Erudition and Religion in the Judeo-Christian Encounter: The Significance of the Karaite Myth in Seventeenth-Century Europe

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Abstract: The rediscovery of Karaites, both in the literature and in the travels of seventeenth-century Protestants, is a phenomenon in the history of ideas that sheds light on the nature of the interaction between religion and erudition at that time, and especially on the way in which Judaism was viewed by scholarship. The Karaite was an ideal type at this moment in Protestant Europe – a Jew who adhered to an uncorrupted religion of “sola scriptura.” Karaite texts were integrated into the array of Jewish literature examined by Christian Hebraists, and even Catholic thinkers such as Richard Simon and scholars of rabbinic literature such as John Selden did not pass over this trend.

Biography: Silvia Berti is a professor of history at the University of Rome – La Sapienza. Her work focuses on European antichristian attitudes, with an emphasis on Spinozism in clandestine literature and the co-presence of Jewish thought, Huguenot and Jansenist opposition in the ‘Radical Enlightenment’. Her publications include Trattato dei tre impostori. La vita e lo spirito del Signor Benedetto de Spinoza (French-Italian critical edition with introduction, translation and commentary by Silvia Berti, preface by Richard H. Popkin, Torino: Einaudi, 1994); and A. Momigliano, Essays on Ancient and Modern Judaism (with introduction and notes by Silvia Berti, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1994); as well as articles in various journals, including the Journal of the History of Ideas, the Jewish Studies Quarterly, and Rivista storica italiana. She has been the recipient of fellowships from the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies (Philadelphia)(1999-2000), the Folger Shakespeare Library (95-96), and the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University (1993-94).

Volume 1, Number 1 (Fall 2005) pp. 110-120