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Karaism and Christian Hebraism: A New Document*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2018


In September 1641 Joannes Stephanus Rittangel sent a Hebrew letter to John Selden, the prominent English jurist and Christian Hebraist, soliciting Selden’s assistance in publishing Karaite manuscripts. The letter’s publication here contributes both to our knowledge of the activities of Rittangel — expert in Karaism and Professor Extraordinary of Semitic languages at the University of Koenigsberg — and to the picture we have of Christian Hebraism in England. From this letter and from references to Rittangel in contemporary literature, we can reconstruct some of his activities from the time he was recorded to have been in Lithuania at the end of 1640 to his appearance in Amsterdam in late 1641. We can also appreciate how knowledge of Karaism was spread among English Christians such as John Selden and Ralph Cudworth, and also how that information contributed to the millenarianism of Samuel Hartlib and John Dury.

Research Article
Copyright © Renaissance Society of America 2006

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I would like to thank the directors and staff of The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, for their gracious assistance to my research, which was carried out during my stay at Yale as the Horace W. Goldsmith Visiting Professor in Judaic Studies. I would like to thank the Yale University Judaic Studies Program for inviting me to spend the 2004–05 academic year at Yale. Additional research was conducted at the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, whose staff I also thank. This paper could have not been written without the assistance of Gerald J. Toomer, and it benefited greatly from the comments of Jason Rosenblatt, Adam Shear, and Joseph Yahalom.


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