This book is an annotated translation of the pioneering Hebrew work of Azariah de’ Rossi, an outstanding figure in the history of Jewish scholarship. First printed in Mantua in 1573, the book established the foundations of critical Jewish historiography.
The book contains innovative studies on a wide range of subjects, including chronology, the origins of the Septuagint, the antiquity of the Hebrew language, and the nature of biblical poetry. De’ Rossi lends unprecedented attention to the evidence of Josephus while his critique of Philo of Alexandria was the first attempt to assess the Jewish status of this Hellenistic philosopher. The hallmark of his work is the presentation of arguments drawn from an impressive array of diverse sources ranging from the texts of rabbinic tradition to Augustine and to Pico della Mirandola. His critical approach to rabbinic texts and his demonstration that the Jewish creation-era calendar was a late, post-Talmudic invention generated controversy that at one time led to a ban on the book. Familiar with the works of contemporary Catholics and Protestants, de’ Rossi was also a mediator between Jewish and Christian scholarship, clarifying problems posed by Jewish tradition in relation to non-Jewish evidence, while signaling the importance of Jewish sources for the topics discussed by his non-Jewish neighbors.
Joanna Weinberg is senior lecturer in rabbinics, Leo Baeck College, London.
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