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The Insight of Unbelievers

Nicholas of Lyra and Christian Reading of Jewish Text in the Later Middle Ages

By Deeana Copeland Klepper

Publication Year: 2008

In the year 1309, Nicholas of Lyra, an important Franciscan Bible commentator, put forth a question at the University of Paris, asking whether it was possible to prove the advent of Christ from scriptures received by the Jews. This question reflects the challenges he faced as a Christian exegete determined to value Jewish literature during an era of increasing hostility toward Jews in western Europe. Nicholas's literal commentary on the Bible became one of the most widely copied and disseminated of all medieval Bible commentaries. Jewish commentary was, as a result, more widely read in Latin Christendom than ever before, while at the same moment Jews were being pushed farther and farther to the margins of European society. His writings depict Jews as stubborn unbelievers who also held indispensable keys to understanding Christian Scripture. In The Insight of Unbelievers, Deeana Copeland Klepper examines late medieval Christian use of the Hebrew Bible and Jewish interpretation of Scripture, focusing on Nicholas of Lyra as the most important mediator of Hebrew traditions.

Klepper highlights the important impact of both Jewish literature and Jewish unbelief on Nicholas of Lyra and on Christian culture more generally. By carefully examining the place of Hebrew and rabbinic traditions in the Christian study of the Bible, The Insight of Unbelievers elaborates in new ways on the relationship between Christian and Jewish scholarship and polemic in late medieval Europe.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii

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pp. 1-12

In the year 1309, three years after the French king Philip the Fair had expelled the Jews from royal France, in a year that saw the burning of three wagonloads of Hebrew books at the Place de Gre`ve in Paris, Nicholas of Lyra (c. 1270–1349), an important Franciscan Hebraist and Bible scholar, determined a quodlibetal question at the University of Paris asking whether it was possible to prove the advent of Christ from Scriptures received by the Jews. If this essence of Christian truth could...

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1. Medieval Christian Use of Hebrew and Postbiblical Jewish Texts

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pp. 13-31

The incorporation of the Hebrew Bible within the Christian canon established an ongoing connection between Christian and Jewish Scripture, a connection that was sometimes ignored, sometimes engaged, but that effectively bound biblical exegesis with polemic for Jews and Christians alike.1 At various times, some within the Christian community found themselves drawn to rabbinic teaching...

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2. Nicholas of Lyra, O.F.M.: Mediating Hebrew Traditions for a Christian Audience

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pp. 32-60

Nicholas of Lyra’s renown as a Hebraist surpassed that of virtually all of his predecessors and contemporaries. By the time of the Reformation, Nicholas, ‘‘the second Jerome,’’ was one of the very few medieval Hebraists whose name was still familiar.1 When sixteenth-century reformers called for a return to the sources, it was his example that they cited. Nicholas’s achievement was not, of course, as...

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3. The Challenge of Unbelief: Knowing Christian Truth Through Jewish Scripture

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pp. 61-81

Aptly borrowing from Claude Le´vi-Strauss’s structuralist theory of myth, Miri Rubin observed that medieval Christians found Jews to be ‘‘very good to think with.’’1 Jews served as an important symbolic construct for medieval Christian writers and so appeared in all sorts of contexts, some of which had little or nothing to do with concerns about real Jews. Jewish unbelief was a serious problem for Christians, not...

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4. Wrestling with Rashi: Nicholas of Lyra’s Quodlibetal Questions and Anti-Jewish Polemic

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pp. 82-108

By the early fourteenth century, when Nicholas of Lyra disputed his questions on ‘‘whether the Jews knew Jesus of Nazareth to be the messiah promised to them’’ and ‘‘whether from Scriptures received by the Jews it is possible to prove effectively that our savior was both God and man,’’ the parameters of such questions had already been well established.

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5. Christian Ownership of Jewish Text: Nicholas of Lyra as an Alternative Jewish Authority

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pp. 109-134

As remarkable as Nicholas’s literary output was, perhaps even more impressive is the tremendous range of uses to which his writing was put once it left his hands. Few medieval theologians enjoyed such wide diffusion of their work into so many different settings. As Klaus Reinhardt has commented with respect to Nicholas’s Bible commentary, the ubiquity of the text alone commands our attention.1 If one mark of...

Appendix: Manuscripts Consulted Containing Nicholas of Lyra’s Quaestio de adventu Christi

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pp. 135-142


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pp. 143-196


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pp. 197-216


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pp. 217-222

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pp. 223-225

I have experienced such generosity over the many years I have been at work on this project that I could not possibly name all of those who have played a role in bringing the book to fruition. Some of the work for this book was begun many years ago while I was a fellow at the American Academy in Rome, and I remain grateful for the support I enjoyed then. Williams College was extraordinarily generous...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812200393
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812220216

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2008