Michael Massing at the NYRB:
The publication of Erasmus’s revised New Testament was a milestone in biblical studies. It gave scholars the tools to read the Bible as a document that, while divinely inspired, was a human product that could be deconstructed and edited in the same manner as a text by Livy or Seneca. As copies began circulating, the magnitude of Erasmus’s achievement was immediately recognized. Not since Cicero had an intellectual figure so dominated Western discourse as Erasmus did in that enchanted spring of 1516. “Everywhere in all Christendom your fame is spreading,” wrote John Watson, a rector in England with whom he was friendly. “By the unanimous verdict of all scholars, you are voted the best scholar of them all, and the most learned in both Greek and Latin.”
The term “Erasmian” came into use to describe those who shared his vision. But those Erasmians represented only a small sliver of society. Erasmus wrote exclusively in Latin, for the highly educated, Latin-speaking elite. Dazzled by his readings in ancient Greek, Erasmus began promoting knowledge of that language as no less essential than Latin. “Almost everything worth learning is set forth in these two languages,” he wrote in one of his many educational texts. In these, Erasmus proposed a new curriculum for Europe, with instruction in Latin and Greek at its core.