Bibliophilia

2 09 2009

In lieu of a post that requires some degree of research, many people have been asking me about my latest literary acquisitions and so I have happily chosen to divulge that information here. As you can see from the following picture, my Primary Bookshelf (which is the name that I have given to the shelf on which I keep most of my primary literature) now has an Old and Rare Books section:

Rare Books

It’s not very extensive, but it is certainly appealing to look at. The text to the farthest right is a King James Bible from 1863. I discovered it in the second-hand section of a bookstore in Sydney, and blogged about it shortly afterwards. The text to the farthest left is the “Keter Aram Tsova” (the facsimile edition of the Aleppo Codex) that I mentioned having purchased while conferencing in Jerusalem. What I did not mention at the time was that, after purchasing this splendid volume, I then went to town. Both literally, and figuratively.

There is a small shop in the centre of Jerusalem called Trionfo. In addition to selling a number of curious antiquities (coins, pottery, manuscripts, scrolls, etc), they have a very impressive array of antique books. If Bibles are your thing, and if you become misty-eyed over anything that predates the twentieth century, and if you happen to be in Jerusalem: go to Trionfo. In fact, I recently discovered that they even have an eBay site, but it is probably best for me and for my bank account (poor, emaciated thing that it is) if I don’t look at it.

So, of which glorious tomes did I relieve them? Only three of their finest, if I dare say so myself. All three of them are Bibles, two in Hebrew and one in English. The English Bible is the most immediately impressive and it reminds me (yes, indeed) of my favourite scene in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Because no discussion of antiquity is complete without mention of the brownhatted hero himself, this is the relevant clip direct from YouTube. The scene itself doesn’t start until four minutes in, but runs until the end of the clip.

Now, if you watched that carefully then I’ve no doubt that you can tell exactly why it is my favourite scene! There’s Indy, carrying a ridiculous tome around with him, that sits heavily on the table for the entire duration of his conversation. As soon as it becomes apparant that his audience is unfamiliar with the ark of the covenant, Indy runs over to the book (at 8 minutes and 50 seconds), hastily unbuckles it, and throws it open. Lo and behold, the weighty text with which he has so laboured himself is none other than… a Bible! Brilliant! You can naturally imagine my joy, then, when I encountered this publication from 1881:

1881 front1881 side

Its cover is of engraved wood and the two clasps that hold it closed are of thin metal. The text, in addition to containing both the Old and New Testament and the Apocrypha, features reams of 19th century Biblical commentary, with lengthy excurses on the flora and fauna of the Bible, on Biblical morés, the nature of Israelite architecture, weaponry, food, and so forth. I was (a little) disappointed to note that it doesn’t feature the precise illustration that Indy’s Bible had, but the illustrations are plentiful nonetheless:

1881 Tabernacle1881 Daniel1881 Solomon

… and so forth. Oh, that all of my purchases were all so aesthetically captivating!

Of the other two, the least immediately impressive is also the most intriguing. Published in 1701, it is now the oldest text in my collection. It is a Biblia Hebraica from Amsterdam, and it features the full text of the Tanakh – sine punctis! Yes, that’s correct: unlike every other printed Bible that I have ever seen, this one has no punctuation and no accentuation. Most bizarre for a Biblia Hebraica! What is more, the editors (who don’t sound like the ‘Jewiest’ bunch) chose to print their names with Yiddish letters:

גערארדוס בורשטיוס = Gerardos Burstiyos (?)
פראנסיסקוס האלמא = Franciscos Halma (?)
גוליעלמוס ון דא ווטאר = Giulielmos van de Vutar (?)

The title page, which is unfortunately too small to photograph with any clarity, features an illustration of the ark at the end of a long corridor, the entrance to which is held upon by Moses and Aaron – the former, holding two tablets and sporting two horns. A list of Qere/Ktiv appends the volume, so the actual text itself is free of everything, save the bare consonants of the Hebrew Bible. That’s all well and good, but I suspect that readers of this post would probably appreciate seeing a photograph, and so I happily turn my attention to the third book, which was published in 1720.

1720 title page

There is the title page, which my computer only enjoys from a sideways glance. The pages are all of cloth, and beautifully preserved. In the illustration on the right-hand side, three yodhs (י י י) shine light from the inside of a cloud. Beneath the cloud is the verse, Ps 36:10: “With you is the source of life; in your light, light is seen”. King David (it would appear) sits at the bottom of the picture with a crown on his head and a lyre at his feet. He gestures towards an open text that quotes Isa 8:20: “For the law and for the testimony”. A small group of similarly attired men express amazement and adulation.

The following page is also of interest, with its dedicatory inscription to the supreme prince, Frederick William, Duke of Prussia:

1720 prince

You will have to excuse me again for my computer’s fondness for instilling migraines. Until such time as I can figure out why it doesn’t like this particular Bible, you will have to turn your monitors to the side, or do as I do and pop an aspirin before using the computer.

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3 responses

4 09 2009
Ha Tikvah

Pity YouTube have pulled the vid clip, but love that wood cover bible and the stories behind all of the others. Always fascinating to see old volumes and note their complete validation of the “solid” modern day versions.

BLessings, TKR :)

4 09 2009
Sean

I’d make a snide remark about turning your *laptop* sideways, but
then I remembered – you’ve always been one for turning *heads*…

4 09 2009
Simon Holloway

… huh?

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