Benjamin of Tudela, Spanish explorer

Benjamin of Tudela, Spanish explorer

Shalev, Zur (Department of General History, Department of Land of Israel Studies, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel)

Mediterranean Historical Review, Vol. 25, No. 1, June (2010)


The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela, written in the late twelfth century, has long been recognized as a unique source for both Jewish and Mediterranean history. This paper attempts to shift the focus to the text and its history, and examine the process of its translation and reception in early modern Europe. I focus on the first Latin translation (Antwerp, 1575), prepared by the Spanish biblical scholar Benito Arias Montano. In his dedication and preface, Montano presents Benjamin as an eminent member of the illustrious Spanish tradition of explorers and geographers. Moreover, he sees in the Itinerary a document that may be significant for the understanding of Scripture. Montano’s conceptualization allows us to understand the complexities of translation as a cultural process – the attempts to bridge linguistic, religious, and chronological barriers that separated Benjamin from his early modern readers.

This paper presents an empirical case-study of a chapter in the afterlife of a Mediterranean text, the Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela. The twelfth-century Itinerary is one of the central texts of Hebrew medieval literature, at least as it is conceived today. It has proved itself an immensely important source for modern scholars of diverse interests, literary, historical and philological.

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