Jewish Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Edited by Alexander Altmann. Harvard University Press, London: Oxford University Press. 80s.
This volume contains essays of outstanding scholarship but with an appeal for the general reader as well as the expert. Only the last study in the book—Israel Adler’s “Art Music in the Italian Ghetto” —deals with the Renaissance period; the others refer to medieval times.
It is impossible to do justice in a short review to the riches of a book such as this. A list of its contents is sufficient to indicate its scope. Norman Golb writes on medieval Egypt. Examining the symbolism of Esau, Gershon D. Cohen traces the earliest identification of Edom with Rome to sayings of Rabbi Akiba and his disciples; e.g., Rabbi Meir’s reading of Romiyyim (the Romans), for reemim (wild oxen), in the Isaianic prophecy against Edom (34, 7). The identification continued when the Christian Church had become established as the religion of the empire. But the Church had its own Midrash in which Esau was the symbol of the Jew!
George Vajda writes, in French, on the Karaite author Marwan al Muqammis ; and Herbert Davidson on Saadia. Maimonides is the subject of essays by Isadore Twersky and Arthur Hyman, both certainly erudite but expressing viewpoints that are rather obvious to students of the great thinker. From S. D. Goitein’s very human article on Abraham Maimonides, it is interesting to learn, among other things, that the son of Maimonides (!) traced his ancestry on his mother’s side to a number of men who bore the honorific title of chasid (pietist).
A. S. Halkin’s essay on Yedaiah Bedershi describes the background to a famous fourteenth-century controversy over philosophy as harmful to faith. Sara O. Heller Wilensky writes on Isaac Ibn Latif (philosopher or Cabalist?); and Lawrence V. Berman on Samuel ben Judah of Marseilles, a fourteenth century translator from Greek into Hebrew.
Last but not least (or, as the Hebrew equivalent puts it so much more effectively, the best is left to the last) Professor Altmann publishes a critical edition of Moses Narboni’s “Epistle on Shiur Qoma” with an introduction and notes.