The revival of Christian Hebraism in early modern Europe

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Nihil quod nostrum esse in philosophia quod non ante Iudaeorum fuerit. Reuchlin, De arte cabalistica, 130 Renaissance and early modern philosemitism, inasmuch as it existed, resulted directly from the renewed interest of Renaissance humanists in the ancient past, and particularly from the emergence of Christian Hebraism. Early modern Christian Hebraism and the myth of the Jewish or Hebrew origins of human knowledge were a direct outcome of Renaissance humanism. The scholars who created this field of study, mostly participants in the northern Renaissance beyond the Alps, widened the original humanistic definition of classical learning beyond the Greek and Roman sources beloved by Italian Renaissance humanists, to ancient Hebrew, among other eastern sources. This Hebraic tendency joined the general antiquarian movement of that period that enthusiastically, even obsessively, collected, cataloged, and compared knowledge on cultures and societies. These they considered exotic, whether they were forgotten esoteric ancient cultures or those recently unearthed in the great voyages of exploration. The English seventeenth-century scholar Ben Jonson chose to put the following words, so descriptive of this widespread phenomenon, into the mouth of a madwoman: For except We call the rabbins, and the heathen Greeks To come from Salem, and from Athens, And to teach the people of Great Britain To speak the tongue of Eber and Javan, We shall know nothing … And so we may arrive by Talmud skill, And profane Greek, to raise the building up Of Helen’s house against the Ismaelite, King of Thogarma, and his habergions Brimstony, blue and fiery; and the force Of king Abaddon, and the beast of Cittim; Which rabbi David Kimchi, Onkelos, And Aben Ezra do interpret Rome.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPhilosemitism in History
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9780511781025
ISBN (Print)9780521873772
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2011

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2011.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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