This mini-course introduces the use of early modern manuscripts for intellectual history—that is, the history of how ideas and the communication of those ideas changes over time. Professor Alessandro Guetta presents a case study constructed on a single, remarkable Hebrew manuscript from 17th-century Mantua, Malkiel Ashkenazi’s Tavnit ha-mishkan (University of Pennsylvania CAJS Rar Ms 460). By examining this work, an extended commentary on the structure and implements of the ancient Israelite Tabernacle ( mishkan ), Professor Guetta explores how the manuscript can help us understand early modern Jewish intellectual life. Written in Renaissance Italy, he explains that the textual “reconstruction” of the Tabernacle and Temple was in part a Jewish response to the importance of buildings and architectural expression for early Modern Italians. He also considers how other manuscript copies of the same text can be studied to determine the history of the text’s transmission and development across time, thus shedding light on the historical context in which they were produced. This course comprises five short video lectures (10–12 minutes each) that explore this manuscript, its editions, and how it opens a window into Italian Jewish intellectual life only possible by attention to the physical manuscript.
No previous knowledge of Jewish history, intellectual history, or manuscript studies is required. Nevertheless, this course will be most interesting to advanced students of Jewish and Early Modern history, and those interested in censorship, Jewish life in Early Modern Italy, and biblical commentary. It also introduces a fascinating, freely browsable, Italian Jewish text in the collection of the University of Pennsylvania.