Article ID: CBB960498940

Mistaken Identity, Forged Prophecies, and a Paracelsus Commentary: The Elusive Jewish Alchemist Mardochaeus de Nelle (2020)


The impressive career of the mysterious Jewish adept and prophet Mardochaeus de Nelle is well known among specialists in Judaism and early modern science or the history of alchemy. Hailing from Italy, he was allegedly active at leading courts of the late sixteenth century—including those of Elector August in Dresden and Emperor Rudolf II in Prague—and several alchemical texts circulated under his name. Based on thorough scrutiny of all currently known sources in print and especially in manuscript, we conclude that most of them were falsely associated with De Nelle due to a case of mistaken identity and a late eighteenth century forgery. Only the oldest sources, four manuscript versions of a Paracelsus commentary, may perhaps shed light on De Nelle's biography and place him in Reichenstein (1567), Speyer (1570), and Cracow (1573). On balance, however, the internal evidence suggests that we are dealing with a case of pseudepigraphy. De Nelle's example shows why it is imperative to examine all extant manuscript versions of relevant texts and take into consideration the cultural stereotypes that inform these sources.

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Authors & Contributors
Kahn, Didier
Rey Bueno, Mar
Alegre Pérez, María Esther
Gantenbein, Urs Leo
Porto, Paulo Alves
Debus, Allen G.
Atti e Memorie, Rivista di Storia della Farmacia
Dynamis: Acta Hispanica ad Medicinae Scientiarumque Historiam Illustrandam
Bulletin of the History of Medicine
Renaissance Quarterly
Sudhoffs Archiv: Zeitschrift fuer Wissenschaftsgeschichte
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht
Science History Publications
AMS Press
Science and religion
Paracelsus, Theophrast von Hohenheim
Helmont, Jan Baptista van
Boerhaave, Herman
Philip II, King of Spain
Kircher, Athanasius
Scheuchzer, Johann Jakob
Time Periods
16th century
17th century
Early modern
18th century
15th century

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