Arias Montano, Benito°

views updated


ARIAS MONTANO, BENITO ° (1527–1598), one of the most eminent Bible scholars in Spain. Arias studied theology and Semitic languages in the University of Alacalá de Henares and was ordained a priest and became a member of the Order of Santiago. He was a vehement opponent of the Lutheran doctrines which he criticized with his profound erudition. He was one of the authors of the Index, the Catholic list of prohibited books. In 1568 King Philip ii of Spain appointed him first director of the Escorial Library and chief editor of the second Biblia Polyglotta (the Hebrew Bible and New Testament in the original languages with translations), which was to supplant the first polyglot Bible (the Complutensian of 1514), also a product of Spanish scholarship. The second Polyglotta, known as the Biblia Regia, was published between 1569 and 1572 at the Plantin press, in Antwerp, in eight folio volumes. Volumes 1–4 include the Bible in Hebrew, along with the Aramaic Targums, the Septuagint, and the Peshitta (each with a Latin translation), as well as the Vulgate. The very scholarly qualities of the Biblia Regia put Arias in jeopardy for a prolonged period. Leon de Castro, professor of Hebrew at the University of Salamanca, who from motives of professional jealousy persecuted all Hebrew scholars of his day in Spain, denounced him to the Inquisition. He alleged that Arias had revealed a Judaizing tendency in the Regia in that he had given preference to the masoretic text and the Jewish translations over the Vulgate. After a trial that lasted some years, however, the Inquisition in Rome was persuaded by the scholarly defense of Juan de Mariana that Arias had not contradicted Catholic doctrine and acquitted him. In 1582–83 Arias served as the representative of Philip ii at the Church Council in Toledo. He declined the offer of a bishopric and spent his last years in isolation in a monastery near Seville.

His writings (all in Latin, with the exception of a rhymed Spanish translation of the Song of Songs) include Antiquitatum judaicarum libri ix (Leyden, 1593); Aaron sive sanctorum vestimentorum ornamentorumque descriptio (1593); Nehemias sive de antiquae Jerusalem situ (1593); commentaries on various prophets; a collection of Latin hymns under the title Hymni et Secula (1593); rhymed translations of the Book of Psalms and various prophets; Rhetorica (in verse, 1569); a Latin translation of the travelog of Benjamin of Tudela, Benjamini Tudelensis judaei itinerarium ex hebraeo latinum factum (1575); Historia naturalis (1601, a description of the animal kingdom in which Arias greatly expanded the systematic classification of animals on the basis of their anatomic structure); and an extensive correspondence containing items of great interest (published in the Colección de documentos inéditos para la historia de España, vol. 41, pp. 127–418).

Despite the fact that Arias devoted himself to the study of the Hebrew language and that he was accused of harboring an inclination toward Judaism, it should not be assumed that he was descended from *Marranos. His admission to the Order of Santiago, which was most scrupulous in the matter of "racial purity," speaks strongly against such an assumption. The Institute Arias Montano de Estudios Hebraicos, established in Madrid in 1939 by the Supreme Council for Scientific Studies of the Spanish government, was named after him.


B. Rekers, Benito Arias Montano 1527–1598 (Dutch, 1961); F.G. Bell, Benito Arias Montano (1922); Lambert, in: dhge, 4 (1930), 130–45 (incl. bibl.); eb, 2 (1969), 383. add. bibliography: A. Alcalá, in: Cuadernos hispano-americanos, 296 (1975), 347–78.

[Hiram Peri]