Hebrew printing in Basel began in 1508 with the appearance of the third revised edition of Gregor Reisch’s (1467-1525) Margarita philosophica, the first “modern” encyclopedia, which included a page reproducing the names and forms of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (without the vowels). The first full-bodied Hebrew text to appear there was published in September 1516 by Johannes Froben (ca. 1640-1527), one of the most eminent humanist scholar-printers of his age and an anchor of the Basel book trade, as an appendix to volume eight of a nine-volume edition of St. Jerome’s collected works. This folio-sized polyglot edition of the Psalms, edited by the famous Christian Hebraist Konrad Pellikan (1478-1556), included the text in its original Hebrew and in three translations: Septuagint, Itala (Old Latin), and Vulgate.
Two months later, in November, Froben published the present, independent, pocket-size edition of the Hebrew Psalms using the same text as that printed in the polyglot, but imposed from right to left in the manner of Hebrew books. The editor, Pellikan, had learned Hebrew on his own, and so it should not surprise us that his Hebrew-language dedication on f. [1v] is replete with errors, or that his student Sebastian Muenster (1488-1552), who would go on to become another famous Christian Hebraist and reformer, had to append at the end twelve pages of errata (which themselves included a number of mistakes; on which phenomenon, see also Prijs [1964-1965]). At the rear is a short Latin introduction to the Hebrew language, entitled Institutiuncula in Hebræam linguam and imposed from left to right, that was compiled by Wolfgang Fabricius Capito (ca. 1478-1541), Professor of Theology at the University of Basel, under the pseudonym Volphango Fabro. In it, he expresses the wish, in the spirit of the Renaissance, that readers would memorize the Psalms in Hebrew, for then “the truth will pour into you most liberally, and from the purest sources.”
The text itself is interesting for a number of reasons. First, the printer added headers with psalm numbers to this edition, an improvement over its September predecessor. Second, he marked the midpoint of the book at Ps. 78:38 (f. [103r]), as if it were the start of a new psalm. Last, the book combines Ps. 114 and 115, which are normally considered two separate psalms in most Hebrew versions of the text, resulting in a total of one hundred forty-nine, rather than one hundred fifty, psalms.
This important edition of the Psalms, which would go on to be reprinted often through the 1560s, was rare already in 1767 and was included by Charles Cuissard in his catalog of incunabula and rare imprints published in 1895. It would appear that only one American college library owns a copy and that the book has never yet come to public auction.
Philip Jakob Spimberg(?) (pastedown of lower board)
Charles Cuissard, Catalogue des incunables et des éditions rares (Orleans: Georges Michau, 1895), 75 (no. 295).
Joseph and Bernhard Prijs, Die Basler hebräischen Drucke, 1492-1866 im Auftrag der Öffentlichen Bibliothek der Universität Basel (Olten: Urs Graf-Verlag, 1964-1965), 11-14 (no. 6).
Johann Bartholomäus Riederer, Nachrichten zur Kirchen-Gelerten und Bücher-Geschichte aus gedruckten und ungedruckten Schriften, pt. 13 (Altdorf: Lorenz Schüpfel, 1767), 1-11.
Vinograd, Basel 5
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