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Egidio da Viterbo’s Book on Hebrew Letters: Christian Kabbalah in Papal Rome*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2018

Brian Copenhaver
University of California, Los Angeles Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Universität Greifswald
Daniel Stein Kokin
University of California, Los Angeles Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Universität Greifswald


Egidio da Viterbo (1469–1532) wrote his Book on Hebrew Letters (Libellus de litteris hebraicis) in 1517 to persuade Pope Leo X to reform the Roman alphabet. Behind this concrete, if farfetched, proposal was a millenarian theology that Egidio revealed by introducing his Christian readers to Kabbalah, whose first Christian advocate, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, had done his pioneering work only a few decades before. Inspired by Pico and by Johann Reuchlin, Egidio also absorbed the Platonism of Marsilio Ficino, applying it in the Libellus to a Kabbalist analysis of the Aeneid, which he reads as a prophecy of papal victory over the Jews at the end of time, while also seeing Pope Leo as a modern-day Etruscan. But the main source of Egidio’s apocalyptic theology is a medieval Hebrew book, the Sefer ha-Temunah, which in Italy was new to Jews at the time Egidio read it.

Research Article
Copyright © Renaissance Society of America 2014

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We thank Michael Allen, Crofton Black, Fabrizio Lelli, John Monfasani, Brian Ogren, John O’Malley, Ingrid Rowland, Erika Rummel, and the RQ readers for their advice. For citations of sacred texts, especially Hebrew and Aramaic, see Alexander et al.


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