top of page

Golda Akhiezer

Hebrew University


Yitzhaq ben Abraham of Troky  the Karaite Polemicist against Christians and Rabbanites in 16th Century Poland


The book Hizzuq Emunah was written in the 16th century by Yitzhaq ben Abraham of Troky, the spiritual leader of the Karaite communities of Poland-Lithuania. This treatise became the most popular of all the polemical books that are known from the 12th century and was widely circulated in the Jewish communities of Europe, India, and Northern Africa. It was translated into most of the European languages (including Latin and Yiddish) and was published many times in different countries by Jews and Christians. The book also stirred concerns among the Christian missionaries about its strong influence on some of the Jewish communities. Hizzuq Emunah was a new phenomenon in the Jewish-Christian controversy: its author, who had close connections with Christian scholars of different trends, launched his polemics mainly from the Christian rather than the Jewish aspects, and to a great extent his argumentation was influenced by the Antitrinian sects of the Reformation period in Poland. Yitzhaq ben Abrahams commentary on certain chapters of the New Testament demonstrates by historical-philological analysis the differences between the literal meaning of these texts and the later Christian interpretations. His anti Rabbinic polemic is less known for historians. Some aspects of this polemic allows us to learn more about his views and to answer the question, why Hizzuq Emunah was held by some historians to be a product of a Rabbanite pen.   


Lawrence Besserman

Hebrew University


The King James Bible and Traditional Religious Belief


My proposed paper on the biblical Book of Job will treat the biblical poems embodiment of traditional religious belief and its critique, with special reference to the King James version of the Book of Job.  The paper will concentrate on two main levels of analysis: first, the primary Hebrew text of Job and its problematizing of deuteronomic religion, and second, the 17th century English translation and its response to the challenges of the Hebrew original.  Among other topics, I shall focus on the special role of the nature-wisdom chapters and on the occasionally puzzling distribution of speeches, whereby Job and his comforters sometimes seem to switch sides, and then revert to their sharply opposing positions.


Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky                                                                                                                                                                                

Lander Institute


The World  of the Jewish Woman in Spanish and Musta-Arabic Society


The purpose of this lecture is to give a number of glimpses into the private life of the Sephardic and Musta'arabic Jewish woman who lived in the Arabic provinces of the Ottoman Empire during the 17th century.   We will examine the way in which the women of these two groups viewed their lives, and how they coped with their unequal place in clearly patriarchal families.  Essentially we will focus on these womens relationship to the institution of marriage, and the problems related to married life (e. w. second woman, divorce, Ybbum, halitza, agunah, etc) and the meaning of love in the world of the woman.

The sources of this research are essentially response written by the scholars of the 17th century scholars in the main Jewish communities of the Ottoman Empire. 


Sanford Budick

Hebrew University


Samson Agonistes, Job, and the Achievement of Moral Freedom


Kenneth Burke, the theorist of symbolic language as symbolic action, famously described Samson Agonistes as a wonder-working spell by a cantankerous old fighter-priest who would slay the enemy in effigy. In effect, Burke saw a moral-intellectual vacuum in the play which justifies Dr. Johnsons claim that Miltons tragedy lacks a middle. Johnson and Burke apparently both believed that that the play has no logical basis for demonstrating intelligible moral progress in its hero. Crowning this line of criticism of Miltons Samson, Stanley Fish has recently written, There is simply nothing to be said about him, no acquist of wisdom with which we are dismissed, despite the choral pronouncement to the contrary. The only wisdom to be carried away from the play is that there is no wisdom to be carried away, and that we are alone, like Samson, and like the children of Israel, of whom it is said in the last verse of Judges: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.

In my paper I try to show that a.Samson Agonistes significantly internalizes and represents the structure of the book of Job;  b.the structure of the book of Job, and of Samson Agonistes as well, is constituted by an identifiable, fully intelligible, moral progress that culminates in a decisive moral turning point of the hero;   c.this moral progress stems from a kind of transformative self-reliance that was seen as harmonious with biblical as well as contemporary communal morality and that therefore expands our ideas of the hermeneutics and theologies of the early modern period. 



Nirit Ben-Aryeh Debby

Ben-Gurion University


Art and Sermons: Mendicants and Muslims in Florence


This paper analyzes the perceptions of the Muslims by the mendicant friars in Florence, on the eve of the Reformation. I will focus on the encounter between the Christian and the Islamic worlds as it appears in Florentine churches in the oral and visual traditions. Special emphasis would be placed on the conceptions of the Muslims by radical religious movements, especially among the reform movements of the mendicant friars in Italy. These religious movements called for religious conversion, the purification of Christian society from its sins, and the suppression of minority groups. They were radical in the exceptional austerity they demanded of their members, and they stood out for their fierce social criticism and the extreme religious stances that they held. 

Crusading sympathy in Tuscany, particularly in Florence, had a long history. The role of the mendicant orders, established in the great convents of Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce, was crucial in winning sympathy for the crusades in Florence. This tradition continued in the fifteenth century, after the fall of Constantinople, when Florence openly voiced support for papal crusading efforts and participated in fund-raising for the crusade. The main supporters of crusade propaganda in Florence were the Franciscan and Dominican preachers, who acted as virtual papal envoys, continuing a tradition of mendicant crusade sermons. These movements also developed special types of artworks, either painting or sculptures in order to disseminate their religious ideals. The usage of rhetoric and preaching, the interrelations between word and image, the artistic and literary traditions, artworks and sermons, will be a central focus of this talk.


Noam Flinker

University of Haifa


Kabbalah and Literary Theurgy in Shakespeare and Milton


In the light of recent studies of cultural inter connections between Jewish and Christian society in the early modern period, this paper traces the parallels between Jewish Kabbalah and some major seventeenth-century English texts.  Although many similarities between the Kabbalah and English poetry can be ascribed to the presence of significant Neoplatonic intertexts, it is clear that much of the intense spirituality that accompanies such works as Shakespeares Tempest or Miltons Paradise Lost depends on theurgic motifs that had appeared in Jewish mystical circles.  Jewish attention to messianic redemption and to hermeneutical speculation as a means of controlling nature intrigued Christian theologians and literati who worked out explicit Christian accounts of Jewish traditions found in such sources as the Zohar as well as in the riches of Lurianic Kabbalah.  It is, therefore, not surprising that in the early seventeenth century Shakespeares Tempest focuses upon a scholar whose study of books enables him to exercise considerable control over men and nature.  Prosperos spiritual world depends to some extent upon themes and techniques made available to the Christian world by the work of men such as Pico della Mirandola, Giordano Bruno and John Dee.  By 1667,  Milton was able to incorporate aspects of this mystical world in Paradise Lost, his Christian version of Genesis, which nevertheless contains an aura of theurgy as Raphael and Michael instruct Adam about his nearly divine potential.  

The specific texts that  I plan to discuss in the course of my paper include, in addition to Shakespeares Tempest and Miltons Paradise Lost,, passages from Pico,  Bruno  and Dee on the one hand and from Manasseh ben Israels Hope of Israel and the responses its publication elicited in mid-seventeenth century England.


Matt Goldish

Ohio State University


The Sermons of Hakham Solomon Aailion and Clerical Heresy in Late 17th Century England


     The Jewish messianic movement surrounding Shabbatai Zvi in 1665-6 ended its public phase when Shabbatai converted to Islam. The Jewish world was generally embarrassed by its massive error and sought nothing more than to bury the entire episode. But numerous Sabbateans were unable to relinquish their belief in the mission of Shabbatai, and underground cells of these outlawed believers remained active for over a century. Astonishingly, a significant number of important rabbis in Europe and the Ottoman Empire in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were active Sabbateans. This was the case with Hakham Solomon Aailion, who was rabbi of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews congregation in London during the decade following the Glorious Revolution, and afterward in the great community of Amsterdam.

In this talk I will discuss several manuscripts of sermons left by Aailion, mainly from his tenure in London, to see what they reveal about his continued Sabbatean belief. I will also talk about what it meant to be a heretic in the Jewish world of the period, and compare Aailions case with certain contemporary Latitudinarian divines of the Church of England who might also have technically been heretics.  In the late seventeenth century it became increasingly common for Anglican clergy to doubt or even reject some of the Thirty-nine Articles and other formal doctrines of the English Church. The coincidence of heretical clergy in the Jewish and Christian English context at this specific juncture suggests the need for a careful evaluation of the very meaning of heresy in that period of rapid change.



Chanita Goodblatt   

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev


Misere Mei, Deus:  John Donne and the Authority of the Literal


Misere mei, Deus"Have mercie on me ô God"is the Latin incipit of the penitential Psalm 51, considered to be "the Psalm of all Psalms; that which of all inspired compositions has, with the one exception of the Lord's Prayer, been repeated oftenest by the Church" (Neale and Littledale). Perhaps this is so because this psalm alone is presented explicitly as "A Psalme of David, when the Prophet Nathan came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba"; this prefatory title thereby asserts David's authority as psalmic speaker, Nathan's authority as God's speaker, and the canonical authority of the Bible as a synchronic narrative.  This threefold issue of authority is at the center of my current re-reading of Donne's single sermon on Psalm 51, invited by my ongoing research into how Reformation England (until 1640) negotiated the encounter among Jewish, Catholic and Protestant readings of the Hebrew Bible.  The impetus of my re-reading derives from a close study of one of the most fascinating and pivotal historical, cultural and religious affairs of the English Reformation, "the great matter" of Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Aragon.  For the king, as Guy Bedouelle so penetratingly writes, "chose to fight the battle in[an arena] in which theology and exegesis had a part to play," and at whose center was the issue of the authoritative but enigmatic textthe Hebrew Bible.  I will therefore delineate the exegetical issues and strategies on which this affair centered, in order to subsequently re-read Donne's preaching on the psalmic text within the comprehensive intellectual tradition of Christian Hebraism.  Such an effort will ultimately confirm Donne's own statement that "any third man, who were utterly discharged of all preconceptions and anticipations in matter of Religion...would be drawne to such an Historicall, such a Grammaticall, such a Logicall beliefe of our Bible, as to preferre it before any other."


Avi Gross

Ben-Gurion University  


Solomon Molkho's Biblical Self-Perception


Molkho, a Portuguese Marrano, returned to Judaism in the 1520's, fled from Portugal, and joined David Reuveni in his quest to bring about a military clash between Christianity and Islam which, ultimately, will usher the messianic era for the Jews. In an autobiographical epistle to the rabbis in Salonica he presents himself and his career. He describes there his return to Judaism and what he went through since he surfaced in Italy. A major part of the epistle consists of the visions he had since his self-circumcision in Lisbon.

While scholarship has focused on the messianic mission he assumed (probably as Messiah Son of Joseph [משיח בן יוסף]), a textual analysis of his vision in Rome, language and content, show that he saw himself as the biblical Daniel.  It is our suggestion that this has to be interpreted in light of the striking similarity of his career to that of Daniel.



Achsah Guibbory

University of Illinois at Champagne/Barnard College


The Church of England, Judaism, and the Jewish Temple in Seventeenth-century England


Part of the effort of constructing Englands national and religious identity after the reformation involved defining the Church of England.  I would suggest that in the struggles over defining the Church of England (particularly its worship and government), Judaism played a role.  From its beginnings as a sect of Judaism, Christianity had forged its identity in relation to the Judaism from which it had emerged. The Reformation precipitated a renegotiation of the relation between Christianity and Judaism as Protestantism needed to redefine what true Christianity was.  But England also had to define the identity of her church, and that identity was defined not just in relation to Rome but also in relation to Judaism.  Because Protestants identified Catholic worship with Jewish ceremonialism, there was potential for intensified hostility to Jewish elementsa sense that all things Jewish had to be purged from Christianity and the English church.  But there were also those who turned to the ancient church of the Jews to authorize the present Church of England.  Responding to the Roman Churchs objection that the reformed church was a new one and, particularly, to the puritan/Presbyterian desires for further reform (for purging the church of popish ceremonies and church government), conformist apologists beginning with Richard Hooker grounded the established English church on Jewish precedent and the Hebrew Bible.  They suggested that the controversial aspects of the English church that seemed popish were actually not Catholic corruptions but the continuation of the practices of Gods ancient people, the Jews.  I want to examine Hookers Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity, but also the avant-guarde conformists (Peter Lakes term) and Laudians who followed Hooker, and looked back especially to the Jewish Temple and its worship.  I would suggest that Laud and his cohorts were imaginatively creating the Laudian Church of England as the successor to the Jewish Temple, the place where God chose to dwell, as part of the construction of a kind of Israelite identity for post-Reformation England, in which England would inherit the promises of divine favor and power given to Israel and the Jews in the Bible.



Moshe Idel

Hebrew University


Sabbateanism in Muslim and Christian Areas


This 17th century messianic movement spread in both Muslim and Christian areas, and incorporated into it elements stemming from those two religions and cultures.  To point out this diversity in the syntheses made by different sabbatean thinkers, would contribute to both a conference on premodern exchantes in religion, and to a more complex understanding of Sabbateanism.



William Kolbrener

Bar-Ilan University


Love of God in the Age of Philosophy: Mary Astells Metaphysical Sensibility in the Contexts of Enlightenment



For a metaphysical sensibilityembodied in figures like John Donne, Sir Thomas Browne, and John Miltonthe connection between spirit and matter could be manifested poetically, and guaranteed by belief in a world view which linked the divine to the human.  Such a sensibility was informed by what Erica Harths calls the mediation of resemblance characterized by metaphorical and analogical thinking, and licensed by the conviction of the link between spiritual and material realms.  


With the revolution entailed by Cartesian philosophy, the underpinnings of the metaphysical simplicity began to be undermined.  The material world was now considered, as the Cambridge Platonist Ralph Cudworth put it, nothing but matter, magnitude, figure, site, and motion or rest, and the whole corporeal world nothing but a heap of dust.  Cudworth, like his fellow Cambridge Platonist, Henry More, elaborated his own philosophical principles (namely the plastic power) as a means of re-invigorating the natural world with spirituality, while, at the same time, attempting to remain faithful to the philosophical precepts of Descartes.


Indeed, the task of re-invigorating the material with the spiritualwith the emergence of philosophical categoriesbecame enormously problematic, tending in the direction of heresy (on the one hand Hobbesian materialism, and on the other Spinozan pantheisim).  John Norris, in a series of tracts written in the 1690s, rejected the solution of the Platonists as, in fact tending towards the latter heresy, and went on to articulate a metaphysics based upon the work of the Nicholas Malebranche.  In Norriss adaptation of the French philosophers occasionalist philosophy, Cartesian assumptions about the material world were asserted with a vengeance.  Norris himself, like Malebranche articulated a complex set of philosophical moves to demonstrate divine involvement with a world which was nonetheless considered to be absolutely void of any spiritual presence.  Norriss occasionalism represents an absolute break, however, with the sensibility of mediation and resemblance, as it asserts a total bifurcation between the world of the Creature and the Created.  Even the plastic power of the Cambridge Platonists, Norris would argued, asserted a relationship between spirit and matter which simply could not be said to exist.


Mary Astell, whose correspond with Norris would be published in 1695 as Letters Concerning the Love of God, shared Norriss metaphysical assumptions.  Yet in her contributions to the Letters, she at once affirms enlightenment philosophical categories, particularly the metaphysics bequeathed by occasionalism, while at the same time elaborating a language of theological devotion informed by the passions and physical pleasures.  In her appropriation of the language of metaphysical conceits, Astell would locate embodied spiritual pleasure not in the objects of the world, but in the solid and substantial joys of the Divine amorist.  Astells love of God thus remains true to the strictures of enlightenment philosophy, while nonetheless developing a language of Christian faithinformed by pleasures, passions, and the bodywhich harkens back to an earlier sensibility, that is, the sensibility of the metaphysical poets.   



Albert C. Labriola

Duquesne University


Jewish Christianity in Miltons Paradise Lost: The Son as the Angel of the Lord


The Son of Paradise Lost is thrice begotten literally: first as divine, second as angelic, and third as human.  The first begetting occurs before the action of Paradise Lost begins.  The second, which happens as part of the action of Paradise Lost, is the earliest event in the epic, which is recounted in Book V.  And the third begetting, the Sons voluntary humiliation to become incarnate, is prophesied during the celestial dialogue in Book III and presented to Adam as part of his dream-vision in Book XII of the epic.  In the first begetting, the Father endowed the Son with divine substance and essence not unlike his own.  The Son, when begotten a second timeas an angel in the earliest episode in Miltons epic (Book V, lines 600 ff.)resembles in nature and form the following: Michael, Raphael, Uriel, Gabriel, Abdiel, and Lucifer (that is, Satan before his downfall).  Because the form and nature of the Son are like theirs, the other angelic beings can and do view the lineaments of his countenance more clearly than when he was wholly divine, a condition in which his radiance overwhelmed their sight.  Moreover, during the celestial dialogue in Book III of Paradise Lost, the epic narrator perceives the Son as an angel at the right hand of the Father.  Also, as Adam and Eve encounter the Son immediately after each is created, and when the Son judges them after their transgressions, he appears as an angel.  Finally, begotten a third time, an event foreseen but never enacted in Paradise Lost, the Son will assume the form and nature of humankind throughout his temporal ministry.  While the begetting of the Son as an angel has not previously been proposed, this humiliation of the godhead is the crucial missing link (or missed link) in the process whereby the deity eventually assumes the form and nature of humankind, the incarnate Son or Jesus.  The angelic manifestation of the Son derives, in large measure, from the Apocryphal Ascension of Isaiah, which recounts the begetting of the angel of Yahweh (or angel of the Lord), a concept adopted by Jewish Christians until it was rejected in the fourth century by orthodox Christians for its heretical implications, most notably that the Son is not equal to the Father.  In Paradise Lost, however, Milton employs the Jewish Christian concept of the angel of the Lord, which may account, in part, for his subordinationism of the Son.


Aaron Landau

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev


Jews and Moors at the Crossroads: Alterity and Dissent in Shakespeares The Merchant of Venice and Cervantess Don Quixote


In this talk I will examine the complex ways in which Shakespeare, from his divided subject position as, arguably, a crypto-Catholic playwright in Protestant England, and Cervantes, from an even more suspect subject position as a cristiano nuevo of Jewish descent in Catholic Spain, play out and problematize different notions of religious and cultural alterity in two strikingly parallel representations of female conversion to Christianity. I refer to the stealing away and the conversion to Christianity of Shylocks daughter, Jessica, in Shakespeares The Merchant of Venice (1595-6); and the analogous escape and conversion to Christianity of Zoraida, the Muslim daughter of the wealthy moor, Agi Morato, in the novella of the captive captain (el capitan cautivo), in the first part of Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605). Both episodes display a similarly strained fascination with the Other -- religious, cultural, national, and sexual -- while re-figuring this fascination along divergent theological and aesthetic lines in accordance with the specific circumstances of English and Spanish society respectively; they illustrate, each episode in its own way, anxiety-ridden constructions of cultural difference and religious heterodoxy in early modern culture, particularly so given the exigencies of religious orthodoxy and an emergent sense of an increasingly homogenizing nationalism. 



Daniel J. Lasker

Ben-Gurion University/Yale University


The Jewish-Christian Debate in the Early Modern Period



During the Middle Ages, Jews and Christians engaged in debates concerning the merits of the two religions, producing thereby a body of polemical literature which has been studied extensively from many angles: theological, historical, exegetical, rhetorical, philosophical and others. The expulsion of western European Jewish communities by the end of the Middle Ages, and the first steps of modernity, including the Protestant Reformation and the demise of medieval philosophy and science, seem to have diminished the urgency of the interreligious encounters. Nevertheless, Christians continued to write anti-Jewish tracts and Jews continued to defend the truth of their religion. These compositions are rooted in the medieval past but show evidence of the inroads of modernity. In addition, the medieval debate continued to reverberate in less conventional loci.

This paper will try to analyze how much is new and how much is medieval in the early modern Jewish-Christian polemics, concentrating on the works of three authors: Isaac of Troki (fl. 1595), a Lithuanian Karaite intellectual, Judah Aryeh (Leon) Modena (1571-1648), rabbi in Venice, and Baruch/Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677), Dutch philosopher and excommunicated Jew. Each of these three thinkers drew upon the medieval polemical legacy in their own way. Troki wrote a long polemic, incorporating mostly exegetical arguments based on the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. He was aware of internal Christian tensions brought about by the Reformation. Modenas anti-Christian tract was much more modest and never completed, employing theological more than exegetical argumentation. Spinoze did not write against Christianity but the traces of the medieval debate can still be made out in his works.

A comparison of these three thinkers will be used to determine the extent to which the Jewish-Christian debate changed or stayed the same as it entered the modern period.



Arthur F.  Marotti

Wayne State University


 The Intolerability of Catholicism in Early Modern England


This paper examines the refusal of the English government from the time of Queen Elizabeth through that of the (1688) Glorious Revolution to grant toleration for English Catholics. It argues that, as English national identity was gradually defined as Protestant, Catholics were culturally excluded from true Englishness. It begins by discussing the Jesuit Robert Southwells An Humble Supplication to Her Majestie in the context of the Papal Bull of 1570 excommunicating the Queen, the Jesuit mission from 1580 on forward, the Babington Plot (1586) and other alleged and real Catholic conspiracies, and the Jesuit polemical battles with English Protestants. It turns next to the propaganda associated with the Spanish Match, the failed late Jacobean attempt to wed the heir apparent to the Spanish Infantaa situation that reactivated anti-Spanish as well as anti-Catholic sentiments in a broad sector of the English population. It then examines the cultural foreignness of Charles Is queen, Henrietta Maria, the simultaneously alien and native Catholic presence in the Caroline court, and the impact of the (Catholic) Irish Rebellion of 1641 in relation to the religious politics leading up to the English Civil Wars. Finally, it deals with the Restoration Declaration of Indulgence of 1672 and  John Miltons opposition to toleration for Catholics in his last pamphlet, Of True Religion. The paper also alludes to tolerationist theory, writings, and practices from the time of Erasmus through that of Locke, examining the English situation with reference to some Continental contexts (e.g. the practical toleration in the Netherlands, the late sixteenth-century Edict of Nantes and its later repeal by Louis XIV). 



Avraham Oz

University of Haifa


Nationhood and Religion in Early Modern Drama


In this paper I attempt to demonstrate the influence of Machiavellis ideology of nationhood, by which he defines a community of citizens, sharing a collective memory, in terms of the power of one representative individual chosen to lead them, on Shakepeares parallel concept of nationhood, especially as it is revealed in one conspicuous example: the case of  The Merchant of Venice. Only few nowadays will dispute the viability of the desire for nation for a fifteenth-century humanist such as Machiavelli; some will argue that his nationalism, as reflected in The Prince, got the better of his republicanism. For Machiavellianism, in one sense, means severing the Gordian knot connecting the religious overtones of the concept of election to their sanctified source and leaving the vagaries of power to the jurisdiction of goddess Fortune, who feels more at home in the Machiavellian halls of political realism than in the Augustinian shrines of faith. Is Machiavellis separating religious tenets from political realism so different from, say, the positions taken by Raleigh or Bacon in Elizabethan England? Machiavellis concept of nation is overtly pragmatic: the need for nation derives from the economical need to create material and social market zones. For Machiavelli collective memory is hardly an enshrined treasure; he doesnt regard it as any more than a construct, of which the Prince is expected to take advantage as a vehicle for maintaining his power over his subjects. By the same token, Machiavelli advises the Prince who seized a new province or city to create everything anew, namely, to construct the citizens national memory as stemming from him. In other words, Machiavelli advises the Prince to appropriate collective memory and create a new national consciousness in his new subjects minds. In 1603, a Scottish monarch ascended to the English throne, conferring knighthoods on many of his compatriots. The easiness whereby nationhood was slighted by the King aroused the indignation of some traditional English patriots, and could readily be associated with practices preached by Machiavelli to his Prince. Those, as I would like to argue, have been showing already in the former decade, in Shakespeares treatment of nationhood. In this paper I have chosen deliberately not to concentrate for that matter on Henry V or the history plays as a whole. The tension between nationhood and capitalism is perhaps no less expressed in terms of early modern drama in the narrative of its representation of the obscure and ambiguous nationality of the Jew. Thus the chief protagonists of my demonstration of Machiavellis influence on the Elizabethan concept of nationhood will be Machevils favourite follower, Barabas, as well as his compatriots, Jessica and Shylock. Tracing the view of nationhood as probed by Shakespearethrough the negotiation of Shylock with the Christian community of Venice, and comparing it to the data which could be accessible to the dramatist, may shed a new light on the influence of emerging notions of nationhood on the cultural interrelation between Christians and Jews in early modern Europe.


Anne Lake Prescott

Barnard College/Columbia University


Lines and Circles of the Spirit: Davids psalms and two Renaissance Women Poets


Anne Locke was a committed Calvinist who spent some time in Geneva during the Marian persecution of Protestants.  Sister Anne de Marquets was a French Catholic nun living in an elegant convent as France slipped into religious civil war. Both wrote intense religious poetry and found inspiration in the Psalter. Locke is almost certainly the author of the first sonnet sequence in English, largely a paraphrase of Davids fifty-first psalm. It appeared in 1560, in a volume containing a translation from Calvin that is certainly by Locke. After some published epigrams satirizing Huguenots in ways that got her criticized for un-nunlike behavior, in the 1570s Marquets wrote a huge sonnet sequence based on the Catholic liturgy, devoting a number of often clever poems to each feast day, granting important ones more sonnets, as though her piety intensified according to the occasions memorial importance.

Each poet has received recent scholarly attention, and each is now out in a scholarly edition (Locke edited by Susan Felch, Marquets by Gary Ferguson). Putting them together, particularly with an eye on their use of the Psalter, raises interesting questions about the Psalter as a model for the sonnet sequence; after all, the psalms arguably make up the first known lyric sequence, although what makes it a sequence is a complex matter. For Christian writers, paraphrasing David, like Locke, or simply incorporating allusions and quotations, like Marquets, also raises questions about voice and gender. Is Lockes speaker male or female? Both? Not only is the original voice that of a male king, the psalms were thought by Christians to be said in the voice of Christ. Does this affect how we imagine the sequences I?

My focus will be largely on the way each woman relates her use of the Psalter to temporal movements as she incorporates Davids voice or language. It has recently been said that Protestants, in part because of their desire for religious or political change and in part because of a perceived identification with Israelite biblical history, developed a more urgently historical sense of time, whereas Catholics retained a more liturgical sense of times annual circles. The sonnets of Mrs. Locke and the Sister Anne certainly seem to support this distinction, but the differences invite further scrutiny. In any case the way the two poets imagine how the Word of God works through time is well worth examining and how they relate this to their own genderand even if they dois likewise worth a look. Finally, does gender play a role in the poets conscious poetic imagination, or do they seek an androgynous spirituality?



Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin

Ben-Gurion University


Print Shops, Hebraists, Converts and the Shaping of Jewish Tradition


Hebrew publishing houses operating in Italy in the 16th century had a constitutive role in shaping and designing Hebrew literature for generations. The print shops, where the main transition stage of Jewish literature into print took place, were an exciting meeting place for people of different cultural and religious identities: Christian Hebraists, Jewish scholars and converts. The process of editing and publication was done in the framework of dialogue and dispute among them. Most of the print shops were owned by Christians, while converts, who participated in the printing activities as editors, proofreaders and censors, served as mediators and as carriers of the cultural encounter. The aim of this paper is to describe this encounter, in order to clarify major aspects associated with the transition of Hebrew literature to print (and consequently to modernity). 

As I will try to argue, from this context emerged simultaneously both the canonization of Hebrew tradition and the rise of new types of authority, and its subversion. I will try to emphasize the Hebraist dimension of this process, and the ways Hebraism served both in the construction of a common framework for both Jews and Christians, as well as the formation of an autonomous Jewish identity, dissociated from the medieval Christian-Jewish polemics. As such, the printing of Hebrew literature is a case study that may illuminate various aspects of the general aspects associated with the transition to print. 



Jason Rosenblatt                                                                                              

Georgetown University  


Grotius and Rabbinica                                                                                   


Grotius believes that the rabbinic Noachide laws are voluntary (that is, they proceed from a divine will) and universal, imposing a perpetual obligation.  He preferred these rabbinic laws over the Decalogue, which he saw as intended only for the Jews ("Hear O Israel" is part of his evidence). Theoretically, the discovery of shared moral rules in the natural, pre-civil state of humankind would provide a basis for relationships among human beings anywhere in the world.  This is in part what makes Grotius's De Jure Belli ac Pacis libri tres (Paris, 1625) a pioneering contribution to international relations.   For a reader interested in the irony, inconsistency, and ambivalence that characterize early modern Christian Hebraism, there is a special pleasure in reading Grotius in Jean Barbeyrac's gerat edition (1738).   Barbeyrac is a rationalist skeptical of what he calls the "very uncertain Tradition" of the praecepta Noachidarum.  But it's clear that in preparing for his job as editor, he has immersed himself in rabbinic scholarship.  No history of early modern religious toleration is complete without reference to Grotiuss De Jure Belli.  The  implicitly Judeophilic context of most of its rabbinic references shades into history, affecting not only Selden, whose magnificent rabbinic learning has a definite tolerationist influence, but even a skeptic such as Barbeyrac, whose diligent study of De Jure Naturali as preparation for editing De Jure Belli complicated

his attitude toward the ancient Jewish sources.  



Marc Saperstein

George Washington University


Tradition, Authority and Heterodoxy in Amsterdam: The Sermons of Saul Levi Morteira


The Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam during its first few generations is one of the most dynamic Jewish environments of the early modern period. Formed almost entirely of immigrants who had been born, raised and educated as Christians in Portugal, it was not surprising that the community experienced challenges to traditional Judaism. The fates of Uriel da Costa and Baruch Spinoza are well known even to general historians. Less known is the way the representatives of the tradition articulated and defended it to a congregation of New Jews.


Among the staunchest defenders of tradition was the Italian-born rabbi Saul Levi Morteira, who published a collection of one sermon on each parashah, and left behind in addition extant manuscripts of more than 500 additional sermons, dating from 1617 to 1659. Using the manuscripts of these sermons as sources for the authoritative defense of tradition, I will briefly review three themes: 1. Morteiras defense of a congregant who was accused by others of heresy (Dr. David Farar), 2. Morteiras response to the Christian doctrines that seemed still to generate uncertainty in the minds of some of his listeners, and 3. Morteiras attack on the heretical challenge from within, especially the denial of the oral law and the immortality of the soul.   



Jeanne Shami

University of Regina


Anxious Conformity: John Donne and the Early-Modern Protestant Pulpit in England



This paper argues that the sermons and poetry of John Donne expose fault lines in the English Church of the early 17th century and reveal an obsession in that period  and in ours  for labeling of religious positions.  Donnes own rhetorical strategies in his sermons  especially when set against those of more conventional preachers  reveal his deep dissatisfaction with controversial languages of exclusion, his fear of identity politics, and his vision of an inclusive institutionalized religion for England modeled on his scriptural understanding of some key texts, including John 14:2 (In my Fathers house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you).  Whether that inclusive vision extends beyond Protestantism to embrace Catholics and Jews (however understood by Donne) remains to be determined, but this paper will draw some tentative conclusions on how Donnes sermons reveal the pressures that Jewish and Roman Catholic roots placed upon the early-modern Church of England.


Ellen Spolsky

Bar-Ilan University


The Affordances of Images:  Reglious Imagry and Iconoclasm from a Cognitive Perspective



An affordance is a material, visual offer made by the world to the brain and the body: This is how to pick me up says the pitcher, offering you its handle. This is where to hold and manipulate me, suggests the rounded handle at the top of a flat oar.  In the traditional Catholic Church, paintings and statues of Jesus and the saints, wall paintings of Biblical stories, the smell of incense and the sheen of satin vestments communicated their use to Christian worshippers. Life-long familiarity with the locally available imagery became part of the neural/ epistemological circuitry of a pious persons connection to God; it joined the visible world with the traditional emotions and learned abstractions that instantiated a religious life: this is how a loving mother looks, her facial expression encouraging you to ask for her help and to expect a response.  In the light of what we know about how this kind of affordance supports the evolved interaction of human minds and the world, my paper will argue that the Puritan iconoclasts who fought against the use of religious imagery were both right in their assertion that the material objects were unreliable and misleading, and wrong to think that Bible reading and the teaching of scriptural texts could fully substitute for them. 



Daniel M. Unger

Ben-Gurion University


The Sacrament of Penance:  Art and Politics at the Beginning of the Seventeenth Century


The message of repentance was of the most profound significance to Catholic leaders in the early years of the seventeenth century, and should be seen against the backdrop of the historical reality of that time: the loss of Catholic hegemony in Western Europe as a result of the emergence of Protestantism in the sixteenth century. The dogmatic Catholic aspiration to reunite all Christians under the rule of the pope was one of the most important motives behind the call for believers to return to the bosom of Rome. The personal familiarity between priest and penitent, based on the believers' duty to present themselves before their pastor at least once a year and to describe their sins, is what apparently appealed to the Catholic leaders. At the beginning of the seventeenth century the calls for reunification became louder, due to the confidence of the Catholic leaders in their power to defeat the Protestant challenge. The call was for all Christians to renounce their evil deeds and repent, not only those who had taken a new religious path, but also those who had remained Catholics. The paintings discussed in this paper may be seen as part of this campaign. 

In seventeenth-century painting, one can discern a distinctive iconography to each and every stage of the sacrament of penance. St. Peter, for example, is represented in contrition, taking a handkerchief to his tearful eyes; by showing him in this action, his deep regret at his denial is emphasized. St. Francis is represented standing before the crucifix; his position signals to us that he is confessing. The notion of satisfaction is transmitted by rendering saints in the act of self-flagellation and mortification, like the renderings of Mary Magdalen or St. Jerome in the wilderness.In this paper I would like to illustrate the main iconographic characteristics of each of the three stages of the sacrament; contrition, confession, and satisfaction, as they can be deduced from seventeenth-century representations of the most prominent saints of the era. 



Elhanan Yakira

Hebrew University


Spinozas Critique of Religion and the Birth of Modern Political Thought


A recent book  Jonathan Israels Radical Enlightenment  has reiterated, with particular force, the claim about the fundamental role of Spinoza in the shaping of modernity. In my paper I would like to consider  once again  the nature of Spinozas contribution to what has been variously described as the secularization of thought, its disenchantment, its coming of age etc. More precisely, I would like to examine Spinozas interpretation of such concepts as political authority, legitimacy of government, justification of power, source and nature of legal normativity, etc., and show the essential role that his conception of religion plays in the theoretical development of these concepts. Although it is a common place that Spinozas non-religious, or secular, thought is expressed both in his more philosophical works  notably the Ethics  and in the polemical Tractaus Theologico-Politicus, the essential unity of his metaphysics and theory of man on the one hand, the critique of religion (as Leo Strauss has named it in his famous book) on the other, is not always completely apparent. It is often assumed that for Spinoza political freedom was conceived only as a necessary condition for the safe conduct of philosophical inquiry and that the ultimate goal of the latter was the essentially private philosophical life. Put in other words, it is not always clear in what ways his metaphysical determinism is related to the notion of political freedom, which is the cornerstone of the political theory of the TTP. For Spinoza, in fact, the liberating function of the critique of religion was more than just a safeguard against tyranny and against censuring the freedom of thought; it was also propaedeutics of philosophy, a prolegomena to a theory of Reason, a liberation of human rationality. From the point of view of political theory, however, this meant the emergence of a rather powerful conception of the political or, differently put, of the specific, sui generis, nature of political reason and of the kind of normative rationality, which commend understanding of the political realm.

bottom of page