Benjamin of Tudela
Overview
 
Benjamin of Tudela (Tudela
Tudela, Navarre
Tudela is a municipality in Spain, the second city of the autonomous community of Navarre. Its population is around 35,000. Tudela is sited in the Ebro valley. Fast trains running on two-track electrified railways serve the city and two freeways join close to it...

, (Kingdom of Navarre
Kingdom of Navarre
The Kingdom of Navarre , originally the Kingdom of Pamplona, was a European kingdom which occupied lands on either side of the Pyrenees alongside the Atlantic Ocean....

), 1130 1173) was a medieval Jewish traveler who visited Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

, Asia
Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

, and Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

 in the 12th century. His vivid descriptions of western Asia preceded those of Marco Polo
Marco Polo
Marco Polo was a Venetian merchant traveler from the Venetian Republic whose travels are recorded in Il Milione, a book which did much to introduce Europeans to Central Asia and China. He learned about trading whilst his father and uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo, travelled through Asia and apparently...

 by a hundred years. With his broad education and vast knowledge of languages, Benjamin of Tudela is a major figure in medieval geography
Geography
Geography is the science that studies the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of Earth. A literal translation would be "to describe or write about the Earth". The first person to use the word "geography" was Eratosthenes...

 and Jewish history
Jewish history
Jewish history is the history of the Jews, their religion and culture, as it developed and interacted with other peoples, religions and cultures. Since Jewish history is over 4000 years long and includes hundreds of different populations, any treatment can only be provided in broad strokes...

.

Little is known of his early life, apart from the fact that he was from the Navarrese
Kingdom of Navarre
The Kingdom of Navarre , originally the Kingdom of Pamplona, was a European kingdom which occupied lands on either side of the Pyrenees alongside the Atlantic Ocean....

 town of Tudela
Tudela, Navarre
Tudela is a municipality in Spain, the second city of the autonomous community of Navarre. Its population is around 35,000. Tudela is sited in the Ebro valley. Fast trains running on two-track electrified railways serve the city and two freeways join close to it...

.
Encyclopedia
Benjamin of Tudela (Tudela
Tudela, Navarre
Tudela is a municipality in Spain, the second city of the autonomous community of Navarre. Its population is around 35,000. Tudela is sited in the Ebro valley. Fast trains running on two-track electrified railways serve the city and two freeways join close to it...

, (Kingdom of Navarre
Kingdom of Navarre
The Kingdom of Navarre , originally the Kingdom of Pamplona, was a European kingdom which occupied lands on either side of the Pyrenees alongside the Atlantic Ocean....

), 1130 1173) was a medieval Jewish traveler who visited Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

, Asia
Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

, and Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

 in the 12th century. His vivid descriptions of western Asia preceded those of Marco Polo
Marco Polo
Marco Polo was a Venetian merchant traveler from the Venetian Republic whose travels are recorded in Il Milione, a book which did much to introduce Europeans to Central Asia and China. He learned about trading whilst his father and uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo, travelled through Asia and apparently...

 by a hundred years. With his broad education and vast knowledge of languages, Benjamin of Tudela is a major figure in medieval geography
Geography
Geography is the science that studies the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of Earth. A literal translation would be "to describe or write about the Earth". The first person to use the word "geography" was Eratosthenes...

 and Jewish history
Jewish history
Jewish history is the history of the Jews, their religion and culture, as it developed and interacted with other peoples, religions and cultures. Since Jewish history is over 4000 years long and includes hundreds of different populations, any treatment can only be provided in broad strokes...

.

Little is known of his early life, apart from the fact that he was from the Navarrese
Kingdom of Navarre
The Kingdom of Navarre , originally the Kingdom of Pamplona, was a European kingdom which occupied lands on either side of the Pyrenees alongside the Atlantic Ocean....

 town of Tudela
Tudela, Navarre
Tudela is a municipality in Spain, the second city of the autonomous community of Navarre. Its population is around 35,000. Tudela is sited in the Ebro valley. Fast trains running on two-track electrified railways serve the city and two freeways join close to it...

. Today, a street in the aljama
Aljama
Aljama is a term of Arabic origin used in old official documents in Spain and Portugal to designate the self-governing communities of Moors and Jews living under Christian rule in the Iberian Peninsula...

(former Jewish quarter) is named after him.

The Travels of Benjamin is an important work not only as a description of the Jewish communities, but also as a reliable source about the geography and ethnography
Ethnography
Ethnography is a qualitative method aimed to learn and understand cultural phenomena which reflect the knowledge and system of meanings guiding the life of a cultural group...

 of the Middle Ages. Some modern historians credit Benjamin with giving accurate descriptions of every-day life in the Middle Ages. Originally written in Hebrew, his itinerary was translated into Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 and later translated into most major European languages. It received much attention from Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 scholars in the 16th century.

Journey

Benjamin set out on his journey from northeast Spain around 1165, in what may have begun as a pilgrimage to the Holy Land
Holy Land
The Holy Land is a term which in Judaism refers to the Kingdom of Israel as defined in the Tanakh. For Jews, the Land's identifiction of being Holy is defined in Judaism by its differentiation from other lands by virtue of the practice of Judaism often possible only in the Land of Israel...

. It has been suggested he may have had a commercial motive as well as a religious one. On the other hand, he may have intended to catalogue the Jewish communities en route to the Land of Israel
Land of Israel
The Land of Israel is the Biblical name for the territory roughly corresponding to the area encompassed by the Southern Levant, also known as Canaan and Palestine, Promised Land and Holy Land. The belief that the area is a God-given homeland of the Jewish people is based on the narrative of the...

 to provide a guide where hospitality could be found for Jews travelling to the Holy Land, or for those fleeing oppression elsewhere. He took the "long road," stopping frequently, meeting people, visiting places, describing occupations and giving a demographic count of Jews in every town and country.

His journey began in the city of Zaragoza
Zaragoza
Zaragoza , also called Saragossa in English, is the capital city of the Zaragoza Province and of the autonomous community of Aragon, Spain...

, further down the valley of the Ebro
Ebro
The Ebro or Ebre is one of the most important rivers in the Iberian Peninsula. It is the biggest river by discharge volume in Spain.The Ebro flows through the following cities:*Reinosa in Cantabria.*Miranda de Ebro in Castile and León....

, whence he proceeded north to France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, and then set sail from the port of Marseilles. After visiting Genoa
Genoa
Genoa |Ligurian]] Zena ; Latin and, archaically, English Genua) is a city and an important seaport in northern Italy, the capital of the Province of Genoa and of the region of Liguria....

, Lucca
Lucca
Lucca is a city and comune in Tuscany, central Italy, situated on the river Serchio in a fertile plainnear the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is the capital city of the Province of Lucca...

, Pisa
Pisa
Pisa is a city in Tuscany, Central Italy, on the right bank of the mouth of the River Arno on the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is the capital city of the Province of Pisa...

, and Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 in present-day Italy; Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

; and Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

, he set off across Asia. He visited Syria
Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

, Lebanon
Lebanon
Lebanon , officially the Republic of LebanonRepublic of Lebanon is the most common term used by Lebanese government agencies. The term Lebanese Republic, a literal translation of the official Arabic and French names that is not used in today's world. Arabic is the most common language spoken among...

, Land of Israel
Land of Israel
The Land of Israel is the Biblical name for the territory roughly corresponding to the area encompassed by the Southern Levant, also known as Canaan and Palestine, Promised Land and Holy Land. The belief that the area is a God-given homeland of the Jewish people is based on the narrative of the...

, and northern Mesopotamia (which he called Shinar) before reaching Baghdad
Baghdad
Baghdad is the capital of Iraq, as well as the coterminous Baghdad Governorate. The population of Baghdad in 2011 is approximately 7,216,040...

. From there he went to Persia, then cut back across the Arabian Peninsula
Arabian Peninsula
The Arabian Peninsula is a land mass situated north-east of Africa. Also known as Arabia or the Arabian subcontinent, it is the world's largest peninsula and covers 3,237,500 km2...

 to Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 and North Africa
North Africa
North Africa or Northern Africa is the northernmost region of the African continent, linked by the Sahara to Sub-Saharan Africa. Geopolitically, the United Nations definition of Northern Africa includes eight countries or territories; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia, and...

, returning to the Iberian Peninsula
Iberian Peninsula
The Iberian Peninsula , sometimes called Iberia, is located in the extreme southwest of Europe and includes the modern-day sovereign states of Spain, Portugal and Andorra, as well as the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar...

 in 1173. His visit to the ruins outside the city of Mosul in Baghdad is one of the earliest accurate descriptions of the site of ancient Nineveh. In all he visited over 300 cities, including many of importance in Jewish history, such as Susa, Sura, and Pumbedita in southern Persia. In addition, he gathered information on many more areas which he heard about on his travels, including China and Tibet. He recorded details on cultures such as that of Al-Hashishin, the hemp smokers, introducing Western Europeans to people and places far beyond their experience.

He described his years abroad in a book, The Travels of Benjamin (מסעות בנימין, Masa'ot Binyamin, also known as ספר המסעות, Sefer ha-Masa'ot, The Book of Travels). This book describes the countries he visited, with an emphasis on the Jewish communities, including their total populations and the names of notable community leaders. He also described the customs of the local population, both Jewish and non-Jewish, with an emphasis on urban life. He gave detailed descriptions of sites and landmarks passed along the way, as well as important buildings and marketplaces. Benjamin is noted for not only telling facts, but citing his sources; historians regard him as highly trustworthy. But, some of his facts are based on earlier incorrect writers: for instance, Benjamin's identification of the Laish (Tel Dan) with Baniyas along with Philostorgius
Philostorgius
Philostorgius was an Anomoean Church historian of the 4th and 5th centuries. Anomoeanism questioned the Trinitarian account of the relationship between God the Father and Christ and was considered a heresy by the Orthodox Church, which adopted the term "homoousia" in the Nicene Creed. Very little...

, Theodoret
Theodoret
Theodoret of Cyrus or Cyrrhus was an influential author, theologian, and Christian bishop of Cyrrhus, Syria . He played a pivotal role in many early Byzantine church controversies that led to various ecumenical acts and schisms...

, and Samuel ben Samson was incorrect. While Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea also called Eusebius Pamphili, was a Roman historian, exegete and Christian polemicist. He became the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine about the year 314. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon...

 accurately placed Dan/Laish in the vicinity of Paneas at the fourth mile on the route to Tyre.

Translations of his work

  • Benjamin of Tudela. The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela: Travels in the Middle Ages. Trans. Marcus Nathan Adler. Introductions by Michael A. Signer, Marcus Nathan Adler, and A. Asher. Published by Joseph Simon/Pangloss Press, 1993. ISBN 0-934710-07-4
  • The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela. trans. Marcus Nathan Adler. 1907: includes map of route (p. 2) and commentary.

Commemoration

The name Benjamin of Tudela was adopted by a mid-19th century traveler and author, known as Benjamin II.

One of the main works of Mendele Mocher Sforim
Mendele Mocher Sforim
Mendele Mocher Sforim , December 21, 1835 = January 2, 1836 , Kapyl — November 25, 1917 = December 8, 1917...

, a major 19th century Russian Jewish writer, is the 1878 Masoes Benyomen Hashlishi (מסעות בנימין השלישי) (The Wanderings of Benjamin III), which is considered something of a Jewish Don Quixote and whose title is clearly inspired by Benjamin of Tudela's book.

A street in Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood, Rehov Binyamin Mitudela (רחוב בנימין מטודלה), is named after him—as is a street in the former Jewish Quarter of his hometown Tudela.

The well-known Israeli poet Nathan Alterman
Nathan Alterman
Nathan Alterman was an Israeli poet, playwright, journalist, and translator who – though never holding any elected office – was highly influential in Socialist Zionist politics, both before and after the establishment of the State of Israel.-Biography:...

 wrote a poem about Benjamin of Tudela, which was set to music by Naomi Shemer
Naomi Shemer
Naomi Shemer was a leading Israeli songwriter hailed as the "first lady of Israeli song and poetry."-Biography:Naomi Sapir was born on Kvutzat Kinneret, a kibbutz her parents had helped found, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. In the 1950s she served in the Israeli Defense Force's Nahal...

and was often heard on the Israeli radio.
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