The Jews' Mirror (der Juden Spiegel) by Johannes Pfefferkorn

By Lelli, Fabrizio | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2013 | Go to article overview

The Jews' Mirror (der Juden Spiegel) by Johannes Pfefferkorn


Lelli, Fabrizio, The Catholic Historical Review


The Jews' Mirror (Der Juden Spiegel) by Johannes Pfefferkorn .Translated by Ruth I. Cape. Historical Introduction by Maria Diemling. [Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, Vol. 390.] (Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. 2012. Pp. xiv, 114. $45.00. ISBN 978-0- 86698-438-6.)

The late-fifteenth and early-sixteenth centuries witnessed on the part of the Christians in Western Europe a revival of genuine interest in the original text of the scriptures. Such a critical approach to the Bible was mainly grounded in the contemporary trends circulating mainly among Italian humanists, who finalized their intellectual research to the critical reading of the sacred book according to the same principles that inspired their reap- praisal of Latin and Greek works. However, this seemingly modern attitude to the Hebrew text was often accompanied by a still-medieval use of the scrip- tures as a theological weapon against the Jews. In this perspective, the redis- covery of the "Hebrew truth" or Hebraica Veritas aimed only to refute the "stubbornness" of the Jews and lead them to conversion. The medieval iconography of the "blind" Synagogue resurfaced thus at the eve of the modern age, this time nurtured by a critical approach to the book that con- stitutes the foundation for both Judaism and Christianity.

Those were years of political troubles, animated by hopes of messianic redemption for both Jews and Christians. In such a tense expectation for a better future, the adherence to the true Hebraic law could be sought as a useful tool to accelerate the course of human history. Jewish scholars could be hired by Christian humanists, both secular and religious, to delve into Hebrew studies. Jews fleeing persecutions from all over Europe could seek shelter and employment under the auspices of the Church, and the case of a Jewish scholar teaching a prelate was not rare. More frequent was the case of Jewish converts to Christianity who took vows and wrote books of Hebrew erudition addressed to their former coreligionists from their convents.

This is the background against which the story of Johannes Pfefferkorn can be better understood. Born in Central Europe around 1468, Joseph Pfefferkorn converted from Judaism in 1504/05 and became an itinerant preacher. Between 1507 and 1521 (he probably died around 1523), he wrote several works aimed at convincing Jews to convert.

Pfefferkorn is better known for his involvement in the harsh polemic against the German Hebraist Johannes Reuchlin, a Christian who supported the circulation of Rabbinic literature. The polemic started a few years after Pfefferkorn had published his first anti-Jewish pamphlet, Der Judenspiegel (The Jews' Mirror), printed in both German and Latin by various publishers between 1507 and 1508. …

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