The 11th and 12th centuries constituted a golden age of Jewish biblical scholarship in Europe with Rashi, his grandson Shmuel ben Meir (Rashbam), Abraham ibn Ezra, and others writing glosses that are still studied today. In her new book In Hebreo: The Victorine Exegesis of the Bible in the Light of its Northern French Jewish Sources, Montse Leyra-Curia explores how these works likely shaped Christian clergy’s understanding of the Hebrew Bible. Martin Lockshin writes in his review:
The Christian world also produced crucial and innovative Bible commentaries in the very same years and in the very same country: France. Rashi and Rashbam were born and lived in France; ibn Ezra moved there later in life and produced many Bible commentaries there. [Around the same time], Christians affiliated with the Abbey of St. Victor, a kind of monastery-university on the outskirts of Paris, produced pathbreaking Bible commentaries. The most famous of these Christians were Hugh of St. Victor and Andrew of St. Victor. For almost a century, modern scholars have noticed the similarities between the commentaries of Rashi, Rashbam, and ibn Ezra, on the one hand, and the Latin Bible commentaries of the Victorines, [as these clergymen are known], on the other. . . .
Although Hugh and Andrew never mention any living Jewish writer by name, in their Bible commentaries they frequently refer to what the “Iudei” (Jews) or the “Hebrei” (Hebrews) say about a biblical verse. Sometimes they record the common Christian interpretation and then correct it, saying that the text “in hebreo” (in Hebrew) really means something else.
Leyra-Curia . . . does not believe their Hebrew was good enough either for them to have had their own independent understanding of the biblical Hebrew text or for them to have read and understood the Bible commentaries of Rashi, Rashbam, and others. [Furthermore], most of their references are to Jewish interpretations that first appeared in the 11th and 12th centuries. . . . Leyra-Curia reasonably concludes that Christians like Hugh and Andrew talked about the meaning of biblical verses with living Jews in northern France.
Which Jews? Leyra-Curia . . . finds that Hugh and Andrew cite or agree with interpretations found in Rashbam’s Torah commentary more often than with those found in any other Jewish Bible commentary. She concludes: “There is a high probability that Rashbam himself taught . . . interpretations to Hugh or to both Victorines.” From his own writings, she adds, we know that Rashbam spent time in Paris. He also occasionally refers to conversations he had with Christians who, he claims, “admitted” that what he said made sense. . . . [I]n 400 pages of meticulous scholarship, she builds a strong case that Rashbam “talked Torah” with Christian clergy. Presumably he was not the only Jew to do so.