Associate 2009-10

David H Price


Humanism and Judaism: Johannes Reuchlin and the Renaissance Campaign against Judaism

During his Center appointment, Professor Price will complete the final stages of his research for a book assessing a critical juncture in the political and theological history of Christian-Jewish relations. The study presents (a) Renaissance research on Judaism and (b) Renaissance campaigns against Judaism, and explores how these two developments intersected in the case of Johannes Reuchlin (1455-1522). The book will be published by Oxford University Press.

Reuchlin wrote the books that provided Renaissance Christians with accurate knowledge of Judaism and its history. In their rediscovery of Hebrew and their textual-historical studies of Judaism, Reuchlin and his humanist colleagues were seeking new sources to guide them in their research. Controversy arose when Reuchlin wrote and published a legal opinion (The Eyeglasses, 1510) against a campaign to confiscate and destroy all Jewish books in the Holy Roman Empire. The resulting heresy trial against Reuchlin elicited a fierce and protracted public debate among rulers, popes, theologians, and humanist professors from all over Europe on both the status of Judaism and the methods of Christian theology.

Professor Price examines three trajectories resulting from the “Reuchlin Affair.” Powerful voices, especially at the Papal Curia, urged Christian scholars to engage the Jewish tradition benignly as an authentic source of learning, and even piety. In this trajectory Reuchlin’s work was celebrated as the foundation for Christian biblical philology and as a source of theological innovation.

A second trajectory featured the rise of Christian Hebrew studies grounded in theological anti-Judaism. A third was even worse: the emergence of a new academic anti-Semitism that not only rejected Judaism on theological grounds but also agitated for the violent end of Judaism. Ultimately,f the controversy limited humanism’s potential for improving attitudes about Jews, and the humanist movement learned to accommodate both Christian Hebrew studies and Christian anti-Semitism.