Wednesday, April 16, 2014

First Printed Edition Of The Torah In Hebrew $1,400,000 - $2,000,000 At Christie's

by Stephen J. Gertz

"The educated man knows, indeed, from his knowledge of history that the art of Gutenberg saw its inception with a Latin Bible in the middle of the XVth century. Yet what layman knows when the original text appeared for the first time? Not even the bibliophile knows; although a non-Jewish expert, Count Giacomo Manzoni, asserts in his enthusiasm for the book that the first edition of the Hebrew Bible is the most precious book on earth" (Lazarus Goldschmidt, 1950)

A newly discovered, large and complete copy in very fine condition of the first printed edition of the Pentateuch - the first five books of the Bible aka Torah - in Hebrew is being offered by Christie's-Paris in its Importants livres anciens, livres d'artistes & manuscrits, Wednesday, April 30, 2014.

Printed on vellum in Bologna by Abraham ben Hayim of Pesaro for Joseph ben Abraham Caravita, this, the Hamishah humshe Torah was published on January, 25, 1482 with Aramaic paraphrase (Targum Onkelos) and commentary by Rashi (Solomon ben Isaac).

Rarer than copies of the Gutenberg Bible (49, per last census), and one of only twenty-eight surviving copies on vellum (with eleven survivors on paper), most incomplete, it is estimated to sell for $1,400,000 - $2,000,000 (€1,000,000-1,500,000; £900,000-1,300,000).

Arguably the most important book in the history of Hebrew printing and publishing, it incorporates the first appearance in print of the ancient Targum attributed to Onkelos. Rashi’s commentary, also included, was first published in Rome around a dozen years earlier. This first edition of the Pentateuch in its original language is the first Hebrew book with printed vowel and cantillation signs (those symbols beneath the letters).

Abraham ben Hayim may have started as a textile printer and dyer and/or bookbinder in Pesaro. His first recorded printing press stood at Ferrara in 1477, which produced two books, beginning with Levi ben Gershom’s Be’ur sefer lyov (Commentary on the Book of Job), edited and/or financed by Nathan of Salò; then it completed - about two thirds of the text - Jacob ben Asher’s Tur yoreh de’ah (Teacher of Knowledge), which had been started at the press of Abraham ben Solomon Conat in Mantua. At his second press, in Bologna, Abraham ben Hayim worked for Joseph ben Abraham, a member of the Caravita, an influential Jewish family of bankers.

In Bologna, Abraham ben Hayim first printed this fully vocalized biblical text with cantillation marks, a landmark in the history of Hebrew book production not only for the importance of its text, but no less for its pioneering technique of casting and setting accents; this fully developed typographical accomplishment can only be compared with Francesco Griffo’s solution for adding accents to the Aldine Greek founts some dozen years later.

Abraham ben Hayim da Pesaro and Francesco Griffo da Bologna are likely to have known each other and it's possible that Griffo cut Abraham’s punches; both were subsequently associated with the Soncino family of printers in Italy, although at dates about two decades apart. An earlier typographical attempt at adding Hebrew accents, in a 1477 folio edition of the Psalms printed by a consortium of typographers in Northern Italy, was aborted after a few pages. The only other surviving Bolognese production by Abraham ben Hayim is slightly later in date than this Torah, a folio edition of the Five Scrolls (Megillot), now recorded in two copies (Vatican and Parma Bibl. Palatina).

Liturgical readings of the Torah in synagogue, then as now, must be done from manuscript scrolls. This, the Bologna editio princeps, combining the text with the Aramaic targum and Rashi’s commentary, was aimed at an educational market, the codex format being most efficient for study.

Rashi’s commentary was first printed in Rome c. 1470 as a separate edition by three Jewish contemporaries of the Christian proto-typographers, Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz. The second separate edition - the first dated Hebrew printed book - appeared on February 18, 1475 from the press of Abraham ben Garton at Reggio di Calabria (a single copy known), while the third edition of 1476 is the first Hebrew book printed in Spain.

Another edition of the Pentateuch with Targum Onkelos, Haftarot and Megillot, also vocalized and with cantillation accents, was printed somewhere in Italy by Isaac ben Aron d’Este and Moses ben Eliezer Raphael (3 copies extant and 7 single leaves); its date has in the past been assigned to c. 1480 (Goff Heb-13; Offenberg 25), based on research on by A. Spanier (Soncino Blätter I, 77), but it is now more accurately dated to c. 1489 from paper and watermark evidence in the Vatican Library copy (Piccard, Wasserzeichen Lilie II, 945).

Two obscure Iberian editions of the Torah - little known because of their extreme rarity - may also belong to the early 1480s, and may also be candidates for the first printed edition of the Torah in Hebrew: Offenberg 23=Goff Heb-16(III) recorded only in fragments of eight leaves (New York JTSL), one leaf (Oxford Bodleian) and a partial leaf (Jerusalem NLI); Offenberg 26=Goff Heb-16(II) surviving in a single copy (Florence Laurenziana) and a fragment of of 4 leaves (JTSL).


BIBLE, Pentateuch, in HebrewHamishah humshe Torah, with Aramaic paraphrase (Targum Onkelos) and commentary by Rashi (Solomon ben Isaac). Edited by Joseph Hayim ben Aaron Strasbourg Zarfati. Bologna: Abraham ben Hayim of Pesaro for Joseph ben Abraham Caravita, 5 Adar I [5]242 = 25th January 1482.

Median folio (320 x 230 mm). Printed on vellum (flesh side to flesh side, hair side to hair side, the sheets highly polished to minimize contrast). Collation: 110 28 310 48(-7) 58(-8) 62 710 8-98 106 1110 124 13-146 (Genesis-Exodus); 1510 168 176 18-218.10 228 234 248 256 2610 27-288 296 (Leviticus-Deuteronomy, 19/1v beginning of Numbers, 29/5v colophon, 29/6 blank). 219 leaves: Complete (but without final blank).

Vocalized biblical text with accents, surrounded by paraphrase in a narrow outer column and commentary in long lines above and below, the pages set in formes (the outer forme of the outermost vellum sheet of each quire printed on the fesh side). Square Hebrew type 1:180 (text, headlines), semi-cursive Hebrew type 2:90 (paraphrase, commentary and colophon). 20-21 lines of text and headline and 40-42 lines of paraphrase to the full page, numbers of commentary lines varying, no printed signatures or catchwords. (Light yellowing of the hair sides of the sheets, some minor stains, a few small wormholes at beginning and end, but in VERY FINE CONDITION, WITH LARGE MARGINS.) 18th-century binding of brown sheep over pasteboard (front cover and spine gone, back cover preserved but worn and detached, original sewing somewhat defective, frst quire detached from the book block). Modern folding box.

Provenance: inscribed, signed and dated by three Italian censors. Luigi da Bologna, Dominican friar, March 1599 – Camillo Jaghel 1613 – Fra Renato da Modena 1626. Individual words or short phrases censored, scored through in ink on 1/2r, 1/6r, 2/3v, 5/2v and 22/4r and several words erased on 10/6v and 11/3v, all in Rashi’s commentary. – There is no evidence of more recent provenance, except for the modest 18th-century binding, which is probably French. – French Private Collection, by descent to the present owner.

Hain 12568; GW M30624; BMC XIII, 26-27 (C.49.d.2); Proctor 6557; Goff Heb-18; CIBN Heb-4; IDL 2440; IGI E-12; Oates 2482; Bod-inc Heb-8. De Rossi I, 7; Steinschneider 2; Thesaurus A15; Van Straalen p. 29; Zedner p. 106; Marx 7; Goldstein 20; HSTC 22; Offenberg 13. ISTC ib00525570.


5/1/2014: UPDATE: Sold for €2,785,500 ($3,850,679).

Images courtesy of Christies, with our thanks.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Subscribe to BOOKTRYST by Email