The 1541 Meturgeman: Early printed Ashkenazic books and provenance

The 1541 Meturgeman is a fascinating volume that I recently had the privilege of cataloging for the Rare Book Collection. It was exhibited on October 23rd for the Archives Month Philly event: “From Antartica to Zimbabwe: Around the World with Archives, Books and Codices;” see the full announcement here.

The title of the 1541 Meturgeman, from Sotheby’s catalog photo.

The Meturgeman is an important work and there is a lot to say about it; the 1541 edition (the editio princeps, or first edition) is one of two volumes of lexicography printed in Isny im Allgäu by Paul Fagius and written by Elijah Levita.

Levita was a scholar and a teacher of Hebrew grammar, proofreader, a prolific lexicographer, and writer; he was a literary figure who even wrote the first Yiddish novel (the bovo bukh) and among the periods of travel throughout his life, he settled in Isny im Allgäu, Germany.

Isny is a small town in south-eastern Baden-Württemberg, Germany, not far from the island-town of Lindau on Lake Konstanz and the modern-day border of Liechtenstein. Isny then was a free imperial city and permission was granted for Hebrew to be printed through the press opened by Paul Fagius (Rheinzabern, Germany 1504-Cambridge 1549), a Christian printer authorized to print Hebrew books, and his recruitment of the author of the Meturgeman, Elijah Ashkenazi Levita (Neustadt 1469-Venice 1549), a learned Jew who lived in Fagius’ house in Isny and worked in his print shop.

Isny, almost a century after the Meturgeman was printed there.

Levita was a friend and Hebrew teacher to Christians before this; he had lived in the palace of the cardinal and Renaissance humanist Egidio (Giles) da Viterbo (1469-1549) in Rome where he was welcomed as a Hebrew and Aramaic teacher; he also copied manuscripts for the cardinal’s library.

The Isny volumes printed by Fagius and Levita are unique as a Jewish Hebrew scholar was printing in the printing house of a Christian (Fagius) and creating editions for both Jewish and Christian study. The copy at the Rare Book Collection, which is enhanced because of its provenance, brings this further with paleographical evidence of the Jewish and Christian ownership of the volume during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Meturgeman is a lexicon of Hebrew and biblical Aramaic, most often quoting actual verses with the word in different forms as it appears in the Hebrew Bible, with the Aramaic of the book of Daniel and the Targum Onkelos and Targum Yehonatan. Also, Levita would write sometimes a sentence or two of explanation (Perush), and German and/or Latin translation in Hebrew characters.

A sample of the text of Meturgeman. Notice the entry written in; it is an entry for the Biblical word “Ed” (אד), translated by Levita into German as “Korn Wald”, and an inscriber wrote in Yiddish “Korn Feld”, probably in Germany approximately 1750.

So, in summary, this volume has importance in it of itself in the literary and printing histories, bibliography, and exceptions as part of German Jewish history and the history of the German Reformation.

Provenance: Germany and France in the 16th and 17th centuries

The 1541 Meturgeman acquired by the Penn Libraries is a trove of provenance; from the material and inscribed marks I determined early owners of the volume and places of its travel.

I think that the first provenance item is the most obvious – that of the original binding, clasps, and overall appearance. This is to me an enhanced relic, as it can be seen from the volume what it was to the printer, original owners, and libraries which held it over the centuries. While many other volumes have marked changes from the original form it was issued as, this volume looks as it did when it was issued at Fagius’ press.

The title page of the volume has an inscription which stands out as the first step of provenance: A long poem written by the printer, Fagius, to his teacher, Wolfgang Fabricius Capito (Haguenau, France, circa 1478 – Strasbourg 1541) establishes the provenance of the volume directly from the printing shop in Isny to Strasbourg before November 1541, when Capito died.

The poem is written in an Ashkenazic script which could easily be the inscription of a rabbi; the language, script, and appearance is very similar to Ashkenazic rabbinic hands of the 16th century.

The poem written by Faugius to Capito. He wrote very deferentially to his teacher.
Paul Fagius.

Here is the list of provenance listed for the volume after Capito:

Formerly owned by Jakob Weill (inscription on title page: שייך להק’ יאקב וויילל) – approximately 1750, Germany.
Formerly owned by David Kauber (inscription on title page).
Formerly owned by Yitshak bar Yosef (inscription on front paste down; 16 century).
Formerly owned by Naftali b. Avraham Segal, signing in Jena, 22 Sivan [5]443 (June 16, 1683) – inscription on pastedown of upper board.
Formerly owned by Mosheh b. Avraham, 18 Iyar [5]373 (May 9, 1613) – inscription on folio [iv].
Formerly owned by Mosheh b. Yuda Heilprin of Alt Breisach in the Alsace, known as Pinza – inscription on page [iv] and 115 verso, approximately 1650. Full inscription: “אני משה ב”ר יודא ז”ל מישפכת (sic!) היילפרין במדינת עלזות אלט ברייזאך הכמונה (sic!) פאנצה”.
Formerly owned in Colmar, France (inscription on front paste-down).

The German inscriptions in the volume.

Finally, there is a poem in German from an owner who calls himself “Kotze” or “Kotzen”, who received it from his “dear friend Moscha”; this is likely one of the owners listed above named Mosheh.

“Written with a German poetic stanza, circa 1720, inside front board (full inscription, written twice: “Mein freundlichen willigen dienst undt grouß z[uvor] // H[errn]
Moscha jud von [Kortzy or Kartzy]”, and another time “Mein freundlichen willigen dienst undt grouß … an mein viel geliebt”).”
Thanks to Professor Robert Juette for his help with the transcription.”

Finally, the volume is in Footprints, which is an online database for the tracing of owners and provenance for Hebrew books. Here is the link to see the cluster of provenance for the volume: http://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/writtenwork/1779/2119/4820/

The project created a map of the places the volume has lived or has passed through; this is the wide view of the map.

wide view of the map. If zoomed in, the individual ownership places are marked in Germany and France under the modern place names.
The zoomed map. The volume circulated across borders and from collections in cities and towns; many of the places have universities (such as Jena and Strasbourg) and likely it was present at the universities.

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