Postel, Guillaume°

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POSTEL, GUILLAUME ° (1510–1581), French Orientalist and philosopher, and an outstanding exponent of the Christian *Kabbalah. A self-taught prodigy, Postel was appointed in 1538 professor of mathematics and philology at the College of the Three Languages in Paris and thereafter produced an enormous output of books, tracts, and pamphlets. Four years later he abandoned his post following the first of several mystical visions. His first major work, De orbis terrae concordia (1544), made room for Islam in its universal scheme and Postel thereafter exploited rabbinic and kabbalistic literature in support of his pretensions, notably his "immutation" as Elijah and Balaam and as the "Angel-Pope." Postel traveled constantly in search of rare manuscripts and prophetic writings. In Venice he met Elijah *Levita and Daniel *Bomberg, the Christian pioneer of Hebrew printing, whose Jewish publications he was engaged to censor during his second visit to Venice in 1546–49. Here he began his first translation of the *Zohar and published an extraordinary mystical treatise on the significance of the *menorah ("candelabrum"), first in a Hebrew broadsheet entitled Or Nerot ha-Menorah (undated; 1547?) and then in a modified Latin version, Candelabri typici in Mosis Tabernaculo… interpretatio (1548). A Latin-Hebrew copy made by Conrad *Pellicanus has been preserved in Zurich, and unpublished versions in French and Italian are also extant. During the next few years, Postel's millenarianism reached frenzied heights. He visited Ereẓ Israel (1549–50), accepted the emperor's invitation to teach in Vienna (1554–55), and multiplied his publications in anticipation of the messianic year 1556. In his Hebrew Candelabrum, Postel had styled himself Ish Kefar Sekhanya u-Shemo Eliyyahu Kol-Maskalyah she-Nitgayyer le-Ḥibbato shel Yisrael… ("A man of Kefar Sekania, named Elijah Kol-Maskalyah, who converted [to Judaism] out of love for Israel…"), which suggests that he had then become some kind of Judeo-Christian (cf. Av. Zar. 27b; and see *Jacob of Kefar Sakhnayya). During his imprisonment by the Inquisition at Ripetta (1555–59), he was said by a Jewish fellow-captive to have prayed in Hebrew. Postel returned to Paris in 1562 and spent the rest of his life in protective custody. However, he continued his voluminous writing and correspondence, and also influenced such younger scholars as G. *Génébrard, A. *Maes, and the French poet Guy *Le Fèvre de la Boderie, through whose agency Postel's approach even penetrated the "Catholic" Antwerp Polyglot Bible printed by Christophe *Plantin (Biblia Regia, 1568–72). His published works include many of Jewish interest – grammatical and philological compendia, a guide to the Holy Land (1562), and a Latin version of the Sefer *Yeẓirah (1552), with his own mystical comments. Postel's unpublished Latin translations of the Zohar on Genesis and of other Jewish classics have in recent years been discovered and discussed by François Secret. Long derided as a heretic or madman, Postel has emerged as one of the impressive and influential personalities of the Renaissance.


W.J. Bouwsma, Concordia Mundi: The Career and Thought of Guillaume Postel (1957); S.K. Stahlmann, Guillaume Postel (Ger., 1956); C. Clair, Christopher Plantin (1960), 34–35, 247; I. Zaneh, Mi-Paulo ha-Revi'i ad Pius ha-Ḥamishi (1954), 71ff.; F. Secret, Guillaume Postel (1510–1581) et son Interprétation du Candélabre de Moyse (1966); idem, in: Archivio di Filosofia, 3 (1963), 91–118; idem, Kabbalistes Chrétiens de la Renaissance (1964), 171ff.; idem, in: rej, 124 (1965) 174–6; Baron, Social2, 13 (1969), 177–8, 394, 398, 403–4; G.E. Silverman, in: jc (Jan. 8, 1960); idem, in: jc (Oct. 23, 1964).

[Godfrey Edmond Silverman]