[Early Printing - Basel] [Early Hebrew typography] [Holy Bible - Old Testament - Hebrew text & Latin translation]
[Humanist Biblical Scholarship] [Judaica & Hebraica]

מקדש וי עשרים וארבע ספרי המכתב הקרוש

Hebraica biblia, latina planeq[ue] nova Sebast. Munsteri tra[ns]latione.

Basel: Michael Isingrin and Heinrich Petri, 1546.

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Complete in 2 volumes. Parallel Hebrew-Latin text.


The accompanying Latin translation and notes are by the Hebraist and cosmologist Sebastian Munster (1478 - 1552) whose work fascinated and vexed Luther in equal measure as is clear from Luther's frequent, and occasionally scathing, references to Munster's scholarship throughout his Genesis lectures (1535 - 1545).

In its first appearance (in 1534-5) Münster's was "The first edition of the Hebrew Bible which contain[ed] a fresh Latin translation, prepared by the Hebraist and cosmologist Sebastian Münster. The Hebrew text is based mainly on the first Biblia Rabbinica [...]. This edition exercised considerable influence on versions made by the Reformers, e.g. in Switzerland, and on the English translation known as 'the Great Bible'" (Darlow & Moule 5087).

"Though the editor has not indicated what manuscripts he used, he is supposed to have formed his text upon the edition printed at Brescia in 1494, or the still more early one of 1488. His prolegomena contain much useful critical matter, and his notes are subjoined to each chapter." (T. Horne, Manual of Biblical Bibliography, p.6)

Sebastian Münster was one of the best-known and most respected Hebrew scholars of his day. He entered the Franciscan order ca. 1505, and was ordained as a priest in 1512. Münster taught Hebrew first at the University of Heidelberg (1524-29), and then from 1529 until his death in 1552 at the University of Basel. After accepting the call to the University of Basel, Münster became a Protestant, and then in 1530, he married Anna Selber, the widow of Basel printer Adam Petri.

"Münster is remembered within scholarship mainly as a geographer, the author of the Cosmographia, but in his own day, he was also known as a Hebrew author. Over the course of also known as a Hebrew author. Over the course of his career Münster published more Hebraica books than any other early modern Christian Hebraist, Protestant or Catholic. [...]

"Münster's Hebraica Biblia (1534-35) was an impressive indication of Münster's achievements as a Hebraist. It provided in two [folio] volumes the text of the entire Hebrew Bible together with a facing Latin translation. Münster also composed annotations for it, largely based upon the work of Jewish Bible commentators. It is a work of Christian humanism in that it mediated Jewish scholarship and it also equipped students to 'return to the sources'. The demand for this book was strong enough to justify an expanded edition eleven years later, in 1546.

The Hebraica Biblia mediated Jewish biblical scholarship by repackaging information drawn from the first and second editions of the Bomberg Rabbinic Bible. Münster used the biblical text that Felix Praetensis prepared for the first Bomberg Bible (1517). He also quoted from the commentaries of Rashi David Kimhi, and Abraham ibn Ezra in his annotations. Münster's personal copy of the 1517 Rabbinic Bible, given to him by Johann Froben, has been preserved in the Basel university library.

"The diglot format that Münster chose for his Hebrew Bible reflects Erasmus' Greek New Testament rather than a Jewish prototype. Like Erasmus, Münster felt that he had to provide a new Latin translation of the Hebrew Bible because the Vulgate was full of errors. Münster saw himself first and foremost as a linguist/philologist rather than a theologian, even as Erasmus had done before him. [...] Münster was an Erasmian in his approach to the Hebrew Bible, though Erasmus would not have agreed with Münster's extensive reliance on Jewish sources.

"Münster differed from Erasmus, however, in the kind of translation that he offered his readers. Where Erasmus wished to provide both an accurate and fluent Latin translation, Münster used a more literalist approach that reflected the idiosyncrasies of the original Hebrew, rather than smoothing them over. This was consistent with his contention that the Hebrew Bible should be interpreted in light of the traditional knowledge of the Hebrew language preserved in Jewish linguistic scholarship and Jewish Bible commentaries. He wished to provide as Josef Eskhult says, "a translation that is as close as possible to the Hebrew source text, Hebraica veritas, intentionally disregarding purity and elegance." Münster did not hesitate when necessary to coin new Latin words when he thought them necessary to convey the sense of the Hebrew. [...]

"Münster quoted from a variety of Jewish sources in his annotations. The solid foundation of his comments were drawn from the biblical commentaries and the Aramaic Targums printed with the Rabbinic Bibles of 1517 and 1524-25. He cited material from other commentaries as well, most notably Moses Nahmanides' Pentateuch commentary. Münster frequently mentioned David Kimhi's Book of Roots [Sefer ha-Shorashim] when discussing particular words. On occasion he also cited Moses of Coucy's Book of Commandments, a work that he edited and translated in 1533. Finally, Münster consulted several polemical Jewish manuscripts, including Sefer Nizzahon [the Book of Victory]. Nizzahon was written in the 13th century to prepare Jews to dispute with Christians, and [...] includes a number of sharply critical chapters on the Gospels.

"Münster's approving use of Jewish biblical and linguistic scholarship in his annotations could easily have landed him in trouble with his fellow Protestants, a danger that Münster was all too aware of. As a part of the introduction to the Hebraica Biblia he wrote a section entitled 'Hebrew Commentaries are not to be condemned'. In it [...] Münster reassured his readers that 'the reading and interpretation of the rabbis [...] will not harm you if you have studied Christ truly. In fact, this information will be helpful to you, whether they agree with us or not'." (Stephen G. Burnett, Sebastian Münster and Jewish Interpretation of Genesis in his Hebraica Biblia, in C. Christ-Von Wedel, S. Grosse (eds.) 'Auslegung und Hermeneutik der Bibel in der Reformationszeit', p.394-8)

"In Sebastian Münster the printers of Basel had the most prolific author of Christian Hebraica of his day, and also one of the most significant. Between graduating from Pellikan's tutelage and before the publication of his Biblia Hebraica Münster had written or edited four Hebrew or Chaldaic dictionaries, eight grammars, four individual books of the Bible and eight editions of rabbinic Biblical or linguistic scholarship, variously for the Froben and Petri printing houses.

"Münster had been drawn to Basel in the wake of Conrad Pellikan in 1529, wanting to extend his scholarly and publishing interests without the constraints of the Franciscan order to which he had belonged. [...] A post had been obtained for him at Basel University in order to allow him to leave his order and so to 'win him for the Reformation' [...].

"The Basel printers recognised in Münster a rare asset: he not only published prolifically, but also made available editorial expertise in a range of disciplines: languages and mathematics, cartography and history. The Petri family brought Münster inextricably into their fold; they found him a house, a wife, guaranteed him a level of standing in Basel which even the rectorship of the university could not - and they found him work.

"Münster's Hebrew Bible was first printed in Basel in 1534/5 as a collaboration between the Petri, Isingrin and Bebel printing businesses. Its two folio volumes placed the text of the Old Testament in Hebrew alongside Münster's completely new Latin translation in parallel columns; each book of the Bible was prefaced by a Latin introduction and each chapter followed by a Latin commentary. Completing a translation of this scale was a remarkable scholarly achievement in itself, however, Münster's ambition had been still greater. The specific character of the translation, and the sources and nature of its commentary made it a work of peerless utility to the theologian, but they also kindled controversy and were the occasion of discord between the sodalities of Zurich and Basel.

"The preface to Münster's Bible explains to the reader why he felt it necessary to print this new translation of the Bible. The Vulgate, he asserted, contained many ' intolerable' errors which needed to be corrected; indeed, in places, rather than translating it 'merely summarises'. Münster's intention is to translate the scriptures into Latin in a manner which remains as faithful as possible to the character of the Hebrew, to its structure and to its idioms of speech. Rendering 'word for word', inserting clarifying words in parentheses as needed, his approach would necessarily violate the humanist canons of Latin style: Münster, however, states that this is to be preferred to deviating from the proper meaning of the Holy Scriptures. His Bible is not intended to delight students of Latin, rather to be of service in the business which was his concern: teaching the Hebrew language to Christians, to fashioning the next generation of theologians and disputants, properly versed in the sacred languages. Moreover, according to his method the Latin text would conform to the spirit and mind of the Hebrew-speaking peoples of ancient Israel, and convey that character to the Christian reader." (M. McLean, Between Basel and Zurich: humanist rivalries and the works of Sebastian Münster, in M. Walsby, ‎G. Kemp (eds.): The Book Triumphant, p.273-4)

Bibliographic references:

Adams B 1241; Darlow-Moule 5090; VD16 B-2882; Masch, Bibl. Sacra I, p.151-2; Burmeister 120.

Physical description:

Two-volume set, in Folio; leaves measure approx. 29&frac; cm x 19 cm. Bound in circa 1900 glazed dark-aubergine colored rigid paste-boards; flat spines with two red morocco gilt-lettered labels.

Pagination: [40], 743, [1]; [2], 747-1601, [1] pages.
Signatures: α6 β6 γ8 a-z6 A-Z6 Aa-Pp6 ; Rr-Zz6 AAa-ZZz6 AAA-ZZZ6 Aaaa-Rrrr6 Ssss6 Tttt6 [-Tttt6 blank].
COMPLETE (without the final blank, as usual).

Bible text printed in double columns providing parallel Hebrew and Latin (in Roman type) text; Münster's commentaries printed in single column in italic and Hebrew type. Titles of some books of the Bible printed in very large Hebrew script.

Vol. II has separate title-page with Hebrew title at head, followed by Latin title "Veteris instrumenti tomus secundus, prophetarum oracula atq[ue] hagiographia continens ..." First two words of the Hebrew title printed within decorative woodcut cartouche.

Numerous fine historiated and decorative woodcut initials in Latin text; several woodcut head-pieces.

Preliminaries include Münster's address to the reader ("pio lectori"), his preface to the Old Testament (including his defense of the use of Hebrew Commentaries on the Bible), as well as Latin and Hebrew indexes. Vol.II opens with Münster's preface to the Prophets.

Colophon on recto of the final leaf (Tttt5r) of Vol.II.


Elegant art deco style bookplate of Marcelo Schlimovich on the pastedowns in both volumes. Schlimovich, who arrived in Argentina before World War II, was a notable bookseller and antique dealer in Buenos Aires in 1940s-50s. He donated most of his book collection to Sociedad Hebraica Argentina.

Small tickets of Victor Aizenmann, an antiquarian bookseller in Buenos Aires, to both front fly-leaves and to blank verso of the final leaf in Vol.I.

Some short manuscript marginal nites in a 16th- or 17th-century hand, mostly in Latin, often stating 'error' next to some passages in Münster's notes; also writing 'Cabala' on p.123, etc.


Very Good- antiquarian condition. Complete. Binding rubbed with a few scuffs and wear to edges, joints and ends of spines, but bindings firm and tight. Interior with several small wormholes, mostly confined to margins, occasionally affecting text, but mainly without loss of legibility, except in quires S-Z where one wormhole at bottom elongates into a short track, causing (partial) loss of one or two words per leaf. Occasional light marginal damp-staining, several leaves with light browning or spotting. First title-page with a short marginal tear at bottom of the gutter; preliminary leaf β1 with a tear in inner margin (touching a few letters but without loss of legibility). Title and couple of further preliminary leaves in Vol.II torn at gutter causing partial separation, but all still attached to binding. Leaf Rrrr1 with a torn hole (about ½" diameter) causing loss of a few words in the Latin text. Final seventy-eighty leaves of Vol.II with some marginal softening to paper, occasionally causing light fraying at edges; last quire with some careful rice-paper repairs (mostly marginal), of which three leaves are entirely overlaid with rice-paper, but without loss of legibility. Final leaf laid down on its blank verso, with some repaired tears affecting a few words in text and in the colophon. Outer margin cropped a bit closely shaving a few letters in some marginal notes. Despite the above mentioned issues, this is an overall clean and solid set of this important edition rarely found complete.

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