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The Christian Hebraism of John Donne

Written with the Fingers of Man's Hand

By Chanita Goodblatt

Publication Year: 2010

The complex relationship between the nation, Church of England, and the Jews reached an important culmination during the Reformation as Christian scholars became more and more interested in Hebrew language and the Jewish roots of European civilization. Christian Hebraism’s influence spread as a central focus in theology and politics, spurring the Geneva (1560) and the King James (1611) Bibles in particular. Within this context, Chanita Goodblatt reorients John Donne, one of the most prominent preachers and writers of the time, as a Christian Hebraist and examines the exegetical strategies and language in Donne’s psalms and sermons.

While Donne shows only a basic grasp of the Hebrew language, his sermons reveal the many semantic nuances taken from Latin and vernacular translations of Jewish biblical scholarship. Goodblatt lays out the intellectual context of Donne’s work and ties specific lexical, rhetorical, and thematic strategies to Hebrew traditions. Donne’s work weaves a web of intertextual complexities that highlight the interaction of Christian and Jewish scholarship that influenced the theological and political views of the time period. In addition, Donne’s reinterpretation of the Bible based on Jewish exegesis ultimately adds to an understanding of Christian Hebraism and establishes the Church of England as the inheritor of the Jewish tradition.

This study focuses on Donne’s sermons preached on the Psalms. Organized both generically and thematically, corresponding reproductions of the Hebrew Rabbinic (1525) and the Geneva Bible preface each chapter and allow the reader, regardless of specialization, to follow Goodblatt’s critical analyses.

Published by: Duquesne University Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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p. vii

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pp. viii-x

Research for this book was supported by the following sources: a grant from the Office of the Dean, Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, Ben-Gurion University in 1998; a fellowship from the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies (CAJS) at the University of Pennsylvania in January–February 2000; two grants from the Israel Science Foundation (grants no. 846/02 and 1538/04) in...

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pp. xi-xii

The present discussion of the commentaries written by the medieval Jewish exegetes Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and Kimhi is based upon the original Hebrew texts, whenever possible taken from the 1525 Biblia Rabbinica (cited by volume and page numbers). For translations of these commentaries, I have either produced my own...

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pp. 1-10

The second part of this book’s title is cited from Donne’s 1621 Lenten sermon, preached on February 16 before King James at Whitehall. Donne turns to the Book of Daniel in order to substantiate his argument about the integrity and authority of the biblical text as “a sufficient Instruction to Timothy” (Sermons...

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ONE. Christian HebraismSources and Strategies

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pp. 11-46

As one of the most prominent preachers of the early seventeenth century, John Donne was a participant in the intellectual and religious movement of Christian Hebraism in Reformation England. Hebraic scholarship asserted itself in the creation of the English Reformation Bibles — particularly the Geneva and the King James...


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p. 47

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TWO. The Penitential Psalm 6: Notes and Margins

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pp. 49-75

Paul Stanwood’s discovery of John Burley’s manuscript notes on Donne’s sermons, recorded in a “miscellaneous academic notebook” (“John Donne’s Sermon Notes” 76), bestows a palpable presence on one member of this preacher’s “learneder, and more capable auditories, and congregations” (Sermons 5:42–43)....

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THREE. The Penitential Psalm 32: The Sacred Philology of Sin

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pp. 77-107

Donne’s series of eight sermons on the Penitential Psalm 32 evoked a rather piqued response from Evelyn Simpson, who writes that the “great block of sermons on the Penitential Psalms [32] is a bit of a drag.”1 Perhaps Simpson’s response reflects her unease...


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p. 109

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FOUR. The Literal Sense: Moralized Grammar

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pp. 111-138

In his religious treatise The Obedience of a Christen Man (1528) (see fig. 6), William Tyndale devotes a section to “The Four Senses of the Scripture.” In a passage considered to be “a most seminal and original contribution to English hermeneutics” (Janel Mueller, “Introduction” 19), Tyndale sets out his exegetical...

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FIVE. The Literal Sense: Genesis

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pp. 139-169

In his book on The Legend of Noah, the literary historian D. C. Allen makes a provocative statement about the “literal sense” of Scripture, writing that “I shall not consider the evolution of the three allegorical senses, because the danger for the Renaissance resided in the literal interpretation and it is in the danger that...


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pp. 171-175


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pp. 177-211


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pp. 212-236


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pp. 237-244

E-ISBN-13: 9780820705064
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820704319

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 8 facsimile pages
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 794698807
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Christian Hebraism of John Donne

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Subject Headings

  • Donne, John, 1572-1631 -- Prose.
  • Donne, John, 1572-1631 -- Religion.
  • Christian Hebraists -- England -- History -- 16th century.
  • Christian Hebraists -- England -- History -- 17th century.
  • Jewish learning and scholarship -- England -- History -- 16th century.
  • Jewish learning and scholarship -- England -- History -- 17th century.
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