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Humanism at the Papal court: the Biblical Scholarship of Giannozzo Manetti (1396-1459)

Annet den Haan

The court of Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455) was a centre of learning and culture, and attracted several key-figures of Italian humanism. Some of them dedicated themselves to Biblical scholarship: the circle around cardinal Bessarion discussed possible corruptions of the Vulgate, and Lorenzo Valla wrote his Annotationes to the New Testament. At the same time, Giannozzo Manetti, Florentine by birth, produced a new Latin version of the New Testament. Given the circumstances, he must have been familiar with Bessarion’s and Valla’s Biblical scholarship. But whereas Valla is commonly hailed as a ground-breaking philologist and forerunner of Erasmus, Manetti’s work has received much less attention. The aim of this paper is to evaluate Manetti’s Biblical scholarship by means of a comparison with Valla’s Annotationes.

Although Manetti’s New Testament has not yet been the object of extensive study, it has attracted some scholarly attention in the past. Trinkaus dedicated several pages to it, and addressed the question of Valla’s influence on Manetti’s translation. He concluded that this could not be proved, but that Manetti’s scholarship, at any rate, was more conservative and less daring than Valla’s (Trinkaus 1970). Since then, other scholars have come to similar conclusions (Bentley 1983; Botley 2004). Some scholars are convinced that Manetti used Valla’s notes, but their verdict about the quality of Manetti’s work is not substantially better (Monfasani 2008). On the whole, Manetti has the reputation of being conservative and uncritical.

In this paper, I argue that 1) Valla’s influence on Manetti’s translation can be proved, that 2) Manetti used Valla’s notes selectively, making independent decisions, and that 3) in his approach to text-critical problems, Manetti was conservative, but not necessarily less critical than Valla. For example, Manetti noticed the absence of John 7:53-8:11 in one of his Greek manuscripts, as appears from a marginal note in his copy of the Vulgate. He included the passage in his translation all the same, but it is clear that he consulted more than one Greek source. Valla, on the other hand, passed over the passage in silence. In addition, Manetti’s independent judgment appears from his translation of 1 Corinthians 15:10. A variant reading in this verse led Valla to dismiss the scholastic notion of cooperative grace, but Manetti had good textual reasons for maintaining the traditional reading. 

A correct understanding of Manetti’s Biblical scholarship will shed new light on the scholarly activities at Nicholas’s court: it shows that Valla’s work on the New Testament was not an isolated case, and that ideas and unpublished works were exchanged. Manetti’s use of Valla’s work does not only concern Manetti’s biblical scholarship, but also Valla’s notes, notably with regard to their dating and circulation. Manetti’s translation project shows that the application of new philological methods to the Scriptures was encouraged at the Vatican. His Latin version of the New Testament was the first since Jerome’s Vulgate, and it predates Erasmus’s Novum Instrumentum by half a century. It thus marks a new era in the history of Biblical scholarship.

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The World of Neo-Latin: Current Research

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