Classics and Religious Studies, Department of


Date of this Version

January 2005


Published in: Reuchlin und seine Erben. Ed. Peter Schaefer and I. Wandrey. Pforzheimer Reuchlinschriften, Vol. 11. Stuttgart: Jan Thorbecke, 2005. Pages 41–51.
Copyright © Peter Schaefer/Irina Wandrey (Hg.), Reuchlin und seine Erben. Pforzheimer Reuchlinschriften, heraus¬gegeben von der Stadt Pforzheim, Band 11, Jan-Thorbecke-Verlag, Ostfildern, 2006.
Used by permission.
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When Christian Hebraists reprinted Jewish polemical works they served as "Spokesmen for Judaism" in two different ways. While it is true that Christian Hebraists did report authentically Jewish opinion when they ppblished Jewish polemical texts or excerpts from them, they did so in ways, which reflected Christian standards and expectations. All of the scholars who served as editors and translators of medieval Jewish polemics were university professors, who were obligated by law, oath and conscience to defend the Christian confession of the state, which supported their university. They were sometimes required to enforce the censorship ordinance of their locality as well. An improperly censored book could result in political embarrassment for the state in question, and unpleasant consequences for the censor, particularly where Jewish books were concerned. The frequent reprinting of the twenty-three questions demonstrates that Hebraists were allowed to publish fairly abrasive comments by Jewish authors, provided that a refutation followed them. However, as P. T. van Rooden has pointed out, the publication of some texts, notably the Nizzahon of R. Lipmann Mülhausen, was unacceptable in Latin or another language that Christian readers could readily understand. In the mid-seventeenth century, Hackspann, and his contemporaries Constantijn L'Empereur and Johannes Buxtorf the Younger worried, with good reason, that Christian radicals might make use of Latin translations of Jewish polemical texts.

The reception of Jewish medieval polemical texts by Reformation era Christian Hebraists is indicative of several overall trends within Christian Hebraism as an intellectual movement. Only a relatively small number of Hebraists were capable of reading and understanding Hebrew texts apart from the Bible or medieval biblical commentaries, much less to translate such texts into Latin. This handful of Christian Hebraists formed an elite group, which stands out from the roughly 350 authors, editors and translators of Hebraica who published Hebraica books during this period. As with the Christian Hebraists who studied and responded to Jewish polemical works, only a relatively small group of Christian Hebraists was responsible for mediating Jewish linguistic and biblical scholarship, kabbalistic texts, historical books, and philosophical works for a primarily Latin reading audience. One of the most urgent tasks in the study of Christian Hebraism is to analyze their role as "mediators of Jewish learning." The texts that they sought to make available to Christian readers were carefully selected and supported Christian interests. If these Christian Hebraists were "spokesmen for Judaism," it was only to the extent that their Jewish texts contributed in some way to Christian needs.

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