VERY RARE HEBREW PRIMER – NO COPIES RECORDED IN THE US
Documenta brevia quibus, quisque tuto numerose, et prompte Hebraice, vel unius mensis spacio, legere addiscat ad Sacrae Scripturae.
Venice, Giovanni Calleoni, 1639.
FIRST EDITION. 4 unnumbered and unsigned ll. Roman letter with Hebrew. Handsome woodcut printer’s device to t-p with naked female figure standing over a seven-headed dragon, decorated initials. Uncut, couple of washed-out ink splashes, slight marginal soiling to t-p and minor repair at lower gutter. A very good copy in modern brown morocco, covers gilt to a panel design with gilt floral cornerpieces and gilt centrepiece with fleurons and gouges. Bookplate of Ariel Toaff to front pastedown, early casemark inked to upper margin of t-p.
Very rare pamphlet, unknown to most general and specialized bibliographies, written by an anonymous author (E.P.R.H.) for non-Hebrew-speaking students. It was advertised as a primer helping them—‘within a single month’—to learn the correct pronunciation of Hebrew to read the Scriptures. Its content was influenced by methods of Hebrew ‘vulgarization’ (or phonetic Latinization) designed for gentiles, which had developed in the late C16 and early C17. ‘Documenta’ explained that Hebrew reads right to left and has letters which are not present in Latin; it provided the consonantic alphabet, each letter with its Latin name (e.g., ‘tau’, ‘daled’, ‘bed’). The printing of separate works or sections of works explaining the graphemes and Latinization of Hebrew letters was a novelty. It first appeared in Abram Netto’s enlarged edition of ‘Orden de Oraciones’ (Venice, 1622), featuring an appendix with this subsidiary content for the non-Hebrew-speaking reader. The ‘creation’ of Latinized phonetic counterparts to Hebrew graphemes was influenced by the individual pronunciation of the Jewish author or typesetter. E.g., ‘Documenta’ reveals traces of the Venetian (and north-east Italian) pronunciation of Sephardic Jews: the rendering of ה as a mute consonant or ‘h’, the rendering of ך (final ‘k’) as ‘chaff’—probably influenced by Netto’s ‘Orden’, where it was given the peculiar name ‘hcaf’—and the lack of distinction between ‘kameṣ’ and ‘pataḥ’, both pronounced ‘a’. Most importantly, ‘Documenta’ is among the earliest—and virtually unknown to linguists—examples of the gradual phonetic shift of ע (‘ayin) from ‘h’ to ‘ng’, mostly recorded among Sephardic Jews in the late C17. Netto’s ‘Orden’ also provided a ‘Declaration delos puntos’ explaining the system of vowel signs and the pronunciation of the diacritic symbols (‘niqqud’) by which they were rendered. In ‘Documenta’, a long section was devoted to ‘niqqud’—e.g., ‘kamezz’, ‘chirek’, ‘cholem’ and ‘ssurek’—showing their application to each consonant. Subsequent parts discussed ‘shva’—the diacritic indicating when a letter does not have a vowel—and the difference between the two kinds of ‘kamezz’ (‘magnus’ and ‘parvus’). The last leaf listed ten basic rules to identify the stress and recitation of letters according to the positions of ‘niqqud’, followed by examples taken from Genesis. A most scarce, important and overlooked document in the history of Hebrew didactics and phonetics in early modern Italy.
The handsome printer’s woodcut shows in the foreground a naked female figure standing over a seven-headed dragon, surrounded by the Hebrew ‘and the king will desire your beauty’ (Ps. 45:12). It had been in use at the Bragadin press at least since 1574 (Yaari, ‘Hebrew Printer’s Marks’, 35). Giovanni Calleoni (or Caleoni or Cagion) was principal printer for this press in the 1620s-40s; he also produced some of the Bragadin books, including ‘Documenta’, in his own establishment (Amram, ‘The Makers of Hebrew Books in Italy’, 364, 374-75).
No copies recorded in the US.
USTC 4012501; Steinschneider, Bibliographisches Handbuch über die theoretische und praktische Literatur für hebräische, 770. Not in Steinschneider, Catalogus or Haller, The Seventeenth Century Hebrew Book. A. di Leone Leoni, ‘The Pronunciation of Hebrew
in the Western Sephardic Settlements (16th-20th Centuries). First Part: Early Modern Venice and Ferrara’, Sefarad 66 (2006), 89-142; ‘The Pronunciation of Hebrew in the Western Sephardic Settlements (16th-20th Centuries): Second Part: The Pronunciation of the Consonant ‘Ayin’, Sefarad 68 (2008), 163-208.