Date of this Version
Since the mid-nineteenth century, Jewish historians have marveled at the vigorous growth and vitality of Christian Hebrew scholarship in early modern Europe. Ludwig Geiger and Moritz Steinschneider chronicled parts of this astonishing and unexpected phenomenon. During the past 50 years, Karlheinz Burmeister, R. Gerald Hobbs, Bernard Roussel, Gerard Well, and Jerome Friedman have provided biographies and analyses of the achievements of some of the most important Christian and Jewish scholars who made this possible. In my own research I have sought to quantify the growth of Hebrew learning among Christians through analyzing the Christian Hebrew printing industry as it developed. To honor my teacher Michael V. Fox, however, I wish to write, not on Christian Hebraism, but on the growth of Aramaic learning among Christians during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Christian study of Aramaic literature illustrates even more sharply than Christian Hebraism the religious and philological barriers that hindered the study of Jewish literature by non-Jews and the often-surprising ways that these barriers were surmounted.
Christian Aramaism was born in late-fifteenth-century Italy and Spain and grew up north of the Alps during the early years of the Reformation. In its early stages it was influenced more by patronage and Jewish assistance than by the tensions of the Reformation. By the end of the sixteenth century, Christian scholars had formulated rationales for studying Jewish literature and had forged a rudimentary apparatus. They had begun the process of translating and excerpting it, especially portions of the Targums, to integrate the information they found into a Christian framework. Taken together, the growth of Christian Aramaism was a remarkable scholarly achievement.