Miracle within a Miracle: Johannes Reuchlin and the Jewish Book Controversy

Johannes Reuchlin and the Jewish Book Controversy

An International Exhibition on Reuchlin's Defense of Jewish Writings

Curated by Valerie Hotchkiss and David Price, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

detail from Eye Glasses
Detail from Johannes Reuchlin, Eye Glasses (1511).
go to gallery

What better way to mark the anniversary of a famous book controversy than with an exhibition of books? When Johannes Reuchlin published his Augenspiegel (Eye Glasses) in 1511, just in time for the Frankfurt Book Fair, he knew it would cause a tremendous stir. After all, Reuchlin had decided to defend Jewish writings–and Judaism itself–against the combined forces of the emperor and the highest ecclesiastical authorities in Germany. It is remarkable, or, as Josel of Rosheim said, "miraculous," that the Jews and Reuchlin prevailed and the books were preserved. The dramatic story of this moment in Jewish-Christian relations is retold in this exhibition through the very books that flamed the controversy.

The exhibition is an international effort involving two American libraries and three German institutions. Inspired by the 500th anniversary of the appearance of Reuchlin's Eye Glasses, we have undertaken this project on two continents and at four venues. The Rare Book & Manuscript Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Cincinnati, Ohio, collaborated with the Institut für Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt am Main, the Museum Johannes Reuchlin in Pforzheim, and the Jewish Museum of Frankfurt, the crucial location for the historic events 500 years ago. Rare imprints from the pamphlet wars surrounding the Jewish Book Controversy are on display, as well as important works on both sides of the Renaissance humanist movement to recover ancient sources, including those written in Hebrew.

Working together with David Gilner of the HUC-JIR, Fritz Backhaus of the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt, Michael Matthäus of the Institut für Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt am Main, as well as Christoph Timm and Isabel Greschat of the city of Pforzheim, we have produced this exhibition to commemorate Johannes Reuchlin and the Jewish Book Controversy. But we are also celebrating what Reuchlin stands for today, most importantly, religious tolerance, respect for books and people, and the power of knowledge to break down prejudice and build respect and understanding for cultural differences.

About the authors:
Valerie Hotchkiss is Director of The Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. David Price is Professor of Religious Studies and Jewish Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is also the author of Johannes Reuchlin and the Campaign to Destroy Jewish Books (Oxford University Press, 2011).