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Bridging Worlds

Poetry and Philosophy in the Works of Immanuel of Rome

Dana W. Fishkin

Jewish Studies, Medieval History and Literature, Jewish Thought

Published: June 2023
ISBN: 9780814350355
Pages: 288 Size: 6 x 9
Published: June 2023
ISBN: 9780814350362
Pages: 288 Size: 6 x 9
Published: June 2023
ISBN: 9780814350379

Mahberot Immanuel is a collection of twenty-eight chapters in Hebrew of rhymed prose and poetry written by the poet and amateur philosopher Immanuel of Rome during an era of rapid political change in late medieval Italy. The final chapter, Mahberet Ha-Tofet Ve-ha-‘Eden (A Tale of Heaven and Hell), like Dante’s Commedia, depicts Immanuel’s visits to hell and heaven. Bridging Worlds focuses on the interrelation of Immanuel’s belletristic work and biblical exegesis to advance a comprehensive and original reading of this final chapter. By reading Immanuel’s philosophical commentaries and literary works together, Dana Fishkin demonstrates that Immanuel’s narrative made complex philosophical ideas about the soul’s quest for immortality accessible to an educated populace. Throughout this work, she explains the many ways Mahberet Ha-Tofet Ve-ha-‘Eden serves as a site of cultural negotiation and translation.

Bridging Worlds broadens our understanding of the tensions inherent in the world of late medieval Jewish people who were deeply enmeshed in Italian culture and literature, negotiating two cultures whose values may have overlapped but also sometimes clashed. Fishkin puts forth a valuable and refreshing perspective alongside previously unknown sources to breathe new life into this extremely rich and culturally valuable medieval work.

Dana Fishkin is an associate professor of history at Touro University in New York. She has published articles in Prooftexts and the Jewish Quarterly Review. She is a contributor for Jewish Romance in the Middle Ages and theEncyclopedia of Skepticism.

Bridging Worlds is the first major study in years—and the first ever in English—of Immanuel of Rome, the fourteenth-century author of one of the most popular works of premodern Hebrew fiction, the Ma?barot (‘Compositions’). It is the first study in any language to draw extensively on Immanuel’s Bible commentaries, which were much admired in their time, but which have attracted little attention in modern scholarship and largely remain unpublished. Focusing on a chapter of the Ma?barot with the Dantesque title of ‘A Tale of Heaven and Hell,’ Fishkin illuminates the Ma?barot from the commentaries and the commentaries from the Ma?barot and shows how Immanuel’s charming, sometimes even salacious fiction relates to the philosophical traditions of Maimonides and of Christian scholasticism. Bridging Worlds shows Immanuel to be not merely an entertainer but a serious intellectual representative of his time.

– Raymond P. Scheindlin, professor emeritus of medieval Hebrew literature, Jewish Theological Seminary of America

Fishkin’s Bridging Worlds is definitely worth the long wait for a book dedicated to Immanuel of Rome. Brilliantly written, groundbreaking in its insights, this consequential book provides a poignant display of the art of the fourteenth-century master of Hebrew erudition and literature, providing a significant contribution to fill the lacuna left by Hebraists.

– Tovi Bibring, professor, Bar-Ilan University

Fishkin’s book is a fascinating and completely original study of one of the most difficult to understand figures in medieval Jewish thought and literature, and in fact the scholarship on him is mostly split between scholars of literature, philosophy, and exegesis. Fishkin’s book is the first attempt to bring these different worlds together. What emerges is a singular figure whose philosophy and biblical exegesis informs his literature and whose literature serves to spread and develop ideas found throughout the Maimonidean tradition. In other words, Immanuel not only innovates in the way he adapts vernacular literary forms to Hebrew but he is also original in the way he uses poetry and literature to teach, popularize, and reflect on philosophical ideas and debates.

– James Theodore Robinson, Caroline E. Haskell Professor, University of Chicago Divinity School and the University of Chicago

For centuries, Immanuel of Rome has been pigeonholed as merely a comic, sensual poet, but that narrow image of him has been built on a selective reading of his literary production. With Bridging Worlds, Fishkin offers an important corrective by examining his oeuvre more fully.

– Fabian Alfie, professor of Italian, University of Arizona

This book is the first attempt to produce a holistic reading of the oeuvre of Immanuel of Rome, most famously the stunning and sometimes ribald poetry and prose of his Ma?barot, but also the thousands of surviving manuscript pages of biblical exegesis as well as a number of short works. By reading across these genres, especially by probing the tantalizing cross-references through which Immanuel bridged his literary and philosophical-exegetical works, Fishkin has produced a work that fully situates Immanuel in an intellectual world informed by Iberian Hebrew literature, Maimonidean and Scholastic thought, Latin rhetoric, and Italian vernacular literature.

– Jonathan Decter, Edmond J. Safra Professor of Sephardic studies, Brandeis University