Isny: Paulus Fagius, 1542. First edition. Hardcover. Two works, jointly issued, small quarto. Signed: A-H4 (B2 missigned A2); A-F4 (A2 missigned H2) (= 56 unnumbered leaves). Collective title and half title for the second part. First work arranged as a running text: Alphabet verse in Aramaic followed by Latin translation; Hebrew commentary on the verse, followed by Latin translation. The second work arranged with Hebrew text and Latin version on facing pages. Printed marginalia; large woodcut printer’s device at verso final leaf. Recent brown morocco, gilt title at spine. Old library stamp at fore-margin (just encroaching on 2 letters). A few oxidation spots at first 4 leaves, expert paper restoration at E4 (repairing clean tear) and H4 (replacing small section at bottom corner), else a fine, bright, amply-margined copy, attractively bound.
First edition, containing the first Latin version of the Alphabet of Ben Sira, and a bilingual text of the Book of Tobias in Hebrew and Latin. The Alphabet (not to be confused with the apocryphal Book of Ben Sira by Jesus ben Sira, a work occasionally cited in the Talmud) consists of 22 alphabetically arranged Aramaic aphorisms. Each aphorism is followed by a commentary by Uziel (supposedly Ben Sira's son) or Joseph ben Uziel (supposedly Ben Sira's grandson). At the verso of the final leaf of the first part Fagius has appended his own poetic composition in four rhyming Hebrew couplets. The Book of Tobias is one of the books of the Apocrypha, which though certainly of Jewish origin, was relegated by Jewish tradition to the non-canonical Sefarim Chitzonim (external books). Both of these works were written during the Hellenistic period of the Second Temple. The present volume contains two of the fifteen Hebrew books printed by Fagius at his press in Isny between 1540 and 1542.
Born in the Palatinate, Paulus Fagius (Paul Büchlein; 1504-1549) was a professor of Hebrew at Strasbourg and later at Cambridge; he established a Hebrew press in Isny, Bavaria, where he appointed his former Hebrew teacher, Elijah Levita, as supervisor. Fagius studied in Heidelberg and after converting to Protestantism was very much involved in the circles of the early reformers. He studied under both Konrad Pellikan and Wolfgang Fabritius Capito, and was to play a very important role in conveying the Jewish knowledge of Hebrew to Christians. "Fagius's importance to Hebraism lay largely in the work he managed to produce and publish in a relatively short space of time, some of it in collaboration with Levita. However, he also had very pronounced ideas about the Jewish religion. As an orthodox Calvinist who saw the New Testament as a direct continuation of the Old (unlike Luther who saw it as a replacement), he recognized in the classical writings of Judaism the environment in which Jesus of Nazareth had been raised and where the origins of true Christianity lay. In the earliest Jewish prayers, which he published, translated and annotated, in the 'intertestamentary' Book of Tobias and in the rabbinical tractate Avot, he not only encountered numberous parallels with the New Testament but also the piety and concepts he considered essential for the true experience of Christianity. In the Hebrew [Sefer Emunah], i.e. Liber fidei seu veritatis he attempted to prove the truth of Christianity by using Jewish sources... Fagius contributed to the knowledge of Hebrew by publishing and translating the most important grammatical works by Elijah Levita, as well as through his own Hebrew grammar, Compendiaria isagoge in linguam Hebraicam in 1543, and a detailed reproduction of various Jewish views of the first four chapters of Genesis, with the aim of showing how a thorough knowledge of the Hebrew original contributes to a proper understanding of these chapters, which tell the stories of the Creation and the Fall. It is probably unnecessary to point out that what Fagius considered to be the proper interpretation was of course the Christian view, but what is equally important is that Fagius saw the Christian viewpoint best reflected in the Hebrew language, as long as it was correctly interpreted" (Heb. Veritas).
Born near Nuremberg in Neustadt, Elijah ben Asher ha-Levi Ashkenazi Levita (1468 or 1469-1549) lived most of his life in Italy, where he taught Hebrew and grammar. Among his more illustrious pupils were Sebastian Münster and Cardinal Egidius da Viterbo, in whose home at Rome Levita resided for thirteen years. Losing most of his property after the sack of Rome by the armies of Charles V, he went to Venice where he worked as a proofreader in the publishing house of Daniel Bomberg. For several years after 1539 Levita supervised Fagius' press at Isny, where he produced some of his most important works, including his dictionary compiled from the Aramaic translations of the Bible, Meturgeman (with a Latin foreword by Fagius), and his lexicon of the Hebrew words in the Talmud and the Hebrew of the Middle Ages, Tishbi, with a Latin translation by Fagius (Enc. Jud. 11:132-134). "It would not be an exaggeration to say that Elijah Levita... was the most important link in the transfer of knowledge of Hebrew and Aramaic from the Jewish to the Christian camp, something that prominent brothers in faith of his resented. However, Hebraists like Sebastian Münster, Paulus Fagius and Johannes van Campen acknowledged him as their great master" (Heb. Veritas). The contributions to the study of Hebrew by Münster and Fagius in particular were so important that when they died, halfway through the century, "the foundations for the futher development of Hebraism in the Christian world had been laid" (Heb. Veritas).
The late Jewish works here translated were of interest to Fagius, at least in part, because of their content. Like Pirke Avot, as Peter van Rooden observes, they offer "an expression of a general human wisdom such as is also to be found in classical literature... In the foreword to his edition of a Hebrew version of Ben Sirach, he described it as his task: 'that I should collect and bring to light from the writings of the Hebrews, not so much that which is necessary for learning the language, as that which is helpful in promoting piety, forming life and improving manners, which certainly must be the goal of all our studies.'"
Provenance: Early entry in brown ink of "Blenderq." matching Greek inscription "παντων μετρον..." at bottom margin of the title; faded library stamp at fore-margin of the title noting "echange" (de-accession); old inscription in Hebrew cursive at the verso of the final leaf; a few recent pencil annotations in the first part. Near fine. Item #48842
Full title: בן סירא Sententiae Morales Ben Syrae, vetustissimi authoris Hebraei, qui à Judaeis nepos Hieremiae prophetae fuisse creditur, cum succincto Commentario [WITH] Tobias Hebraice ut is adhuc hodie apud Iudaeos invenitur, omnia ex Hebraeo in Latinum translata, in gratiam studiosorum linguae sanctae
Half title: ספר טוביה בלשון עברי עם העתקה בלשון רומיי בצדו על ידי פאוילי באגיי Tobias Hebraice cum versione Latina e regione, per Paulum Fagium
References: Haberman, A.M.. "Ha-madpisim Paulus Fagius vesiphrei beith defuso," in Peraḳim be-toldot ha-madpisim ha-ʻIvrim ve-ʻinyene sefarim [Studies in the history of Hebrew printers and books] (Jerusalem: Reʼuven Mas, 1978), pp. 149-166. VD16 B4037 and B4025. Vinograd (Isny) 11 and 15. Darlow & Moule, vol II, part 2 (pp. 704; 933) notes that the present work and Sebastian Münster's edition of Tobit in Hebrew (also published in 1542, with Latin translation) were both incorporated in the London Polyglot (1657). For more on Fagius and his works see Hebraica Veritas Catalogue (Antwerp: Plantin-Moretus Museum, 2008), pp. 39, 59, 61-63; Heller, The Sixteenth Century Hebrew Book, pp. 255-61; Van Rooden, Theology, Biblical Studies, and Rabbinical Studies in the Seventeenth Century, p. 111.