Page 24 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 12

Basic HTML Version

JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
18
publications nevertheless served as the foundation upon which
was reared the structure of American research in the Hebrew
Bible and the literature it engendered.
Hebrew was the Sacred Tongue, the language in which the
earliest and major portions of the Sacred Scriptures were written.
There was a keen interest in the study of its rudiments. I t was
taugh t in virtually all institutions of higher learning in colonial
days. In many a publication in which Scriptural texts were used
to support or to refute one view or another, their authors drew
upon the Hebrew originals of such texts. Thus, George Keith
in his tracts
New England's Spirit of Persecution
(Philadelphia
or New York, 1693) and
Truth \Advanced in the Correction of
many Gross and Hurtful Errors
(New York, 1694) drew upon
Hebrew learning and employed Hebrew types in defence of himself
and of his associates against persecution.
But no adequate mastery of the Hebrew language is possible
without systematic instruction in its rudiments. Text books for
this purpose were generally imported from abroad. In 1726, how-
ever, Samuel Keimer published a booklet
A Compleat Ephemeris
and attribu ted it to Jacob Taylor. I t contained a brief introduc-
tion to Hebrew and included the first Hebrew alphabet published
in Philadelphia. Helpful as the publication was for an elementary
acquaintance with Hebrew, it could not serve adequately the
needs of the more serious student. Such needs were admirably
met by the appearance in 1735 of Judah Monis’
Dickdook Leshon
Gnebreet
,
a grammar of the Hebrew Tongue
. . .
published more
especially fo r the use of the Students of Harvard College at Cambridge.
This publication was the forerunner of several text books on
Hebrew grammar by Stephen Sewall (Boston, 1763).
No t only the Hebrew language and the books of the Hebrew
Bible fell within the orbit of the cultural life of the early settlers
in colonial America but other subjects of kindred interest were
pursued by the settlers with the same avidity as applied to sacred
lore. The antiquities of the Jews and early Jewish history fas-
cinated them. They turned to such writings as those of Josephus
Flavius, the earliest of Jewish historians. Next to the Bible, his
works became the most popularly read Jewish books in this
country. The importation from England of copies of Josephus
was evidently insufficient to supply the ever rising American
demand and before long publishers in this country vied with one
another in printing his works. The first American edition of
The War of the Jews
, epitomized from the works of Josephus
Flavius and translated into English by Sir R. L’Estrange, appeared
in Boston in 1719 and again in 1721. Editions of the
History