Andrew Berns

  • Fellowship year:2010-2011
  • University: University of Pennsylvania
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Jewish History
  • Dissertation Title: The Natural Philosophy of the Biblical World: Jewish and Christian Physicians in Late Renaissance Italy
  • This dissertation demonstrates how changes in European medicine prompted Jews and Christians to read sacred texts in novel ways. For example, influenced by the popularity of university botanical gardens, doctors sought to verify the existence of biblical plants by finding and possessing their modern equivalents. Abraham Portaleone (1542-1612), a court physician in Mantua, reconciled his devotion to classical Jewish texts with his botanical expertise. In his 1612 Hebrew encyclopedia Portaleone reconstructed the ancient incense mixture that was burned in Jerusalem’s temple and described in the Talmud. Portaleone was determined to show that modern science could compliment, rather than complicate, Judaism. Efforts indicate that early modern scientific culture was dynamic enough to elucidate the Bible and other religious texts, and that pre-modern Judaism and Christianity could assimilate and benefit from alternative classical traditions.