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The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela: Travels in the Middle Ages

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ISBN-13: 978-0911389098
ISBN-10: 0911389091
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Editorial Reviews

Review

More than 100 years before Marco Polo made and publicized his journey from Venice to the Far East, a Spanish Jew had traveled much the same route. Benjamin of Tudela covered even greater distances than Marco Polo in a I3-year odyssey that took him to every part of the then-known world and wrote an account of his voyages which to this day remains our best source of information about Jewish life in the Middle Ages.

The book he wrote is called Safer ha-Massaot (Book of Travels)-a lively report, written in an easy, fluent Hebrew, on the people and the places he had seen in the course of a grand tour from his native city (Tudela) in the province of Navarre to the four quarters of the globe.

A handsome, new edition of Benjamin's work (published by Joseph Simon) evokes the period and place in which he lived-12th century Spain, when Iberian Judaism was in its flowering-but discloses no more about the man himself than what appears in his own journal. There we learn only that he was born in Tudela, that his father's name was Jonah and that he made daily notes of everything he saw and heard. Like a good reporter of today, Benjamin not only told the facts; he also cited the sources of his information. -- Washington Jewish Week

We know a good deal about medieval Judaism, but comparatively little about medieval Jews. There was a golden age, during the eleventh and twelfth centuries; and we can appreciate its extraordinary intellectual and artistic achievements by reading the commentaries of Maimonides or Rashi and the poetic works (still a part of the ritual of Sefardic services) of Ibn Gabirol or Judah Halevi.

Now, the general public has access to the homely details of everyday existence in the period, as recorded by contemporaries. Benjamin's Itinerary is a kind of layman's treatise-Benjamin made no pretensions to being a scholarly expert-on the social and economic life of the Jewish communities in the dozen or so countries he visited by land.

Benjamin's comments on the...quandary in Lebanon, for example, predate the teleprompted remarks of your favorite anchorman by about 800 years. --Hadassah Magazine

Language Notes

Text: English, Hebrew (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 169 pages
  • Publisher: NightinGale Resources (March 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0911389091
  • ISBN-13: 978-0911389098
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #956,746 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By L. King on February 12, 2010
Format: Paperback
I first learned of Benjamin of Tudela while first touring Beit Ha-tefutsot (Museum of the Jewish Diaspora) in Tel Aviv Israel. [...] There they have a wonderful diorama with a narrative of Rabbi Benjamin's travels.

I selected this version of the translation and was quite pleased with the quality of the binding and the layout of the text. The original was written in Hebrew around the year 1160 and the audience would have been fellow Jews wishing to know something about the status of other Jewish communities. It thus demonstrates the use of Hebrew as an inter communal language at that point in time. The book also contains 3(!) different introductions (Signer 1983, Adler 1907, Asher 1840), 2 engraved maps showing the area of travel, a set of notes and a bibliography by Asher. Israel on these maps is labeled as being part of "Syria". I found this supplemental material quite informative.

The travels themselves give quite an interesting impression of medieval times. One learns quite a few interesting facts along the way, one of which was the existence of war-like Jewish tribes (matched by war-like Arab tribes) in Saudi Arabia (I had thought the Jewish communities there had been wiped out in the time of Muhammed - that still might have been true but more towards Mecca and Medina) and the existence of a shrine in what is today Iran to Esther and Mordecai. The introductions point out that some of the content may have been hearsay In some cases Benjamin states that he discovered this on arrival - we can take these accounts as direct; in other cases this kind of language is omitted - he may be relating what he heard from someone else. He does travel to Israel and reports on Jewish communities of Acco, Haifa and Cesearea.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on October 31, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is remarkable. This is basically a travel diary of Benjamin, a Jewish man, in the middle ages. He vividly describes the different communities he visits throughout Spain and the middle east. Anyone who enjoys reading primary sources in history will enjoy this.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Seth J. Frantzman HALL OF FAME on March 24, 2008
Format: Paperback
One of the most important books on the history of the Jews in the world. A virtual encyclopedia of Jewish life in the 12th century, which means it coincides with the Crusades and the height of Spanish Jewry. Benjamin of Tudela, mentioned in the Rishonim, was a Jewish traveler and he cataloged all the Jewish communities he came across from Rome and Europe to the far East. He even spoke of Jews in the most far off places such as Africa, India and China. His most important observations however have to deal with the massive Jewish communities that were once found in places such as Baghdad. He described not only the Jewish courts and Jewish way of life but also the demographics. At Tadmor for instance he mentions 2,000 Jews who "valiant in war and fight with the Christians and with the Arabs...and they help their neighbours the Ishmaelites. At their head are Rabbi Isaac Hajvani and R. Nathan and R. Uziel. The book is simply a must read and includes a lively and important introduction and discussion but otherwise leaves the reader to learn for himself this piece of Jewish geography. Many of the interesting details are left unexplored, such as `who are these Ishamaelites'? Are they the Ishmaelites of the Torah or at they the Ishmaili Muslims known as the Assasins of the time who lived in Iraq and Syria? Why are the Jews allied with them? What is this secret history of Jewish warriors in the 12th century that no ones learns in school?

A fascinating read, a true piece of history.

Seth J. Frantzman
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 11, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Benjamin de Tudela entre los años 1127 y 1173, aproximadamente. Comenzó su viaje, que duró varios años, hacia 1165, saliendo de Tudela con rumbo a la costa mediterranea. Recorrió la costa desde Tortosa hasta Roma, pasando por Barcelona, Marsella y Génova. Desde Roma traversó el sur de Italia, luego Grecia, para llegar a Constantinopla. Después de Constantinopla viajó ampliamente por el medio oriente, pasando por Alejandría, Jerusalén, Damasco, Bagdad y cientos de poblaciones menores
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