Josephus in Early Modern Spain: 1492 and the Death and Life of Jews

Wednesday, October 28, 2015 - 5:00pm
Van Pelt Library, Class of ’78 Pavilion

Julian Weiss, Professor of Medieval and Early Modern Spanish, King’s College London

On March 27, 1492, a few days before the Edict that expelled the Jews from Spain, the royal chronicler Alfonso de Palencia (1423-1492) published his Castilian translations of two works by the famous Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, The Jewish War and Against Apion.  Palencia’s volume, Guerra judaica con los libros contra Appion, thus exemplifies the tension between two facets of Josephus’s writing:  his fierce critique of Jewish sectarianism and stubborn resistance to Imperial order and his eloquent defence of their enduring religious and cultural traditions. This paper explores the cultural and political significance of these Spanish translations in the light of the events leading up to 1492 and it considers whether Palencia appropriated this Romanized Jewish historian in order to open up a space for religious minorities in the new imperial order ushered in by the Catholic Monarchs. Besides reading Palencia’s translations against other contemporary texts by and about Jews and conversos, I focus upon a famous episode of Jewish ‘cannibalism’; consider the marginalia of sixteenth-century readers found in extant copies of the 1492 edition; and speculate on the implications of later Spanish versions for Sephardic identity in exile.

Organized by the faculty workshop in Medieval Studies and co-sponsored by the Jewish Studies Program, Art History, Classical Studies, Comparative Literature, Romance Languages, and the Center for Ancient Studies.

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