Guillaume Postel

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Guillaume Postel (1510 - 1581), was a linguist, astronomer, Cabbalist, diplomat, professor, and religious universalist.

Born in 1510 in the village of Barenton in Basse-Normandie, Postel made his home in the vicinity of Paris.

Adept at Arabic, Hebrew, and Syriac and other Semitic languages, as well as the Classical languages of Ancient Greek and Latin, he soon came to the attention of the French court. In 1536, seeking an alliance with the Ottoman Turks, Francis I sent Postel as the official interpreter of the French embassy to the Turkish sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in Constantinople. Postel was also apparently assigned to gather interesting Eastern manuscripts for the royal library.

In Linguarum Duodecim Characteribus Differentium Alphabetum Introductio, An Introduction to the Alphabetic Characters of Twelve Different Languages, published in 1538, Postel became the first scholar to recognize the inscriptions on Judean coins from the period of the Great Jewish Revolt as Hebrew written in the ancient "Samaritan" characters.

In 1544, in De orbis terrae concordia, Concerning the Harmony of the Earth, Postel advocated a universalist world religion. The thesis of the book was that all Jews, Muslims and heathens could be converted to the Christian religion once all of the religions of the world were shown to have common foundations and that Christianity best represented these foundations. He believed these foundations to be the love of God, the praising of God, the love of Mankind, and the helping of Mankind.

Postel was a relentless advocate for the unification of all Christian churches, a common concern during the period of the Reformation, and remarkably tolerant of other faiths during a time when such tolerance was unusual.

Postel is believed to have spent the years 1548 to 1551 on another trip to the East, travelling to the Holy Land and Syria to collect manuscripts. After this trip, Postel earned the appointement of Professor of Mathematics and Oriental Languages at the College Royal. After several years, however, Postel resigned his professorship and travelled all over Central Europe, including Austria and Italy, returning to France after each trip.

Through Postel's efforts at manuscript collection, translation, and publishing, he brought many Greek, Hebrew and Arabic texts into European intellectual discourse in the Late Renaissance and Early Modern periods. Among these texts are:

During one of his trips to Venice, Postel, who had long harbored millenarian ideas, fell under the influence of the Venetian mystic Joanna, who claimed to be the incarnation of Jesus. On a subsequent trip, Postel was jailed for this heresy and shipped off to the Papal prisons in Rome. Accounts vary as to whether Postel died imprisoned in Rome or whether he was released and died in his home near Paris.


Sources

  • Jeanne Peiffer, article in Writing the History of Mathematics: Its Historical Development, edited by Joseph Dauben & Christoph Scriba
  • Marion Kuntz, Guillaume Postel: Prophet of the Restitution of All Things, His Life and Thought, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Hague, 1981
  • Whose Science is Arabic Science in Renaissance Europe? (http://www.columbia.edu/~gas1/project/visions/case1/sci.1.html#f1)
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