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Philosophia symbolica. Johann Reuchlin and the Kabbalah

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About this Book: Catalogue of an exhibition on the life and work of Johann Reuchlin (1455-1522), pioneering Christian Hebraist and Kabbalist and early advocate of religious tolerance. The German humanist and jurist Johann Reuchlin visited Italy three times, in 1482, 1490 and 1498, and carried back to his native country Germany the enthusiasm for the recently rediscovered prisca theologia, in particular the Kabbalah. Because of his acknowledged status as a Hebraist, the Jewish convert Johann Pfefferkorn sought Reuchlin’s assistance in his campaign of destruction of Jewish books in 1509. It launched Reuchlin, who declined the offer and managed to prevent the destruction, into the most turbulent years of his life, and earned him the reputation of someone who ‘worked righteousness and spoke the truth in his heart’.

The catalogue highlights his connections with the humanist circle in Italy, his interest in the Kabbalah and his (kabbalistic) library, his confrontation with Pfefferkorn and Pfefferkorn’s sponsors, the Dominican Order of Cologne, and Reuchlin’s association with the newly founded University of Göttingen (1737) by one of his followers and admirers, the Christian Hebraist Hermann von der Hardt.

The illustrated catalogue describes some 70 books, including loans from libraries in Amsterdam and abroad, amongst which a truly unique loan: the autograph of Reuchlin’s De verbo mirifico (first printed 1494), held in the Universitätsbibliothek Basel.


Preface by Esther Oosterwijk-Ritman
Introduction by Joost R. Ritman


I       In the land of the highest priest of the souls: Reuchlin and Italy
IIa    Speaking with God and the angels: Reuchlin and the Kabbalah
IIb   ‘The rare Hebrew works which I possess’: Reuchlin’s kabbalistic sources
III     Reuchlin and religious tolerance
IVa   The library of Johann Reuchlin: pars pro toto
IVb   Other works of Johann Reuchlin
V       Reuchlin and Hermes inspire the new University of Göttingen
VI      Inspired by the Tradition: Böhme, Fludd, Khunrath

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