"OF EXCEPTIONAL RARITY": 1814 FIRST EDITION OF THE FIRST HEBREW BIBLE PUBLISHED IN AMERICA
Biblia Hebraica, Secundum Ultimam Editionem Jos. Athiae, a Johanne Leusden, Denuo Recognitum, Recensita Variisque Notis Latinis Illustrata, ab Everardo Van Der Hooght. Editio Prima Americana, Sine Punctis Masorethicis.
Van der Hooght, Everardo.
Item Number: 29078
Philadelphia: Printed by William Fry for Thomas Dobson, 1814.
Rare first edition of the first Hebrew Bible published in America. Octavo, 2 volumes, full red straight grain morocco, elaborately tooling to the spine and front panels, raised bands, hand painted page edges. Text without vowel-points or accents, based on the 1661 critical edition edited by Calvinist theologian Johannes Leusden. Contemporary inscription on each front free endpaper, “Presented to John Van Cleve by Dr. A. Dunlap of Rushville, Ill. Dec. 12, 1839.” The recipient, John Van Cleve was a preacher in the Southern Illinois Methodist Episcopal Church and a proponent of the post-Revolutionary War religious revival. Bookplates to the front panel of each volume. Light browning and wear to a few pages. An exceptional example.
“After the ‘lean’ years which followed the Revolutionary War, in the early decades of the nineteenth century America was in the throes of a great religious revival. As part of its intellectual aspect, the study of the Hebrew language was renewed… Grammars, lexicons, and chrestomathies were published, as well as books on the Bible and the Holy Land. The Jewish community was wary of these activities because the same scholars and divines were also involved in missionary activity. The appearance of a work in the Hebrew language which bore approbation from both leading Christian clergymen and leading Jews marked the beginning of friendlier intellectual discourse” (Karp, Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress, 291-292). In 1812, Jonathan Horowitz arrived in Philadelphia from Amsterdam with a font of Hebrew type, and proposed an edition of the Hebrew Bible— the first one to be issued in the United States. Facing competition from several others who hoped to publish an edition before his, Horowitz decided early in 1813 to transfer his right to the edition to Philadelphia publisher Thomas Dobson, and to sell his type to Dobson’s printer William Fry. Dobson’s edition, printed by Fry and published in 1814, precedes all others. Without the scarce publisher’s leaf explaining the genesis of this edition— found in very few copies. According to Goldman, “the JTSA Karp copy alone contains a tipped-in leaf telling of the genesis of the edition; we do not include this leaf in our collation” (Goldman, Hebrew Printing in America 4).