- From Judaism to Calvinism: The Life and Writings of Immanuel Tremellius (c. 1510-1580)
Kenneth Austin's book examines the life and works of one of the most prominent teachers of Hebrew in sixteenth-century Europe, Immanuel Tremellius (ca. 1510–80). Austin examines the circumstances of Tremellius's youth in Italy as well as the vagaries of his professional and personal life in England and on the Continent. Austin beautifully reconstructs Tremellius's time as the Regius professor of Hebrew at Cambridge, a tenure cut short by the deteriorating status of the Protestant faith in England with the accession of Mary Tudor. He describes Tremellius's difficult transition to Brussels and Strasbourg, where he worked as a private tutor, and finally, his appointment as professor of the Old Testament at Heidelberg, the last position he would accept before his death in 1580. Austin also examines Tremellius's scholarship, from his early works in the 1540s to his translation of the Old and New Testaments (published in 1579 and 1569, respectively), often considered his greatest contribution to biblical studies in Europe.
The primary contribution of From Judaism to Calvinism is Austin's description of the fluctuations of Tremellius's career, the suspicions he encountered due to his Jewish past, and the security he sought through his various institutional and personal affiliations. It should be noted that Austin's portrait of Jewish-Christian interaction in Europe lacks the nuance of recent studies of these dynamics. Furthermore, in his effort to produce a detailed biography, Austin often provides highly speculative descriptions of Tremellius's circumstances and motivations. This is particularly true of Tremellius's youth in Italy, a tantalizing chapter in his life since he ultimately left Italy and Judaism to become one of the most respected Hebraists in Reformation Europe. Austin reconstructs the details of Tremellius's childhood and education, speculating, for example, that Abraham Farissol was likely to have been Tremellius's first teacher since Farissol was "the principle teacher to the Jewish community of Ferrara from the late fifteenth century through to his death in 1528" (13). Though it is tempting to make such conjectures, Austin would have been better served to limit his account to the historical and cultural context of sixteenth-century Ferrara than to attempt to reconstruct biographical details based on circumstantial associations.
Austin's survey of Tremellius's scholarship is detailed and thorough. He examines Tremellius's translation of the Syriac Bible, his commentaries on select books of the Bible, his lectures at Heidelberg, and most importantly, his Latin translations of the Old and New Testaments. Translation was not an unusual occupation for a sixteenth-century scholar; it was a primary activity of early humanists such as Erasmus and Reformation scholars including Luther himself. Tremellius's translation activity is noteworthy, however, in that a central feature of Reformation Bible scholarship was the translation of sacred texts into the vernacular. Though Reformation theologians by no means abandoned the Latin tongue, as Austin himself notes, the theological import of classical languages diminished in [End Page 1004] Reformation circles. Tremellius's decision to take up a Latin translation of the Bible is therefore worthy of consideration. Why was Tremellius drawn to the project of rendering scripture in Latin? To be sure, such a translation would provide an important alternative to the Vulgate, which had become the mainstay of the Counter-Reformation. However, it may also be the case that Tremellius's continued dedication to Latin scripture was the result of his own personal history of wandering, which prevented him from participating in the more regional aspects of the Reformation with its corresponding emphasis upon the vernacular. Tremellius's travels from Ferrara, to Padua, Lucca, Strasbourg, Cambridge, Zweibrücken, Hornbach, and Heidelberg, a journey so beautifully narrated by Austin, may have left him with an affinity for a linguistic medium that transcended regional particulars, despite his embrace of other features of Reformation theology and...