Annet den Haan

A new take on the bible: the conditions that shaped biblical criticism in Renaissance Italy (1447-1484)

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A new take on the bible: the conditions that shaped biblical criticism in Renaissance Italy (1447-1484)

The Renaissance humanists revolutionized biblical scholarship. Unlike medieval scholars, they mastered Greek and compared Greek and Latin manuscripts, produced new translations, and criticized the exegetical framework of the medieval universities. It is generally accepted that their scholarship was critical and innovative, but we still know little about the conditions it depended on. Exploring these will help us understand how scholarly revolutions come about. The aim of my project is therefore to investigate how institutional conditions influenced humanist biblical scholarship in the fifteenth century.

A new take on the bible

I will do this by comparing activities of humanist biblical scholarship in changing conditions between 1447 and 1484. During this period, three important developments took place: humanists came to Rome, resulting in a new movement, i.e. curial humanism; Constantinople was conquered by the Turks, leading to an influx of Byzantine (Greek) intellectuals and manuscripts; and the Vatican library and printing press were established in Rome. These developments each transformed the conditions in which humanist biblical scholars did their work. I will investigate these conditions, concentrating on patronage (support by the pope and cardinals), intellectual networks (humanist circles and academies) and infrastructure (manuscript collections and printing). I will determine the influence of these conditions by comparing humanist discussions of textual criticism, translations of the Bible, and translations of Patristic theological texts.

The proposed analysis challenges the present interpretation of humanist biblical scholarship as reform-driven, critical and independent, by suggesting that the Vatican court created a beneficial climate for scholarly innovations to emerge. By taking this new angle, my project contributes not only to the history of biblical scholarship, but also to the history of scholarship and science in general.