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Orientalism, Aramaic and Kabbalah in the Catholic Reformation: The First Printing of the Syriac New Testament.

Robert J. Wilkinson. Orientalism, Aramaic and Kabbalah in the Catholic Reformation: The First Printing of the Syriac New Testament.

Studies in the History of Christian Traditions 137. Leiden: Brill, 2007. xvi + 224 pp. index. illus. bibl. $129. ISBN: 978-90-04-16250-1.

Robert J. Wilkinson. The Kabbalistic Scholars of the Antwerp Polyglot Bible.

Studies in the History of Christian Traditions 138. Leiden: Brill, 2007. xii + 142 pp. index. bibl. $99. ISBN: 978-90-04-16251-8.

The two books under review started as chapters of a doctoral dissertation of the University of the West of England in Bristol, "The Origin of Syriac Studies in the Sixteenth Century" (2004). The first book is now devoted to the first printing of the Syriac New Testament, the second one to the Antwerp Polyglot Bible, the so-called Plantin's Polyglot Bible (1569-72). The captatio benevolentm of the reader is strange, because the author explains at the beginning of the first book: "The following pages seek first to recognize the specific features that characterize the first sixteenth-century edition of the Syriac New Testament. My description of this book, however, does not seek bibliographic precision and may, I fear, irritate the purist. My remarks extend no further than those features for which I feel I am able to give some sort of explanatory account" (1). Maybe 1 was not the right person to review the book, because the philologist in me was always in some way frustrated, although the historian received enough information, due to short chapters and subchapters (mostly two or three pages) that give facts bur not acribic analysis of texts. After reading the preface, this reader was also disappointed, because diacritical points of Syriac and Arabic were suppressed, no translation of all passages in Latin were given, and there are many misprints in French (of which Tyardet instead of Pontus of Tyard, in the book on the Antwerp Polyglot Bible, 108, is the most curious), even a few in Latin. The aim of the study is the identification and reconstruction of the Christian kabbalistic milieu out of which the first Syriac New Testament arose, which is well done, but it was maybe not enough.

The first chapter narrates the introduction of Syriac in Europe, thanks to the Fifth Lateran Council (1513-15), when a Maronite delegation was sent to Rome at the invitation of Pope Leo X. Unfortunately, the author does not explain the importance of the Syriac language at the beginning of the sixteenth century. This appears in the second book, where the chapter devoted to the Syriac New Testament in the Antwerp Polyglot presents the reason of the interest in Syriac (77ff.): "Syriac is a Semitic language (in fact, a late dialect of Aramaic) which was held in the sixteenth century to be the language of Christ." The first and second chapters focus on the Maronite delegation to the Lateran Council and on the kabbalistic context of Syriac studies in the sixteenth century. Teseo Ambrogio (1469-1540) and Cardinal Egidio da Viterbo (1469-1532) were the main scholars in the construction of Orientalism, within which the first printed Syriac New Testament was produced; the latter had in his household the Jewish grammarian and scholar Elias Levita. This editio princeps of the first printed Syriac New Testament was the product of an unexpected cooperation between a Syriac scribe sent by the Patriarch of Antioch, Moses of Mardin, and two Western scholars, Guillaume Postel and Johann Albrecht Widmanstetter, working under the patronage of Ferdinand I (63. 161). The Liber Sacrosancti Evangelii De Jesu Christo Domino et Deo nostra was published in Vienna in 1555. After the sack of Pavia, Teseo Ambrogio retired to a monastery in Reggio (in Modena). In the autumn of 1529, Charles V passed through the city. The young Johann Albrecht Widmanstetter was in his train, and he met Teseo, who gave him a Syriac Gospel book, a gift extremely important for Syriac studies and the first edition of the Syriac New Testament. Wilkinson gives all major dates, meetings, researches, manuscripts, context, and biographical details. The three following chapters inform us of the scholars of the editio princeps: Moses and Masius (Moses of Mardin and Andreas Maes), Guillaume Postel, and Widmanstetter himself. Masius, who was able to write in Hebrew, was unwilling to concede that the Talmud contains blasphemies, despite its burning in 1553. Wilkinson gives an account of Postel's outstanding skill for foreign languages, but once again it is more descriptive than investigative. Eighteen pages at the end ate only devoted to the edition itself of the first printing of the Syriac New Testament. The Gospel of John does not contain the Historia AdulterQ (John 8.1-11), but is illustrated with the Sephirotic tree (a Sephorah being a divine incarnation of God in the Kabbalah), which is a Tree of Life with ten attributes. A couple of the tree's symbols are telated to one of the five Wounds of the Crucified: an interesting piece of the Christian Kabbalah that is too swiftly explained by the author (182-85. without quoting plate 10 on page xvi or the cover for an illustration, and without identifying some words in the plate that come from the ecclesiastical Motet "Vita in lingo moritur": "Qui expansis in cruce minibus"). The reader wonders why not a single word of Munster's Gospel according to Matthew translated in Hebrew (1537) appears in the discussion of the use of a Syriac New Testament, for Jews or not.

The second volume, The Kabbalistic Scholars of the Antwerp Polyglot Bible, also adopts a biographical point of view: chapter 3 is devolved to Andreas Maes (Masius), chapter 4 to Guillaume Postel (a chapter was also devoted to Postel in the first book, but there are no important repetitions), chapter 5 to Guy Le Fevre de La Boderie, and chapter 6 to the humanist publisher Christofle Plantin. Wilkinson explains that "our primary aim rhroughout is to establish the continuity between the Antwerp Polyglot and the northern scholars who had been involved in the production in Vienna of the 1555 editio princeps of the Syriac New Testament and who are most helpfully characterized as Christian kabbalists" (1). The first two chapters give an adequate etat de la question and information about Benito Arias Montano or the Family of Love. At the beginning of the Polyglot tradition was the Polyglot of Alcala (Biblia Complutensis) (1514-22), which was the model of the Antwerp Polyglot. Wilkinson's method remains the same: he gives facts and describes context, but does not give an accurate analysis (e.g., Exemplar of the Apparatus, 34ff.). The Antwerp Polyglot was definitively one of the grear monuments of sixteenth-century typographic and scholarly achievement. Not surprisingly, the longest chapter is devoted to the 1584 Paris Syriac New Testament: the two books were constructed as a whole. On the back cover of each book the other is referred to as "companion volume." What therefore Wilkinson bath joined together, let not Brill put asunder, because the two books were thought and written together.

MAX ENGAMMARE Swiss National Funds of Scientific Research, University of Geneva
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Title Annotation:The Kabbalistic Scholars of the Antwerp Polyglot Bible
Author:Engammare, Max
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2008
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