Antwerp/London: Ex officina Christophori Plantini [Christophe Plantin]/ Rev. B. Gerrans, 1575. First Latin edition/ First complete English-language edition. Hardcover. Duodecimo. Latin edition: 114pp. . (1575) English edition: (xiii)  171pp. (1783) Rebound in modern tan morocco boards, with blind-stamped tooling along the edges of the covers. Spine with black label as well as gilt lettering and tooling. Raised bands. Red edges of the book block. Marbled endpapers. Woodcut publisher's device on the Latin title page. The Latin edition also contains a few large decorative woodcut initials. A single bound volume containing both the first Latin and the first complete English printed editions of the famed and influential medieval chronicle of the travels of Benjamin of Tudela. This Latin edition was the earliest translation of any kind of the work to be published.*
The original manuscript work of the 12th century, written in Hebrew, serves as a written account by Benjamin, a Spanish Jew of Tudela, in Northern Spain, of his eight-year round trip journey (ca. 1165-1173), which took him from the Iberian peninsula, through Southern Europe, the Mediterranean, Asia Minor, the Levant (including the Holy Land), Egypt, Baghdad, the Arabian peninsula and as far east as the Persian Gulf. The work in addition to being a vivid travelogue, has been viewed by scholars over the the centuries since, as an invaluable window into the trade, commerce, geography, politics, history, culture, religion and most notably, the Jewish communities of these areas during the period directly preceding the third Crusade. Scholars starting in 16th century have taken keen interest in this piece of travel literature and it has been translated into most major European languages.
Along his travels Benjamin visits many of the important European cities and centers of commerce, historical and religious pilgrimage sites for all of the Abrahamic religions, and recounts many firsthand conversations with locals that he encounters. Ancient sites encountered by Benjamin are related back to their original historical or biblical context providing a wondrous and tangible connection to the past. Locations visited and described by Benjamin include: Saragossa, Tarragona, Barcelona, Girona, Marseilles, Genoa, Lucca, Pisa, Rome, Thessaloniki, Constantinople, Corycus, Tyre, Jerusalem, Mosul (and the site of ancient Nineveh), Baghdad, Basra, Khaybar, Tayma, Cairo and Alexandria. Although Benjamin is believed not to have traveled any further east than the region of present day Iraq, he does include accounts of the peoples, places and cultures of locations such as Persia, India, Ceylon and China. Very scant definitive information on the life, background and motives of Benjamin himself (who has been referred to by others as a Rabbi on many occasions) is known or can be directly gleaned from his work, however there are quite a number of details in the text that can ilucidate some of these matters.
Among the most notable aspects of the original text is its presentation of Jews in the Diaspora, who are diverse in certain aspects but possessing of a common ancestry, dignity, tradition and perhaps a common destiny. Being a rather worldly, curious and learned man of Muslim Spain, during its Golden Age, the author presents a picture of the Jewish communities he encounters, regardless of location, as a part of a larger global culture and narrative. Rather than the common theme of a ghettoized people whose lives, observances, practices, world view and power-structures are separate from the larger communities within which they lived - which was the dominant narrative in traditional Jewish literature up until this point - here they exist as part of the broader civilization - a people who lives were inextricably linked to their surrounding environments, not in contrast to them. Benjamin highlights the equality of Jews, speaking of them as merchants, businessmen, diplomats, learned scholars, royal advisors, warriors, and other respected authority figures. It is through these detailed descriptions of interactions between the Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors that the work distinguishes itself. Benjamin also describes in detail the social, religious and political structures within the various Jewish communities themselves, shedding light on Jewish self-governnace, and tracing a continuum of religious heritage and spiritual connection going back to biblical times.
Benjamin's work provided hope and consolation of his readers and their communities, and fortified them in their belief in the self-worth, dignity and nobility of Jews, as well as continued belief in the viability of a Messianic return to the Land of Israel after their nearly millenium-long exile. The information provided by the author can also be seen as giving a somewhat comparative picture of the quality of Jewish lives in various regions, and may have served as a helpful resource and possible immigration guide in the face of the often shifting winds of religious persecution.
The Latin edition contains an index at the end, and includes some printed marginal notes, including some Hebrew text. The English edition contains a full list of subscribers, and numerical table of numbers of Jews recorded in each location mentioned throughout the work.
Binding some smudges and light stains to the back cover. Save for some minor age toning and some minor loss of marginal text in a very few instances due to cutting error, the interior in in near fine condition. Binding in very good, interior in overall near fine condition. vg to near fine. Item #47820
*Notes on the editions:
The very earliest printed edition of the work was in the original Hebrew of the manuscript, being the extremely scarce 1543 Constantinople edition from Eliezer b. Gershon Soncino, of the famed family of printers/publishers. The 1575 Latin edition included here was the very first translation of any kind from the original Hebrew. Translated by Spanish orientalist Benito Arias Montano (1527–1598), it was this edition that was the first to introduce the work to a learned Christian audience. The 1783 edition, was the first full English translation of the work to be published, although there had been two previous small excepts translated, one in 1625 and the other in 1744, both of which were parts of larger literary collections. Although this 1783 edition claims on the title page to have been newly translated from the original Hebrew, scholars have pointed out that, as evidenced by the mistakes in translation and the Hebrew terminology included, the translator Rev. B. Gerrans was not actually knowledgeable in Hebrew, and likely translated from and was influenced by the previously published Latin and French editions.
Bibliographic references: Voet, The Plantin Press, no.641; RDB, pp. 164-165; Morales no.36.