Classics and Religious Studies


Date of this Version

January 2004


Published in Hebraica Veritas?: Christian Hebraists and the Study of Judaism in Early Modern Europe, edited by Allison P. Coudert and Jeffrey S. Shoulson. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004. Pages 181–201. The series JEWISH CULTURE AND CONTEXTS is published in association with the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies of the University of Pennsylvania; David B. Ruderman, Series Editor. Copyright © 2004 University of Pennsylvania Press. Used by permission.
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The study of Reformation-era Christian Hebraism has benefited from increased scholarly attention over the past fifty years. Sebastian Münster, Paul Fagius, Wolfgang Capito, and Conrad Pellican have all been the subjects of biographies. Luther scholars have analyzed not only Luther's use of Hebrew but to a lesser extent the Hebrew scholarship of Melanchthon, Bugenhagen, and Goldhahn. Historians of the book trade have provided analytic bibliographies and studies of prominent Christian Hebrew printers, including Heinrich Petri, Thomas Anselm, and Robert Estienne as well as studies of the Hebrew book trade in Augsburg and Basel. The role of Jewish scholars in facilitating the growth of Hebrew studies has received less attention but has been advanced through Weil's study of the life and works of Elias Levita. Yet despite this intense scholarly activity, Christian Hebraism in the Reformation era still lacks a convincing synthetic study relating the activities of Christian Hebraists to wider trends.

In this essay I will offer such a synthesis, based upon publishing data of Christian Hebrew books and a study of leading German Hebraists of the Reformation era. I will identify the most important authorities on the Hebrew language and examine their close personal and professional connections. Christian Hebrew scholarship grew at a dramatic rate in Germany in this period, thanks to their activities, which grew out of a commitment to the humanist ideal of a return to the sources (ad fontes) and, in most cases, the Protestant theological doctrine of sola Scriptura. The spread of Hebrew studies inevitably provoked discussions about what Christians could profitably learn from Jewish scholarship. The utility of Jewish scholarship became an important concern for Reformation-era Christian Hebraists.

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