7 reasons why I think this Hebrew-Latin book from 1683 is really cool

A few years ago I wrote about non-English language printing in EEBO, a post which still gets a fair amount of traffic and a lot of people asking me about Welsh. So when I found a bilingual Latin/Hebrew book in EEBO on Friday night while searching for something else just as I was getting ready to go meet some friends for dinner, I was overjoyed. This this is a book printed in Cambridge, England, in 1683 and contains two languages which are very much not English.

JISC’s EEBO portal lists the title as “Komets leshon ha-koresh ve-ha-limudim = Manipulus linguae sanctae & eruditorum : in quo, quasi, manipulatim, congregantur sequentia, I. index generalis difficilorum vocum Hebraeo-Biblicarum, irregularium, & defectivarum, ad suas proprias radices, & radicum conjugationes, tempora, & personas, &c. reductarum” (R1614 Wing), describing it briefly as a Hebrew grammar (with the first four words in the title transliterated from Hebrew). My years of Hebrew school did not leave me a fluent Hebrew speaker or reader; I have no formal Latin or bibliographic training, but this book is really cool. Here are some reasons why…

This isn’t the title page, but it is the introductory material and you can see that it contains Hebrew, Latinate and Greek characters on the same page:

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For starters, this is a bilingual grammar and index to the Old Testament, serving in some ways as a precursor to my digital concordances. But it also is fascinating because it involves several different typefaces representing several different languages, so someone in 1683 had either created a typeface for Hebrew or had access to a Hebrew typeface to print this book. Furthermore, Hebrew has a script form and a block letter form; the block letters are often used in printing whereas script is much more common elsewhere. Torahs are hand-copied onto vellum (even today!), so it is plausible someone may have had to transform each scripted character into block letters for this.

Hebrew is read from right to left, whereas Latin is read from left to right, so this book had to be very carefully typeset to put these two languages back to back. It also has a vowel system which is optional in print, but they are usually found under the consonants. Torahs often do not use the vowel system so the inclusion of them here (look for the lines, dots and small T’s) is interesting and an extra complication for typesetting.

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The catchwords at the bottom of the page are printed in Hebrew here, but the book uses Latinate numbering. And – as my mother pointed out – entries are listed alphabetically in Hebrew (not in Latin).

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It also includes a list of ambiguities, still written in both languages, and still juxtaposed with a left-to-right and right-to-left language.

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So this is already interesting from a printing perspective, but then there are also grammatical notes and commentaries included, with descriptions of how to use this grammar. And still the juxtaposition of both languages on the same line is really fascinating:

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From the grammatical guide, here  is a table of conjugations in Hebrew, marked with Latin descriptions (active, passive, future, participles, etc): Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 3.45.25

And finally it ends in a two-column translation of Hebrew text into Latin:

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Download the EEBO scan as a PDF for more.

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