Jewish-Christian interactions in Italy before 1500

On another thread we discussed possible Kabbalist assignments of astrological entities, sefiroth, and Hebrew letters to the tarot in a post-1486 context (in a discussion of Dummett, starting on search.php?st=0&sk=t&sd=d&sr=posts&keyw ... 1&start=20). I had always assumed that any interactions between Jewish mystics and Christians before Pico della Mirandola's Conclusiones were so speculative as not to be worth talking about. Still, it is an assumption that I don't think has been closely examined. A thread on Jews in Italy and their relationships to Christians, in so far as they pertain to the early tarot, seems in order.

I divide the subject of Jewish-Christian relations into two main parts: (1) Italy before the 15th century; and (2) tarot-specific locations in the 15th century. Part 1 I divide into four sections: (a) general overview; (b) Jewish occupations except with silk; (c) silk; (d) theological interchanges; and (d) interchanges pertaining to magic and divination. In this first post I will discuss 1 a, b, and c only.

What I found I think is of some interest to tarot researchers. I was especially surprised about the links connecting the city of Lucca, silk production, and Kabbalah before the 15th century, and then to Florence in the 15th century. These are all of interest in relation to the tarot: Lucca as a possible city of tarot origin, suggested by Huck recently (starting at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1041&p=15616&hilit=Lucca#p15616); and silk because it is through the records of Florentine silk dealers in cards that we know much of what we do about the playing card industry of mid-15th century Florence. I will discuss Lucca and silk in the present post, move on to to Medieval Kabbalah later, and to Renaissance Florence still later.

(a) Jews in Italy before the 15th century: general overview

During the time of the pagan Roman Empire, Jews were present in large numbers in Italy, at least 30,000 in Rome alone. Wikipedia says ( ... s_in_Italy:
In addition to Rome, there were a significant number of Jewish communities in southern Italy during this period. For example, the regions of Sicily, Calabria, and Apulia had well established Jewish populations.[3]
When Christianity became the religion first of the emperor and then of the Empire (380), severe persecution began. This ended when the Ostrogoths established their rule:
At the time of the foundation of the Ostrogothic rule under Theodoric (493 – 526), there were flourishing communities of Jews in Rome, Milan, Genoa, Palermo, Messina, Agrigentum, and in Sardinia. The Popes of the period were not seriously opposed to the Jews; and this accounts for the ardor with which the latter took up arms for the Ostrogoths as against the forces of Justinian—particularly at Naples, where the remarkable defense of the city was maintained almost entirely by Jews.
Once Italy was secure against Byzantium, Jews were persecuted again, Wikipedia says. But then came the Lombards:
it was not long until the greater part of Italy came into the possession of the Lombards (568-774), under whom they lived in peace. Indeed, the Lombards passed no exceptional laws relative to the Jews. Even after the Lombards embraced Catholicism the condition of the Jews was always favorable, because the popes of that time not only did not persecute them, but guaranteed them more or less protection.
This ushered in a generally favorable period, up to the 13th century, per Wikipedia:
A nephew of Rabbi Nathan ben Jehliel acted as administrator of the property of Pope Alexander III, who showed his amicable feelings toward the Jews at the Lateran Council of 1179, where he defeated the designs of hostile prelates who advocated anti-Jewish laws. Under Norman rule the Jews of southern Italy and of Sicily enjoyed even greater freedom; they were considered the equals of the Christians, and were permitted to follow any career; they even had jurisdiction over their own affairs. Indeed, in no country were the canonical laws against the Jews so frequently disregarded as in Italy.
The Jewish Encyclopedia (, from which Wikipedia seems to be getting much information, mentions an expulsion of the Jews from Bologna in 1172; "but they were soon allowed to return."

However Innocent III (1198-1216) threatened with excommunication those who maintained Jews in positions of authority and insisted that all Jews be dismissed from public positions. He also required Jews to wear a special yellow cloth on their clothing. In 1235 Pope Gregory IX published the first bull accusing Jews of ritual murder, followed by many other popes to come. Wikipedia continues, about the 15th century:
The Jews suffered much from the relentless persecutions of the Avignon-based antipope Benedict XIII. They hailed his successor, Martin V, with delight. The synod convoked by the Jews at Bologna, and continued at Forlì, sent a deputation with costly gifts to the new pope, praying him to abolish the oppressive laws promulgated by Benedict and to grant the Jews those privileges which had been accorded them under previous popes. The deputation succeeded in its mission, but the period of grace was short; for Martin's successor, Eugenius IV, at first favorably disposed toward the Jews, ultimately reenacted all the restrictive laws issued by Benedict. In Italy, however, his bull was generally disregarded. The great centers, such as Venice, Florence, Genoa, and Pisa, realized that their commercial interests were of more importance than the affairs of the spiritual leaders of the Church; and accordingly the Jews, many of whom were bankers and leading merchants, found their condition better than ever before.
Wikipedia's information again seems to come mostly from the Jewish Encyclopedia of 1906, with almost identical wording and list of cities. However it would seem to be accurate.

(b) Jewish Occupations in the Middle Ages, except silk

It is difficult to get full information about Jewish means of livelihood durign the Middle Ages. In the 15th century, of course, many leading bankers were Jewish, having been accorded permission by papal authorities and local governments to lend money at interest. So presumably they had experience in this trade earlier, no doubt at least during the Crusades, for the transmission of funds from Western Europe to points east. Also, we know, Jews distinguished themselves in medicine. There were also Jewish poets and philosophers in medieval Italy. For the 10th-14th centuries, the Jewish Encyclopedia mentions "Judah Kohen of Toledo, later of Tuscany" brought first to Sicily by Frederick II; and in Rome "Hillel of Verona", physician; Immanuel ben Solomon, said to be a friend of Dante's; and others. The Shengold Jewish Encyclopedia ( Encyclopedia Italy&f=false) says of Italian Jews that "Between 1230 and 1550, poets, scholars, and philosophers writing in Hebrew, Italian, and Latin created a 'golden age' of Jewish learning paralleled only in Muslim Spain." There was even an "Antipope" of Jewish descent, Anacletus II (d. 1138), whose great-great grandfather had b een a converted Jew (

But what about less distinguished Jews? Mark Wischnitzer, in A History of Jewish Crafts and Guilds, 1965, p. 80, says (p. 50):
The Jewish community of ancient Rome, liberally estimated as some 40,000, included tent makers, tailors, and butchers. Refernce is made in the talmud to a Jeish tailor in Rome who worked for a non-Jewish master.
And in general (pp. 51-52):
Weaving, dyeing and glassmaking were the chief trades plied by Jews in Syria, Asia Minor, and the western countries of the Diaspora.
Some information is contained in Antipope Benedict XIII's harsh prescriptions of 1415 (again Wikipedia; I omit the footnote):
Synagogues were closed, Jewish goldsmiths were forbidden to produce religious objects such as chalices and crucifixes,[6] and Jewish book binders were prohibited from binding books in which the names of Jesus or Mary occurred.
It would appear that Jews had continued to be artisans, as they had been in Italy since pagan times, serving not only Jewish needs but that of the general population. Wischnitzer says (p. 80):
A list of about 400 scribes has been compiled for Italy alone in the period up to 1500.
If there are scribes, including illuminators, there would likely be bookbinders. Then after the invention of printing, 15th century, Jews in Italy went into that trade. Some illuminators apparently continued as card painters. Wischnitzer writes, in a discussion of Germany (p. 90):
Jews apparently were also engaged in painting playing cards. The town book of the city of Landau, in the Palatinate, for 1520 deals with the complaint of the card-painter Meyer Hayyim whose trade suffered because of the importation of playing cards from other cities. The Council decided to stop the sale of imported cards.

Gold- and silver- smiths are mentioned for Trevoux, which is now a suburb of Lyons. Wischnitzer relates (p. 80):
After their expulsion from the latter city [Lyons], in the later fourteenth century, Jews settled in Trevoux, carrying with them a craft which they continued to practice to the first half of the nineteenth century.
In addition, he says:
Sword making was one of the skills plied by Jewish workers. The armorer, Salmone da Sesso, named after his conversion to Christianity, Ercole de' Fideli (c. 1465-1519), worked for the court of Ferrara. Most famous was the so-called "Queen of Swords" which he made for Cesare Borgia....A silversmith, Isaac of Bologna, was employed by the royal court in Naples in 1474. Mantua had a street of Jewish goldsmiths. Members of the jeweler's family of Formiggini worked for two centuries for the dukes of the house of d'Este.
Given this expertise in sword-making, I think it is legitimate to infer that other Jewish metalworkers were in Italy earlier as well. Since gold and silver were etched by the smiths, this is a trade that transfers well to woodcuts and engraving, just as illuminating transfers into card-painting.

Some information comes in a discussion of a bull by Eugenius IV, which is 15th century but tells us about conditions earlier (
In the bull of 1442, which comprises forty-two articles, he forbids the Jews to study civil law or to engage in handicrafts; he also orders the abolition of the Jewish courts. This bull was enforced with such rigor that several Jews left the Roman territory and settled in Mantua, by permission of Francisco Gonzaga. However, the leaders of several Roman congregations met in Tivoli and in Ravenna, and by the speedy collection of enormous sums of money they succeeded in having this bull withdrawn, though the clause which taxed the Roman community to the amount of 1,000 scudi remained in force.
The most frequently mentioned trade for Jews, of course, is moneylending. Since moneylending by Jews required official permission, such licenses were part of the public record. That trade includes other categories besides rich bankers. Books frequently speaks of pawn shops; these would seem to have been more widespread than banks, especially rich ones, but I don't know how the distinction was drawn, if it was.

Annie Sacerdoti, in Guide to Jewish Italy, 2003, gives some information on Jewish occupations, town by town. She does not say, but probably the information comes from commune archives. I first quote her material on Piedmont (pp. 20, 22, 36):
Asti: There was a permanent group of Jews there from the beginning of the 14th century, due to expulsions from France, etc. They were required to practice money-lending in order to stay in the town.
Biella: According to documents of 1377, at a place called Biella Piazzo, a certain Giocomino Giudeo practiced the profession of innkeeper. ..the profession of innkeeper was not commonly practiced by Jews."
Moncalvo: In 1394 many of the Jews expelled from France crossed the Alps and settled in Piedmont, where many small Jewish centers sprang p, even in rural areas. Moncalvo is one such rural locality....At Moncalvo the Jews ran one of the eighteen loan banks scattered throughout the Monferrato area in the 16th century. But they also engaged in crafts and were traveling merchants.

By "France", of course, the most immediately close to Piedmont were Provence and Languedoc. We shall explore in the next section the possibility of silkworms in both places during the Middle Ages.

Then there are the maritime regions, starting with Ancona (p. 154).
A bridge between Europe and the East, the port of Ancona was always a hub of economic activities for the local Jewish community. Over the centuries these activities attracted thousands of merchants, especially Levantines and Marranos, who, however, never fully integrated with the Italian Jews.

There is additional material in the 1999 book, p. 160:
Jews arrived in Ancona around the year 1000. In 1300, Ancona was second only to Rome in Jewish population.
Also, p. 115:
The Jews of Rimini, Forli, Faenz, Ravenna, Russi, Cesena, and Bertinoro were involved in the maritime trade as early as the 13th century. There was a house identified as the "House of Ovadia," in Bertinoro, which was an important Rabbinical Academy.
Jews appear to have been less active on the western coast, at least before the deal with Lucca. The 1999 book observes of Genoa:
When Benjamin of Tudela, the Jewish Marco Polo, visited the city in 1159, he noted in his diary that there were only two Jewish families, of Moroccan descent, who ran a dyeworks.
In Pisa, Tuscan Jewish Itineraries, p.117, says:
Pisa may be the first Tuscan city in which the Jews settled. The first documentary evidence of a presence in the city is a contract of 850 registering the renting of a house by a Jew. Benjamin of Tudela provides further confirmation of the community when, in the account of his journey from spain to Jerusalem, he mentions meeting around twenty Jews in the port. From this period on there is considerable archive evidence of the presence of Jews - usually contracts of one kind or another. We also know that in the middle of the 13th century there was a street called Chiasso dei Giuei (Jews' Lane), in which there was probably a synagogue. A funeral inscription on the town walls dates from the same period (1264).
Apparently Jews too poor to afford a headstone were simply buried next to the wall and a short commemoration scratched in its stones. It is regrettable that there is no information about the content of the contracts. The account continues (p. 118):
The Jewish population subsequently increased with the arrival of a number of Spanish and Provencal Jews fleeing reprisals after unjustly being accused of spreading the 1348 Plague - they had been expressly invited by the Commune of Pisa to settle in the city.
There are also many references to substantial settlements of Jews in all of southern Italy and Sardinia prior to 1492. Such settlements, given Jewish sanitation and dietary laws, if nothing else, would of necessity have included a variety of trades. A 1999 book by Annie Sacerdoti and Luca Fiorentine, Italy Jewish Travel Guide, translated by Richard F. De Lossa, ends its account of Sicily as follows:
The Jews were expelled from Sicily in 1492, where they had made up 6% of the population. Fleeing to Calabria, they were expelled there in 1525, then from all of the Kingdom of Naples in 1542, whereupon they fled north and east.

These expulsions were a reflection of the establishment of Spanish direct rule in these places.

(c) Jews, Lucca, and silk

Another trade with some recorded history in Italy, including Jewish involvement, is that which I mentioned at the beginning: silk production.

In Europe silkworms were raised first in the Byzantine Empire, starting in the 6th century; they jealously guarded all aspects of the industry. But Arab conquests east and west ended that monopoly. Starting in 827 c.e. all or part of Sicily was in the Baghdad Caliphate ( ... .931091.29), which had already gotten silkworms as part of the spoils in conquering Persia. Wischnitzer says, p. 59:
Jewish silk production was an important industry in the Baghdad caliphate and in Egypt, Sicily, and Spain in the early Middle Ages. Jews cultivated mulberry trees for silk production, bred silk worms, and spun silk yarn. Here again a religious question arose: was it permissible to feed the worms on Saturdays and during festivals? The gaon Hai consulted the opinions of his predecessors and decided that it was permissible to feed the worms on festivals, but not on the Sabbath. (20). The gaon Matatia permitted feeding them on the Sabbath also.
Footnote 20 is to the Babylonian Talmud. He later adds (p. 78):
The Saracens transplanted sericulture to Sicily, but it took firmer hold under the later Normal rule. The Italian silk manufacture originated in Sicily and in the southern part of the Italian Peninsula, whence it spread to central and northern Italy, France, and other parts of Europe. (9)
9. Encyclopedia Britannica, XX. 5.00, "Silk and Sericulture". A. J. Doren Italienische Wirtschaftsgeschichte, Jena, 1934, I. 491; Hitti, History of the Arabs, p. 607; Thompson, Later Middle Ages, p. 251.
A current website,, says:
In the seventh century, the Arabs conquered Persia, capturing their magnificent silks in the process. Sericulture and silk weaving thus spread through Africa, Sicily, and Spain as the Arabs swept through these lands. Andalusia was Europe's main silk-producing center in the tenth century.
Then came the Normans, who took the island from the Arabs by 1091. In 1147 King Roger II of Sicily made a raid on Byzantium and took back with him a large number of Jewish silk workers, perhaps as many as 2000 from Thebes alone. Wischnitzer says (p. 70):
This event is considered to mark the emancipation of western Europe from the Byzantine monopoly of sericulture, which now spread from Sicily to the Italian mainland and to Provence (6).
6. M. Camera, Memorie storico Diplomatische del' Antica Citta e Ducato di Amalfi, Salerno, 1876, I. 347; B. Strauss Die Juden im Koenigreich Sizilien unier des Mormannen und Staufen (cited as Straus, Sicilien[/]), Heidelberg, 1910, p. 66.

Sericulture seems to have spread in particular to the city of Lucca. Wischnitzer writes of Jewish weavers and dyers in Sicily (p. 80):
Some probably went to Lucca, where silk production flourished in the late Middle Ages.

At ... xtiles.php, we read:
During the 8th-10th c. Lucca was known for its merchants and luxury artisans. It was a center of Jewish life, led by the Kalonymos family that had kept alive commercial links with the Byzantine Empire and the Middle East. Lucca, having no direct access to the sea, forged an agreement with Genoa in the middle of the 12th c. which allowed its merchants to transport goods through the Genovese territory. In exchange, Genovese ships were to bring back to Italy the raw silk purchased by Lucca's merchants from the Levant. ... Lucca made notable improvements in the technology of silk-throwing devices and promoted the sericulture in the immediate countryside.

This essay cites Opera textilia variorum temporum, Stockholm, 1988. Donald et Monique King, adding that Donald King (d. 1998) was former Keeper of Textiles in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

There is much about the Kalonymos or Kolonymus family on the Internet. The Jewish Encyclopedia says in its article on Lucca (
Its Jewish community is known in literature especially through the Kalonymus family of Lucca, whose ancestor saved the life of the German emperor Otto II. after the battle of Cotrone in Calabria (982), and seems thereupon to have settled at Mayence, where the family had extensive privileges.

"Mayence" is the pre-20th century English word for "Mainz". There is also, in the Jewish Encyclopedia's article on France (, mention of a legend that the one to encourage the family's settlement in Mayence was Charlemagne:
It is also stated that he wished to transplant the family of Kalonymus from Lucca to Mayence ("'Emeḳ ha-Bakah," p. 13).

Another source,, includes Charles the Bald as a third possibility for the ruler who induced the family to settle in Mainz. Prominent members of the family appear on and links given there, as being in Italy--Lucca or Rome--between 780 and 976, thereafter Germany, Arles, and Narbonne. The famous Kabbalist Eleazar of Worms ( was part of the Mainz branch. Only in 1465 do I find mention of a Kolonymus in Italy, an "Italian Jewish astrologer of the fifteenth century" dedicating his work to Ferdinand I of Naples" (

About pre-15th century Lucca, the book Tuscan Jewish Itineraries, edited by Dora Liscia Bemporad and Annamarcella Tedeschi Falco, 1997, on p. 102 quotes Benjamin de Tudela in his 12th century "Book of Travels" : Lucca there are forty Jews. It is a large city and the Jews are led by Rabbi David, Rabbi Samuel and Rabbi Jaacob.
They add that:
Due to its economic importance, Lucca already had a rabbinical school by the 9th century (transferred from Apulia). The town of Oria in Apulia was also the origin was also the origin of the Calonimos family (the future Calo family), who, in 1145, would offer hospitality to the poet Abraham ibn Ezra.

They say that after Benjamin's visit the numbers dwindled, in contrast to those in Pisa. There is no mention of what trades Jews practiced in Lucca until 1431, when Jews from Rome were given the monopoly on moneylending.

It may be that Jews, such as the Kolanymos family, or other Italians, shifted their activities in silk production to Provence and Languedoc, and/or moved to Pisa. I cannot find any recent documentation on when silkworms came to France. However, an 1832 book on silk manufacture ( ... ce&f=false) says that in northern France, silkworms were introduced by Henry IV (reigned 1588-1610), but had been "previously cultivated in the Lyonaisse, Dauphiné, Provence, and Languedoc" (p. 34). As to where those came from, the author says, some accounts say mulberry trees were brought into France at the time of Charles VIII's invasion of Italy; "other authorities as confidently say that Sicily was the country whence the mulberry was first transplanted into France" (p. 35). (I would think that at least by the time of the French occupation of Lombardy, 1499-1525, the thought would have occurred to them.) He does know about Muslim introduction of silkworms into Spain, but attributes to King Roger their introduction into Sicily (p. 25). As for the rest of Italy, he does not know; he suspects the Venetians, after they took over the centers of silk production in Greece in 1206, or the Genoese, after they had got control of the Greek island of Galata; but he asserts as "certain" that in Modena of 1306 the silk was judged the finest in Lombardy (p. 28). Florence, however, had the highest quantity, in 1300 employing thousands.

About Italy: the book gives no references. Another problem is how enough raw silk would have gotten to Modena and Florence; perhaps those Genoese were very good at transporting raw silk from the Levant. Venice, which did control 3/8ths of the territory seized after the sack of Constantinople, would have tried to guard its silkworms from other Italians ( But the other 5/8ths was the "Latin Empire", controled by varous Crusader factions. Galata is only nominally an island. It is separated from the mainland by a small inlet but was essentially a neighborhood of Constantinople, constituting its Jewish part ( The width of the inlet can be seen in a modern picture at According to Wikipedia the neighborhood was destroyed in 1203 in the early stages of the Sack of Constantinople. Jews, not treated well by the Greeks, conceivably might have been a valuable commodity to the Crusaders for their knowledge of silk production. The Crusaders' main focus then seems to have been recouping their considerable investments, which had drained their resources far beyond expectations. Before then, a "new" Genoese settlement had been destroyed in 1171, Wikipedia says. I would think the acquisition of silkworms at that time would be unlikely. Galata was retaken by the Byzantines in 1261, who granted it by treaty to the Genoese in 1267. By then, however, there would have been other sources for silkworms and knowledge of the industry.

About France: another website (, about a small village near the coast of Provence, recounts a legend about silkworm cultivation there before the advent of the plague (i.e. 14th century); they burned the mulberry trees (conveniently for the legend) as a defense against it, destroying the silk industry, apparently forever. There is today a "Rue des Fainéants", so named according to one legend because it meant "nitwits"', while "others think that they were persons collecting the leaves of the mulberry tree in order to feed the silk worms." There is no mention of Jews, but also no reason why there should be.

For Jewish participation in Italian silk production and merchandising before the 16th century other than Lucca, Wischnitzer mentions only Padua, p. 148,
Moses Mantica, fifteenth century, established the first workshop for silk production in that city.

For the 16th century, he cites Jewish involvement in the trade in Bologna and Rome. Also, an undated reference is in the 1999 book, p. 56. It says of Mondovi, Piedmont:
The Jews in the upper part of the city practiced moneylending. The Jews living in the countryside raised silkworms and produced silk. In 1724 a ghetto was created at Mondovi Piazza, in the upper part of the town, and the Jews were forced to quit the countryside, and take up residence in the Ghetto.

Given the mention of 1724, this record of silkworms is likely rather late.

One place where the record suggests that Jews did not engage in the silk trade is Florence. Wischnitzer says, in the context of the 16th-17th centuries:
Attempts by Florentine Jews to enter the production and sale of fabrics met with stubborn resistance from the Christian drapers and had to be given up.

Tuscan Jewish Itineraries finds the first mention of Jews living in Florence (as opposed to passing through) in 1427, licensing three pawn shops, "a move which marked the beginning of the Jewish community in that city" (p. 143). So I would guess there was no involvement in silk there by Jews in the 15th century.

Re: Jewish-Christian interactions in Italy before 1500

Then after the invention of printing, 15th century, Jews in Italy went into that trade. Some illuminators apparently continued as card painters. Wischnitzer writes, in a discussion of Germany (p. 90):
Jews apparently were also engaged in painting playing cards. The town book of the city of Landau, in the Palatinate, for 1520 deals with the complaint of the card-painter Meyer Hayyim whose trade suffered because of the importation of playing cards from other cities. The Council decided to stop the sale of imported cards.
This document is noted by Schreiber, p. 131/132 in a short sentence .... the original source is J.F. Mone in der Zeitschrift für die Geschichte des Oberrheins Bd. XVII (1865) , p. 255 ... which I don't know ....

But I found it: ... pageNo=263



The text is difficult to evaluate. First I don't know, which Landau is meant.
The poor Meyer Chayn with wife and children, who makes playing cards and nothing else, begs (through his father-in-law Joseph Jud), that other Jews shall not buy playing cards elsewhere and offer them at his market (likely Landau). Well, he asks for a privilege against other Jews.
It's strange, that the question wasn't cleared between the Jews themselves, and that the city council had to rule it.

You write "Hayyim" according Wischnitzer and perhaps Wischnitzer visited the source ?

Re: Jewish-Christian interactions in Italy before 1500

Yes. Sorry, I missed seeing Wischnitzer's little footnote number. He gives his source as Zeitschrift fuer die Geschichte des Oberrheins, ed. Mone, VII (1865), 245-255. Same as you. I don't know why the spelling is different. Perhaps he has made it conform to some standardization.

Now I am ready to continue with the other half of my exploration of pre-15th century Jewish-Christian interactions and their possible relationship to the tarot. This divides into two parts: theology/theurgy and magic/divination

(a) Theological/philosophical interactions between Jews and Christians, pre-15th century

Besides commerce and moneylending, there is the matter of religious, philosophical and scholarly interactions between Jews and Christians in Italy. There were numerous non-religious scholarly interactions from Jews to Christians, focused mainly on the recovery, translation, and interpretaton of Arab and Greek texts, but also including particular Jewish innovations, such as their calendar reform. I am going to focus on the religious/theurgic and related philosophy, some of it involving the Kalonymos family.

I begin with Moshe Idel in his erudite Kabbalah in Italy 1280-1510: A Survey[/i], 2011. Below, I highlight the mentions of Rome and the "Qalonymos family", p. 5 at ... y_djvu.txt. "Heikhalot literature" concerns itself with mystical ascent into heavenly palaces", according Wikipedia (
There are several solid indications that Heikhalot literature was known in Rome, or in Italy in general, relatively early. Rav Hai Gaon, a tenth-century master active in Sura in Babylonia, was asked by some persons in Kairuan, Egypt, about the veracity of some books in which divine names were found and which were used for magical purposes. They claimed that some reliable "sages from the land of Israel and from the land of Edom" had seen miracles accomplished by use of the books. 8 In his reply, Hai Gaon, who was skeptical about popular understanding of the operations of the divine names, subtly disparaged the authority of those witnesses, writing that formulas found among "the persons from Rome and from the land of Israel" were also found in his milieu. 9 He thus reduced the "sages" described in the question to just "persons." Unfortunately, we lack any information about the identity of those Italian scholars who relied on magic. The only report that may lend support to Hai Gaon's reference comes from a description of Rabbi Todros of Rome, a member of the Qalonymos family, hugely influential among the Hasidei Ashkenaz, who "pronounced the [divine] name over the lion and bounded it and compelled it." 10 This tiny scrap of information, whether based in historical fact or in legend, at least provides an indication that Jewish notables in Rome possessed esoteric knowledge, and that magic was part and parcel of it.
Idel adds that "We have firmer evidence from the late eleventh or early twelfth century". He gives two sources, or rather, combination of sources. The argument is rather dense and does not involve the Qalonymus family, but I present its main threads for the sake of completeness.

First Idel examines "R. Nathan ben Yehi'el of Rome, a major figure in the Jewish life in the city" (p. 5). Nathan (in Rome) cites Hai Gon (in Babylon) for a psychological reading of the Heikhalot literature. Idel concludes (pp. 6-7)
Thus we learn that seminal texts of Heikhalot literature were indeed present and quoted in Rome, together with a psychological interpretation emanating from Baghdad, rather soon after this interpretation was committed to writing there.
Another source is the Scroll of 'Ahima'atz, "a famous family chronicle composed in 1054 but surveying much earlier periods" (p. 7). It cites with veneration a document called the Ma'aseh Merkavah. There is a treatise by that name in the Heikhelot literature, but it "scarcely invites such veneration". Instead, the reference is more likely to another work, the Heikhalot Rabbati. Idel argues:
And indeed, an important mid-thirteenth-century book written in Italy, R Tzidqiah's Shibbolei ha-Leqet, attributes a quotation that is taken almost verbatim from Heikhalot Rabbati to Ma'aseh Merkauah. 18 What is interesting from our point of view is the fact that elsewhere in the same book Ma'aseh Merkavah is quoted
again, but this time the short statement found there is not traceable in the extant Heikhalot literature. 19 This opens the possibility that in medieval Italy there was material belonging to this literature, unknown from the extant sources.
Then Idel returns to items of more interest in relation to the tarot. He mentions a reference to Lucca, as opposed to Rome, and the "Qalonymos" family, from Eleazar of Worms (p. 7), who was a member of that family. Again the highlighting is mine:
More legendary is the account, replete with magical motifs, describing the arrival of esoteric literature from Baghdad in Lucca via the famous intermediary Aharon or Abu Aharon. 20 According to a tradition of R Eleazar of Worms, this figure transmitted the secrets of prayer to the representative of the Qalonymos family, R. Moshe.
Idel gives a translation of Eleazar's words, writing that his Ashkenazi predecessors
received the secret of the structure [tiqqun] 21 of prayers and the other secrets rabbi from rabbi, up to Abu Aharon, the son of R. Shmuel the Prince, who came from Babylonia because of a certain deed, 22 and he had to wander from place to place, and they arrived in the land of Lombardy, in a town named Lucca, and there he found our Rabbi Moshe, who composed the poem "The Awe of Your Wonders," and transmitted to him all his secrets. He is our Rabbi Moshe, the son of our Rabbi Qalonymos, the son of our Rabbi Yehudah. 23 And he [Moshe] was the first to leave Lombardy together with his sons, Rabbi Qalonymos and our Rabbi Yequti'el, and his relative Yiti'el, and other important persons, who were brought by Charles [the Great] with him from Lombardy and were settled in Mainz. 24
Idel thinks, with Joseph Dan and Avraham Grossman, that apart from dates such accounts of the transmission of esoteric lore are in general reliable. A similar statement is found in an 11th century source, although it is Rome rather than Lucca:
Rashi, the famous R Shlomo Yitzhaqi, testifies that he heard that a certain R. Qalonymos ben Sabbatai from Rome went to Worms and transmitted both legalist teachings and interpretations of poems that were quoted by Ashkenazi authors.
The same legendary Aharon is mentioned in another account as transmitting the lore to another family in Italy. Idel suggests that the statements about the Qalonymos family suggest that the texts simply went to Germany, making little impression in Italy. Yet:
In an important recent study Ephraim Kanarfogel claims that we may describe the Italian elite in the mid-thirteenth century as an extension of the Ashkenazi elite. 35
Obviously there would have continued to be contact between the two regions ("Ashkenazi" means, roughly, Germany, as opposed to "Saphardic", Spain and the Mediterranean generally). Moreover, I would wonder whether other family members' move to Narbonne might not have had some relationship to the emergence of Kabbalah there. There is also the issue of later influence on Jews in Florence in the mid-15th century, which I will discuss later.

In southern Italy, Idel notes (p. 10):
...the tenth century also marked the production of several philosophical works by R Sabbatai Donnolo, including a Commentary on Sefer Yetzirah, that reflect an acquaintance with Neoplatonism...As Elliot R. Wolfson pointed out, in Donnolo's Commentary on Sefer Yetzirah there is a more complex understanding of the ten sefirot as reflecting some divine quality and as part of the divine power, ha-koah ha-^adol. 44 Following the view of David Neumark, Wolfson assumes that Donnolo may have had an impact on Sefer ha-Bahir, a book containing one of the first formulations of kabbalistic theosophies. 45 Indeed, I believe that Wolfson is correct in his analysis, though we may see Donnolo not as the source of this way of thought but as one more example of the development of theosophy found in some few Jewish sources written long before him. Donnolo's treatment of the sefirot not only demonstrates the survival and transmission of second-century material, which I have already analyzed elsewhere; 46 it also resembles a tradition found in a Samaritan book, in which God reveals a Glory, which is something like a second God, by means of ten ranks. 47
Idel does not discuss the Narbonne branch of the family, where the Sefer ha-Bahir comes from. I would note also that the idea of a "second God" was also a feature of the Cathars, then active in the Narbonne area. Sometimes this God was an evl power independent of the first God (so-called "absolute dualism"), but sometimes part of the high God's plan ("moderate dualism"), with both positive and negative aspects.

Idel then describes much interaction between Jewish theologians in Provence and in Italy, specifically focusing on Aristotelian philosophy and Maimonides. Unlike in Catalonia, he sees no sign of influence on Jewish thought of Christian thought in Italy during this time (e.g. St. Francis), until the rise of Scholasticism, to which some Jewish thinkers were quite responsive. At the same time Jewish theosophists responded favorably to Kabbalist works from Spain.

Then came Abraham Abulafia (1240-after 1291), who in Idel's view synthesized two trends in esoteric Judaism, the German and Catalonian. (Or, one might speculate, the products of the two branches of the Qalonymos family. Since the Catalonian is derivative from that of Narbonne, one might wonder if the family from Lucca was of any help.)

Abulafia was in Italy twice. Idel says (p. 29):
In the mid-1260s he was in Capua studying Jewish philosophy, especially the Guide of the Perplexed of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides)...In 1279 he returned to Italy and, after a short period of detention in Trani in the same year, again spent some months in Capua, where he taught his Kabbalah to four students. In 1280 he made an unsuccessful effort to meet Pope Nicholas III while the latter was in retreat in the castle of Soriano, near Rome. When Abulafia arrived at the castle, the pope suddenly died of apoplexy, and as a result Abulafia was imprisoned for two weeks in Rome by the Minorite Franciscans. In 1282 he was in Messina, Sicily, whither he presumably traveled immediately after his release from prison.
An errant teacher of Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed, 6 a mystic, a prophet, a messiah, a preacher of a new Kabbalah to both Jews and Christians, a prolific writer — these epithets describe Abraham Abulafia at the time of his arrival in Messina, where he would remain for the rest of his life, producing more than two-thirds of his extensive writings, which would contribute substantially to both the Jewish and the Christian cultures. 7
Abulafia wrote all but his first book (written in Greece) in Italy: two in the Rome area (Capua is near Rome), after studying with Hillel of Verona, and all the rest in Sicily. While I cannot discuss Abulafia's ideas here, Idel mentions that he wrote extensively on two texts of importance in the Renaissance, namely, the Sefer Yetzirah and the works of Gikatilla, of which his Gates of Light in Latin translation was a major influence on Reuchlin.

The Zohar, of course, is the most well known Spanish Kabbalist work; in Italy it appears first in the work of Racanati, Idel says. Idel characterizes Racanati as Neoplatonic, and Abulafia more Aristotelian. In the years after these two, even the followers of Abulafia shifted in a more Neoplatonic direction, Idel says (p. 142). The emphasis is on mystical "ascent", with the image of a "ladder", toward a "mystical death". Whether this material had any influence on Christian thought before the 15th century Idel does not say. While Jewish thought in Italy was deloping in the Neoplatonic direction, nonetheless with some influence from Christian Scholasticism, Aristotelian Scholasticism reigned supreme in Christian thought of the 14th century. It is only earlier that we can find Jewish influence on Christian thinkers, and even they are mostly outside of Italy, except for "heretics" and possiblly "the discussions of Joachim de Fiore", as we will see Idel putting it.

I turn first to Israel Newman's 1925 Jewish Influence on Christian Reform Movements, 1925. Newman observes that some monks of the Roman Church demonstrated more than cursory knowledge of Kabbalist works. Of one such, anonymous but possibly Roger Bacon, Newman says (pp. 65, 66; I omit the footnotes, which give some of the Latin original):
His comments upon the astronomical learning of the Jews lead him to cite a Hebrew work on the "Tratragammaton," a "Liber Semamphorae" by a certain Solomon. It is entirely clear that the anonymous Christian scholar was acquainted with the Kabbalah or Jewish mystical lore: he mentions the "ars notoria" or "ars natorica," associated with Kabbalistic lore; he quotes certain legends connected with the magical properties of the "Ineffable Name," the building of the Temple, the miraculous name of the Messiah awaited by the Jews; and he includes important items indisputably were drawn from Jewish sources, the works of Rashi, Kimchi, and others.
Then there is the question of whether the emphasis, starting with the translations of pseudo-Dionysius in the 10th-12th centuries, on "divine names" in Christian circles reflects Jewish influence as well as Eastern Christian.

Now I go back to Idel (p. 227):
Indeed, some passages dealing with divine names recur in Christian texts early in the thirteenth century, in the discussions of Joachim de Fiore. 3 At the end of the same century and early in the next, Arnauld of Villanova wrote a whole treatise dealing with the divine name. 4 Whether this treatise reflects the impact of Abraham Abulafia's Kabbalah remains to be investigated.

However, it is possible to approach the question from another angle: instead of regarding the passage of some traditions from one type of religion to another as the defining moment of the emergence of a certain new phenomenon, we should perhaps consider the absorption, especially the creative one, of the techniques that are characteristic of one type of lore by a thinker belonging to another religion. In our case, the question would be not when a Christian adopted some forms of Jewish esoteric traditions but when a Christian thinker adopted a kabbalistic type of thinking. Thus, the occurrence of a certain technique of interpreting the first word of the Bible by separating its letters in the work of the twelfth-century English theologian Alexander of Neckham, 5 or of the peculiar combination of letters by means of concentric circles and the theory of a hierarchy of glories in that of Ramon Llull, 6 apparently under the influence of Jewish sources, may fit this second approach.

Lacking in these examples is the Christian writer's explicit awareness that, when dealing with divine names or with combinatory techniques, he is operating in a realm of esoteric Jewish lore. However, such awareness apparently already existed in the last third of the thirteenth century, when Alfonso Sabio's nephew, Juan Manuel, testified about his famous uncle: "Furthermore, he ordered translated the whole law of the Jews, and even their Talmud, and other knowledge, which is called qabbalah and which the Jews keep closely secret. And he did this so it might be manifest through their own law that it is a [mere] presentation of that law which we Christians have; and that they, like the Moors, are in grave error and in peril of losing their souls." 7
We might wonder, in this light, whether a Christian writer may be declining to give his Jewish sources for fear of being labeled a "Judaizer" by his peers. That concept, perhaps even the term, existed long before Reuchlin was called that by his Dominican detractors.

The illustrations in some copies of Alexander of a Neckham text, as we know, were a strong influence on those of the "Tarot of Mantegna". About the influence of Neckham on other "divine names" discussions, I do not know. Llulian alchemy books, we know, were copied in 1460s Florence. Certainly Llull was no alchemist; whether these works showed the same Kabbalist influence as their namesake I also do not know.

In this regard Newman, too, mentions Llull (whom he calls "Lully"). Also, Newman says, Jewish converts to Christianity sought to demonstrate the truth of their new faith based on Jewish Kabbalist principles. Newman cites Peter Alphonso, baptized 1106, and a Paul Christian, whom the celebrated Kabbalist Nachmanides in Catalonia felt compelled to rebut for his attempts to derive the Trinity from Jewish principles. Arnold of Villanova--not a Jewish convert--did the same, attempting to derive the Trinity from the Tetragrammaton (all Newman p. 179-180).

This was a potent motive among Christian monks for reading putatively non-kabbalist Jewish rabbinical writings. Newman writes (p. 53):
Just as Jews were prompted to study Latin in order to defend Judaism against Christian attack, so Christians were moved to study Hebrew for both apologetical and polemical purposes. ... During the thirteenth century the great debates over the burning of the Talmud stimulated Christian scholars, largely under the guidance of Jewish apostates, to devote themselves to Hebrew literary sources.
For more recent material, I refer the reader to a piece on JSTOR, ... 4679707191, a review of The Jewish-Christian Debate in the High Middle Ages by David Berger. I presume that some of this knowledge of Hebrew sources came to Italy, which after all was the deciding place of what was to be permitted and what not in Jewish books and practice. To what extent the polemicists may have actually absorbed some of the Jewish teachings has yet to be investigated.

In the Middle Ages, moreover, dissident lay Christians, dissatisfied with the Church's monopoly on interpretation of books of the Old Testament, produced their own translations, against the express directives of the Church. The Waldensians, who started in Lyons but were active in Milan and Provence, produced biblical texts in the vernacular that differed from the Vulgate in various respects; placing manuscripts (none survive earlier than the end of the 14th century, although the first was in the 12th) side by side with the Hebrew and the Vulgate, the Waldensians' seem to derive from the Hebrew (Israel Newman p. 220). It cannot be proved that they consulted Jews; but nobody at the time, not even Christian monks who translated rabbinical works into Latin (some of whom admitted consulting Jews), could have learned Hebrew without at least consulting converts from Judaism, according to Newman and an 1867 French authority he quotes (on p. 27), Soury.

(b) Interactions between Jews and Christians in Relation to Magic and Divination

Then there is the part of Jewish practice that Christian writers particularly abhorred and used as ammunition in their persecution of the Jews: magic and divination. I begin with Newman pp. 183-185:
Thus in times of drought during the Middle Ages, the people turned to the Jews, who were supposed to be able to cause rain; at moments of sickness or distress, we find Christians entering synagogues and following Jewish customs, a practice which arounsed even the wrath of the Popes at Rome. Jews were regarded as sorcerers, and we find mention made of Jewish magicians: Zambrio in Italy during the ninth century; Sicilian sorcerers even a century earlier, and in Germany through the entire Middle Ages. Guibert of Nogent is but one of many monks who sought to rouse popuar hostility against Jews by accusing them of practicing black magic, of celebrating the Black Mass, and engaging with heretics in other nefarious occupations. (30: REJ xlvi, 239, 243). In 1303 we find Philip the Fair, three years before the great Expulsion, forbidding the Inquisition to take cognizance of usury, sorcery and other offenses of the Jews. Jews were supposed to be astrologers, and coming from the East, were regarded as the heirs and successors of the Chaldeans; they were believed to have the power to fill the multitudes with awe and fear. (31: Bedarride, Les Juifs en France, pp. 49, 454; Basnage, Histoire des Juifs, iv, 1212, Cassel, 16, 17, 52 et passim.) Because of the reputation which Biblical Jews had won as interpreters of dreams, their medieval descendants were accredited with like power. The question of oneiroscopy or divination of dreams was complicated by conflicting evidence in the Scriptures: Denteronomy, 18:10, it was forbidden, and the Vulgate included the observer of dreams in its denunciations; on the other hand, there were the examples of Joseph and Daniel, and the formal assertion of Job "When sleep falleth upon man, in slumberings upon the bed, then he openeth the ears of men and sealeth their instruction." (Job, 33:15, 16). In the twelfth century, the expounding of dreams was a recognized profession which does not seem to have been forbidden; John of Salisbury endeavors to prove that no reliance is to be placed on them; Joseph and Daniel were inspired, and short of inspiration no divination from dreams is to be trusted (Lea, iii, 445-447). In these and a multitude of practices, even in the development of the superstitions concerning Satan, Jews played a prominent part (32: Lea iii, 378). We mention these selected bits of information in order to indicate that during the Middle Ages the interchange of influence between Jews and Christians occurred not only in the upper strata of intellectual life, but also among the masses, thrown into daily association despite the protests of the highest authorities.
To demonstrate interchange between Jews and Christians in this area, there have to be corresponding Jewish activities as opposed to mere accusations. Newman does not give his sources for his claim that Christians went to Jews for magical results; and his source regarding dream interpretation Satan is a book on the Inquisition dealing with that material.

The part about rainmaking and the magician Zambrio and those of Sicily probably derives from the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia's article on Magic (available online), which mentions all of this. The part about the medieval awe in which the Jewish astrologer was held is said also, in nearly the same language, in the same Encyclopedia's article on Astrology, giving abundant documentation. For dream interpretation, see the same Encyclopedia's article on that subject.

On the summoning of demons (not Satan, that I can find), some writings of Moshe Idel are to the point: see e.g. his essay "Jewish Magic from the Renaissance Period to Early Hassidism"in Religion, Science, and Magic in Concord and Conflict ed. J. Neusner (NY: Oxford U. Press, 1989); although he cites Renaissance Jewish sources, they in turn cite medieval ones. Also see Joshua Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition: A Study in Folk Religion, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004 (reprint from 1939), including, especially, the 2004 forward by Idel, which emphasizes that magic, while deprecated by many rabbis, was not the exclusive domain of the "folk". Idel's forward and some pages of Trachtenberg's first two chapters are at ... rd_nQ-RTQC. On p. 21 Trachtenberg cites a rabbi characterizing astrology as a form of "science", not only for prediction of the future but for subduing the celestial powers and making talismans to bring those powers to earth. For his part, Idel, on p. xi-xii, has a long quote from Abulafia, the 13th century Kabbalist, mocking rabbis who provide instruction in linguistic magic, in that case reciting certain magical words, accompanided by certain motions, during "the time of Saturn", etc., for the purpose of attracting a member of the opposite sex.

Newman does not mention the many other forms of divination practiced by Jews, as well as other groups, in medieval times, some of which are alluded to in the Bible. The one most relevant to card-reading is divination by lots. Our only sure evidence of fortune-telling with cards is 16th century lot-books; they in turn seem to be an extension of lot-books written for dice.

The Jewish Encyclopedia discusses lots at Here is what it says for the Middle Ages:
The drawing of lots and its companion practise, the throwing of dice, were common in the Middle Ages; and they are even in vogue at the present time. Moses of Coucy (c. 1250) mentions xylomancy. Splinters of wood the rind of which had been removed on one side, were tossed up, and according as they fell on the peeled or the unpeeled side, augured favorably or unfavorably (Güdemann, "Gesch." i. 82). An Italian teacher denounced the casting of lots (ib. ii. 221). Dice-playing was especially in vogue among the Italian Jews of the Middle Ages, and was, as well as other games of hazard, frequently forbidden (ib. ii. 210). In Germany there was a game of chance, called "Rück oder Schneid," in which a knife was used (Berliner, p. 22). Many books on games of chance originated in the later Middle Ages (see bibliography below). The present writer has in his possession a Bokhara manuscript containing a "Lot-Book of Daniel." It mentions also means ("segullot") for detecting a thief.
Bokhara is a city in present Uzbekistan. The use of lots to detect a thief is described in the Bible:
Joshua discovers the thief, and Saul the guilty one, by means of the lot (Josh. vii. 16 et seq.; I Sam. xiv. 42; comp. I Sam. x. 20 et seq.).
Among pagans, the casting of lots was seen as a way of learning the will of the gods. In Israel, similarly, it showed, in special circumstances, the will of God. The Encyclopedia points out that in Greece the casting of lots degenerated into games of chance. But in the popular mind the two were not disconnected: it was not chance, but God, who favored the righteous, tested them with adversity, and gave omens as guidance. The idea that God, angels, or demons might direct throws of dice in a game governed by a book of verses was of course abhorrent to many Catholic preachers (and rabbis as well), and the same applied to the random drawing of cards. The use of tarot cards for this purpose (if they were) would have been even more abhorrent, because they included cards with sacred images on them, the Pope and the Angel. This general idea is expressed in published rationales for placing lot-books on the Index of forbidden books in 1559. I have not found 16th century accounts, but a 17th century one is alluded to in an 18th century book (my translation follows the Italian):
Il Padre Menestrier (l.c. pag. 407) condanna a ragione tutte queste sorte di giuochi, asserendo, che in verun modo non possono esser permessi, non solo a riguardo di tali indovinamenti, i quah sono mere fanfaluche, e chimere, ma perche in esse si fa abuso di cose sante, impiegandovi i nomi de’ Profeti, per dar mano a bugiarde risposte in quisiti vani, e profani; e pero a ragione tutti questi hbri di Ventura e di Sorti furono condannati dall’indice Tridentino (in Fontanini 1753, 190)

Father Ménestrier (l.c. p. 407) rightly condemns all this sort of games, asserting that in truth they cannot be allowed, not only in respect of such divination, which is mere balderdash, and chimaras, but because in essence they abuse holy things, impugning the names of the Prophets, giving into the hands of liars responses to vain and profane questions; so it is with reason that all these books of Fortune and Fates were condemned by the Tridentine index (in Fontanini 1753, 190).

Ménestrier is best known these days for having declared the “Charles VI” tarot to be the work of the artist Gringonneur in 1392. "Fontanini 1753" is Annotazioni to the Biblioteca della eloquenza italiana by Giusto Fontanini. My source for this quote is “Le Risposte di Leonora Bianca: Un gioco di divinazione del tardo Rinascimento” by Eleonora Carinci, p. 170, at ... ca&f=false, which should be consulted for further details. As Carinci points out, Spirito's lot book (for use with dice) had the responses being given by biblical prophets. Sacred images had a role in securing the favor of God, and also those of designated saints, but only in the context of prayer and the imagery found in churches and prayer books.

In other posts I will deal with 15th century Jewish-Christian interactions.

Re: Jewish-Christian interactions in Italy before 1500

Now I will turn to tarot-relevant specific areas in the 15th century: Lombardy, Mantua, Padua, Bologna, Ferrara, and Tuscany. I include Mantua because it is part of the ambit of both Lombardy and Ferrara, as well as being the birthplace of the most important 1th century Jewish Neoplatonic philosopher in Italy, Yohanan Alemanno. Padua is important because of Giotto, whose work there is an antecedent to the Milanese tarot imagery, then Petrarch, and finally because Alemanno and Lazzarelli both seem to have been there by the late 1460s, and Pico in 1480-82.

(a) Lombardy.

First, in Sacerdoti and Fiorentino's 1999 book Italy Jewish Travel Guide, under the heading "Cremona", p. 49, we learn:
Francesco Sforza granted many liberties in the Jews living in Cremona in 1442. The were not required to wear the special identification markings. ... In 1488 he [Israel Nathan of Cremona] was accused along with 37 other Jews, of publishing books which contained offensive ideologies against the Catholic Church. The list of the accused shows that many came from towns, which until recently, were believed to have no Jewish presence: Broni, San Colombano, Monza, Novara, Vigevano, Moraria, Ludi, Bregnano in Baddadda, Vailate in Radadda, Rivolta in Radadda, Bocco d'Adda, Casalmaggiore, San Giovanni in Croce, Catelnovetto, Valenza, Mondello, Como, Castellazzo, Castelnuouvo Scrivia, Voghera, Castelenne Cremonese, Vighizzole, and Arena Po. The trial ended with the deaths of nine Jews. The others were required to pay a fine of 19,000 ducati.
Since Milan is not on the list, it may well be that in 1488 no Jews lived in Milan.

Sacerdoti, Guide to Jewish Italy, 2003, p. 56, says:
...the Duchy of Milan - ruled first by the Visconti and then the Sforza - only ever gave Jews permission to stay in the city for three consecutive days to deal with their business. That is why they lived in nearby towns like Monza, Abbiategrasso, Melegnano, Lodi, Vigevano, and Binasco, and went up to Milan every day. This "commuting" continued until 1597, when they were expelled from the duchy.
She does not say where she gets this information.

The Jewish Encyclopedia, in contrast (at least about the Sforza), says in its article on Milan:
On Jan. 23, 1452, in consideration of the payment of a large sum of money, the Jews of Milan received from the pope, through the intercession of the duke, permission to build synagogues, to celebrate their feasts, and to intermarry, yet the granting of these privileges was excused in ambiguous phrases, and the Jews were compelled to wear the yellow badge.
It add that in 1475 hatred against the Jews in Lombardy became intense, due to troubles in Trent, and
Although the dukes tried to protect the Jews, the latter seem to have been expelled from the city.

So it seems that in 1452-1475 Jews were indeed permitted to reside in Milan, but that earlier and later they may have had to live outside the city.

(b) Mantua

I quote from the 1999 book, p. 56:
Mantua. The first Jew, Abramo ibn Ezra, arrived in Mantua in 1145. The community increased over the years until it reached its peak in 1600. There were 6,000 Jews living in the city in that year. The Jews were artisans, merchants, businessmen, and moneylenders. They were also close to the Courts, as personal physicians to the Duke. Some Jews were musicians, such as Salamone Rossi, while others were authors of comedies and actors, such as Leone de Sommi and one of his sisters, "Madame Europa."
The part about Abramo ibn Ezra arriving in 1145 is also in the Jewish Encyclopedia, although it doesn't say he was the "first Jew" there. It adds that Jews first appear in the statutes at the end of the 14th century, "when a large number seem to have lived there". According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, the Gonzaga were not entirely consistent in their treatment of Jews, depending on their individual attitudes.

Moshe Idel (Kabbalah in Italy, pp. 176-177), talks about Mantua in connection with Alemanno:
Northern Italy had a significant Ashkenazi population at least from the late thirteenth century. One of the most important Jewish intellectuals in the period under discussion, Yohanan Alemanno, was born in Mantua in 1435 or 1436, the son of a certain R Yitzhaq, who apparently made his living selling manuscripts. 1 Yohanan's grandfather R. Elijah was a physician; he had either been born in Germany or his family had come from there, and he lived for a while in France and then in Aragon, where Yitzhaq presumably married a Spanish woman. The entire family accompanied Elijah to the Vatican, where the king of Aragon sent him on an embassy, while the family apparently remained in Italy. Alemanno, who believed in the importance of climate as a determinant of different qualities in humans, saw himself as embodying the best qualities of all four countries experienced by his family. The family name that he adopted, Alemanno, was the Italian version of "Ashkenazi, " and he was very proud of his extraction. 2 The young Yohanan studied with a famous figure in Mantua, R Yehudah Messer Leon, and received the title of doctor. 3 For many years he lived in Florence, where he had an association with Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, whom he mentions explicitly in one of his books, and played a role in the life of the Jewish community there. 4
(c) Padua

From the 1999 book:
The Jewish community of Padua has along uninterrupted history from the 11th century on. ...It ...had a rabbinical academy as early as the mid-14th century. ...the community of moneylenders and merchants....
And the Jewish Enclyclopedia says:
The first Jew in Padua known by name was the physician Jacob Bonacosa, who, in 1255, translated there the "Colliget" of Averroes (Steinschneider, "Hebr. Uebersetzungen," p. 671). Toward the middle of the fourteenth century numbers of Jews from Rome, Pisa, Bologna, and the Marches of Ancona established themselves in Padua as money-lenders; and many of the Jews who had been persecuted in Germany and the Alpine countries removed to Padua after 1440. The statutes of the community were liberal; the population was tolerant; and the Jews were admitted without restrictions. They were placed on an equal footing with other foreigners; and occasionally they were even made citizens of the town.
Their situation worsened once the Carraresi were replaced by the Venetians as rulers, at the end of the 1th century. Their citizenship was revoked; they had to pay for the privilege of being there; "they were no longer allowed to acquire farms or other real estate, and their liberty in respect to commerce also was restricted." But they were also protected from acts of violence. Occasionally, due to the preaching friars, they were expelled. Here is one example related by the Encyclopedia:
In 1455 these preachers incited the population so successfully that the Jews were expelled, and forgiveness was asked in Rome for the toleration which had so long been accorded them. However, the exigencies of the situation proved stronger than the requirements of the faith; and the Jews were again admitted.
The Jews were defended by the students and the University, the Encyclopedia says.

One factor it doesn't mention is that at the beginning of the 15th century the University had begun accepting Jewish medical students from all over Europe; according to one recent academic article, the first Jew graduated in 1409 ("Jewish Medical Students in Padua and Leiden, 1607-1714", at ... rticle.pdf, p. 3). Their presence, it seems to me, would have promoted an influx of Jewish scholars, not as part of the faculty but because Jewish students in Padua would have wanted instruction in other more specifically Jewish studies. Christian influence on Jewish students was greatly feared by the Jewish community (see above article, p. 2). If Jewish medical students were in Padua, we can expect that Jewish scholars would come as well. One example is Elia del Medigo, a Jewish Averroist. According to Wikipedia ( ... _Mirandola), Pico della Mirandola studied Arabic and Hebrew with him, and read Aramaic manuscripts with him as well.

We have Lazzarelli (1447-1500) in NE Italy (Padua and Venice, among other places) in the late 1460s (Hanegraaff, Ludovico Lazzarelli: The Hermetic Writings and Related Documents, pp. 12-14) and perhaps Alemanno. About Lazzarelli, Hanegraaff says (p. 12):
While Venice would remain Lazarelli's main residence for a couple of years, he seems to have moved around through the surrounding region. In 1468 (36), he attended a tournament of armed riders, and it inspired him to write a heroic poem...
Two other works can be dated to 1468. One was dedicated to the Venetian ambassador to Padua. The other was an oration given in Sacila, where he was staying with his brother and the Emperor happened to stop. The Emperor "decided to express his appreciation by officially crowning the poet with laurels" (p. 14). By 1471, he had finished his De gentilium deorum imaginibus, probably while in Venice, Hanegraaff says. That book uses many images also found in the "Tarot of Mantegna", of course. Its original dedication was to Borso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara at the time of his death in 1471.

Both Idel and Hanegraaff make much of the influence of Alemanno on Lazzarelli. Whether and when they knew each other personally is a complex issue, as is another issue, where Alemanno was at different times, absorbing or spreading different influences. I will put it off until I come to discuss Florence.

(d) Bologna

About Bologna, I have already mentioned the Jewish synod there in the time of Martin V. The 1999 book, p. 117, says:
Jews have lived in Bologna as far back as the 3rd and 4th centuries. The Jewish community was charcterized by continuous expulsions, returns, enclosures in the ghetto, and emancipation.
Here is more, from Sacerdoti's 2003 book:
Jewish refugees from Rome and central and northern Italy arrived in Bologna in the 14th century. Many of them were merchants, especially cloth dealers. Significantly, in Bologna trading in used cloths was included in the "Guild of Drapers, Cloth Merchants, Pitch Workers, Titleless, and Jews".
The Jewish Encyclopedia's article on Bologna tells us that in 302 a Jewish cemetery was established there. The next record is of their expulsion in 1171. They are recorded again in the late 13th century, as one place Hillel of Verona (along with Forli, Ferrara, and the Rome area) stayed. It says that in 1308 a magnificent vellum scroll of the Pentateuch was presented to the Prior of the Dominicans, a portion of which still existed in 1906. Enclosed in a ghetto in 1366, by the end of tha century they owned houses all over the city. In 1416 they were ordered to wear yellow badges, but that was soon rescinded, perhaps by Martin V. In 1473, Fra Bernardino da Feltre preached against them, but "without effect". the Encyclopedia says.

Newman relates that in 1465 a chair in Hebrew was established in Bologna. In fact, such a chair at Bologna had been ordered by the Papacy at the Council of Vienne a century and a half earlier, 1311, along with ones at Paris, Oxford, and Salamanca (Newman p. 70), for the purpose of obtaining converts among the Jews and for justifying repression. Newman says (p. 323):
The Pope is quoted as saying that he wished "before condemning the Talmud he might know what it is." (59)
59. Hefele, cf. 482; Clement 5, 1, 1.
The University of Paris established such a chair in 1325 and kept it continuously occupied. Oxford established one around 1321 and kept it established intermittently. These positions were held by Jews who had converted to Christianity; anyone else would not have known enough Hebrew to offer more than an introductory study. Practicing Jews of course were not permitted.

(e) Ferrara

The 1999 book says (p. 123):
There were Jews living in Ferrara as early as the 13th century. The community prospered throughout the 15th century. This was primarily due to the Este Dukes, who explicitly declared themselves the "protectors of the Jews." In 1451, they refused to expel the Jews as per instructions of the Pope.
And in 2003 (p. 116):
Jews lived in Ferrara from the Middle Ages. Initially they settled in various areas of the city, but from the 15th century they were concentrated behind the cathedral, where the ghetto was later to be established.

Under the Duchy of Este, the community enjoyed its finest years: the dukes offered shelter to refugees from Spain and Portugal after 1492 and from Eastern Europe when the Jews were expelled in 1532....But the dukes also granted them the right to practice several professions and various commercial activities in addition to the traditional moneylending.
The period of peace and well-being ended in 1597, when Duke Alfonso died with no male heirs and Ferrare was annexed to the Papal States. Cesare of Este, in the minor branch, moved his court to Modena and many Jews followed him.
Idel in Kabbalah in Italy mentions Ferrara while describing Kabbalist activity in Rome during the 1280s; in the course of discussing manuscripts of Maimonides now in Paris and London he notes (p. 95) that:
they were copied by "R. Yehonathan ben Eliezer ha-Kohen . . . from the community of Ferrara." 37
These also contain much Kabbalist material by other authors, Idel says.

The Jewish Encyclopedia says (
It would seem that Jews existed at Ferrara in 1088, but not until the thirteenth century was their number large enough to give them a status in history. In 1275 an edict was issued in their favor, with a clause providing that neither the pope nor the duke nor any other power might relieve the authorities of their duties toward the Jews.
It goes on to talk of Hillel of Verona being there at that time, as well as a philosophical opponent, ending:
Of the existence of Jews in Ferrara during the fourteenth century the only evidence is furnished by the name of a rabbi, Solomon Hasdai, who was active at Bologna also.
I have read somewhere about debates between Christians and Jews in 15th century Ferrara. These would have necessitated a knowledge of Jewish materials by Christians, to defeat them on their own ground. Pico's 1486 900 Theses is just one example of this project, in written form.

It is sometimes said that it was only for commercial reasons that these rulers welcomed Jews. On the one hand, Borso in 1451 told the Pope that they had been there "from time immemorial", but also, according to the Jewish Encyclopedia:
imposed high taxes upon them, while the princes no doubt borrowed money from them without paying interest. The Jews were further called upon on various occasions to undertake special tasks. In 1456 Borso forced them, as a penalty "for insults to religion," to lay out at their own expense a long avenue of poplars.
On the other hand,
The dukes of Este not only protected the Jews, but even offered an asylum to those who were persecuted. Thus in 1473 Duke Ercole I. declared, probably in answer to the pope's request for their expulsion, that in the interest of the duchy he could not spare them, and that he would therefore relieve them not only from all special burdens, but also from the payment of the sums formerly extorted as taxes by papal legates.
But I do not think purely pecuniary interests motivated the Estense. Among them there was a spirit of toleration in general, an openness to ancient traditions for the sake of deepening their own understanding--an openness reflected in the art they commissioned--and a resistance to the Dominican Inquisition and the Franciscan and Dominican preachers, whose sermons were directed not only against the Jews in their midst but to their own love of card games.

In the same area as Bologna and Ferrara, Forli deserves a mention because in 1418 a large congress was held there with representatives from Rome, Padua, Ferrara, Bologna, Romagna, and Tuscany. It passed numerous decrees, designed to elevate morality and avoid negative attention from Christians. Among other things, "The people were forbidden to play cards or dice or to permit the same to be played in their houses", according to the Jewish Encyclopedia, punishable by fine or excommunication. These were binding until the end of 1426.

(f) Tuscany

Here the story starts with Pisa. From the 1999 book, pp. 150-151:
In the mid 1390s, the City of Pisa invited Jews to settle in their city. The invitation was extended to a Roman group, which included the family of Vitale de Matassia da Roma. He became the most important Jewish banker during the Renaissance. He was protected by the Medici family. Vitale soon took the surname of Da Pisa.

The Da Pisa family maintained their connections with other Jewish communities scattered throughout Tuscany, the rest of Italy and the entire Mediterranean. These connections were familial, religious, cultural, and financial. They hosted relatives, friends, and scholars from throughout the Medieterranean. These men studied Talmudic and Cabbalistic tractates.
However, the Jewish Encyclopedia reminds us that Benjamin of Tudela reported twenty families there c. 1165. It adds that in the 13th century, statutes of the republic "exclude Jews from giving evidence, and command them to wear the Jews' badge".

The 1997 book TuscanyJewish Itineraries documents Jewish activity in other Tuscan towns. This appears to be from commune archives. Here we must remember that often only the moneylenders would be recorded, as they required official permission. If they actually lived in the towns, there would be other Jews as well, if only to meet religious/dietary obligations. But the "moneylenders" may have included such persons as "partners", if that was the only way a Jew could get permission to live in a particular town. The sources are mostly silent on that issue.

In Angiari, which the famous battle of 1440 is named after, documents in the town archives inform us of a special tax levied on the Jewish community from 1442 to 1571 (p. 25)

Arezzo documents the opening of a pawn shop there in 1388, by Deodato di Ariele from assissi, Leone di Consiglio from Cammerino and other associates, and another in 1389 by a Jew from Siena and nine other associate). The book adds (p. 29)
Both banks were branches of banks established elsewhere in Tuscany, and the moneylenders did not actually live in Arezzo.
Cortona (p. 33):
By the first half of the 14th century Jews were living in Cortona. A document of 1237 shows the community of Perugia turning to the Jews of Cortona for news about the "Cardinal of Jerusalem", Filippo di Cabasolles, whom the Avignon Pope Gregory XI had appointed his ambassador to Perugia.
Jewish pawnshops are allowed to open in 1404 and 1405, run by Jews from Perugia, followed by others in 1411 and 1421, from Arezzo in partnership with those in Cortona. Later in the century, Fklorentine Jews opened a bank there.

In Lucignano in 1436, a bank was set up by a Jew from Forli (p. 103). In Montelpulciano, it was 1428 (p. 105). In Monte San Savino, it was 1421, set up in partnership with the Isaac da Pisas, of the powerful banking family(p. 107). In Pistoia, 1397, followed by another in 1399 by some Jews of Pisa (p. 119). In Prato, "end of the 14th century", with permission granted by the Commune of Florence (p. 140). In San Gimignano, Jewish moneylenders were there by 1330, but by 1410 they had left. In 1420 Vitale Abramo from Rome struck a deal that "gave Jews almost equal rights with other citizens". In a few decades, this led to the town being put under interdict, lifted in 1462 (p. 141).

In San Miniato, it was 1393, by Matassia di Sabato from Rome, a member of the da Sinagoga family. In 1427 a grandson, Abramo, "was given permission to open 3 pawnshops in Florence, a move which marked the beginning of the Jewish commubity in that city." (p. 143).

In Siena, Jews are documented from 1229, and had been living there some time (p. 151). The main business was moneylending. In 1439 Jews there were obliged to wear a distinguishing "O" but "bankers were exempt".

In Volterra, the first documented Jew is in 1386, profession unlisted (p. 164). Banks were charted starting in 1392, by Sabato di Dattallo from Rome, a member of a famous banking family.

For Florence, I will start with the 1999 book (p. 138), although there are so many demonstrable errors it must be treated with caution. You will recall that the Vitali family had been invited to Pisa and later changed its name to "da Pisa'.
In 1430, the Medici family invited fourJewish families (the Pisas, Tivolis, Rietis, and the Fanos) to settle in the city and practicve moneylending. The Jews had to submit to precise specifications and work with fixed taxes, which were set by the rulers. These taxes were lower than what the Florentine bankers had been charging.

Lorenzo Medici (1449-1492) invited several Jewish humanists to his court, such as Jochanan Alemanno, Abraham Farisani, and Elia Delmedigo. Delmedigo was a disciple of Pico della Mirandola. His prestige is shown by his accompanying of the Medici family in the famous fresco of the Palazzo Medici Riccardo (Vua Cavour #1). The fresco, painted by Benozzo Gozolli, represnted the 'Adoration of the Magi,' but in reality, depicts and exalts the Medici Court, in its pomp and splondor. Delmedigo is among the group of wise men.
I suspect that the Italian word translated "taxes" would be better rendered as "rates". Also, I think probably the relationship of Delmedigo and Pico was lost in translation: the Jewish Encyclopedia of 1906 ( says of Delmedigo:
Pico di Mirandola was a disciple of the last-named, as were many others, who learned from him the Hebrew language or studied philosophy under his guidance.
Delmedigo was born around 1458, Pico in 1463. Wikipedia says that Delmedigo "wrote pamphlets for Pico" and traveled to Florence "to translate manuscripts from Hebrew to Latin for Pico" (, but in later life he tried to dissociate himself from Pico as much as possible. The Gozolli fresco, of course, was painted in 1459-1461, rather too early for him to be in it. But perhaps some other Jew is there. The other names, Alemanno and Farisani, deserve further investigation. I cannot find any mention on the Web or in various books to a Farisani in the 15th century. I will discuss Alemanno in a separate post.

The 1999 book continues:
The Florentine Jews experienced their first persecutions when Girolomo Savanarola began to preach against them in the city. There were partial expulsions in 1477 and in 1491. A general expulsion in 1495 was averted thanks to the enormous loan that the Jews made to the republic. The threat, however, was repeated in 1527.
Actually, Savanarola, a Dominican, did not arrive until 1478, and then only to tutor novices. For 1477 and earlier, other sources blame Franciscans, as we will see.

The book goes on to describe how the Jews fared much better with the return of the Medici in the 16th century, even being allowed to become farmers. This ended in 1571 when Cosimo I did what he had to do in order to get the title of Grand Duke from the Pope, namely, create ghettos in Florence and Siena and put all the Jews of Tuscany inside them.

The Jewish Encyclopedia says that "Jews settled here probably before 1400", but apparently not much before, because "there was an abundance of capital" there in the Middle Ages. It adds:
But having admitted the Jews, the Florentines granted them at once many rights and privileges. In 1414 the republic sent a Jewish banker, "Valori" by name, to represent it at Milan before the Duke of Visconti. As the latter refused to receive a Jewish ambassador, Florence declared war against him. This friendly attitude of the Florentines, however, was as subject to change as their government; the Jews were expelled and readmitted at the pleasure of the Senate. That Jews were in the city in 1441 is indicated by the fact that a "maḥzor" according to the Italian ritual was written there and sold in that year (Zunz, "Ritus," p. 84).
I have not found elsewhere any mention of a Jewish banker in Florence in 1414, or of a war between Florence and Milan then, much less over the issue of disrespect to a Jew. The war with Milan was in 1422 or so, over Milan's encroachment on Florentine territory. [Added later: for more on this, see my addition at the end of this post.]

For another account, here is Tuscan Jewish Itineraries (p. 46):
Certain early medieval documents conserved in the Florence Archives mention names that may well refer to Jews. The first definite evidence of a Jewish presence, however, dates from the 13th century and refers to people passing through the city, not an established community of moneylenders. In fact, it was not until 22 November 1396 that the Commune of Florence officially allowed Jews to practice banking in the city. In 1430 the city authorities explicitly called upon the services of Jewish bankers believing that they would be easier to control than their Christian counterparts.

The first Loan-bank license was granted on 17 October 1437, probably partly due to the favorable policy of Cosimo il Vecchio de' Medici. Thereafter all the most important families of moneylenders - including the da Pisa, the da Rieri and the da Tivoli - were attracted to the city...
[I omit a discussion of where in the city they lived and where their cemetery was.]
The period under the early Medici was marked not only by relative calm but also by intense cultural exchanges between Hebrew scholars and Christian Humanist writers and philosophers. It seems that the iconography of Lorenzo Ghiberti's Paradise Door (1425-1452) was designed by the Humanist Ambrogio Traversari after consultations with a Jewish philosopher. Lorenzo il Magnifico went to great lengths to protect the Jewish community. In 1477 he stopped an attempt to expel the Jews from the city - the result of the fervid anti-Jewish feelings aroused by the preaching of Bernardino de Feltre. On Lorenzo's death in 1492 the city became a Republic, and Florentine Jews had to face far rougher times; now the preaching of the Dominican friar Girolamo Savanarola convinced the rulers of the city first to withdraw Jewish loan-bank licenses and transfer to them to the Christian Monti di Pieta (1497), and then to expel the Jewish moneylenders altogether. A serious episode of religious intolerance occurred in 1493, when a Jew was accused of having damaged the face of Giovanni Tedesco's 14th century statue of the Virgin in the Art of Pharmacy niche on the left side of the church of Orsanmichele in Via del Lamberti. Found guilty, the man was brutally executed and an inscription on the building rcords the episode: Hanc ferro effigiero petiit redeus et index, ipse sui vulgo dilaniatus obut. MCCCLXXXXIII.
My correction would be that even under Lorenzo, Florence was a republic. After his death the leadership of the republic soon changed from Medici to Savanarola, that's all. Also, n attempting to verify the part about de Feltre in 1477, I find the Encyclopedia Judaica, 2nd edition 2007, Vol. ,7 p. 84 (at ... 77&f=false) saying
In 1477 Lorenzo the Magnificent successfully stopped an attempt to expel the Jews from the city
but no mention of de Feltre at that date. That source also mentions anti-Jewish demonstrations in 1458 and 1471; it confirms the execution in 1493, saying that the man was "falsely accused". I am not sure if the inscription on the church acknowledges that. Another source (The Hebrew Book in Modern Italy p. 222, ... 77&f=false cites Cassuto (Gli Ebrei a Firenze, 1918, pp. 50-53) regarding Franciscan anti-Jewish preaching at Easter 1473, adding:
they presumably sowed the seeds for further restrictions set upon the Jews in the following years, ending in 1477 with their partial expulsion .
I have not checked Cassuto for more information. It is apparently at ... nfo/749012

I found the part about Traversari of considerable interest and will explore it in another post.

Added later: I have checked Cassuto now, pp. 50-53. There is no mention of de Feltre in 1477. There is a mention in a footnote on p. 52, in the context of other Franciscans in 1472-73, but I haven't yet figured out what it says.

Also, I see that Cassuto discusses the case of the alleged Jewish banker Valori, over whom a war with Milan was allegedly fought, on pp. 30-32. He says that some of this comes from Depping, Les Juifs dans le Moyen-Age, 1859, repeated in Bedarride, Les Juifs en France and in the Jewish Encyclopedia of 1906; it derives ultimately from a sentence in Sanuto's Vite de' duchi di Venezi:
Fu mandato Bartolomeo Valori, uomo giudeo, il qual vivea di cambi e avea una testa a suo modo superbo.
My translation:
Bartolomeo Valori was sent, a Jewish man, who lived by exchange and had a superb head and manner.
Thiswas then translated into French in Daru, L'histoire de la republique de Venise, 1819. Cassuto says it was actually 1423, and although Valori is described as "uom giudeo", in Italian this is a negative epithet with more diffuse meaning than the literal sense, a possibility that Daru tried to explain in a footnote, ignored thereafter. "Di cambio" suggests banking or money-changing. I see nothing in Cassuto's discussion about a war being fought on his account, but I have not translated all of it.

Re: Jewish-Christian interactions in Italy before 1500

mikeh wrote:(a) Lombardy.

First, in Sacerdoti and Fiorentino's 1999 book Italy Jewish Travel Guide, under the heading "Cremona", p. 49, we learn:
Francesco Sforza granted many liberties in the Jews living in Cremona in 1442. The were not required to wear the special identification markings. ... In 1488 he [Israel Nathan of Cremona] was accused along with 37 other Jews, of publishing books which contained offensive ideologies against the Catholic Church. The list of the accused shows that many came from towns, which until recently, were believed to have no Jewish presence: Broni, San Colombano, Monza, Novara, Vigevano, Moraria, Ludi, Bregnano in Baddadda, Vailate in Radadda, Rivolta in Radadda, Bocco d'Adda, Casalmaggiore, San Giovanni in Croce, Catelnovetto, Valenza, Mondello, Como, Castellazzo, Castelnuouvo Scrivia, Voghera, Castelenne Cremonese, Vighizzole, and Arena Po. The trial ended with the deaths of nine Jews. The others were required to pay a fine of 19,000 ducati.
Since Milan is not on the list, it may well be that in 1488 no Jews lived in Milan.

Sacerdoti, Guide to Jewish Italy, 2003, p. 56, says:
...the Duchy of Milan - ruled first by the Visconti and then the Sforza - only ever gave Jews permission to stay in the city for three consecutive days to deal with their business. That is why they lived in nearby towns like Monza, Abbiategrasso, Melegnano, Lodi, Vigevano, and Binasco, and went up to Milan every day. This "commuting" continued until 1597, when they were expelled from the duchy.
She does not say where she gets this information.

The Jewish Encyclopedia, in contrast (at least about the Sforza), says in its article on Milan:
On Jan. 23, 1452, in consideration of the payment of a large sum of money, the Jews of Milan received from the pope, through the intercession of the duke, permission to build synagogues, to celebrate their feasts, and to intermarry, yet the granting of these privileges was excused in ambiguous phrases, and the Jews were compelled to wear the yellow badge.
It add that in 1475 hatred against the Jews in Lombardy became intense, due to troubles in Trent, and
Although the dukes tried to protect the Jews, the latter seem to have been expelled from the city.

So it seems that in 1452-1475 Jews were indeed permitted to reside in Milan, but that earlier and later they may have had to live outside the city.
Galeazzo Maria Sforza isn't described so bad in Jewish dictionaries (not so bad as in Christian literature). A general Jewish persecution in Italy is started by the condition, that the pope election 1471 led o the choice of pope Sixtus IV. and he was a Franciscan. Which meant, that the whole order made a large progress.
The Franciscans had engaged against Jews (they competed with the Monte and the connected banking business) and against playing cards especially before, beside other aims (San Capistran caused deaths of Jews in Germany in the 1450s, also San Bernardino is mentioned in such contexts; I remember a proud picture with such a case),

So we get the case of Trento in 1475, but the whole operation started already in 1472 and went through various Italian cities, likely connected to the condition, that Sixtus planned and made another crusade (with a humble attack on Izmir 1472/73, which was celebrated as a great victory; crusades were often connected to Jews persecutions earlier).

Pulci's accusation as a kabbalist in 1474 happened in the same period.

Re: Jewish-Christian interactions in Italy before 1500

Yes, good, the new pope in 1471. That gives me a framework, once I get Cassuto translated, in which to place his account of the Franciscans' anti-Jewish agitation in Florence, starting in 1472. By "Monte" I assume you mean the "monte di pietà", which Wikipedia says started in Perugia in 1462 (, the Catholic organization of pawn shops with lower interest than the Jewish ones. I don't know if the Franciscans started it or not, but they certainly promoted it heavily after 1471.

Re: Jewish-Christian interactions in Italy before 1500

The Franciscan success was a long run, it was a long time, that they had a pope from their order, since they were under heavy attack in 14th century.

San Bernardino and his preaching campaigns prepared this, and pope Eugen and Nicholas hastened to declare him saint in 1450, six years after he died. This was rather quick, unusually. I worked on them at ...

viewtopic.php?f=11&t=740&p=10614&hilit= ... ans#p10614
In 1471 we have the great Franciscan success, that an earlier Franciscan minister general, Francesco della Rovere, became Pope Sixtus IV. He had been the first Franciscan pope since "Nicholas V", the not counted anti-Pope 1328-30, who was connected to the time, when the different Fraticelli sects took their beginning. From this earlier time till the great successes of San Bernardino and then San Bernardino becoming a saint very quick (1450) after his death (1444), the Franciscans had a difficult stand.

It was remarkable, that Assissi took a strong development short before and around 1470 ... according the Franciscan success. Andrea detected then (when I worked on it) a rare prohibition of Trionfi cards (c. 1470) in Assissi.
Point 2: The Trionfi game prohibition in Assissi 1470 (which is - as far I got it - only a "probable date", not totally sure, at least for the moment) was also found recently by Andrea Vitali (I heard of it this month).
This document - my own judgment - might have a tremendous effect on our research.

2 a. It is a Trionfi game prohibition, and we don't know of earlier Trionfi card prohibition. And as a prohibition it is exception of the general rule, that "the game of Trionfi wasn't prohibited in contrast to many other games".

2 b. The prohibition occurs in Assissi, a location, which is rather isolated near a not inhabited mountain region. ... CE4Q8gEwAg

It is well connected by religious history to Francesco of Assissi, who started here the order of the Franciscans. By this Assissi became a place of pilgrimage ad veneration ... However ...
The city, which had remained within the confines of the Roman walls, began to expand outside these walls in the 13th century. In this period the city was under papal jurisdiction. The Rocca Maggiore, the imperial fortress on top of the hill above the city, which had been plundered by the people in 1189, was rebuilt in 1367 on orders of the papal legate, cardinal Gil de Albornoz.
In the beginning Assisi fell under the rule of Perugia and later under several despots, such as the soldier of fortune Biordo Michelotti, Gian Galeazzo Visconti and his successor Francesco I Sforza, dukes of Milan, Jacopo Piccinino and Federico II da Montefeltro, lord of Urbino. The city went into a deep decline through the plague of the Black Death in 1348.
The city came again under papal jurisdiction under the rule of Pope Pius II (1458–1464).
... this information lets one assume, that during a specific time before Pope Pius II the region was left without much public control and for this reason had been a pleasant object for bandits and robbery activities. This seems to have changed around c. 1460, when Pius II took possession of Rome ( and had some military trouble to do so).
In 1462 the first "monte di pietà" ...
... was founded in Perugia (much greater than Assissi, in 25 km distance to Assissi), a new banking system for poor people, established by the Franciscan order. This new system was quickly imitated by 40 other houses till 1470.
In 1466/67 a bloody process took place against Fraticelli, which were not accepted and prohibited (by the church) "other Franciscan sects", whose members also felt attracted to the region of Assissi (the case is described here ... ... &q&f=false )
There should have been a clear interest to promote the Monte, and naturally the running Jewish banking system was a target of attack.

Re: Jewish-Christian interactions in Italy before 1500

Thanks, Huck, for this additional material on the Franciscans and the rise of the Monte.

In my earlier post, I said that Johanan Allemano, the Platonic Jewish philosopher whom Pico knew at least by 1488, was "perhaps" in Padua the same time Lazzarelli was, c. 1468-1469, based on the degree of influence of Alemanno on Lazzarelli, even though Moshe Idel locates him first in Mantua and then Florence.

My speculation gets some confirmation from Klaus Herrmann, "The Reception of Hekhelot-Literature in Yohannan Alemanno's Autograph MS Paris 849" (pp. 19-88 of Studies in Jewish Manuscripts, edited by Joseph Dan and Klaus Herrman, 1999), pp. 27-28 (see ... ri&f=false). There we learn, based on a 1973 article in Hebrew by Daniel Capri (republished in English, 1974), that a Messer Leon "granted a doctorate in liberal arts and medicine to Alemanno during the latter's sojourn in Padua on February 27, 1470." A footnote cites Capri. This "Messer Leon" was born Yehuda ben Yehiel, between 1420 and 1425, but changed his name to "Messer Leon" upon being knighted by the Emperor in 1452. Messer Leon composed a book while Alemanno was his student, published in Mantua 1475/6 as one of the first inculabula; it attempted to show that the classical principles of rhetoric, as articulated by Aristotle and Quintillian, were also found in the Hebrew Bible. Herrman in his essay attempts to show how this work influenced his pupil Alemanno.

As I reported earlier, Idel has "R. Yehuda Messer Leon" as being in Mantua (p. 177), without mentioning Padua:
The young Yohanan studied with a famous figure in Mantua, R Yehudah Messer Leon, and received the title of doctor. 3
Idel cites a 1989 article by Daniel "Carpi", in Hebrew, but not the 1973/1974 one.

Here is Herrman's quote, on p. 28 of his essay, from the English version of "Capri's" article, p. 50, n. 43:
In view of the hitherto unknown fact that Rabbi Johanan Alemanus studied at Padua with Judah Messer Leon, there is a need to examine the extent of the latter's influence on his thinking and his connections with Christian scholars and cultured men of the Renaissance.
Since 1974 and 1989, there has been much literature on the Messer Leon family. On JSTOR there are numerous reviews of Between Worlds: The Life and Thought of Rabbi David ben Judah Messer Leon by Hava Tirosh-Rothschild, 1991. [Added a few hours later: The book itself is partially online as well, at ... &q&f=false. It says Judah moved to Padua by the mid-1460s, where he was awarded a doctorate in 1469 by the Emperor, giving him also the privilege of awarding doctorates himself, which he did in February of 1470 (p. 29). He then moved to Venice for a short time, despite the city's prohibition then on Jewish settlement. Although the next page, p. 30, is not included in Google Books, on p. 34 we learn that his son was born in Venice about Dec. 10, 1471, according to most scholars. Carpi, she says, argues for antedating the birth by at least ten years, but that suggestion conflicts with other data. She concludes that the birth was sometime between 1469 and 1471.]

Another author, Mauro Zonta in "New Data on Judah Messer Leon's Commentaries on the 'Physics'", (Aleph, no. 1, 2001, pp. 307-323) says on p. 308:
Indeed, from the few known biographical facts about him, we can surmise that Messer Leon stayed in Padua for a while, probably before 1552 and certainly in the period 1456-1470.
Zonta also tells us that Judah Messer Leon was born around 1425, possibly at Montecchio Maggiore near Vicenza.

[Added a few hours later: Tirosh-Rothschild confirms Judah's birthdate and birthplace. She says he became a practicing physician, but makes no mention of where he practiced or lived at the time of his knighting. She says that he moved around 1452, not to Padua but to Ancona, where he was invited to open a yeshiva, or Jewish academy. There he provoked controversy by issuing rulings that he considered binding in other areas: one, addressed to yeshivas in northern Italy, to ban the study of Kabbalah, the other, addressed to central and southern Italy, to replace local rules about female purity with Ashkenazi rules . Other rabbis thought he was overstepping his authority, which only applied to his own locality. He moved to Bologna in the early 1460s, then to Padua in the mid-1460s.]

On the other hand, Heinrich Graetz in 1887 called Messer Leon "the learned rabbi from Mantua" (quoted in Robert Bonfil, "The 'Book of the Honeycomb's Flow' by Judah Messer Leon: The Rhetorical Dimension of Jewish Humanism in Fifteenth-Century Italy", Jewish History 6:1/2, 1992, p. 22).

Given that Alemanno was born c. 1435, he could have studied with Messer Leon in both places. Herrmann, p. 25f, cites Cassuto (1918) for when Alemanno was in Florence: first, from 1455 to 1462, and second, starting in 1488. In 1452 Alemanno, still presumably in Mantua, would have been 17 years old and Messer Leon, presumably also still there, 27.

Since Alemanno left Florence in 1462 and got a doctorate in Padua in early 1470, he was most probably in Padua in 1468-69, too. So Lazzarelli and Alemanno were most probably in the same place in those years. If Alemanno's son David was indeed Venice-born in c. 1470, then perhaps they knew each other in Venice, too.

There is also the question, which I did not pursue, of when and where Lazzarelli learned Hebrew and became acquainted with Kabbalist literature. Hanegraaff devotes several pages to this issue, in two places. Hanegraaff begins (p. 76f):
Maria Paola Saci has argued forcefully that Lazarelli was exposed to Jewish influences from an early age, and calls attention in this context to the presence of what seems to have been a significant Jewish community in San Severino.
Their immediate neighbors were Jews, and his father had even bought his house from a certain Jacobus Levi. Lancillotti writes in his biography that Lazzarelli learned Hebrew while he was staying with Campano in Teramo, from 1464 to 1466. Since Filippo Lazzarelli makes no reference to Hebrew in that period, presumably the information is from the lost Vita of Lazzarelli's nephew, Fabrizio Lazzarelli, Hanegraaff says. All Filippo says in his Vita is that Ludovico learned Hebrew, "so that he might be able better to investigate all things, while already grown up" (p. 77). Is he "grown up" at age 17-19? It is unclear.

Another event is one at which Filippo says he was present (p. 78):
Filippo writes that he himself was present at the occasion when, in Teramo, Lazarrelli engaged in a private debate with a learned Jewish astrologer and physician: a certain Vitale, about whom nothing more is known. Sacci reasonably suggests that this event must have taken place in the period 1464-1466; since we know that Lazzarelli was living in Teramo at the time and that Filippo was present as well.
Lazzarelli is said to have confronted the rabbi with a quotation, repeated in the Crater Hermetis, supposedly from the midrash Bereshit Rabba of Moses Adersan. Hanegraaff adds:
The importance of the Vitale debate is that if it indeed took between 1464 and1466, and if Lazzarelli was quoting first hand from Kabbalist sources, this would make him a pioneer of Christian kabbalah who precdes Pico della Mirandola's kabbalistic theses of 1486 by twenty years.

Teramo, the capital of Abruzzo, had been part of the old Norman Kingdom of Naples and so probably still the home of many Jews from whom Lazzarelli could have studied Hebrew; and "Vitale" is no doubt a common Jewish name. Probably coincidentally, it was the name of the Roman family that established a branch in Pisa in c. 1400 and then Florence after 1430, the same family that was Alemanno's benefactor there.

But whoever "Vitale" is, Hanegraaff doubts that Lazzarelli's quote comes from an authentic Hebrew source. It cannot be found in the extant manuscript of Bereshit Rabba nor any source that quotes from it (p. 85). It speaks of God the Father and God the Son as being one, conveniently close to Christian doctrine, but unthinkable in a Jewish one (p. 86). Hanegraaff notes that there were many forgeries of Hebrew works at that time. He quotes Abraham Farissol, a contemporary Jewish writer (1452-1528?) who says (p. 87):
This day I have heard in the city of my residence, Ferrara...that but a little while ago there arose in Spain a small band of evil-minded Jewish youths about twelve in number and headed by one...who composed a small pamphlet congtaining blasphemous Midrashim that they had themselves invented, that works were composed employing the idiom of the Zohar, Bereshit Rabba, and midrashic compilations in which they proclaimed the incarnation of God, his nativity, glorification, and resurrection, and several other aggadic expositions relating to their Messiah...but when I searched, I could not locate even one.
These forgeries got extensive circulation throughout Spain and Italy. Lazzarelli could have obtained such a forged quotation, in Hebrew or Latin.

It was only later, when 30-33 (and so 1477-1480), that Lazzarelli cited authentic Jewish material, namely his description of Jewish feasts in the Fasti (p. 78); it shows his grasp of Hebrew, including Hebrew script, but there is nothing Kabbalistic. It is only in the Crater Hermetis, of the early 1490s, that this material appears, although rarely even there. When it does, it is in places that the likely source is Alemanno: first, Enochian material, but such material also appeared in Christian sources (p. 83); second and most critically, the commentary on the Sefer Yetzirah by Eleazar of Worms, to passage which appears also and more fully in the Collectanea of Allemano (p. 87), of uncertain date.

Before leaving the subject of Lazzarelli, I need to say that the year 1466, when Lazzarelli left Teramo, is of some significance. Italy Jewish Travel Guide says of Abruzzo, p. 187:
In the 1400s there was a period of tranquility in the region...The second half of the 15th century was a period of continuous harassment. The Jews of Abruzzo were the first to abandon their homes and choose exile.
There is nothing specific about Teramo, but of L'Aquila, closer to Rome but still in Abruzzo, it notes, p. 188:
This city was one of the greatest hotbeds of anti-Semitic intolerance in the 15th century. These intolerances were perpetuated by Giovanni da Capistrano, Jacopo da Monteprandone (1466) and Bernardino da Feltre (1488).
In checking the biography of Jacopo, whom I find under "James of the Marches", I see that Wikipedia says he served a little before 1416 as a "judge of sorcerers" in Florence (Italian Wikipedia says Bibbiena, Tuscany). I do not know about these "sorcerers".

Jacopo's activities in l'Aquila seem verified in the Bollettino della Deputazione abruzzese di storia patria, ... ne&f=false, p. 207. The anti-Jewish activities of other "Friars Minor" around that time are documented on preceding pages.

Re: Jewish-Christian interactions in Italy before 1500

Now I want to begin a more detailed investigation of a few figures in Florence, proceeding chronologically. I will start with the intriguing mention of Traversari and his Jewish associates in Tuscan Jewish Itineraries, quoted previously:
...It seems that the iconography of Lorenzo Ghiberti's Paradise Door (1425-1452) was designed by the Humanist Ambrogio Traversari after consultations with a Jewish philosopher. ...

Ambrogio Traversari (1386-1439) was a monk in the Camoldesian order, becoming its Prior General in 1431 ( and later honored by the order as a saint. Born near Forli, he joined the order at the monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli (Saint Mary of the Angels) in Florence, where he remained all his life, except for serving as Pope Eugenius IV's legate at the Councils of Basel and Ferrara. He was a major architect of the unification of the Eastern and Western Churches, achieved briefly at the Council of Florence in 1439 in the joint decree that he drew up. He died shortly after.

Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) was the creator of two famous sets of doors for the baptistry next to the duomo of Florence. The first was the result of a competition in which many artists participated, including Brunelleschi, Donatello, and Quercia. He worked on the second set, called by Michelangelo the "Gates of Paradise", from 1425 until their installation in 1452 ( Wikipedia says:
The subjects of the designs for the doors were chosen by Leonardo Bruni d'Arezzo, then chancellor of the Republic of Florence. (4)
4. Scott, Leader (1882). "Chapter III. Baptistery Doors". Ghiberti and Donatello. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington. p. 65.
1882 is a rather old reference. In contrast, Grove Art Online says, in its article on Traversari ( ... le.T086051):
Traversari knew Ghiberti personally (in 1430 he sought a Greek technical treatise on his behalf), and he had earlier criticized Leonardo Bruni’s programme for the sculptor’s Gates of Paradise (1425–52) for the Baptistery in Florence. Richard Krautheimer convincingly suggested that the iconography finally adopted was based on Traversari’s patristic exegesis.
The reference is to Krautheimer's highly acclaimed Ghiberti, a two volume work that first appeared in 1959.

Krautheimer's argument that Ghiberti's panels used Traversari's ideas rather than Bruni's is indeed strong. I cannot summarize what takes him 30 pages to present, but I will try to hit the highlights. Bruni's program involved 28 panels, 20 of them Old Testament scenes, each of one event, and 8 of Prophets. In contrast, the result had 10 panels, each combining several events of one story, and including some that were not traditional medieval subjects. Also, the prophets were presented as heads or figures along the frame rather than in the panels; there were 24 figurines and 24 heads. The majority of the figurines are prophets, but five are women, whom Krautheimer tentatively identifies from the Old Testament (pp.172-174).

The main subject of the last panel departs from Bruni the most dramatically; instead of his proposal, the Judgment of Solomon, a prefiguration of the Last Judgment, it shows the meeting of Solomon with the Queen of Sheba, shaking hands but with Sheba holding one hand on her heart. (For good reproductions of the panels (see ... iberti.htm).

Usually Solomon and Sheba were depicted as prefigurations of the Adoration of the Magi or the Coronation of the Virgin. This seems to me no Adoration, but there is a girl carrying a crown on the left. The scene could be a prefiguration of the Marriage of the Virgin (with the Virgin slightly submissive, as indicated by the hand on the heart, a pledge of faith), or of Christ with his Church as allegorically presented in the Song of Songs--or the merger of the Western and Eastern Churches under one Pope, Traversari's dream since at least 1419 (p. 184). This panel, Krautheimer says, was cast in 1436 or 1437. He observes (p. 182-183):
The council that was to consolidate the pact did not assemble until 1438. Only in 1439, two or three years after Ghiberti had cast the plaque for the Queen of Sheba, were meetings transferred to Florence.
In 1435-36 Traversari was in Basel, Vienna, and Budapest, securing the Pope's supremacy over his rivals. In July 1436 he started pressing for a true council of union, advising the Pope to subsidize a group of visiting Greeks as encouragement and submitting names to the Pope for its Western representatives (p.185). Moreover, one of the men on the side of the panel in Western dress has certain unusual features in common with a probable portrait of Traversari as it appears with his translation of Diogenes Laertius: "The broad bridge of the nose, the S-curve of the brows, the small petulant mouth, the skinny neck, all are there" (p. 186), even if there is an age difference, the one in the Diogenes Laertius being of Traversari as he would have looked at the time of the translation, at age 38.

But it was not only this final panel. Krautheimer says (p. 171) that in 1424:
Bruni's program was neither the only one nor the first to be submitted to the Calimala. Whether Niccolo Niccoli had taken a hand in previous proposals remains conjectural. But opposition to Bruni's program was voiced immediately by Ambrogio Traversari, presumably in agreement with Niccolo Niccoli.

For his part, Ghiberti in his memoirs says that he "was given a free hand"; but he simply skips over the more difficult parts of the depictions. The program, Krautheimer shows, derives mostly from St. Ambrose's commentaries on the Old Testament, a figure for whom Traversari had expressed much admiration. Others admired St. Ambrose, too, of course. But more is involved.

Niccolo (1364-1437), along with his friend Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459), had argued earlier with Bruni (1370-1444) about the Vulgate (p.178):
An attempt to edit the Old Testament on the basis of the Hebrew original can be traced back to the second decade of the century, namely to Niccolo Niccoli and Poggio. It was combated by no other than Leonardo Bruni. For the perfectly good reason that his Hebrew was nonexistent, he objected to Poggio's heretical mistrust of Saint Jerome (34).
34. Poggio bibl. 418 [Epistolae, ed. T. de Tonellis, Florence, 1831ff], I, pp. 1ff (Lib. I, ep. 1); Bruni bibl. 78 [Epistularum Libri VIII, ed. L. Mehus, Florence, 1741, II, pp. 160ff (Lib. IX, ep. 12).
One might wonder where Poggio and Nicoli had acquired enough Hebrew to question publicly Jerome's translation. There were no texts or schools then, only Jews and converted Jews. Traversari, too, had a working knowledge of Hebrew (p. 179):
In addition to his other accomplishments, the learned Camaldolese had at least a limited knowledge of Hebrew (46). He could have studied it, as a few others did, from one of the Jews who had been recently admitted to Florence, and thus he may have become acquainted, if only indirectly, with the second Targum to Esther.
46. Vespasianno di Bisticci, bibl. 54 [Vite di uomini illustri..., ed. A. Mai and A. Bartoli, Florence, 1859], p. 241; Cassuto, bibl. 89 [Gli Ebrei a Firenze nell' eta del rinascimento (Pubblicazioni del R. Instituto di Studi Superiori di Filosofia e Filologia, 40), pp. 274ff. Dini-Traversari, bibl. 127 [Ambrogio Traversari e i suoi tempi (Florence, 1912)], appendix 1, p. 6
The second Targum to Esther is a 12th century Jewish writing in Aramaic (the language of the Babylonian Talmud) which has been identified as the likely source of a peculiar detail in Ghiberti's panels. Krautheimer cites it after first pointing out other details in the panels that do not fit the Vulgate or the medieval cycles, but do fit the pre-Vulgate writings of Ambrose and Origen.

Before quoting Krautheimer on the Targum, I should first quote him on these departures from the Vulgate and from the medieval Western tradition. First (p. 176):
In the book about Noah and the Ark [De Noe et Arca] Ambrose discusses at length Genesis 6:18 in the pre-Vulgate version: nidos facies in arca, "thou shalt make birds' nests in the ark." The passage is lacking in the Vulgate; but the birds that flock about the summit of the ark in Gheberti's panel would appear to allude to a link between his design and Saint Ambrose' writing. Also in Ghiberti's relief the sides of Noah's ark are composed of square panels, recalling the pre-Vulgate text of Genesis 6:14; the patriarch was to make the construction ex lignis quadratis, instead of ex lignis levigatis, as was the accepted version throughout the Middle Ages, (22) from "square" timber, instead of from "well planed." Again, it is Saint Ambrose who among the Latin exegetes comments at length upon the allegorical significance of these squares. (23)
22. Walafrid Strabo, Glossa ordinaria (P. L. CXIII, col. 105).
23. Saint Ambrose, De Noe et arca, cap. VI (P.I. XIV, cols. 387f).

(Above is the rather badly damaged original. For the reconstructed copy now at the Baptistry, with the "lignis qudratis" that look more trapezoidal than square, see ... 6fb55a.jpg.

Other choices depart from the usual medieval depiction but not from St. Ambrose's emphasis, notably Noah's Shame, which is in Ghiberti but "absent from Bruni's program and indeed rare in Italian Old Testament cycles". This is where one of Noah's sons sees him lying naked on the ground, and the other sons avert their eyes.

Another departure from the Vulgate is in the shape of the ark itself, a pyramid, as opposed the usual shape "as an oblong structure with three decks and covered, as a rule, by a pitched roof". A variation, found more frequently in Eastern manuscripts but occasionally in the West, had it as "a square box covered by a truncated or stepped pyramid". But that is not Ghiberti's. Krautheimer observes (p. 177).
But of all church fathers only Origen interpreted Genesis 7:15, as referring to a regular four-sided pyramid. His second homily In Genesim, leaves no doubt but that this was the form he visualized, doing so at the price of some fancy figuring to make the text of Genesis fit his construction. (29)
29. I am greatly indebted to Mr. Edgar Wind for calling my attention to this passage and for allowing me the perusal in manuscript form of his paper (bibl. 555 ["The Revival of Origen," Studies in Art and Literature for Belle Da Costa Greene, Princeton, 1954, pp. 412ff]) demonstrating both the Originist character of Ghiberti's ark, and the revival of Origenism in Florence and Rome after 1460. Se also, Allen , bibl. 17 [D. C. Allen, The Legend of Noah (Illinois Studies in Language and Literature, XXXIII, 1949, 3-4), Urbana, Illinois], p. 167.
Now I am ready to quote Krautheimer on the Targum (p. 177):
An even more far-fetched source has been suggested for a detail in the panel of the Queen of Sheba. In the background, on the left, a man wearing a strange curved conical hat releases a bird, and this little by-play has been related to an incident in the legend of the Queen's visit to Solomon, as told by an Aramaic source, the Targum II ot the Book of Esther. (32). To our knowledge this Targum, written in the twelfth century, had never been translated into Greek, Latin, or Italian. If therefore, it is a source for this scene on the Gates of Paradise, it is an exotic intruder and hard to explain.
32. Semran, bibl. 489 ["Notiz zu Ghiberti," Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft, L (1929), pp. 151ff]. I am indebted to Mr. Harry Wolfson, Harvard University, for kindly confirming that the Targum was not known in translations in the fifteenth century.
I do not myself find the bird (see first picture above), although I do see that the man's gesture and gaze, as well as the gaze of the man behind him, are consistent with such a bird; but I bow to the experts. Krautheimer concludes:
All these factors, the close relationship to the writings of Saint Ambrose, the acquaintance with Origen and possibly with a Jewish source, are so many clues indicating the participation of a scholar in the formulation and possibly in the drafting of the program of the program for Ghiberti's door.
Krautheimer then goes on to describe Traversari's qualifications for being such a scholar. His lively interest for the works of Saint Ambrose and other early Fathers--including those, as he says later in the paragraph, writings in Greek--make him "one of the leaders of the neo-patristic movement" later championed by Lorenzo Valla. Also:
He fought on behalf of Bernardino of Siena, who, imbued with the holy Spirit, had turned against the representatives of late scholasticism, "those who with their inflated scholarship...attempt to lay a new foundation and to destroy the name of Jesus and [who] want to seem rather than be, in the letter and in the spirit, experienced in all wisdom." (37)
37. ibid. [bibl. 526: Ambrogio Traversari (Ambrosius Traversarius), Latinae Epistolae..., ed. P. Cannetus and L. Mehus, Florence, 1759], II, cols. 313ff (Lib. VI, ep. 31).
He approved with enthusiasm the project of Leonardo Giustiniani to translate the Bible into Italian and thus make the Scriptures accessible to the uneducated as well.
That might align him with Poggio and Nicoli on the deficiencies of the Vulgate, although of course an Italian version could simply be a translation of the Vulgate.

Traversari is a name that figures prominently in my investigations of possible tarot personalities. Somehow he became interested in the subject of divine names and celestial hierarchy, two areas singled out by Idel as major topics discussed by the Jewish Kabbalist Abulafia. Traversari was interested enough to prepare a new translation of the works of pseudo-Dionysius, completed by 1437, of which the first of four, (not counting the Letters), is "The Divine Names" and the third is "The Celestial Hierarchies" (see e.g., which also testifies to their Neoplatonism). Later Traversari was the principal facilitator between Greeks and Latins in the conclave of 1438. He would have been the translator in any interactions between Cosimo and Plethon there. The similarities between Plethon's edition of the Chaldean Oracles (based on a 10th century Greek version) and pseudo-Dionysius (perhaps an influence on the earlier edition) would not have been lost on Traversari. I have found numerous similarities between both and the tarot sequence (the first half of the sequence, more or less, to "Divine Names" and the second half to "Celestial Hierarchies"; for details see my post at ... -form.html, reading what comes up for the word "Dionysius"). Now there is an indication of Traversari's contacts with a Jewish source, who either was a rabbinical scholar himself or in close contact with one.

It strikes me that Traversari was enough of a scholar and translator to know to go to the original source rather than depend on second-hand information, and if that was impossible, to hold one's peace. So probably he learned enough Aramaic to be able to look at the Targum with a Jewish scholar's help, just as Pico did in 1480-82 with del Medigo ( ... _Mirandola). Such a Jewish scholar would not have been the usual one of the times; according to Idel, most reflected scholasticism and Aristotelianism; Alemanno is the only Platonist of that time that he mentions, and he was born in 1435. Similarly, Hanegraaff says of Alemanno that he "was unique among contemporary Jewish intellectuals for his interest in neoplatonism" (p. 83). However we have to remember that the bankers that the Medici brought to Florence, such as the da Pisas, were from Pisa, where the da Pisas were called Vitale, and before that Rome, and/or perhaps Lucca. It strikes me as likely that the rabbis associated with the bankers would have been in the tradition of the Kabbalah of Catalonia and Germany, of Abulafia who merged the two schools, and any previous tradition that might have survived in Lucca, Pisa's neighbor.

In another post I will discuss another reference to the same Targum of Esther.

Re: Jewish-Christian interactions in Italy before 1500

Maybe there's a blind spot in your calculations.
Well, there were converted Jews in greater numbers. At least some of them should have been able to read in their language and were willing to give their insider knowledge to Christians. Especially in Spain and likely also an easy way for Spanish popes.


Looking through the background of the Traversari family (somehow half Byzantine / half Italian in Ravenna, Constantinople and Venice, also in Forli, where St. Ambrose was born) ...
... it's not really astonishing, that Ambrose Traversari ...
... had it easy to learn Greek language and possibly it was also not difficult with other Eastern languages.
According to the author of his biography in the Eleventh edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica: "Ambrose is interesting as typical of the new humanism which was growing up within the church. Thus while among his own colleagues he seemed merely a hypocritical and arrogant priest, in his relations with his brother humanists, such as Cosimo de' Medici, he appeared as the student of classical antiquities and especially of Greek theological authors"

German wiki states, that Traversari claimed,that he learned Greece "autodidactic".

Well, born in 1386, he entered the order with 14 years (1400) and went then already to Florence (? is this right ?). The place, where the monastery was, seems to have been at Via degli Alfani. If this is true ... ... 51763c906e

... it was close to the Dome and close to the Medici Palace (500 m) Medici-Riccardi. But this was started in 1444 ... actually I don't know, where the Medici had their living place before. Possibly here ... ... cf33307479

... cause of ...
Nel 1397 Giovanni di Bicci fondò a Firenze il banco Medici con sede a Firenze nei pressi di Orsanmichele, fra via Porta Rossa e via dell'Arte della Lana. ... nco_Medici

... which would make 950 m distance. Somehow they were "neighbors", especially when Ambrosio became prior (1431).


Bruni hated Traversari ... ... ri&f=false
... a complex story, rather early. You spoke about this author (Hankins) earlier.

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