Biblia Hebraica: secundum ultimam editionem Jos. Athiae a Johanne Leusden denuo recognitam, recensita variisque notis Latinis illustrata ab Everardo van der Hooght, V.

D. M. Philadelpha: Printed by William Fry for Thomas Dobson, 1814.

First edition of the first Hebrew Bible printed in America, of major importance in the field of American Judaica – this copy with the leaf explaining the genesis of this edition and present in very few copies. Based on a Bible published in Amsterdam in 1705 by Everard van der Hooght, which became a model for many other editions of the Hebrew Bible, this project was launched by Jonathan Horwitz of Philadelphia in 1812, who sold his rights and subscriber list to Thomas Dobson in 1814. The prospectus promised that it would be printed “with a new pica Hebrew type, cast for the purpose at the foundery of Binny and Ronaldson.” He had proposed the publication of an edition of the Hebrew Bible for the American market in 1812, but found that he faced stiff commercial competition to this endeavor from other publishers who were working to the same end. As a result, Horwitz sold the type to William Fry in early 1813, and transferred his publication rights and subscription lists to Philadelphia publisher Thomas Dobson, who issued this edition in 1814. This edition was mainly intended for an audience of Gentile scholars, as shown by its unpointed text and Latin preface and explanatory notes by Van der Hooght. While the absence of Hebrew vowel points and cantillation marks precluded its widespread use among American Jews, this edition of the Hebrew bible marked an important milestone in the advancement of American biblical scholarship as well as inter-denominational cooperation. Hebrew was held in such high esteem by the founders of the American Republic that a story emerged at the time of the Revolution that Hebrew was being considered as a possible substitute for English as the American language. The reason had as much to do with absolute indifference towards anything having to do with England as it had with America’s symbolic view of equating its rebellion against the British with the struggle of the Israelites against the Egyptian Pharaoh. Ironically, as Hebrew, the language of the Jewish people, gained acceptance and status among the New World gentiles, less than half of the original states, at the time of the 1814 printing, accepted the political equality of the Jew in America. Although the work is reasonably well represented in auction records, we have been unable to find any copy that definitely had the publisher's leaf explaining the genesis of this edition.

“The first Hebrew Bible in America, Biblia Hebraica, "editio prima Americana, sine punctis Masorethicis," was published in two volumes in Philadelphia in 1814. The title page indicates that it is a reprinting of the second edition of the Joseph Athias Bible, edited by Leusden with Latin notes by Everardo Van der Hought, and that the Hebrew is printed without vowels. In some of the first copies of the first volume off the press, an inserted page provides the history of its publication:

‘In the year 1812, Mr. Horwitz had proposed the publication of an edition of the Hebrew Bible, being the first proposal of the kind ever offered in the United States. The undertaking was strongly recommended by many clergymen ... and a considerable number of subscriptions for the work were obtained by him.

‘Early in 1813, Mr. Horwitz transferred his right to the edition with his list of subscribers, to Thomas Dobson, the present publisher.... The first volume is now published. The printing of the second volume, which will complete the work, is considerably advanced; and the publisher hopes to have it completed in the course of a few months …’

“Jonathan Horwitz, recently arrived from Amsterdam with a font of Hebrew type, now made his proposal, but he was not alone. The New York publishing firm of Whiting and Watson announced its plan to publish a Hebrew Bible under the patronage of the Theological Seminary at Andover. Horwitz countered with an advertisement in the New York Evening Post (January 16, 1813), declaring not only that he had received the patronage of Harvard College and the Andover Theological Institution but also that both institutions had already subscribed for forty copies each. Horwitz had even more competition to contend with. Two leaders in missionary work, John M. Mason and James McFarlane, were ready to enter the field, and in 1812 the president of the London Society for Promoting Christianity Among Jews, the apostate Joseph Samuel Christian Frederick Frey, had already published the first volume of a vocalized Bible for the English-speaking countries. It was rumored that as soon as the project was completed, he would depart for the United States to see to its distribution there.

“Faced with all this competition, what was a pious foreign Jew to do? Horwitz decided that discretion was the better part of valor. In 1813, he sold his type to the Philadelphia printer William Fry, and his subscription lists to the bookseller Thomas Dobson, and entered the medical department of the University of Pennsylvania from which he received his M.D. in 1815.

“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. Much of it revolved around Moses Stuart, Professor of Sacred Literature in the Theological Seminary at Andover, and his disciples. 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 on the Hebrew language which bore approbation from both leading Christian clergymen and leading Jews marked the beginning of friendlier intellectual discourse” (Karp, From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress, 1991).

Rosenbach, American Jewish Bibliography 171; Wright, Early Bibles of America 123-24; Darlow and Moule 5168a; Shaw & Shoemaker 30857; Goldman & Kinsberg 4. See M. Vaxer, The First Hebrew Bible Printed in America, in: Journal of Jewish Bibliography, Vol. II (1940) pp. 20-26.



Two vols., 8vo (221 x 139 mm), ff. [6], 296; [2], 312. Contemporary half-calf and marbled boards, black lettering-pieces on spines (dealer bookplate dated 1847 on front paste-down, binding moderately rubbed with loss of leather at the corners).

Item #6255

Price: $25,000.00

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