Jewish Remedia and Secreta in Renaissance Italy
Alessia Bellusci is a historian of Hebrew culture who specializes in medieval Jewish thought, manuscript culture, and intellectual history. Working at the intersection of history, religion and cultural anthropology, she studies the production and transmission of technical knowledge in pre-modern Judaism and the history of Jewish magic. After receiving a PhD from Tel Aviv University in 2017, she held a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Library of Israel and was a Blaustein postdoctoral associate in medieval Jewish history and lecturer in religious studies at Yale University. Her dissertation and forthcoming book was awarded the Shai Bleimann recognition by the Middle East & Islamic Studies Association of Israel in 2018.
Secreta literature refers to a body of magical, medical, alchemical, metallurgic, and cosmetic recipes for practical use which circulated in manuscript compilations in Latin and vernaculars since the early Middle Ages. Printed books of secrets became increasingly popular during the Renaissance. Several medieval and early modern manuscripts of Jewish magic also preserve excerpts of secreta, suggesting that this specific technical knowledge circulated also among the Jews. These manuscripts —most of which are unpublished— reflect centuries of transmission of Jewish magical lore, but also the encounter with foreign traditions. This project aims to produce an annotated edition and English translation of a selection of unpublished Hebrew codices of secreta which were copied in medieval and Renaissance Italy. Based on the analysis of an extensive corpus of primary sources, the project seeks to study the transmission and adaptation in Renaissance Italy of Jewish magical knowledge earlier developed in the Middle East, as well as to reconstruct the history of Hebrew secreta literature, its significance for Jewish culture, and its connections with Italian books of secrets. By evaluating the impact of Jewish magic on Italian Renaissance culture, the study will explore the cross-cultural and cross-textual exchange between Jews and Christians in the context of para-scientific lore, advancing our understanding of both Jewish and Italian intellectual history and material culture.