Elijah Levita (1469-1549) was a Hebrew and Yiddish philologist, grammarian, lexicographer, translator, and author born in Ipsheim, Germany, who spent most of his life in Italy, particularly in Padua, Venice, and Rome. Over the course of his career, he taught Hebrew language and grammar to some of the leading Christian Hebraists of the day, including John van Campen (d. 1538), Sebastian Münster (1488-1552), Guillaume Postel (1510-1581), and Cardinal Egidio da Viterbo (1472-1532), in whose home in Rome he resided for thirteen years (1514-1527). Under the cardinal’s patronage, he began working on a dictionary of the Targumim, the various ancient Aramaic translations of the Bible, in 1526. Due to the sack of Rome by the forces of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1527, however, Levita lost much of his property, including almost half of the dictionary he was preparing. He thereafter relocated to Venice, where he again commenced work on the dictionary in 1529, completing it in 1531.
In approximately 1540, Paulus Fagius (1504-1549), a Protestant with a love of the Hebrew language and a certain inclination toward missionary activity, invited Levita to the free imperial city of Isny im Allgäu, Bavaria, to supervise his newly-established Hebrew press (the first such press to be founded by a Christian in Germany). There, Levita printed two of his most important lexicographical works: Tishbi (The Tishbite; 1541), a dictionary of Talmudic and post-Talmudic rabbinic Hebrew, and Meturgeman (The Interpreter). (The Isny edition of Meturgeman is actually a somewhat abridged and modified version of the original, unedited manuscript da Viterbo had commissioned Levita to produce [MS Rome, Biblioteca Angelica Or. 84].) The book builds off of the model set by Nathan ben Jehiel of Rome (1035-ca. 1110) in his Sefer he-arukh, an important early dictionary of Talmudic Aramaic, but shifts the focus to the Aramaic of the principal Targumim: Onkelos, Jonathan ben Uzziel, and Yerushalmi. As such, it constitutes both the first dictionary of the Targumim ever published and an important (perhaps the most important), early example of the genre of “para-Targumic” works that can fruitfully be used as relatively early witnesses to the text of the Aramaic versions.
The present lot is a complete copy of the first edition of Meturgeman (though it lacks the additional six-page Hebrew-and-Latin author’s introduction printed at the end of some copies). Most unusual and remarkable is the rhymed Hebrew dedication on the title page by the publisher, Fagius, to his first Hebrew teacher, Wolfgang Fabricius Capito (ca. 1478-1541), a prominent humanist and leader of the Reformation in Strasbourg, in which he asks that the latter accept his humble gift and use it throughout the rest of his life. Ironically, Capito died of plague on November 4, 1541, less than two months after the book was printed, and it was Fagius who was invited the following year to take his place teaching at the University of Strasbourg.
Levita’s Meturgeman was used extensively by Christian Hebraists, and indeed our copy not only features Fagius’ Hebrew-language inscription to a fellow non-Jewish Hebrew enthusiast but numerous Hebrew and Aramaic marginalia in a Christian hand. Many of these comments cite Targumim to verses at the beginning of Genesis that Levita had not himself included under the relevant lemmata, suggesting, perhaps, that one of the scholars who owned the book would regularly consult it while studying the Aramaic translation(s) of the first book of the Hebrew Bible.
Isaac bar Joseph (pastedown of upper board and f. 31r)
Naphtali bar Abraham Segal, 22 Sivan 443 [June 16, 1683] (pastedown of upper board)
Jakob(?) Weill (title and ff. 6r, 11r)
David Kauber (title)
Moses bar Abraham, Friday, 18 Iyyar 373 [May 9, 1613] (f. [iv])
Moses bar Judah Heilprin, Altbreisach, Alsace (ff. [iv], 115v)
Raimundo Griñó, “El Meturgeman y Neofiti I,” Biblica 58,2 (1977): 153-188.
Raimundo Griñó, “El Meturgeman de Elías Levita y el ‛Aruk de Natán Ben Yeḥiel como fuentes de la lexicografía targúmica,” Biblica 60,1 (1979): 110-117.
A. M. Habermann, “Ha-madpis paulus fagius ve-sifrei beit defuso,” Alei sefer 2 (1976): 97-104, at p. 100 (no. 3).
Vinograd, Isny 5
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