[COMPLUTENSIAN BIBLE]. Quarta pars Veteris testamenti Hebraico Grecoque idiomate nunc primum impressa.

Alcalá de Henares, Arnao Guillén de Brocar, 1517


FIRST EDITION. Large folio, vol.4 of 6. 268 unnumbered ll., a-z6 2a-2o6 2p4 A-F6 G4 a2, ruled in red. Hebrew, Roman and Greek letter, triple column, single ruled in red ink throughout. T-p within exquisite woodcut border with urns, fleurons and tendrils, large woodcut arms of Cardinal Francisco Ximénes de Cisneros in red; large woodcut printer’s device with the instruments of Christ’s Passion, Sts Peter and Paul, putti and ‘AG’ to G4 verso, decorated initials. T-p remargined, repaired in margin at foot, slight loss to border at head, small worm trail to upper blank margin of first four ll., occasional very light browning in places, the odd marginal ink smudge or finger mark. A very good, clean, well-margined copy, on thick, high-quality paper, in near contemporary English full calf, rebacked, lacking clasps, double blind ruled, border of blind rolls with capstan signed PF, boards scuffed with a few scratches, edges repaired, later eps. Trimmed (and partly illegible) early ms. ‘(?) de amaca baez(?) libri d[omin]us(?)’ at foot of pp1.

A very attractive, wide-margined and clean copy of vol.4 (Old Testament) of the first printed polyglot bible, in a contemporary English binding. ‘The first and the most beautiful’ (PMM). ‘The first Biblical instrument built on the philological foundations laid by Humanism’ (Malvadi, 269).

Its popular name derives from ‘Complutum’, the Latin name for Alcalá de Henares. Published between 1514 (vol.5) and 1517 (the rest), it did not receive papal authorisation until 1520; of the c.600 copies originally printed, only 150 complete are recorded. The total cost for its patron, Cardinal Francisco Ximénes de Cisneros, Archbishop of Toledo was approximately 50,000 gold ducats; the 6-vol. set was to be sold at 6 ½ ducats. In the preface, Cardinal Ximénes stated that, by printing the bible in the original language and several translations (with the Aramaic Targum present in vol.1 only), ‘we seek to revitalise the study of the Sacred Scriptures which has thus far been lagging’.  

The third to be printed, after vols.5 and 6, vol. 4 comprises the fourth part of the Old Testament (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Threni Hieremiae, Baruch, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Abdias, Jonas, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Sophonias, Aggeus, Zacharia, Malachi, Maccabee). Each page is divided into three columns, with Hebrew, Latin (Vulgate) and Greek (Septuagint, with an interlinear new Latin translation). ‘The layout, in the case of the Old Testament, perfectly corresponds to Cardinal Cisneros’s purpose, i.e., to provide a working instrument, with great didactic functionality. His collaborators had to create a special typographical orthography and, for Hebrew, a system to obtain word-by-word correspondence to the Vulgate Latin’ (Abad, 310). Renowned philologists were consulted to research the most ancient and reliable mss. The Hebrew text was produced by the conversos Alfonso of Alcalá, Paul Coronel and Alfonso de Zamora, on the basis of a ms. now at Madrid, the printed Pentateuch (Lisbon, 1491) and Hebrew Bible (Naples, 1491). The Hebrew letters comprised large initials, a bigger and smaller font; though based on a Spanish model, they do not match any of the types in extant Hebrew incunabula of the Iberian peninsula. ‘The faces of the Hebrew types used in the Complutensian Bible are exceptionally beautiful. Virtually nothing like their beauty is to be met with in the types of C15 printing’ (Bloch, 412-13). The Greek text—the first Greek Old Testament printed in Spain—was edited by Antonio de Nebrija (the greatest Spanish humanist of his time), Demetrio Ducas (then a collaborator of Aldus for Greek texts) and Hernán Nuñez de Guzmán (professor of rhetoric at Alcalá). Generally based on the Septuagint, it also incorporates variants from mss sent by Pope Leo X from the Vatican Library (here ms. Vaticanus Graecus 346) and by the Venetian Senate (ms. 68 from the library of the late Cardinal Bessarion). The Vulgate was used as a reference point. (Marcos, 3, 11, 13). Unlike that used for the New Testament, the Greek type of the Old reprised the third kind used by Aldus, based on the cursive of mss dating after 1496 (Malvadi, 273). As the Greek type had to harmonise in size with the Gothic type used for the interlinear Latin translation, the former is remarkably small, with no breathings, and only acute accents (Proctor, 144; Abad, 302). The Complutensian inspired all major polyglot bibles of the C16 and C17, i.e., Antwerp (1569-72), Heidelberg (1586), Paris (1645) and London (1654-57, also known as Walton’s Polyglot).

This copy was first purchased by a Spanish owner whose inscription at foot of one leaf was trimmed; surprising for binding in England. The handsome English binding is decorated with an attractive blind capstan roll of French influence. Oldham finds similar designs in London (RP(a) 1-3, 5, RC(a) 1, RC(b) 1, 3-4), Cambridge (Z.C. binder, RC(a) 2) and Oxford; a close counterpart produced in Oxford in the mid-C16 is illustrated as Fig. 3.24 in ‘Eng. Bookbinding Styles’. A similar foliated roll was used c.1520-40 probably in Oxford (Gibson, ‘Early Oxford Bindings’, IV), one on a book formerly in the library of the Cistercian abbey of Hailes, Gloucestershire, dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539. We have not traced the binder P.F. A young monk or theologian, educated in the new humanistic atmosphere of English universities, is the most likely early English owner of this copy. The new principles of Continental polyglot philology set firm roots at Oxford in 1517, with the foundation of Corpus Christi, ‘England’s first institution dedicated to the “new learning”, providing humanist linguistic training which compared favourably to continental institutions’ (Lazarus). At Cambridge, Greek studies were firmly established in the 1520s, with scholars like Cuthbert Tunstall bequeathing numerous books, including a copy of the Complutensian, to the University, as fundamental study texts. Richard Fox, founder of Corpus Christi, also promoted the study of Hebrew, leading Hebrew studies in England to ‘acquire official status’ in the first three decades of the C16 (Halevi, 504).

PMM 52; Darlow & Moule 1412; BM STC Sp., pp.26-7; Palau 28930; Vindel, Manual gráfico, 274a-b. J.M. Abad, ‘La impresión y la puesta en venta de la Biblia Poliglota Complutense’, in La Biblia Políglota Complutense en su contexto (2016), 295-326; J. Bloch, ‘El texto hebreo en la Poliglota Complutense’, NYPL Bulletin, 42 (1938), 371-420; R. Proctor, The Printing of Greek in the Fifteenth Century (1900); N.F. Marcos, ‘Greek Sources of the Complutensian Polyglot’, in Jewish Reception of Greek Bible Version (2009), 302-15; A.D. Malvadi, ‘Las fuentes de la Biblia Políglota en lengua griega’, in V Centenario de la Biblia Poliglota Complutense (2014), 267-80; M. Lazarus, Greek in Tudor England (BL); P.-I. Halevi, ‘The Hebrew Language’, in The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies (2005), 491-514.
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