The Transmission and Reception of Benjamin of Tudela's Book of Travel From the Twelfth Century to 1633

  • Marci Freedman

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis explores the transmission and reception of Benjamin of Tudela's Book of Travels, a twelfth-century Hebrew travel narrative. Scholarship of the Book of Travels is fragmentary, descriptive and largely focused on what the narrative can tell scholars about the twelfth-century Jewish and non-Jewish worlds. This study presents a methodological shift away from an intra-textual examination of the text by seeking to answer how the text has been transmitted, how successive copiers and printers have changed the text, and how readers interpreted and used the text between the twelfth and seventeenth centuries.It begins with an outline of the extant manuscripts through a codicological examination and textual comparison. Based on a close reading of the manuscripts, it illustrates how the Book of Travels has survived in four separate textual witnesses. This study, however, highlights the centrality of the Jerusalem manuscript, which carried the transmission of the Book of Travels from manuscript into print. Whilst scholars have argued that the text has been edited and redacted, this thesis offers a more nuanced argument for scribal intervention as copyists, and later printers, altered the text through error and deliberate omissions and additions. Consequently, there is no single transmission of the Book of Travels. Although the core of the text remained unchanged, readers would have encountered different texts through the lens of copyists and printers.The second half of the thesis addresses the medieval and early modern reception of the Book of Travels. It argues that the narrative was used in a variety of contexts, from polemics, to biblical geography and history by medieval Jewish scholars. The early modern reception, discussed more broadly, indicates that the printed Hebrew editions of 1543 and 1556 were read by an Sephardic audience for the purposes of connecting to their Iberian heritage, with an additional layer of interpretation which linked the text to the hope for redemption and the coming of the Messiah. As the text becomes introduced to Christian readers in both Hebrew and Latin, the Book of Travels was initially understood and used in a similar manner. The 1583 Hebrew edition and first Latin translation of 1575 also applied the text to history and biblical geography. This study thus illuminates the continuity in the way in which the Book of Travels was understood - as an eye-witness and authoritative source which found contemporary resonance with later readers. The second Latin translation of 1633 represents an evolution in the way in which the Book of Travels was interpreted, as the text was now engaged polemically to attack the Jews.This study also investigates the censorship of the Book of Travels. It analyses not just the text which has been excised through self-censorship, and the prohibition and expurgations proscribed by both the Italian and Spanish Inquisitions, but also how this impacted the transmission and reception of the narrative. It is shown that whilst Inquisitorial censorship was seemingly systematic, it was unevenly applied and did not impact on the Book of Travels' transmission.This thesis is ultimately a pioneering study of the afterlives of a Hebrew travel narrative which enjoyed a rich manuscript and printed tradition. In attracting both Jewish and Christian readers alike, the Book of Travels endured and continued to find relevance amongst audiences. As a result of its versatility the Book of Travels achieved a prominent position within the Jewish and Christian worlds crossing cultural and religious divides between the twelfth and seventeenth centuries.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorStephen Mossman (Supervisor), Renate Smithuis (Supervisor) & Paul Oldfield (Supervisor)


  • Benjamin of Tudela
  • Medieval travel literature
  • Reception History

Cite this