Johannes Reuchlin (1455-1522) was a German classicist and Hebraist best known for his role in spreading knowledge of Greek and Hebrew throughout Western Europe, for his trailblazing expositions in the field of Christian Kabbalah, and for his defense of Jewish literature against the attacks of those who sought to ban and destroy it as part of the early-sixteenth-century “Battle of the Books.”
Reuchlin developed an interest in Hebrew in the early 1490s and published his first study of Kabbalah, which he believed contained secrets proving the truth of Christian doctrine, already in 1494. In 1496, he began turning his attention toward Hebrew linguistics and expanding his familiarity both with its philology and literature. The initial result of his studies was the epoch-making De rudimentis hebraicis, a Latin-language lexicon and students’ guide to Hebrew grammar and pronunciation, imposed from right to left, that mainly followed the teachings of Rabbi David Kimhi (ca. 1160-ca. 1235) on the subject. (Each letter of the lexicon which, like Kimhi’s Sefer ha-shorashim, is arranged according to Hebrew root, begins with a different Hebrew epigraph in Rashi script usually invoking God’s name, although tsade starts yehi shem ha-mashiah mevorakh, testifying to the text’s Christian provenance.)
Although a brief Hebrew grammar, compiled by Reuchlin’s younger colleague Konrad Pellikan (1478-1556), had appeared two years prior, the present text was the real pioneering work of its kind by a Christian intellectual and would have a profound influence on subsequent Christian Hebraist scholarship.
Moshe H. Goshen-Gottstein, “Reuchlin and His Generation,” in Arno Herzig and Julius H. Schoeps (eds.), Reuchlin und die Juden (Sigmaringen: Jan Thorbecke Verlag, 1993), 151-160.
Hermann Greive, “Die hebräische Grammatik Johannes Reuchlins, De rudimentis hebraicis,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 90,3 (1978): 395-409.
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