The Myth of Jewish Antiquity: New Christians and Christian-Hebraica in Early Modern Europe

  • Jerome Friedman
Part of the Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 138)


Christian Hebraica, the Christian use of Hebrew, rabbinic, or Cabbalistic sources for Christian religious purposes found new expression in fifteenth-and sixteenth-century Europe.1 This interest in Jewish opinion must seem curious, considering that Jews were traditionally conceived as the very essence of religious blindness. Yet, several factors account for this change. The Protestant search for accurate translations of the Old Testament certainly made knowledge of Hebrew imperative. But even before the Reformation, the Italian Renaissance witnessed a nostalgic interest in classical modes of thought, including a mythical view of ancient Greek and Roman learning and, additionally, a corresponding myth of Jewish antiquity. Christian scholars did more than use Hebrew to translate the Old Testament, however, or glorify some Old Testament personalities as prototypical Protestants. Christian Hebraica became controversial because rabbinic sources were also used to interpret the New Testament, and most surprising of all, to examine historically central Christian doctrines. Paradoxically, these efforts all entailed close Christian cooperation with Jewish scholars and the creation of a fantastic mythology of Jewish antiquity, despite the traditional intellectual enmity separating these two religious communities. This article will describe this search for a mythical Jewish antiquity and the prominent role played by New Christians, recent Iberian Jewish converts to Christianity, in propagating this myth.2


Sixteenth Century Church Father Jewish Scholar Jewish Source Rabbinic Authority 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1994

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  • Jerome Friedman

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