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Pagnini and Pico della Mirandola

April 7, 2014

This is just one more thinking out loud, and where do I save this information, kind of post. I was reading the description of Michael Law’s book on the Septuagint, When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible,

How did the New Testament writers and the earliest Christians come to adopt the Jewish scriptures as their first Old Testament? And why are our modern Bibles related more to the rabbinic Hebrew Bible than to the Greek Bible of the early Church?

The Septuagint, the name given to the translation of the Hebrew scriptures between the third century BC and the second century AD, played a central role in the Bible’s history. Many of the Hebrew scriptures were still evolving when they were translated into Greek, and these Greek translations, along with several new Greek writings, became Holy Scripture in the early Church.

Yet, gradually the Septuagint lost its place at the heart of Western Christianity. At the end of the fourth century, one of antiquity’s brightest minds rejected the Septuagint in favor of the Bible of the rabbis. After Jerome, the Septuagint never regained the position it once had. Timothy Michael Law recounts the story of the Septuagint’s origins, its relationship to the Hebrew Bible, and the adoption and abandonment of the first Christian Old Testament.

and got to thinking about the rabbinical contribution to the translation of the Hebrew Bible.

Erika Rummel has edited a book, Biblical Humanism and Scholasticism in the Age of Erasmus – pages 240 to 247 – that mentions Pagnini, the author of the influential Latin translation of the Hebrew Bible, 1528, used by Coverdale, Luther, Olivétan, and just about everybody else – but Paul Grendler, author of the article mentioning Pagnini, “Italian Biblical Humanism and the Papacy,” first mentions him with this, page 240 – 241.

He [Pagnini] lived in the Dominican convent of Fiesole, studied in Bologna, and then returned to the Fiesole convent as a teacher. Most important, he lived in the Florentine convent of San Marco when Girolamo Savaranola led it from 1490 to 1498. On or before 1492 Pagnini began intense study of hebrew with a fellow Dominican, who was a former Spanish rabbi, and Greek, with an unknown teacher.

Around 1489, Pico della Mirandola, with an interest in Kabbala, also
Fiesole map lived in Fiesole, less than a kilometer from the Domenican Convent where Pagnini lived at the same time, and wrote his Heptaplus, a commentary on the Hebrew of Genesis 1. Is there some way of knowing whether this influenced the young Pagnini living in the convent such a short distance below the Medici estate where della Mirandola was staying? I walked the path this fall, not long, and visited the Domenican convent.

I also visited the San Marco convent in Florence and saw Savaranola’s cell. When Pagnini followed Savaranola in leading the convent, did he live in that same cell and translate the Hebrew Bible into Latin there? There is no mention of Pagnini in either convents, and yet his Latin translation of the Hebrew is probably one of the most influential translations of the Bible in western history after Jerome’s.

Here is a map of Fiesole. The Domenican convent is in the lower left of the image, the Medici estate with the complex formal gardens is in the centre, and the town of Fiesole itself, with the Roman forum, is in the top right. The ruins were only unearthed in the 19th century, so not visible to either Della Mirandola or Pagnini.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 8, 2014 9:51 pm

    Not really to the main point of your post, but doesn’t the Douay-Rheims rely heavily on the Septuagint? I grew up with the impression that Catholic bibles privileged the Septuagint over the MT, until after Vatican II when Catholic biblical scholarship was permitted to catch up with the rest of the world, and Catholic scholars were encouraged to collaborate with non-Catholics on ecumenical translations.

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