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Benjamin of Tudela (Hebrew: בִּנְיָמִין מִטּוּדֶלָה‎, pronounced [binyaˈmin mittuˈdela]) was a medieval Navarrese adventurer, sometimes called "Rabbi", who traveled through Europe, Asia, and Africa in the 12th century. His vivid descriptions of western Asia preceded those of Marco Polo by a hundred years. With his broad education and vast knowledge of languages, Benjamin of Tudela is a major figure in medieval geography and Judaism.

Contents

Journey

Benjamin of Tudela in the Sahara (Author : Dumouza, XIXth century engraving)

Benjamin set out on his journey from northeast Spain around 1165, in what may have begun as a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.[1] It has been suggested he may have had a commercial motive as well as a religious one. On the other hand, he may have intended to catalogue the Jewish communities en route to the Land of Israel to provide a guide where hospitality could be found for Jews travelling to the Holy Land, or for those fleeing oppression elsewhere.[2] He took the "long road," stopping frequently, meeting people, visiting places, describing occupations and giving a demographic count of Jews in every town and country.

Little is known of his early life, apart from the fact that he was from the Navarrese town of Tudela. Today, a street in the aljama (former Jewish quarter) is named after him. His journey began in the city of Zaragoza, further down the valley of the Ebro, whence he proceeded north to France, and then set sail from the port of Marseilles. After visiting Genoa, Pisa, and Rome in present-day Italy; Greece; and Constantinople, he set off across Asia. He visited Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and northern Mesopotamia (which he called Shinar) before reaching Baghdad. From there he went to Persia, then cut back across the Arabian Peninsula to Egypt and North Africa, returning to the Iberian Peninsula in 1173.[1] In all he visited over 300 cities, including many of importance in Jewish history, such as Susa, Sura, and Pumbedita in southern Persia. In addition, he gathered information on many more areas which he heard about on his travels, including China and Tibet. He recorded details on cultures such as that of Al-Hashishin, the hemp smokers, introducing Western Europeans to people and places far beyond their experience.

He described his years abroad in a book, The Travels of Benjamin (מסעות בנימין, Masa'ot shel Rabi Binyamin, also known as ספר המסעות, Sefer ha-Masa'ot, The Book of Travels). This book describes the countries he visited, with an emphasis on the Jewish communities, including their total populations and the names of notable community leaders. He also described the customs of the local population, both Jewish and non-Jewish, with an emphasis on urban life. He gave detailed descriptions of sites and landmarks passed along the way, as well as important buildings and marketplaces. Benjamin is noted for not only telling facts, but citing his sources; historians regard him as highly trustworthy. But, some of his facts are based on earlier incorrect writers: for instance, Benjamin's identification of the Laish (Tel Dan) with Baniyas along with Philostorgius, Theodoret, and Samuel ben Samson was incorrect.[3][4][5] While Eusebius of Caesarea accurately placed Dan/Laish in the vicinity of Paneas at the fourth mile on the route to Tyre.[6]

The Travels of Benjamin is an important work not only as a description of the Jewish communities, but also as a reliable source about the geography and ethnography of the Middle Ages. Some modern historians credit Benjamin with giving accurate descriptions of every-day life in the Middle Ages. Originally written in Hebrew, his itinerary was translated into Latin and later translated into most major European languages. It received much attention from Renaissance scholars in the sixteenth century.

Translations of his work

  • Benjamin of Tudela. The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela: Travels in the Middle Ages. Trans. Marcus Nathan Adler. Introductions by Michael A. Signer, Marcus Nathan Adler, and A. Asher. Published by Joseph Simon/Pangloss Press, 1993. ISBN 0-934710-07-4
  • The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela. trans. Marcus Nathan Adler. 1907: includes map of route (p. 2) and commentary.
  • Works by Benjamin of Tudela at Project Gutenberg

Commemoration

The name Benjamin of Tudela was adopted by a mid-19th century traveler and author, known as Benjamin II.

One of the main works of Mendele Mocher Sforim, a major 19th century Russian Jewish writer, is the 1878 Masoes Benyomen Hashlishi (מסעות בנימין השלישי) (The Wanderings of Benjamin III), which is considered something of a Jewish Don Quixote and whose title is clearly inspired by Benjamin of Tudela's book.

A street in Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood, Rehov Binyamin Mitudela (רחוב בנימין מטודלה), is named after him - as is a street in the former Jewish Quarter of his hometown Tudela.

The well-known Israeli poet Nathan Alterman wrote a poem about Benjamin of Tudela, which was set to music by Naomi Shemer and was often heard on the Israeli radio.[7]

See also

Sources

  • Shatzmiller, Joseph. "Jews, Pilgrimage, and the Christian Cult of Saints: Benjamin of Tudela and His Contemporaries." After Rome's Fall: Narrators and Sources of Early Medieval History. University of Toronto Press: Toronto, 1998.
  • Jewish Virtual Library: "Benjamin of Tudela."

Notes

  1. ^ a b Shatzmiller, 338.
  2. ^ Shatzmiller, 347.
  3. ^ Iain William Provan, V. Philips Long, and Tremper Longman, A Biblical History of Israel, London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003 ISBN 0664220908 pp 181-183
  4. ^ Wilson, John Francis. (2004) ibid p 150
  5. ^ Louis Félicien Joseph Caignart de Saulcy, Edouard de Warren (1854) Narrative of a Journey Round the Dead Sea, and in the Bible Lands; in 1850 and 1851. Including an Account of the Discovery of the Sites of Sodom and Gomorrah, London: Parry and M'Millan, pp 417-418
  6. ^ Louis Félicien Joseph Caignart de Saulcy, Edouard de Warren (1854) ibid p 418
  7. ^ מכללת אורנים - המסע בעקבות בנימין מטודלה (Hebrew)
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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

BENJAMIN OF TUDELA (in Navarre), a Jewish rabbi of the 12th century. He visited Constantinople, Egypt, Assyria and 1 Jerusalem and its district was Jebusite until its capture by David (so 2 Sam. v.); for Beeroth and Gibeon, see 2 Sam. iv. 2 seq., xxi. 2, and note the Benjamite and Judahite names which find analogies in the Edomite genealogies. See, on these points, S. A. Cook, Jew. Quarterly Review (1906), pp. 528 sqq.

Persia, and penetrated to the frontiers of China. His journeys occupied him for about thirteen years. He was credulous, but his Itinerary, or Massa`oth, contains some curious notices of the countries he visited and of the condition of the Jews. Thus his work is of much value for the Jewish history of the 12th century. It is from Benjamin that we know that the Jews of Palestine and other parts of the East were noted for the arts of dyeing and glass-making.

His Itinerary was translated from the Hebrew into Latin by Arias Montanus in 1575, and appeared in a French version by Baratier in 1734. There have been various English translations. One was published by Asher in 1840; another (with critical Hebrew text) by M. N. Adler (Jewish Quarterly Review, vols. xvi.-xviii.; also reprinted as a separate volume, 1907).


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