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Reviewed by:
  • Orientalism, Aramaic and Kabbalah in the Catholic Reformation: The First Printing of the Syriac New Testament, and: The Kabbalistic Scholars of the Antwerp Polyglot Bible
  • Max Engammare
Robert J. Wilkinson . Orientalism, Aramaic and Kabbalah in the Catholic Reformation: The First Printing of the Syriac New Testament. Studies in the History of Christian Traditions 137. Leiden: Brill, 2007. xvi + 224 pp. index. illus. bibl. $129. ISBN: 978-90-04-16250-1.
Robert J. Wilkinson . The Kabbalistic Scholars of the Antwerp Polyglot Bible. Studies in the History of Christian Traditions 138. Leiden: Brill, 2007. xii + 142 pp. index. bibl. $99. ISBN: 978-90-04-16251-8.

The two books under review started as chapters of a doctoral dissertation of the University of the West of England in Bristol, "The Origin of Syriac Studies in the Sixteenth Century" (2004). The first book is now devoted to the first printing of the Syriac New Testament, the second one to the Antwerp Polyglot Bible, the so-called Plantin's Polyglot Bible (1569-72). The captatio benevolentiæ of the reader is strange, because the author explains at the beginning of the first book: "The following pages seek first to recognize the specific features that characterize the first sixteenth-century edition of the Syriac New Testament. My description of this book, however, does not seek bibliographic precision and may, I fear, irritate the purist. My remarks extend no further than those features for which I feel I am able to give some sort of explanatory account" (1). Maybe I was not the right person to review the book, because the philologist in me was always in some way frustrated, although the historian received enough information, due to short chapters and subchapters (mostly two or three pages) that give facts but not acribic analysis of texts. After reading the preface, this reader was also disappointed, because diacritical points of Syriac and Arabic were suppressed, no translation of all passages in Latin were given, and there are many misprints in French (of which Tyardet instead of Pontus of Tyard, in the book on the Antwerp Polyglot Bible, 108, is the most curious), even a few in Latin. The aim of the study is the identification and reconstruction of the Christian kabbalistic milieu out of which the first Syriac New Testament arose, which is well done, but it was maybe not enough.

The first chapter narrates the introduction of Syriac in Europe, thanks to the [End Page 1314] Fifth Lateran Council (1513-15), when a Maronite delegation was sent to Rome at the invitation of Pope Leo X. Unfortunately, the author does not explain the importance of the Syriac language at the beginning of the sixteenth century. This appears in the second book, where the chapter devoted to the Syriac New Testament in the Antwerp Polyglot presents the reason of the interest in Syriac (77ff.): "Syriac is a semitic language (in fact, a late dialect of Aramaic) which was held in the sixteenth century to be the language of Christ." The first and second chapters focus on the Maronite delegation to the Lateran Council and on the kabbalistic context of Syriac studies in the sixteenth century. Teseo Ambrogio (1469-1540) and Cardinal Egidio da Viterbo (1469-1532) were the main scholars in the construction of Orientalism, within which the first printed Syriac New Testament was produced; the latter had in his household the Jewish grammarian and scholar Elias Levita. This editio princeps of the first printed Syriac New Testament was the product of an unexpected cooperation between a Syriac scribe sent by the Patriarch of Antioch, Moses of Mardin, and two Western scholars, Guillaume Postel and Johann Albrecht Widmanstetter, working under the patronage of Ferdinand I (63, 161). The Liber Sacrosancti Evangelii De Jesu Christo Domino et Deo nostro was published in Vienna in 1555. After the sack of Pavia, Teseo Ambrogio retired to a monastery in Reggio (in Modena). In the autumn of 1529, Charles V passed through the city. The young Johann Albrecht Widmanstetter was in his train, and he met Teseo, who gave him a Syriac Gospel book, a gift extremely important for Syriac studies and the first edition of the Syriac New Testament. Wilkinson...


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