Frans van Liere

title.none: Goodwin, Take Hold of the Robe of a Jew (Frans van Liere)

identifier.other: baj9928.0605.018 06.05.18

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Frans van Liere, Calvin College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Goodwin, Deborah L. "Take Hold of the Robe of a Jew," Herbert of Bosham's Christain Hebraisim. Studies in the History of Christian Tradition 126. Leiden: Brill, 2005. Pp. xii, 300. $134.00 90-04-14905-8. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.05.18

Goodwin, Deborah L. "Take Hold of the Robe of a Jew," Herbert of Bosham's Christain Hebraisim. Studies in the History of Christian Tradition 126. Leiden: Brill, 2005. Pp. xii, 300. $134.00 90-04-14905-8. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Frans van Liere
Calvin College

The work of the English exegete Herbert of Bosham (c. 1120 - after 1194) was virtually unknown until, in 1951 and 1953 respectively, Beryl Smalley and Raphael Loewe drew attention to his commentary on Jerome's Latin translation of the Hebrew Psalter. This commentary made extensive use of the Psalm commentaries by the Jewish exegete Rashi (d. 1105). Loewe praised Herbert as one of the most accomplished Christian Hebraists of the twelfth century, but it took another forty years for two Ph.D. theses to be dedicated to this remarkable figure, one by Eva de Visscher at the University of Leeds, another one by Deborah Goodwin at the University of Notre Dame. The latter, as revised in the present edition, is an outstanding study of Herbert's work.

As member of Thomas Becket's household and an ardent defender of this controversial archbishop, Herbert spent most of his active academic life in France. Smalley saw him as one of the most prominent followers of Andrew of Saint Victor's exegetical method of literal exegesis, although there are no indications that Herbert was actually Andrew's student. In view of Herbert's close contact with the abbey of Saint Victor, it is likely that the two met, most likely before 1161, when Andrew became abbot of Wigmore, in England, and Herbert followed Becket on his first short and unsuccessful venture to Canterbury. While not denying his influence, Goodwin notes that Herbert's method actually had more in common with that of the older Victorine Master, Hugh (d. 1142). While he shared Andrew's interest in Hebraic exegesis, Herbert's concern in the interpretation of the Old Testament text seems to have been more historical, rather than philological, Goodwin argues. The only teacher Herbert acknowledged, even defended, was Peter Lombard (d. 1160). Herbert is credited with providing a commented edition of the Lombard's Psalms commentary, designed to clear Lombard of the charges of heresy leveled at the council of Tours (1163).

Herbert's Psalms commentary was written at the end of his active career, around 1190. For its idiosyncratic content, it apparently did not enjoy a very wide distribution: it is preserved only in one single manuscript, presently at Saint Paul's Cathedral Library. Herbert's choice of the Hebraica translation of the Psalter as the commented text was already indicative of his learned intent. With his active knowledge of Hebrew, a rare achievement for his time, Herbert belongs to a distinguished circle of twelfth-century Christian Hebraists. But, as Goodwin points out, in his positive appreciation of Jewish conceptions of history and eschatology, Herbert was a Christian Hebraist with a unique agenda. Herbert, like Christian exegetes before him, took as his principal source the commentary of Rashi. But he was not merely content to mine Rashi's commentary for nuggets of "Hebraica Veritas", facts about the historical Biblical context gleaned from the Jewish commentary tradition; Herbert had a place in his exegesis for the Jewish expressions of sorrow over their exile, and redemption as expressed in their Messianic eschatology. He acknowledged that the Messiah the Jews were expecting was, in fact, the same Messiah the Christians believed would come at the end of times.

The idea that there might be validity to these Jewish eschatological claims made Herbert take an active interest in the historical context of the Psalms. His commentary gave considerable attention to the exposition of the tituli of the Psalms, the headers that often were seen as indicators for the historical context of these Psalms. They were seen as important clues to the interpretation of each Psalm, and in the Christian tradition were often read in a Christological way. These tituli, however, had received wide-ranging translations in the Latin tradition, which made their interpretation as prophetic text sometimes ambiguous. With the help of Rashi, Herbert corrected Jerome's translations and interpretations of these tituli. And although he refuted some of the anti- Christological claims of Rashi's Psalm commentary on some occasions, he also took an active interest in those Psalms that could be interpreted as Messianic in both traditions. He used them not just to show that the Jews were expecting a Messiah that, for Christians, had already come, but also to show that Jews and Christians alike shared the expectation of a Messiah who would right wrongs and mend injustices at the end of time.

What does Herbert's willingness to consider the validity of Jewish interpretation mean for our assessment of Jewish-Christian relations in the twelfth century? Goodwin considers this question at length in what is probably the most pathbreaking part of her book. Herbert was not alone in his endeavour; in the twelfth century, Jews and Christians often explored common exegetical ground in the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. While some historians, such as Gilbert Dahan, have seen this period as the unique time of a harmonious "rencontre autour de l'Ecriture" (a peaceful Jewish- Christian get-together over Scripture), another historiographical tradition, represented by the work of Anna Abulafia and Jeremy Cohen, drawing more on the disputational literature of the age, has seen Judeo-Christian interaction in this period as an increasingly hostile discourse of Christians against Jews, which would foreshadow the expulsion of Jews from Christian Europe, and, indirectly, the antisemitism of the Holocaust in the twentieth century. Drawing inspiration from the work of David Nirenberg, Goodwin acknowledges that the field of Jewish-Christian relations in this time was far more ambiguous and complicated than either historiographical tradition has suggested, and thus helps to rethink the existing classification of Christian Hebraism. Goodwin calls the project of these Christian Hebraists of the twelfth century the "colonization of the territory of Scripture": however well intended and tolerant these exegetes were towards the Jews, their project of literal scriptural interpretation was ultimately a form of appropriation, a "colonization" of a field that previously had been seen as the sole territory of Jewish exegetes. Goodwin's books ends with a haunting evocation of the work of the French cartographer Joseph Nicollet. The work of Nicollet, who was awed by the beauty of the American prairies and sympathetic to the plight of the native peoples, still helped along the process of genocide perpetrated against North Dakota's native peoples and served the American imperial ambitions he despised. As Goodwin points out, there is an interesting parallel between Herbert's and Nicollet's work.

This summary does only partial justice to Goodwin's work. Her work touches on questions of Hebrew scholarship in the twelfth century, and of Hebrew language acquisition and literacy, not only among Christians but also among Jews. Alongside her detailed intellectual biography of Herbert, she offers an interesting prosopography of Christian Hebraists and scholars in the twelfth century, many of whom were tied into the networks of epistolary "friendship" of men such as Thomas Becket, Peter of Celle, and Herbert of Bosham himself. A surprisingly high percentage of these Hebraists were Englishmen, and many of them had close ties to the Cistercian order as well. Some of the best Hebraists of this time, such as Nicholas of Maniacoria and Stephen Harding, were Cistercians, and Herbert spent most of his active career at the Cistercian abbey of Pontigny (until 1166), and for the last years of his life (from 1190 until after 1194), he lived in the Cistercian monastery of Ourcamp. His career resembles closely that of Ralph Niger, who also was an English Hebraist, a close associate to Thomas Becket, and closely tied to Cistercian circles. Goodwin's work should stimulate further research in this fascinating field of study.

The book concludes with an appendix, containing several examples of Herbert's exegetical method. In short, this is an excellent study. I discovered only one minor editing flaw: the chapter title of chapter two is erroneously printed also as the chapter heading for chapter three. But this is easily corrected with a the stroke of a pencil. Would it be too much to hope for a critical edition of this fascinating commentary, perhaps as a cooperative effort of De Visscher and Goodwin?