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Hebraica Veritas? Christian Hebraists and the Study of Judaism in Early Modern Europe.

Allison Coudert and Jeffrey S. Shoulson, eds. Hebraica Veritas? Christian Hebraists and the Study of Judaism in Early Modern Europe.

Jewish Culture and Contexts. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004. x + 316 pp. index. illus. tbls. $49.95. ISBN: 0-8122-3761-7.

For Jews in Europe the early modern period was a time of continuing, often catastrophic, demographic and social change and of the fundamental legal and intellectual adjustments necessary for adapting to it. Between the fifteenth-century expulsion and suppression of old Jewish communities in Iberia and France and the granting of citizenship to Jews in the Hapsburg Empire and citizenship in revolutionary France, Christians' attitudes towards Jews and Judaism also underwent far-reaching changes. Political and economic histories of Europe usually treat the Jews as a separate topic, and studies of Christian attitudes to the Bible and Judaism often neglect attitudes towards contemporaneous Jews. This collection of intellectual and cultural studies concentrates on the meetings of Jews and Christians at the margins of their societies and on the evolving assessments that each made of the other.

The volume is more than a collection of a dozen articles about Christian Hebraists and Jews in early modern Europe. The authors are a select group of established and younger scholars, American, European, and Israeli, who participated in the 1999-2000 seminar series of the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Confirming the stimulating effect of such centers, the diverse participants translated and exchanged lines of investigation, key concepts, and paradigms, in discussions that evidently reexamined the long-established assumptions about Jewish and Christian intellectual relations between 1500 and 1750. As the editors explain, the participants began with the intention of revising or abandoning the long-practiced and long-lamented "lachrymose view of Jewish history" and its corollaries: the uniqueness of Jewish exclusion and suffering and the internal homogeneity of mutually isolated Christian and Jewish communities. Instead of reading back from modern paradigms, such as anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, these scholars notably apply the methods and findings of microhistory to intercommunal relations, in order to focus on exchange and interaction between Jews and Christians from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century. Each of the twelve articles either summarizes the state of a line of investigation or defines a new one. The shared approach does not entirely disregard the oppositions between groups, so that the first half of the book, "Negotiating Dialogue," is followed by "Imagining Differences."

The opening article by Michael A. Signer distinguishes two types of twelfth- and thirteenth-century Christian Hebraists--"cultural Hebraists," who studied the Hebrew Bible by consulting Jewish informants, and "lexical Hebraists," who commented independently on the biblical Hebrew texts that were present also in humanist and reforming Hebraists. Moshe Idel traces Giovanni Pico's belief that contingent human nature can come to resemble divinity to transmission by a Jewish consultant of the medieval Hispano-Arabic philosopher al-Batalyawsi. By Fabrizio Lelli's account, Jewish writers and Christian artists from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century restored awareness of the biographical individuality, not mere typicality, of ancient figures such as Moses and the prisci theologi. Peter N. Miller traces in clear detail the cooperation and reciprocal respect between Rabbi Salomon Ayubi of Carpentras and Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, a seventeenth-century associate of Galileo, Rubens, and Joseph Scaliger. Jason Rosenblatt shows gracefully how deep and sympathetic was John Selden's scholarship on rabbinic law, in strong contrast with the Judaeophobia of his English contemporaries. Amnon Raz-Krakotzin enlarges conceptions of Jewish-Christian dialogue by arguing that censors of Hebrew printing in sixteenth-century Italy did not simply suppress Jewish scholarship, but contributed to "autonomous Jewish self-definition."

The second half of the book examines conceptions that Jews and Christians had of each other. Ora Limor and Israel Jacob Yuval reconstruct several intellectual settings for the fifteenth-century Hebrew polemic, Sefer Hanizzahon, in which Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipmann Muhlhausen addresses philosophical arguments to Jewish doubters, as well as to Christian opponents. Stephen G. Burnett revises the conception that Christian Hebraists in Germany were polarized in a "Basel-Wittenberg conflict": "Like their colleagues in the Upper Rhineland, Luther and his circle were participants in a single conversation on Hebrew studies" (194). Yaacov Deutsch surveys thirty-five Christian descriptions of Jewish observances of Yom Kippur, from Pfefferkorn until the late eighteenth century, and finds them to be not expressions of sympathy for Jews, but "polemical ethnographies." Michael Heyd scrutinizes the motives for Christians to call Sabbetai Tzvi a "Jewish Quaker"; they opposed his movement as an enthusiasm that resulted either from deceit or demoniacal influence. Nils Roemer traces the ways in which German Enlightenment thinkers, including Kant, Dohm, and Michaelis, strove to distinguish Jewish messianism from their secularizing of Christian messianism into a vision of universal progress. Allison P. Coudert shows how five Christian Hebraists from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries formulated their opinions about language, history, religion, morality, and truth by discussing Jews and Judaism.

These diverse studies illustrate a coherent shift in scholarship about early modern Jews and Christian Hebraism.

ARTHUR M. LESLEY

Baltimore Hebrew University
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Author:Lesley, Arthur M.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2005
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