Daniel Bomberg (1483-d. ca. 1553), the celebrated printer of Hebrew books, is renowned for having established the earliest Hebrew press in Venice. Publishing over 220 titles over the course of only slightly more than thirty years (1515-1549), he was also the first person to print the entirety of the Hebrew Bible with Targum (where available) and at least one medieval Jewish commentary (1517). While previous editions of the complete Hebrew Bible, and of individual biblical books with commentary, had appeared, this Rabbinic Bible, as it came to be known among Christian Hebraists, constituted a milestone in the history of Hebrew printing, since it combined those two features in four folio-sized volumes: Pentateuch, Former Prophets, Latter Prophets, and Hagiographa.
In the Middle Ages, most biblical commentaries were transmitted not on the same page as the biblical text but instead in separate pamphlets called kunteresim. However, with the advent of print and specifically with the publication of the 1482 Bologna Pentateuch, which featured Targum Onkelos and Rashi in addition to Scripture, Hebrew printers increasingly began incorporating multiple works on the same page. This process reached maturity in Bomberg’s 1517 Rabbinic Bible, wherein, as noted above, nearly every one of the twenty-four biblical books was accompanied by Targum and at least one medieval Jewish commentary.
Having established a genre, Bomberg went on, seven years later, to begin printing a completely new Biblia Rabbinica under the editorship of Jacob ben Hayyim Ibn Adonijah (ca. 1470-ca. 1538), a Tunisian rabbinic scholar who had arrived in Venice around 1520. This Second Rabbinic Bible, as it is now referred to, featured a number of upgrades to and advantages over its predecessor. First, the biblical text was established based almost exclusively on accurate Sephardic manuscripts. Second, each scriptural book (except Chronicles) was glossed by at least two (sometimes three, as in the Former Prophets) medieval exegetes. These were usually (except in the cases of Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles) arranged such that the Bible and its Targum formed the inner columns, while the commentators took up the outer columns.
Last, and perhaps most significantly, Ibn Adonijah’s edition included, for the first time, a new, clear version of the Masorah (lit., tradition), a complex system of notes meant to record precise information about the exact form of the biblical text, including both its consonantal skeleton and its proper vocalization. The Masorah magna, or large (more expansive) Masorah, which included quotations of biblical verses where a particular word occurred, was generally printed in a few lines above and below the Bible and Targum columns; while the Masorah parva, or small (abbreviated) Masorah, was printed in the margin between the Bible and Targum (or in the outer margins). The Masorah finalis, or final Masorah, essentially constituted an alphabetical list/concordance of words about which the Masorah magna had formulated rules (sometimes with citations of their occurrences in the Bible) that was appended to the last volume of the set (the Hagiographa).
Each of the four parts of the Second Rabbinic Bible was printed with its own title page. In addition, the initial word of every biblical book (for this purpose, the Five Scrolls and Twelve Minor Prophets were treated as one book) was set within a large, decorative woodcut frame surrounded by a rectangle made up of lines, varying in number, comprising notes from the Masorah magna, an enlarged biblical verse, and/or one of the opening poems of Aaron Ben-Asher’s (first half of the tenth century) masoretic work Sefer dikdukei ha-te‘amim. The first volume (the Pentateuch) was prefaced by two poems by Joseph ben Samuel Tsarefati (apparently one of Bomberg’s editors), a lengthy, semi-autobiographical foreword by Ibn Adonijah, lists of the (Christian) chapters and (traditional Jewish) sedarim in each biblical book, and Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra’s (1089-1167) introduction to the Torah. Appended to the last volume were the aforementioned Masorah finalis, as well as various other masoretic treatises and two concluding poems by Elijah Levita (1469-1549), another editor at the press.
In the years following its publication, the 1524-1525 Biblia Rabbinica achieved great acclaim. It was reprinted in 1546-1548 and then again in 1568-1569, and the biblical text itself (without the commentaries) was used by the famous Paris publisher Robert I Estienne (also known in Latin as Robertus Stephanus; 1503-1559) in his widely-distributed sextodecimo Hebrew Bible edition of 1544-1546. In this way, the Masoretic Text edited by Ibn Adonijah became the determinative version of the Hebrew Scriptures, and for the next four hundred years virtually all new Bibles would be modeled after this outstanding edition. Even the commentaries included here, particularly Rashi and Ibn Ezra, became almost canonical elements of subsequent Rabbinic Bibles. Gentiles, too, came to see Bomberg’s 1524-1525 edition as a standard reference tool, and in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries a number of prominent scholars (Martin Bucer, Johannes Buxton, Johannes van den Driesche, Sebastian Münster, Konrad Pellikan, Joseph Justus Scaliger, Peter Martyr Vermigli, and Johann Albrecht Widmannstetter) and university libraries (Jena, Leiden, and Oxford) are known to have owned copies of it.
The present lot comprises a well-preserved copy of the first part of this seminal Biblia Rabbinica.
Isaac bar Jacob (title)
Mordechai and Joseph ben Jacob(?) of Fürth, from their uncle Moses Ulma of Pfersee(?), 5 Elul 553(?) [August 13, 1793(?)] (title)
Joseph Marx Erman(?), from his father Zalman Marx Erman(?), Tuesday, 3 Tammuz 618 [June 15, 1858] (f. 229v)
Moses ben Simeon Ulma (f. 229v)
Stephen G. Burnett, “The Strange Career of the Biblia Rabbinica among Christian Hebraists, 1517-1620,” in Bruce Gordon and Matthew McLean (eds.), Shaping the Bible in the Reformation: Books, Scholars and Their Readers in the Sixteenth Century (Leiden: Brill, 2012), pp. 63-83.
A.M. Habermann, Ha-madpis daniyyel bombirgi u-reshimat beit defuso (Safed: Museum of Printing Art, 1978), 51-55 (no. 93).
Marvin J. Heller, The Sixteenth Century Hebrew Book: An Abridged Thesaurus (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2004), 168-169.
Jordan S. Penkower, Ya‘akov ben hayyim u-tsemihat mahadurat ha-mikra’ot ha-gedolot (Israel, 1982).
Jordan S. Penkower, “The Chapter Divisions in the 1525 Rabbinic Bible,” Vetus Testamentum 48,3 (July 1998): 350-374.
David Stern, “The Rabbinic Bible in Its Sixteenth-Century Context,” in Joseph R. Hacker and Adam Shear (eds.), The Hebrew Book in Early Modern Italy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), 76-108, 252-268.
David Stern, The Jewish Bible: A Material History (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017), 142-155.
Vinograd, Venice 99
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