The Book of Bahir: Flavius Mithridates’ Latin Translation, the Hebrew Text, and an English Version, edited by Saverio

Campanini with a Foreword by Giulio Busi, Torino: Nino Aragno Editore, 2005 [The Kabbalistic Library of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola 2], 394 + 169* pp., € 60.-, ISBN 88–8419– 239–0* In 1994, at the conference held in the town of Mirandola on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the death of its most famous citizen, Giuliano Tamani devoted his contribution to a reconstruction of the library of Hebrew books owned by the great humanist. The scholar remarked that in order to better evaluate the influence exerted by Judaism on Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s thought and works, it would be necessary on the one hand to complete the identification of the Hebrew sources in his writings, and on the other to examine in detail and organically the Latin translations of Hebrew works he commissioned and still extant, starting with the Kabbalistic ones. Moreover, with reference to the research initiated by Chaim Wirszubski, Tamani also noted that any further investigation of the field should necessarily include the comparison between the translations and the Hebrew originals. This, since Pico acquired most of his knowledge of Judaism and Kabbalah not through the direct reading of the Hebrew texts but from the Latin versions made by his collaborators. In fact, a similar approach is shared by the works that in the last few years have been devoted to the Latin translations of Pico by the convert Guillelmus Raimundus Moncada alias Flavius Mithridates, whose activity, as is known, played a fundamental role in the spread of Oriental studies among Italian and German humanists, and in the beginning of Christian Kabbalah as well. Particularly, the project carried out jointly by the Institute for Jewish Studies
* Published in European Journal of Jewish Studies, 1 (1), 2007, pp. 175-178.

and the comparison with the Hebrew sources used by Pico in his works. is aimed at reconstructing the library of Kabbalistic works owned and read by Pico on the basis of the Latin translations completed by Mithridates on his demand.of the Freie Universität in Berlin and the National Institute for the Study of the Renaissance of Florence under the coordination of Giulio Busi. The ambitious and visionary project of restoring the actual significance of this extraordinary intellectual partnership in its full extent— i. The Sefer ha-Bahir. 2004 [ The Kabbalistic Library of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola 1]. in itself a masterpiece of medieval Kabbalistic literature. The translations—actually a bulk of about 3500 folios—were apparently done in the span of a few months prior to the discussion of the Conclusiones nongentae in December 1486. see the review in EAJS Newsletter 16). The humanist also owned a copy of the Hebrew original in his . Bondoni and Saverio Campanini. for the main part inedited. The large corpus of Hebrew works the convert made available to Pico. the Hebrew Text. another valuable piece has now been added to the mosaic of titles making up Pico’s kabbalistic library. Torino: Nino Aragno Editore. edited by Giulio Busi with Simonetta M. works either owned or read or quoted—includes the edition of the manuscripts in which the Latin translations are extant. of the antigraphi used by Mithridates.e. the identification. was possibly already known to Pico from the reading of Mena˙em Recanati’s Commentary on the Pentateuch. is extant in a few manuscripts. presumably the same period in which the collaboration between Pico and Mithridates was most assiduous. and an English Version. mostly drawing on Kabbalistic sources. After the volume devoted to the enigmatic and forgotten Sefer haYeri‘ah ha-Gedolah (The Great Parchment: Flavius Mithridates’ Latin Translation. whether possible.

learning and interpretation of the Bahir has now been rigorously reconstructed in the volume edited by Saverio Campanini. as a few references sparsely attested in his works prove. Moreover. he surely read and studied the Latin version of the Bahir made by his collaborator. Ebr. once in Pico’s library and identified as Mithridates’ antigraphus. In his introduction. raised by many scholars. 209 as the one used by Mithridates in his work of translation. The Latin text. An English translation of the Latin text and a critical edition of the Hebrew text of the Bahir have been added. The scholar also illustrates some of the most remarkable features of the Latin version— in itself mostly a mechanical rendition of the Hebrew original—like the frequent recurrence of terms of Greek origin and peculiar transcriptions of Hebrew words and phrases.library. concerning the convert’s reliability as a translator and the supposedly Christianizing character of the materials he made available to his patron. as extant in the Ms. 2v–29v) of the Bavarian State Library in Munich. the same volume on which Mithridates most probably based his translation. The conclusions drawn by Campanini are clear: the few Christological . Hebr. The analysis of Mithridates’s interpolations is aimed at evaluating more correctly the question. 191 (fols. Campanini summarizes the textual evidence supporting the identification of the Ms. has been edited and annotated. and prefaced by Busi. This question evidently involves Pico’s originality in establishing a Christian Kabbalah as well. 288r–326r) of the Vatican Library. 209 (fols. and four other manuscripts belonging to the same textual family and copied in the same period. Munich Hebr. This enthralling process of transmission. The Hebrew text has been edited on the base of the Ms.

The one from the Commento sopra una canzone de amore is particularly interesting.interventions by Mithridates in the text were not fabricated with the intentional purpose of Christianizing the Bahir. the Heptaplus and The Commento sopra una canzona de amore composta da Girolamo Benivieni have been examined and commented on. In Busi’s view. including a certain “Johanan. Nevertheless. the Jewish intellectual with whom Pico was in contact after the year 1488.” A section of Campanini’s introduction is also devoted to illustrate the use Pico made of the Bahir in his works. A few passages excerpted from the Conclusiones. particularly in the light of its unifying linguistic texture and its peculiar symbolism and sources. The comparison with a passage in Mithridates’s translation of the Bahir (a passage also recurring in a few other Hebrew sources possibly known to Pico in Latin and depending on the Bahir itself ). consisting in the well-known and widely quoted passage in which Pico mentions a few Hebrew commentators of the Song of Songs. shows that the authority actually referred to was a rabbinical one.” This remark was thought to be a reference to Yo˙anan Alemanno. as well as his intention to produce a translation “compatible with a Christian interpretation of Jewish mysticism. Campanini’s introduction concludes with a survey of the previous investigations devoted to Mithridates’s translation of the Bahir and a brief essay on the fortune of the Hebrew work among the following generations of Christian Hebraists. was most . the work. The foreword by Busi to the volume is devoted to better determining the dating of the Bahir as well as the intellectual milieu in which the book was elaborated. they are the result of Mithridates’s acquaintance with Christian sources and exegesis. one of the masterpieces of Kabbalistic literature along with the Sefer ha-Zohar.

some of the phases in which Pico supposedly learned and reworked Mithridates’s teachings can now be precluded. Michela Andreatta Università Ca’ Foscari di Venezia . On the other. part of these teachings was presumably transmitted orally from the convert to his student. On the one hand.probably composed in southern France. often under the influence of linguistic and symbolic assonances. The neo-Platonic flavour of the Bahir and its peculiar representation of the sefirot probably account for Pico’s interest in the book. Actually. In fact. and possibly even less elusive. their organic examination and the subsequent comparison with Pico’s works represent the necessary prospect for an exhaustive survey of the field. Therefore. the edition of all of Mithridates’s versions. detecting Pico’s specific use of the sources remains the most challenging task for the scholars. not before the mid-twelfth century. given the tendency toward a syncretic mingling of the sources characteristic of Pico. by a single editor apparently acquainted with the philosophic works of Yehuda ha-Lewi and Avraham bar Óiyyah. the univocal derivation of motives from the single translation is sometimes inadequate. The accurate scrutinizing of Mithridates’s activity as translator and teacher of Oriental languages on the basis of the extant manuscripts will finally contribute to making his figure less controversial.

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