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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 of the Middle Ages. Some modern historians credit Benjamin with giving accurate descriptions of everyday life in the Middle Ages. Originally written in Hebrew, his itinerary was translated into Latin and later translated into most major European languages. It received much attention from Renaissance scholars in the 16th century.
His journeys reveal the concurrent interconnectedness and diversity of Jewish communities during this time period.
Little is known of his early life, apart from the fact that he was from the Navarrese town of Tudela in what is now Spain. Today, a street in the aljama (former Jewish quarter) is named after him.
Benjamin of Tudela in the Sahara (Author : Dumouza, 19th-century engraving)
There is no consensus among scholars as to Benjamin of Tudela's exact route, although most scholars believe from his itinerary that he travelled on a popular route frequented by travelers at the time. Benjamin set out on his journey from the northeast Iberian Peninsula around 1165, in what may have begun as a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It has been suggested he may have had a commercial motive as well as a religious one. Several times the subject shows an interest in the coral trade, perhaps as a professional gem-merchant. On the other hand, he may have intended to catalog the Jewish communities en route to the Land of Israel to provide a guide where hospitality could be found for Jews traveling to the Holy Land, or for those fleeing oppression elsewhere. He stopped frequently, meeting people, visiting places, describing occupations, and giving a demographic count of Jews in each town and country that he visited. Benjamin provided his own evaluations of various cultures he encountered and, sometimes, drew parallels between customs he encountered.
His visit to the ruins outside Mosul is one of the earliest accurate descriptions of the site of ancient Nineveh. He visited 300 cities in all, including many of importance in Jewish history, such as Susa, Sura, and Pumbedita. In addition, he gathered information on many more areas that he heard about in 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 ( , Masa'ot Binyamin, also known as , Sefer ha-Masa'ot, The Book of Travels), which 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. In his accounts, Benjamin of Tudela describes Baghdad with great enthusiasm, making particular note of the virtuosity of the Caliph. He often writes of the respect and intermingle that he encounters between Judaism and Islam. He gave detailed descriptions of sites and landmarks passed along the way, as well as important buildings and marketplaces. Although Benjamin is noted for citing sources and is generally regarded by historians as trustworthy, some of his claims are faulted as relying on earlier writers. For instance, Benjamin's identification of Laish (Tel Dan) with Baniyas along with Philostorgius, Theodoret, and Samuel ben Samson is incorrect.Eusebius of Caesarea, conversely, locates Dan/Laish more accurately 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. ISBN0-934710-07-4
Sefer Masaot Benjamin MiTudela Tri-lingual edition in Basque, Spanish and Hebrew published in Pamplona, 1994 by the Government of Navarra. Xabier Kintana translated Sefer Masaot into Basque language and Jose Ramon Magdalena Nom de Deu translated into Spanish. This trilingual special edition of Benjamin MiTudela book has an introduction by the president of Navarra, Juan de la Cruz Alli Aranguren ISBN9788423512867
Tudelal? Benjamin ve Ratisbonlu Petachia, Ortaça?'da ?ki Yahudi Seyyah?n Avrupa, Asya ve Afrika Gözlemleri [trans. by Nuh Arslantas, from Marmara University, Istanbul] Kaknüsstanbul 2001 ISBN975-6698-21-7 -> (Second ed. M.Ü. ?lahiyat Fakültesi Vakf? Yay?nlar?stanbul 2009 ISBN978-975-548-227-9
The name Benjamin of Tudela was adopted by a mid-19th-century traveler and author, known as Benjamin II.
A street in Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood, Rehov Binyamin Mitudela (? ), is named after him--as is a street in the former Jewish Quarter of his hometown Tudela. A high-school in his hometown is named Benjamín de Tudela after him too.
The well-known Israeli poet Nathan Alterman wrote a poem about Benjamin of Tudela, which was set to music by Naomi Shemer and was often heard on the Israeli radio.
^ abFauvelle-Aymar, François-Xavier (2013). "Desperately Seeking the Jewish Kingdom of Ethiopia: Benjamin of Tudela and the Horn of Africa (Twelfth Century)". Speculum. 88 (2): 383-404. doi:10.1017/S0038713413000857. JSTOR23488846.
^Hess, Robert L. (1965). "The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela: A Twelfth-Century Jewish Description of North-East Africa". The Journal of African History. 6 (1): 15-24. doi:10.1017/S0021853700005302. JSTOR179644.
^copied Fauvelle-Aymar, François-Xavier. "Desperately Seeking the Jewish Kingdom of Ethiopia: Benjamin of Tudela and the Horn of Africa (Twelfth Century)." Speculum 88, no. 2 (2013): 383-404. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23488846.
^Hess, Robert L. "The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela: A Twelfth-Century Jewish Description of North-East Africa." The Journal of African History 6, no. 1 (1965): 15-24. https://www.jstor.org/stable/179644..
Shatzmiller, Joseph (1998). "Jews, Pilgrimage, and the Christian Cult of Saints: Benjamin of Tudela and His Contemporaries". In Goffart, Walter A.; Murray, Alexander C. (eds.). After Rome's Fall: Narrators and Sources of Early Medieval History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 337-347. ISBN978-0-8020-0779-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)