One of the first books I looked for when I joined CMJ in the 1980s was Immanuel Tremellius’ translation of Calvin’s Catechism, published as Catechism for Enquiring Jews, written in Hebrew and Latin, and reprinted by the London Society in the 1800s. I found a copy, given to me by a veteran CMJ missionary family in Northern Ireland, the Rosenthals, and it has been one of my treasured possession ever since. I do not know if it is still in print, and it is mainly of interest to antiquarian book lovers, but it has stood the test of time, and is an important testimony to the presence of Jewish believers in Yeshua throughout the centuries.
John Immanuel Tremellius was born at Ferrara in 1510; and died at Sedan, October 9th, 1580. He was one of the greatest Christian Hebraists.
He was educated at the University of Padua, and baptized in the Roman Catholic Church about 1540, through the influence of Cardinal Pole, but embraced Protestantism in the following year, and went to Strasburg to teach Hebrew. Owing to the wars of the Reformation in Germany, he was compelled to seek refuge in England, where he resided at Lambeth Palace with Archbishop Cranmer in 1547. In 1549 he succeeded Paul Fagius as Regius Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge. On the death of Edward VI. he revisited Germany, and, after some vicissitudes, became Professor of the Old Testament at Heidelberg in 1561. He ultimately found a home in the College of Sedan, where he died. His chief literary work was a Latin translation of the Bible from the Hebrew and Syriac. The five parts relating to the Old Testament were published at Frankfurt between 1575 and 1579; in London in 1580, and in numerous later editions. Tremellius also translated into Hebrew Calvin’s Catechism (Paris, 1551), which was published by the London Society for the Promotion of Christianity Amongst the Jews (CMJ) in the 19th century. He also wrote a Chaldaic and Syriac grammar (Paris, 1569).
Prayer: Thank you Lord for the scholarship and faith of this remarkable Jewish believer. His own life and the currents of thought, social change and intellectual ferment in which he lived produced in him a great example of true discipleship and learning. Help us to learn from his works and example, and use our gifts and talents to your glory. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.
An important recent study of Tremellius traces his personal faith, theological development, and continuing affirmation of his Jewish identity as both a Catholic and Protestant.
From Judaism to Calvinism: The Life and Writings of Immanuel Tremellius (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007)
Immanuel Tremellius (c.1510–1580) was one of the most distinguished scholars of the Reformation era. Following his conversion to Christianity from Judaism, he rose to prominence in the mid-sixteenth century as a professor of Hebrew and Old Testament studies, teaching in numerous highly prestigious Reformed academies and universities across northern Europe. Through his activities in the classroom, and his connections with many of the leading religious and political figures of the age, he had a significant impact on the world around him; but through his published writings, some of which were printed through until the eighteenth century, his influence extended long beyond his death.
This study of Tremellius’ life and works, his first biography since the nineteenth-century, and the first ever full-length study, uses a chronological framework to trace his spiritual journey from Judaism through Catholicism and on to Calvinism, as well as his physical journey across Europe. Into this structure is woven a broader thematic analysis of Tremellius’ place within the history of the Reformation, both as a Christian scholar and teacher, and as a converted Jew. The book includes a detailed examination of Tremellius’ two most important publications, his Latin translations of the New Testament from Syriac, of 1569, and of the Old Testament from Hebrew, of 1575–1579. By looking at their composition, the figures to whom they were dedicated, their appearance, textual annotations, choice of language and publishing history, much is revealed about biblical scholarship in the sixteenth century as a whole, and about the roles which these works, in particular, would have filled. It is on these works, above all, that Tremellius’ long-term international reputation rests.
Encompassing issues of theology, education and religious identity, this book not only provides a fascinating biography of one of the most neglected biblical scholars of the sixteenth century, but also sheds much light on the often ambiguous attitude of Christians towards Jews and Jewish scholarship during the Reformation.
From Judaism to Calvinism: The Life and Writings of Immanuel Tremellius (c. 1510-1580) (review)
Renaissance Quarterly 09/2008; 61(3):1004-1005. DOI: 10.1353/ren.0.0195
Kenneth Austin’s book examines the life and works of one of the most prominent teachers of Hebrew in sixteenth-century Europe, Immanuel Tremellius (ca. 1510–80). Austin examines the circumstances of Tremellius’s youth in Italy as well as the vagaries of his professional and personal life in England and on the Continent. Austin beautifully reconstructs Tremellius’s time as the Regius professor of Hebrew at Cambridge, a tenure cut short by the deteriorating status of the Protestant faith in England with the accession of Mary Tudor. He describes Tremellius’s difficult transition to Brussels and Strasbourg, where he worked as a private tutor, and finally, his appointment as professor of the Old Testament at Heidelberg, the last position he would accept before his death in 1580. Austin also examines Tremellius’s scholarship, from his early works in the 1540s to his translation of the Old and New Testaments (published in 1579 and 1569, respectively), often considered his greatest contribution to biblical studies in Europe.
The primary contribution of From Judaism to Calvinism is Austin’s description of the fluctuations of Tremellius’s career, the suspicions he encountered due to his Jewish past, and the security he sought through his various institutional and personal affiliations. It should be noted that Austin’s portrait of Jewish-Christian interaction in Europe lacks the nuance of recent studies of these dynamics. Furthermore, in his effort to produce a detailed biography, Austin often provides highly speculative descriptions of Tremellius’s circumstances and motivations. This is particularly true of Tremellius’s youth in Italy, a tantalizing chapter in his life since he ultimately left Italy and Judaism to become one of the most respected Hebraists in Reformation Europe. Austin reconstructs the details of Tremellius’s childhood and education, speculating, for example, that Abraham Farissol was likely to have been Tremellius’s first teacher since Farissol was “the principle teacher to the Jewish community of Ferrara from the late fifteenth century through to his death in 1528” (13). Though it is tempting to make such conjectures, Austin would have been better served to limit his account to the historical and cultural context of sixteenth-century Ferrara than to attempt to reconstruct biographical details based on circumstantial associations.
Austin’s survey of Tremellius’s scholarship is detailed and thorough. He examines Tremellius’s translation of the Syriac Bible, his commentaries on select books of the Bible, his lectures at Heidelberg, and most importantly, his Latin translations of the Old and New Testaments. Translation was not an unusual occupation for a sixteenth-century scholar; it was a primary activity of early humanists such as Erasmus and Reformation scholars including Luther himself. Tremellius’s translation activity is noteworthy, however, in that a central feature of Reformation Bible scholarship was the translation of sacred texts into the vernacular. Though Reformation theologians by no means abandoned the Latin tongue, as Austin himself notes, the theological import of classical languages diminished in Reformation circles. Tremellius’s decision to take up a Latin translation of the Bible is therefore worthy of consideration. Why was Tremellius drawn to the project of rendering scripture in Latin? To be sure, such a translation would provide an important alternative to the Vulgate, which had become the mainstay of the Counter-Reformation. However, it may also be the case that Tremellius’s continued dedication to Latin scripture was the result of his own personal history of wandering, which prevented him from participating in the more regional aspects of the Reformation with its corresponding emphasis upon the vernacular. Tremellius’s travels from Ferrara, to Padua, Lucca, Strasbourg, Cambridge, Zweibrücken, Hornbach, and Heidelberg, a journey so beautifully narrated by Austin, may have left him with an affinity for a linguistic medium that transcended regional particulars, despite his embrace of other features of Reformation theology and scholarship.
Austin’s book rescues Tremellius from earlier contradictory and hazy accounts and provides a full description of his travels, his teaching and his scholarship. Austin vividly describes the academic situation in sixteenth-century Europe, the emergence of new universities, the development of Hebraic studies, and the impact of Reformation conflicts upon these institutions and their faculty.
From Judaism to Calvinism: The Life and Writings of Immanuel Tremellius (c. 1510-1580) (review) – ResearchGate. Available from: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/236724265_From_Judaism_to_Calvinism_The_Life_and_Writings_of_Immanuel_Tremellius_(c._1510-1580)_(review) [accessed Oct 9, 2015].