DELMEDIGO, Joseph Solomon.


אלים. [Sefer Elim].

Amsterdam, Menashe ben Yisrael, 388-389 [1628-29].


FIRST EDITION. Small 4to. 3 parts in 1, separate t-ps to two, pp. (vi) 83 (i) + engraved portrait, without [p]2 (Latin preface) as other copies, probably cancelled; (iv) 190; (ii) 80. Hebrew letter. Portrait of the author trimmed and mounted, repair to verso, typographical border to t-ps, astronomical and scientific diagrams, decorated ornaments. Part 3 bound after Part 1, intermittent light marginal water stain, mostly marginal ink or finger soiling, some marginal repairs, general fairly light browning, gatherings 9-102 and 11-122 of Part I transposed. A well-used but perfectly acceptable copy in modern crushed morocco, two morocco labels, later Hebrew inscription to ffep.

First edition of this extensively illustrated, most important Hebrew work on astronomy, mathematics, natural philosophy, music and geometry, written by ‘the first Jewish Copernican’, student of Galileo and a major influence on Spinoza.

Joseph Solomon Delmedigo (1591-1655) was a rabbi, physician and polymath from Crete. At Padua, he studied medicine and attended Galileo’s astronomy lectures 1609-10. After a brief stay in Venice, he journeyed the Middle East, eventually settling in Amsterdam in 1623, where he wrote ‘Sefer Elim’, his only known work. It is divided into two separately titled parts—‘Sefer Elim’ and ‘Ma’ayan Ganim’—the latter subdivided into four essays on astronomy, mathematics, the consonance of music and biblical passages in relation to the scientific method. ‘Sefer Elim’ is a reply to 12 broad and 70 specific questions posed in letters, reproduced at the beginning, by the Karite scholar Zerah. Delmedigo’s answer discusses Aristotelian natural philosophy, spherical trigonometry, celestial bodies, comets and the workings of the lever, illustrated with diagrams and illustrations.

Whilst Delmedigo’s in-depth analysis of Copernican theories was left unpublished and is now lost, his circumscribed references in ‘Sefer Elim’ are nevertheless revealing. ‘Part of Delmedigo’s support for the Copernican model is to be found in his criticism of the Aristotelian conception of the universe […] By rejecting this idea, Delmedigo not only took on the accepted scientific views of the past, but also challenged the Jewish model of the universe, which was based on Aristotle’; he also stated that the universe was possibly infinite and included other solar systems (Brown, ‘New Heavens’, 70). He mentions studying with ‘his teacher Galileo’, as he describes their observation of the sky and planets through the famous telescope; however, scholars believe Delmedigo became familiar with Copernicanism elsewhere, as until 1610 Galileo was not publicly or privately endorsing this theory (Brown, ‘New Heavens’, 74).

The epistemological inconsistencies of ‘Sefer Elim’ derive from Delmedigo’s complex relationship to the Scientific Revolution and Cabala-informed Jewish culture, resistant to the new method. As proved by the very title—a reference to the fountains of wisdom—he linked ‘Jewish-hermetic revelation with Copernican cosmology and sought material objects such as ancient Hebrew mss that, purportedly, maintained a stronger connection to the revelation’, seeking to connect Jewish theology and Copernicanism (Ben-Zaken, ‘Cross-Cultural’, 78). The work ‘became suspect in the eyes of the elders of the Sephardic community, and a committee was formed to investigate the matter. The book had to be translated orally into Portuguese’; the printer had to declare officially that certain portions would not be published, though by then Delmedigo had moved elsewhere (Heller, ‘C17 Hebrew Book’, 471).

Like the copies at Hebrew Union College and Thomas Fisher Library, this collates with 3 of 4 leaves of preliminaries, lacking the Latin preface on the second. This summarises the content for a non-Hebrew readership, and explains the title. A puzzling addition to a work written entirely in Hebrew, it was probably cancelled for Hebrew-speaking readers. 

Heller, C17 Hebrew book, 470-71; Bib. Hebr. Book, 10125944; Steinschneider, Cat. librorum hebraeorum, 1510-1511, 5960/1-3; Wolf, Bibliotheca Hebraea, I, p.566, n.976. J. Brown, New Heavens and a New Earth (Oxford, 2013); A. Ben Zaken, Cross-Cultural Scientific Exchanges in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1560-1660 (Baltimore, 2010). Not in Riccardi, Houzeau & Lancaster or Lalande.


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BALMES, Abraham de.


Miqnē Avram: Peculium Abrae. Grammatica Hebraea.

Venice, Daniel Bomberg, 1523.


FIRST EDITION. Small 4to. pp. [315], lacking final blank. Hebrew letter, with Roman, little Assyrian. Decorated initials. Upper outer blank corner of t-p repaired affecting few ll. of the dedicatee’s name on verso, next three ll. a bit oil or ink stained in places, lower outer edge of a 3 a bit chewed, small scattered worm holes and oil staining to final gatherings, former marginal, latter mostly, couple of ll. browned. A good copy in mid-C19 sprinkled sheep, spine gilt, gilt-lettered morocco label, a.e.r., a little loss in places, tiny scattered worm holes at head and foot of spine. Small modern Hebrew stamp to lower blank margin of t-p verso, s 2 and last, late C16 inscription ‘Fr. Alex[ander] Longus Inquisitor Montisregalis concessit isti Die 24 octobris’.

A good copy of the first edition of this important Hebrew grammar for Christian scholars, printed by the most important printer of Hebrew books in Italy. Abraham de Balmes (d.1523) studied at Naples, whence he fled to Venice probably in 1510, when the Jews were expelled from the Spanish territories. In Padua, he was the personal physician of Cardinal Grimani; in Venice, he acquired a solid reputation as a linguist and translator of Hebrew philosophical texts. The Flemish turned-Venetian Daniel Bomberg (1483-1549)—the first printer in Venice and first Christian printer of Hebrew books—employed de Balmes in 1523 as one of his talented editors (Amram, ‘Makers’, 169-70). He asked him to write a Hebrew grammar, published posthumously, in order to facilitate the learning of Hebrew for Christian scholars, encouraging them to undertake the quest for the Hebrew original (not the translation for the Greek) of the New Testament, the discovery of which would ‘make your name immortal’. Balmes’s original approach to Hebrew grammar was imbued with philosophical discussion, including Aristotelian logic, Plato and the Kabbalah, outlined in Chapter 1. Organised into Hebrew sections followed by their literal Latin translation, it discusses the definition of Hebrew grammar, the alphabet and phonetics, and its various elements. The seventh chapter is an early attempt to analyse Hebrew syntax on the basis of logic and use, and the eighth—partly composed and translated by Calos Calonimos—discusses biblical prosody and accents. The partial lack of success was due to its ambivalent character as ‘a preparatory work to the reading of a “ghost” text, a Hebrew New Testament not yet available’ and ‘the experimental revision of the logical premises of the Hebrew grammatical tradition’ (Campanini, ‘Grammatica’, 19).

Friar Alexander Longus is recorded as censor of Hebrew books in 1590, in Monreale, a small bishopric near Asti, in Southern Piedmont (Popper, ‘Censorship’, 135). In 1591 the Holy Office decided that ‘no Christian should in the future be allowed to undertake censorship; Jews should expurgate their own books, and then, if at any time one should be found not properly corrected, its owner should be severely punished’ (Popper, ‘Censorship’, 72-3). In Piedmont, Inquisitors continued to check recent publications and personal libraries until at least 1593. Being a work on grammar, this copy was ‘allowed’ (‘concessit’).

Steinschneider, Cat. librorum hebraeorum, 1576, 6067/1; Steinschneider, Bibliographisches Handbuch, 164.2; Habermann, Bomberg, 76; BM STC It., p.2; Heller, 16-Century Hebrew Book, pp.164-5. D.W. Amram, The Makers of Hebrew Books in Italy (1909); S. Campanini, ‘Peculium Abrae. La grammatica ebraico-latina di Avraham De Balmes’, Annali di Ca’Foscari, 26 (1997), 5-49; W. Popper, The Censorship of Hebrew Books (1899).


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