BAPTISTA, GIOVANNI SALOMO ROMANO ELIANO:
Baptized Jew; ecclesiastical writer; born at Alexandria, Egypt; died in Rome March 3, 1589. He was a grandson of Elijah Levita, the famous Hebrew grammarian. Baptista traveled extensively in Germany, Turkey, Palestine, and Egypt; was a master of Latin, Spanish, and Turkish; and taught Hebrew and Arabic in Rome. His elder brother, Eliano, embraced Christianity, became a priest, and later a canon, under the name of "Vittorio Eliano." Exasperated by his brother's conversion, Baptista hastened to Venice to rebuke him and, if possible, win him back to Judaism. But instead of converting his brother to Judaism, Baptista was himself converted to Christianity. First, Cantareno, a Venetian nobleman, made an effort to persuade him; then a Jesuit, Andreas Frusius, succeeded in convincing him. In 1551, under the name of "Giovanni Baptista," he openly declared himself a Christian, to the great mortification of his mother.
Baptista became a Jesuit; an ecclesiastical writer; composed a catechism in Hebrew and Arabic; and was the author of other works of the same character. The Jews that still remembered his famous grandfather naturally despised him for his desertion, and he determined to wreak vengeance on his former coreligionists. An opportunity soon presented itself.Two Venetian patricians, Bragadini and Giustiniani, were bitter competitors in the Hebrew printing-trade, and, in their eager desire to crush each other, hit on the scheme of sending Jewish converts to Rome to denounce the Talmud and all Hebrew writings as dangerous to Christianity. Baptista, with two other baptized Jews, Joseph Moro and Ananel di Foligno, undertook the mission, and appealed to Pope Julius III. to destroy the Talmud because of its alleged denunciation of Jesus, the Church, and Christianity, which denunciation, they claimed, prevented the conversion of the Jews. Julius III., though rather friendly to the Jews—as is shown by the fact that he had two Jewish private physicians, Vital Alatino of Spoleto, and the Marano Amatus Lusitanus—had, unfortunately, no power to settle the question about the Talmud, as such matters belonged to the jurisdiction of the Inquisition, which was then under the control of Caroffa, a notorious Jew-hater. Accordingly, the pope was forced, at the instance of the grand inquisitor, to issue a bull (Aug. 12, 1553) "to the princes, bishops, and magistrates," ordering them to confiscate and burn all books of the Talmud. The Jews were ordered, under penalty of the confiscation of their property, to deliver all such books to the officials of the Inquisition; and Christians were warned not to conceal such books, nor to assist in writing or printing them. On the Jewish New-Year's day, Saturday, Sept. 9, 1553, the officers of the Inquisition carried the pope's edict into effect. Despite the petitions and entreaties of the Jews, all Talmudic, and a great many other, Hebrew books were publicly burned on the Campo di Fiore in Rome. Similar outrages were committed in Ravenna, Ferrara, Mantua, Padua, Venice, in the island of Candia (Crete), which was then under Venetian rule, and in all Romagna. The despair of the Jews was indescribable, and their feelings toward the apostates that were the cause of their suffering can be easily imagined. When Baptista came to Egypt in 1561 on a mission of Pope Pius IV., he was bitterly persecuted by the Jews of Alexandria at the instigation of his own mother.
- Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, ix. 344 et seq.;
- Vogelstein and Rieger, Gesch. der Juden in Rom, ii. 146 et seq., 156;
- Wolf, Bibl. Hebr. i. 811;
- Joseph ha-Kohen, 'Emeḳ ha-Baka (Wiener's transl., pp. 89 et seq., Leipsic, 1885).
- For references on the burning of the Talmud in 1553: Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, ix. 346, note 1.