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Alfonso, Esperanza, and Jonathan Decter, eds, Patronage, Production, and Transmission of Texts in Medieval and Early Modern Jewish Cultures.

Alfonso, Esperanza, and Jonathan Decter, eds, Patronage, Production, and Transmission of Texts in Medieval and Early Modern Jewish Cultures (Medieval Church Studies, 34), Turnhout, Brepols, 2014; hardback; pp. vii, 383; 35 b/w illustrations, 3 b/w tables; R.R.P. 90.00 [euro]; ISBN 9782503542904.

This volume considers the themes of patronage and text production in the context of Jewish culture in medieval and early modern history. Editors Esperanza Alfonso and Jonathan Decter cast a wide net in terms of the parameters for this informative book, covering everything from client-patron relations--and how they differed from traditional non-Jewish models--to the production of specific religious texts in a variety of geographical and cultural settings.

From the beginning of the volume, readers' traditional assumptions about patronage are challenged. Essays including that of Eleazar Gutwirth show that Jewish patronage was influenced by both Christian and Islamic models, at times an exercise in prestige and legacy for the patron, and at others a communal adulation of a sacred text for its own sake. Chapters by Marina Rustow and Joachim Yeshaya explore the patronage of Jewish poetry and literature in the Islamic east, arguing that these texts served primarily to benefit and solidify entire Jewish communities, not individuals. This is in contrast to the western, or Andalusian, model of boosting the social status of a single patron or family name.

The political and ideological motivation of the Jewish client in serving the interests of patrons is another interesting theme in this volume. Lucia Finotto explores book dedications by Jewish scholars, who would equate the leadership of King Robert of Naples to that of King Solomon. Such 'legitimization tools' (p. 161), used to glorify the king, enabled the protection of the city's Jewish population in the early fourteenth century. In a similar vein, Michaela Andreatta reflects on the work of Flavius Mithridates in fifteenth-century Florence, who was 'irreverent and exploitative' (p. 192) in his approach to his Hebraist patrons. Mithridates tailored his interpretations of Jewish thought to suit humanist tastes; for instance, by equating the study of kabbalah to that of other authoritative rabbinic sources, he subversively legitimised his patrons' interests despite the fact that they were outside the scope of normative Judaism.

The Hebraist appropriation of Jewish scripture is inevitably part of the story of Jewish text production in the early modern period. Both conversos and Jews were engaged in the translation and dissemination of traditional texts for use by Christians despite their polemical usage. Using the example of Cisneros's Complutensian Polyglot Bible of the sixteenth century, Maria Teresa Ortega-Monasterio demonstrates how the Bible enabled simultaneous study in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin on the same page. This humanist approach to text study in turn legitimised the Polyglot Bible as a reference source with which to persecute Jews during inquisitorial tribunals. Also related is the chapter by Angel Saenz-Badillos, who considers Rabbi Moses Arragel's biblical translations and how his efforts to remain true to Jewish tradition were overrun by Christian sensors in fifteenth-century Castile. In these cases, the published versions of translated Jewish texts for Hebraist use strayed very far from the original.

The physical, performative act of scribing is the theme of two interesting chapters in this volume. Both Eva Frojmovic and Gemma Avenoza emphasise the importance of writing, not just for the production of precious books, but for the transformative act as scribe. In Frojmovics insightful paper, the mitzvah of scribing a book is 'a performance of piety but also very much of social status' (p. 320), where two Masoretic Bibles from the turn of the fourteenth century show evidence that the patron also wrote a significant portion of the text. Such dual functionality allowed the scribe/patron to elevate both his spiritual and social prestige.

Several other chapters in this volume consider case studies of Jewish texts ranging from the production of illuminated haggadot to rare Arabic versions of the Jewish Bible. At times, the reader struggles to see the thematic link between all of the included chapters, but anyone interested in the production of Jewish texts or the role of patronage in the early modern period will benefit from the research presented here. The vast array of geographical and historical examples in the book is evidence of the foremost importance of text in Jewish culture throughout history.

REBECCA LOBEL, Monash University
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Author:Lobel, Rebecca
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2015
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