had done for the New, and collect the "variæ lectiones" of the text. He set to work, and in 1753 published a pamphlet on "The Study of the Hebrew Printed Text of the Old Testament," which attracted attention, and caused a number of persons to agree to supply him with funds for the collection and collation of Hebrew manuscripts. He began serious work in this direction in 1758, after nearly £10,000 had been collected from numerous patrons of learning, including the kings of Denmark and Sardinia, and the stadholder of Holland. In 1760 and 1769 he printed reports for them on "The Collation of the Hebrew Manuscripts of the Old Testament," and in 1776 published at Oxford the first volume of his "Vetus Testamentum"; the publication of the second volume, with a "Dissertatio Generalis" on the text, in 1780, completed the work. The "Dissertatio Generalis" was republished separately by Bruns, at Brunswick, in 1783.
Kennicott's collations were by no means thorough, and were later supplemented by De Rossi, but they represented the first systematic examination of the manuscripts, and brought out clearly the practical uniformity of the Masoretic text. In England his method of editing was attacked by several persons, including Julius Bate, Fowler Comings, George Horne, and Prof. T. Rutherford, all of whom were answered by Kennicott or his friends. On the Continent his methods were severely criticized by O. C. Tychsen, and by J. D. Michaelis in his "Bibliotheca Orientalis" (part 11). In Paris a number of letters attacking Kennicott's text were published in 1771, and were said to have been written by a Jew named Dumay, who had assisted Kennicott in his work: an English translation of these letters appeared in 1772.
- Dictionary of National Biography.