Bibliotheca Hebraica Atlantica

Explore and ask questions about the Hebraic texts found in the Colonial libraries of the Atlantic World...

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The presence of Latin and Greek texts as well as Hebrew Bibles in colonial American libraries is well documented. What lacks systematic documentation are other kinds of Oriental, Hebraic and rabbinic texts that shared the shelves with them. This project aims to explore volumes of such texts that crossed the Atlantic during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and were available as reading materials in institutional and private libraries. Though hidden in plain sight, recognition of these libraries of “Christian rabbinism” - that is, Christian interest in post-Biblical Jewish history and in comparative Semitic scholarship, and its arrival in the Western Hemisphere - requires a shift of attention that now has become possible thanks to a new generation of research on the subject. Christian learning about Judaism as a chapter in the early modern history of scholarship, however, has mainly focused on the European context. How and when this prodigious output, this first wave of scholarly migration, crossed the Atlantic and took root in the colonial Americas still remains to be framed.

This study is based on a preliminary survey of physical books, print catalogues and on-line information about libraries of Hebraica (Christian and Jewish) collected in the early Americas. We have employed an inductive and comparative method of questioning and content analysis as a way to recognize clusters of individual books within and among these collections that reflect practical needs, intellectual questions and theological debates prevalent at the time. So, for example, the first and most obvious question we recognized was a practical one: how did Christians in the Americas learn to read Hebrew? The books we find document the importation and eventual local production of Hebrew grammars, lexicons, and concordances to accomplish this goal. The next question, then, is what Hebrew texts did people want to learn to read or teach others to read?

By creating datasets of the specific library editions of these volumes, providing open online access to these editions, and by identifying and tracking annotations of specific, individually owned copies, we hope to shed new light on the transatlantic reception of early modern European scholarship. The datasets we generate from the extant colonial print catalogues, manuscript correspondence, archival sources, and other kinds of material culture, including portrait paintings, we hope will help us visualize patterns of learning found in the colonial libraries of the Atlantic World..