GRAFTON, A., and J. WEINBERG,
I have always loved the Holy Tongue. Isaac Casaubon, the Jews, and a Forgotten Chapter in Renaissance Scholarship. With A. Hamilton.
The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Mass.) / London, 2011. XI,380p. Quarter cloth bound with pictorial dust wrps. ‘Famous for his expertise in classical philology and exposure of the Hermetic texts as forgeries, Isaac Casaubon comes alive in unexpected ways in this erudite and beautifully produced book. Through an examination of Casaubon’s study of Hebrew, Jews, and Judaism, Anthony Grafton and Joanna Weinberg reveal entirely new aspects of Casaubon’s scholarly and personal life, while placing him firmly in the context of the Reformation. As the authors point out, Casaubon’s Judaic studies have received no scholarly attention whatsoever, and this despite the fact that he read and extensively annotated many works by Jews (in Hebrew, Aramic, Greek and several in Yiddish) as well as books written by Christian Hebraists on Judaism and Yewish customs and institutions. As the authors say, ‘To know Casaubon the Judaist is, as we will argue, to know Casaubon the classicist in a new way’ (4). (…) Studying this aspect of Casaubon’s scholarship [has been very difficult -ND] since it is largely unpublished and in the form of notes written in the margins of his books of in his notebooks and diaries. (…) Through masterful detective work, Grafton and Weinberg have gotten into Casaubon’s head (…) and have made sense of his notes (…), ‘can master the code of his quotations, and rediscover the arguments about antiquity and modernity, that they put’ (22). A second obstacle to appreciating Casaubon’s Hebraism is the fact that until relatively recently the works of Christian Hebraist were ignored and there was little sympathy for Casaubon’s interest in the church fathers and late antique writers. (…) The attempt to rediscover the ‘true’ nature early Christianity was a huge part of the polemical debate between Protestants and Catholics concerning what interpretation of Christianity was most faithful to that of Jesus. Casaubon, a Calvinist, was intensely involved in this debate; his scholarship was devoted to the task of digging through what he and fellow Protestants considered layers of Catholic distortion to reach the bedrock of early Christians beliefs and practices. In undertaking this task, Casaubon, like his much-admired epistolary friend, Joseph Scaliger, recognised that neither early Christianity nor the Gospels could be understood without a clear perception of the world of Hellenistic Judaism. Casaubon was interested in every aspect of late antiquity, including material culture. Unlike many of his fellow Christians he recognised the Mishnah and Talmud as important sourced for understanding the preaching and practices of Jesus and his followers ; and he did not reject, as so many Christians did, the learning of contemporary Jews. (…) Casaubon treated the Old Testament in the same way he treated the Latin and Greek texts of classical authors. His approach was scholarly and semantic, and he was highly critical of the mystical exegesis of Jewish kabbalists and their Christian devotees (…). All of Casaubon’s scholarly work was focused on recovering the true history of early Christianity. (…) His aim was to base his scholarship on authentic texts whose authors’ opinions, whenever possible, were based on eyewitness testimony. Casaubon’s emphasis on the veracity of the texts he studies became a major issue in the early modern period as scholars, theologians, and natural philosophers were faced with an ‘information explosion’ and the consequent need to separate fact from fiction. (…) A short review cannot do justice to the richness of Grafton and Weinberg’s reassessment of the work of Isaac Casaubon. By taking into account all his writings, including his notes and marginalia, they have given us a more rounded and human picture of the great scholar.’ (ALLISON COUDERT in AJS Review, 2012, pp.346-348).