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Hebraica Veritas?

An Exhibition from the Collection of The Center for Judaic Studies Library

Introduction


Christian Hebraism was an offshoot of Renaissance humanism whose devotees--biblical scholars, theologians, lawyers, physicians, scientists, philosophers, and teachers in Latin schools--borrowed and adapted texts, literary forms, and ideas from Jewish scholarship and tradition to meet Christian cultural and religious needs. Intellectual and cultural exchange did occur between Jew and Christian during the Middle Ages, but paled by comparison with what occurred between 1450 and 1750. Encounters between cultures can be fruitful, but also very painful. Certainly Christian Hebraism had such effects both upon European Jewry, and upon western tradition.

One of the most tangible witnesses to the sudden and sustained popularity of Hebraica and Judaica among Christian writers and readers during this period are books. In addition to our discussions throughout the year and the final conference, we fellows would like to share some of the books that we found most intriguing or most useful in our research. Participating fellows have each chosen a book, written a short description of it and picked an illustration to go with it. Each of these books may be found in the library of the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies or at Van Pelt Library, the main library of the University of Pennsylvania. The understanding of Judaism held by the authors of these works is not always entirely accurate, and frequently they were involved in controversies that either baffle or infuriate contemporary readers, yet some of their work has stood the test of time. Christian Hebraism in its day mediated Jewish thought to the majority of western thinkers who could not read Hebrew and contributed to the emergence of several modern scholarly disciplines including cultural anthropology, comparative religion, and Jewish studies. This encounter with Judaism paradoxically served both to confirm traditional religious beliefs in some readers, while for others it fostered the skepticism, irreligion, and toleration normally associated with the Enlightenment. While Judaism's claim to be one of the three pillars of Western Civilization, together with Greek and Roman culture, rests primarily on the importance of the Hebrew Bible, Christian Hebraists in early modern Europe made their contribution by enriching western thought with a healthy dose of Jewish education.

Stephen Burnett


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