Skip to main content



Reporting period: 2016-07-01 to 2018-06-30

The project aimed to investigate the intellectual encounter between the Christian and Jewish cultures in the Renaissance through a specific study of Christian Kabbalistic theories on the names of God and Jesus.These theories, characterized by the elaboration of a Christological interpretation of data on Jewish mysticism and by the formulation of a Kabbalistic justification of Christian dogma, are an evident example of the exchanges, contaminations and hybridisations, laden with culturally creative and innovative implications, in a historical period of great ideological and religious contrasts. They are the result of a convergence between Jewish and Christian truths and manifest the fundamental irenic vocation of Christian Kabbalah. Born in the context of Italian Humanism, not without an apologetic vein at least in the declarations intended to defend the movement, Christian Kabbalah, considered scandalous by its detractors, presents itself, with the intent of some of its advocates, as the project of a cultural synthesis to achieve the harmony of knowledge and overcome denominational conflicts. Among other things, based on the Kabbalistic speculations of language, Christian Kabbalists engaged in the development of a linguistic and symbolic theory of the Name of God, exploring the question of the vocalisation of the Tetragrammaton and the symbolic meaning of the letters composing it, proposing innovative, at times, unorthodox interpretations. The objective I set out to achieve in this project was to highlight some of the salient features of this debate on nomina sacra, framing it within the broader scenario of a reconstruction of the general theorisation of the nature and purpose of the Kabbalah in the examined authors. The project, as conceived, carried on the attempt of reconstructing, on the basis on an analytical survey of various treatises and their corresponding historical and cultural contexts, some essential theoretical nodes of a shared language characterising humanistic and Renaissance knowledge, looking fundamentally at aspects that have not yet been explored: little known manuscripts, rare texts and translations never studied before.
At first, therefore, a study of the Christian Kabbalistic concept of the divine Name was carried out in the light of a mysticism of language with magical and performative implications, by examining some Christian Kabbalists and identifying the Jewish sources they used in developing their theories. In this context, the reading of Nicolò Camerario, a Kabbalist still very little known, whose unpublished works have been examined for the first time in my project, appeared particularly innovative and very significant. The examination of Camerario's thought has shown that when he was Giles of Viterbo's companion, he elaborated a specifically Christological Kabbalistic hermeneutics. Considered as a divine knowledge and an interpretative tool, the Kabbalah offered Camerario the possibility of examining the dogma of Incarnation and Christian soteriology in the light of a deeper divine wisdom. Subsequently, my research focused on the study of the “Kabbalistic libraries” created by humanists, as these provide precious testimony of the transmission and transformation of knowledge. They refer to the role of Jewish intellectuals, some of whom were converts, who contributed to spreading Jewish mysticism through translations, not without significant hermeneutical initiatives, in Latin or in the vernacular, and call for a study to discover the original aspects of the production of humanists who benefited from the cultural mediation of these scholars. In this regard, the Kabbalistic library of Pierleone of Spoleto has proven to be of central importance, and in my project, it was the object of an analytical study, which, for the first time, has made it possible to reconstruct an unexplored piece of the history of intellectual interactions between Jews and Christians at the dawn of the Renaissance. This library consists of ms. It. 443 of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and ms. 8526 of the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, both in the vernacular, and ms. Hébr. 776 of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, which constitutes its Jewish Vorlage, in addition to certain Latin fragments of the Perush 'Al ha-Torah by Menaḥem Recanati (Biblioteca Universitaria di Genova, ms. A. IX. 29, ff. 117r-124r), a Latin translation of the Sefer Yetsirah (Biblioteca Riccardiana, ms. 868, ff. 127v-131v) and a copy of the Latin translation of the Sefer Yetsirah by Flavius Mithridates (Vatican Library, ms. Lat. 9425, ff. 59r-65v). The reconstruction of this Kabbalistic corpus was possible thanks to my discovery during research on ms. 8526 of the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal and to the identification of ms. Hébr. 776 of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, which transmits the original Hebrew text. Written at the end of the fifteenth century, these codes are the first historical examples of the transmission of medieval Jewish mystical literature in the Christian West, and their marginalia can be considered an initial attempt to interpret the Jewish Kabbalah in a Christian perspective. They are the result of the encounter between the transformative transmission of Jewish translators and the creative reception of Christian humanists.
"The scientific results achieved at the end of this project are mainly four:
1. The discovery of sources of the Christian kabbalah that are unknown or, in any case, have been substantially silent until now.
2. A comparative analysis of sources and concepts, of texts and theories, in which I stressed the historical phenomenology of an ideal ""concordism"" that was well-rooted in Italy since the end of the fifteenth century.
3. The original hypothesis of the existence of a mixed Jewish-Christian humanism based on a critical analysis of linguistic and philosophical exchanges on divine Names.
4. The improvement of our knowledge of Christian Kabbalah with a) the publication of various original scientific papers in international specialised journals and b) the scientific direction of two volumes, one of which has already been published, while the other is forthcoming.
In addition to these goals, my research work also resulted in the creation of a detailed and analytical database of the Names of God and Jesus in the context under examination (available on the website to provide a useful and innovative tool for scientific research and dissemination of information in the field of studies on the relationship between the cultural traditions of the East and the West.
Names of God, Imrei Shefer, ms. Hébr. 776, f. 75r