[MÜNSTER, Sebastian.]


Chaldaica Grammatica. [with] Dictionarium Chaldaicum.

Basel, J. Frobenius, 1527.


FIRST EDITIONS. Small 4to, 2 works in 1, pp. (viii) 212 (iv); (viii) 434 (ii). Roman and Hebrew letter, little Ge’ez. Woodcut architectural t-p with putti and grotesques to second, woodcut printer’s device to verso of last of both, decorated initials (a handful hand-coloured). Slight browning, light water stain to upper and outer blank margin of first and last few gatherings, I: fore-edge a bit chewed, small worm hole to upper outer blank corner of first few gatherings. Good copies in contemporary Swiss or German pigskin over bevelled wooden boards, rebacked, remains of spine replaced, brass clasps, double blind ruled to a panel design, outer border with blind roll with Jacob’s ladder, Abraham and Isaac, and Christ trampling the Devil, second border blind-stamped rosettes and ivy leaves, centre panel with blind rolls with female figures of Lucretia, Prudencia. Rubbed, minor loss to lower outer corners. C16 faded Italian autograph and Hebrew inscriptions to front pastedown, small armorial stamp and inscription mostly erased from t-p, occasional C16 Latin or Aramaic annotations.

An Augsburg binding from the workshop of Caspar Horneffer (Haebler, I, 168-168), who signed the figure of Lucretia with C.H. (EBDB r003142). The outer border shows handsomely portrayed scenes of Christ trampling the Devil, Abraham and Isaac, and the unusual subject of Jacob’s ladder.

First editions of the first Aramaic grammar and dictionary by a Christian scholar (with references to Ethiopic). By Sebastian Münster—‘the founder of the field of study of Aramaic in Germany’ (McLean, ‘Cosmographia’, 18)—they were superbly produced by one of the most intellectual early printers, the Swiss Johann Froben (1460-1527). The initials and the handsome woodcut t-p of ‘Dictionarium’ were designed by Hans Holbein the Younger, employed by Froben. Most renowned for his ‘Cosmographia’ (1544), Sebastian Münster (1488-1552) was a cartographer and Hebraist at Basle, being the first Christian scholar to produce an edition of the Hebrew Bible. He conceived his ‘Grammatica’ after learning Aramaic as a language that could shed greater light on Hebrew as well as on the interpretation of biblical texts, like the books of Daniel and Ezra, which had largely survived in Aramaic. He proceeded by making the reader familiar with Aramaic by degrees, highlighting the number of words of Greek origin, Aramaic words in the Scriptures, and comparisons between the ‘lingua Saracenica’, ‘lingua Indiana’ (Ethiopic, in Ge’ez type), Hebrew, Aramaic and Latin. After discussing Aramaic letters, numbers, nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc., it provides a few Targum texts, ‘Jewish translations of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic […] used […] primarily as a means to teach Aramaic in the Jewish education system’ (van Staalduine-Sulman, ‘Introduction’, 1). The ‘Dictionarium’ was dedicated to St John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, a great promoter of Hebrew studies at Cambridge, later executed by Henry VIII and canonised. It includes words encountered by Münster in the course of his studies, and considered important for the study of this sacred language, from verbs to the word for ‘dates that are still unripe’, with additional explanations. The learned annotator of this ‘Grammatica’ was acquainted with Ethiopic, as he mentioned Johannes Potken’s misidentification of Ethiopian as Chaldean in his ‘Alphabetus’; he also provided the Aramaic transcription of a few Latin words.

I: Panzer, VI, 258, n.654; Steinschneider, Bibl. Hand., 1377; BM STC Ger., p.632; Burmeister, Sebastian Münster, 3.
II: Burmeister, Sebastian Münster, pp. 92-93, n.4.4; Burmeister, Sebastian Münster Bibl., n. 23 Fürst, Bibliotheca Judaica, II:408; BM STC Ger., p.633; BM Hebrew, p.598; Panzer, VI, 258, n.653; Steinschneider, Bibl. Hand., 1385. M. McLean, The Cosmographia of Sebastian Münster (Aldershot, 2007); E. van Staalduine-Sulman, Justifying Christian Aramaism (Leiden, 2017).


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Kitāb Al Fawayīd wa al-Ṣilāt Wa al-‘Awāyid [On Magic and Talismans]

[Sana’a, Yemen, AH 969/1562]


Arabic manuscript on paper, 100 ff. of text, two free end papers, pages numbered, each with 25 lines of black naskh script, text panel 157 x 100 mm, titles and some words picked out in red, some phrases underlined in red, text within red frame, including numerous arithmetical tables and some diagrams, later notes to the end papers, colophon signed ‘Abd al-Raḥīm al-Zubaydi in Sana’a in modern Yemen in Shawwal AH 969 (June-July 1562 AD) and dated, repair without loss, at least three different hands of marginal annotations.

Contemporary, polished natural high quality morocco with central stamped medallion, an excellent copy with minor damp staining and marginal finger-soiling.

Kitāb Al Fawayīd wa al-ilāt Wa al-‘Awāyid is a treatise outlining the various principles of numerology in Islam where charts and numbers are used for divination or to bring barākā (blessings). Most of the illustrations in this manuscript are of the Islamic talismanic design known as wafq – ‘magic squares’ (see Maddison, F., and Savage-Smith E., ‘Science, Tools & Magic in the Khalili Collection of Islamic Art’, Oxford; Oxford University Press, 1997 or Savage-Smith, E., ‘Magic and divination in early Islam’, Aldershot; Ashgate Variorum, 2004). A magic square is arranged to produce a constant sum in all rows and columns and were most commonly depicted on amulets or manuscripts. The wafq is sometimes described as ‘recreational mathematics’ because of the sophisticated mathematical principles they illustrate. Jacques Sesiano in the article ‘Magic squares in Islamic Mathematics’ has argued that magic squares in Medieval Islam were developed from chess which was hugely popular in the Middle East. Sesiano has also observed how there are references to the use of magic squares in astrological calculations. Magic squares are, generally, magic by association (because of the carefully arranged sums), physical proximity and in their supposed capacity to foretell future outcomes.Rare.

From the collection of Adrienne Minassian; formerly at Brown University.


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