This collection of essays has its origins in the European Seminar on Advanced Judaic Studies held at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies in 2012. As the editors, Scott Mandelbrote and Joanna Weinberg, explain in their brief introduction, the volume seeks to ‘undermine traditional paradigms of so-called Christian Hebraism’ and to ‘challenge simplistic visions either of the unchanging nature of Jewish cultural life or of its isolation from or hostility to the intellectual influences of Christian society’ (p. 1). Perhaps inevitably, the contributions cluster around the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, though some do occasionally look earlier or later; similarly, and again as one might expect, they tend to focus especially on Italy and Germany. The twelve contributions to the volume are arranged under five sub-headings. The first pair of chapters appears under ‘Manuscript, Print and the Jewish Bible’. Mandelbrote examines the early modern reception of the so-called Letter of Aristeas, a Greek text written by an anonymous Jew, most probably some time between 200 and 100 bce. This text appeared in numerous Latin and vernacular (especially Italian) editions: interest initially lay in its ideas about kingship, but in due course this shifted to the information it provided about the origins of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), before that also waned and it returned to being a primarily Jewish text again. Alessandro Guetta examines the use made of the Italian translation of the Bible made by the Florentine humanist Antonio Bruciolo (d. 1566) by Italian Jewish communities: paradoxically, while this text found its way onto the Index because of its alleged Protestant sympathies, Guetta finds evidence of its use in a series of Jewish works of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The second section is concerned with ‘Censorship and the Regulation of Readers’. Both contributors take issue, more or less explicitly, with Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin’s 2005 study of Hebrew censorship. Whereas Raz-Krakotzkin had argued for the relatively positive and creative consequences of censorship, which he presented almost as a form of editing, Piet van Boxel works through a series of case-studies to show that the process of censorship was not in fact particularly conducive to creating new insights into texts. Similarly, Federica Francesconi looks at how two Jewish scholars of the 1630s, Leon Modena and Netanel Trabotti, dealt with censorship before inquisitorial tribunals in Modena and Venice, demonstrating how the predictable nature of the censorship made it relatively easy for them to navigate. The third section is concerned with ‘Jewish Texts in Christian Hands’. William Horbury compares Jean Thenaud’s Traicté de la Cabale (1520–21) with Petrus Galatinus’ De arcanis catholicae veritatis (1518), both written around the time of the Reuchlin affair, and both contributing to the debate on the value of Jewish books for Christian readers. In similar fashion, Joanna Weinberg’s contribution, framed around Johann Buxtorf’s dedication of his De abbreviaturis hebraicis (1613) to Philippe Duplessis-Mornay, illustrates the ways in which a more sophisticated approach to the relationship between Judaism and Christianity started to emerge in the early seventeenth century. Anthony Grafton, meanwhile, surveys the growing Christian appreciation of the Talmud as a coherent law code, parallel to Roman law. The fourth section is by some distance the largest, and, arguably, also the most ground-breaking. Entitled ‘Antiquarianism and the Expansion of Knowledge’, it brings into the discussion a range of disciplines rarely considered in this context. Andrew Berns examines the career of the Bolognese naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522–1605), arguing that natural philosophy acted as a stimulus to the study of Hebrew. In a 2000-page work of 1580, Aldrovandi contended that the Hebrew language ‘perfectly expresses the nature of things’; this in turn cast texts such as the Bible in a new light. In his chapter, Theodor Dunkelgrün provides a substantial and pioneering survey of Hebrew epistolography by humanist scholars, considering among other themes Hebrew letters exchanged between Christians and Jews, and within Christian circles, but also charting their gradually more systematic study between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries: this chapter is likely to become a key reference point in the field of letter-writing more generally. Moving beyond standard written texts, Michela Andreatta concludes this section with a parallel survey of the Christian study of Jewish epitaphs, again revealing the growing sophistication which characterised their use in Christian circles by the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The final section, ‘The Multiplicity of Texts and the Multiplicity of Readers’, contains a pair of chapters which reveal the very particular ways in which readers could respond to the texts they encountered. Benjamin Williams does a fascinating job of using the annotations on the copy of Bomberg’s Midrash Rabbah (1545) now held in the Bodleian Library, to reveal how this text was used by both Jewish and Christian readers. Copious notes from the late sixteenth century show that its Jewish readers devoted great attention to further explaining the text in the margins, but also to emending the text. At some point it passed to a Christian reader who evidently used the text more selectively but whose use would also have been shaped, to some extent, by its previous owners. Finally, Yosef Kaplan draws together a series of vignettes to suggest ways in which the Sephardim who settled in Amsterdam in the seventeenth century brought with them not only books, but also a range of ideas, from Spain; careful reading of a range of texts reveals their subtle but continuing influence. It is always hard to review a collection of essays. The authors start with different assumptions and interests, and take quite different approaches in their respective contributions. The theme is a relatively broad one, and the scope of the volume also quite substantial, both in terms of geography and chronology. Inevitably, some chapters will appeal more to some readers than others. Nonetheless, this is a volume in which the standard of the contributions remains remarkably high throughout; the contributors include an impressive mix of distinguished figures and emerging scholars. Our understanding of Jewish–Christian interaction in the early modern period is considerably more nuanced by this collection, whether at the level of the individual, the community or the institution; the range of spheres in which that interaction took place has been significantly extended beyond the more familiar genres, disciplines and types of writing; and above all, as this volume shows, that interaction was itself highly dependent on its specific context, and continued to change over time. © Oxford University Press 2018. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
The English Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 3, 2018
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