- Giannozzo Manetti, Against the Jews and the Gentiles, Books I–IV ed. by Stefano U. Baldassarri and Daniela Pagliara
trans., Giannozzo Manetti, Against the Jews and the Gentiles, Books I–IV (The I Tatti Renaissance Library), Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 2017; hardback; pp. xix, 487; R.R.P. US $29.95, £19.95, €21.00;
Since its inception in 2001, the I Tatti Renaissance Library series has contributed to the recovery of the 'lost' library of the Italian Renaissance. 'Lost library' is how Christopher Celenza described the numerous Latin works that are still in manuscript form, waiting to be edited, translated, and published in modern editions. Through its aims, the I Tatti Renaissance Library acknowledges that there are also Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic texts awaiting philological recovery and intellectual discovery. Giannozzo Manetti (1396–1459) is one of a handful of notable cases of Italian humanists engaging with Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Florentine vernacular in his versatile career as orator, translator, author, and secretary. In the last fifteen years, scholars such as Stefano Baldassarri, Francesco Bausi, Paul Botley, Annet den Haan, Brian Maxson, and Daniela Pagliara have shed much light on Manetti's work and his ability to survey, syncretize, and rewrite ancient and medieval sources in elegant and eloquent neo-Latin.
This new edition and translation of Adversos Iudaeos et Gentiles (Against the Jews and the Gentiles)' first four books builds on other editions of Manetti's work published in the I Tatti series: Biographical Writings (2003) and A Translator's Defense (2016). We must also mention, just off the press, On Human Worth and Excellence (2019). Against the Jews and the Gentiles reveals Manetti's ability to translate, analyse, and explain religious texts: the New Testament, Psalter, and Christian poems by Juvencus (fourth century) and Sedulus (fifth century) among ancient classics such as Cicero. As Baldassarri has recently shown in a 2013 article, Against the Jews and the Gentiles was, at least for its first four books, an opportunity for Manetti to revisit his translations of the New Testament and Psalter (both dedicated to Pope Nicholas V) and explain more clearly relevant passages from the Gospels.
Although Manetti's books I–IV reference and augment earlier works, David Marsh makes it clear in the introduction that there is a significant proportion of original material in Book I of Manetti's encyclopaedic text. In Book I, Manetti the compiler and translator reviews several works on Jewish history and culture and avoids the common accusation that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. In the words of Marsh, 'Manetti preferred praise to blame' (p. xiv). This is done by dividing the history of Jews into 'before' and 'after Moses'. Before Moses, the 'Hebrews […] alone turned to the true and devout worship of almighty [End Page 193] God' (p. 49). After Moses, Hebrews became the Jews, named after Judah, and God 'scourged them for their wicked acts, until the sacrosanct seed of Mary came to mankind' (pp. 119–21).
This edition has been curated impeccably by Baldassarri, Marsh, and Pagliara. It represents an essential contribution to furthering our understanding of biblical humanism before Erasmus and before the Reformation. The English translation is a close rendering of Manetti's text. Infelicitously, Marsh describes his translation as 'faithful' to Manetti's prose (p. xvi). The strength of Marsh's translation might instead be better described in words that reflect almost thirty years of translation studies that have debunked faithful translation as a concept as well as practice: dynamically or directionally equivalent. Curiously, the 'faithfulness' concept remains a frequent presence in the I Tatti Renaissance Library series in spite of scholarship moving away from the notion. For such a valiant and worthy project, one aimed at recovering the lost library of Renaissance Italy, alignment with the greater complexity of translation would be a welcome turn: a complexity that quattrocento humanists understood very well.