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History, Geography and Travel

The Bible is the oldest historical book of the Jewish people; the narration of the Exodus from Egypt, the main focal point of Jewish historical consciousness, is incorporated in the text of the Passover Haggadah. The first significant work of medieval Jewish historiography is the 10th century Josippon, a paraphrase and updating of Josephus which remained popular for nearly a millennium. The rather sparse historical literature in Hebrew is supplemented by the travelogues of medieval Jewish voyagers, the most famous being Benjamin of Tudela, providing a first-hand account of Jewish life around the globe. Of geographic interest are maps of the Holy Land and of Jerusalem and plans of the Temple which appear in both Jewish and non-Jewish sources. A curious phenomenon of Jewish historiography in Hebrew is the tendentious historical writing of the Karaites in 19th century Russia, often a conglomeration of fact, travelogue, and myth. Lastly, a major source of Jewish historical documentation, from the Middle Ages through this century, is the vast literature of responsa, still largely untapped, offering an abundance of data for social, economic, and cultural history. All of these genres of historical material are represented in the selection here.

Hazon la-Mo' ed 1922
Mordechai Dov Ejdelberg, of Nikolayev
on the Black Sea, fl. 1920
Graphical element
[ Hazon la-Mo'ed ]
Bialystok (Poland):
M.B. Mirski, 1922/1923.

This little-known collection of responsa reflects the upheavals in Jewish life and displacement of populations in eastern Europe following World War I, the Russian Revolution and the Civil War. The title-page states: "I have recorded my responsa in a book as a memorial to this awesome period in which we have lived."

Masa'ot Shel Rabi Binyamin 1556
Benjamin (b. Jonah), of Tudela (Spain),
fl. end of 12th cent.
Graphical element
[ Masa'ot shel Rabi Binyamin ]
Ferrara: Abraham ibn Usque, 1556.

This is the second of many editions of the famed Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela, the greatest of medieval Jewish travelers. The author describes life in Spain, Provence, Italy, Greece, Palestine, the Slavic lands, Persia, India, and Egypt, in an account whose scope is unparalleled in medieval literature.

Hartmann Schedel, of Nuremberg,
Liber Chronicarum
Nüremberg: Anton Koberger,
12 July 1493.

Considered the most lavishly illustrated book ever published, this first edition of the Nuremberg Chronicle contains over 1800 woodcuts by Wohlgemuth, Dürer's master, and his step-son Pleydenwurff. Among these are a "realistic" pilgrim's view of Jerusalem and the no-longer standing Temple of Solomon.

Mordecai b. Abraham Jaffe, of Prague,
Venice, and Poland, ca. 1535-1612
Graphical element
[ Levush ha-Orah ]
Prague: Hayim b. Jacob ha-Kohen,

A product of the Renaissance, Jaffe was a devoted student of geography and astronomy. This first edition of his supercommentary on Rashi's biblical commentary contains a unique Hebrew "map" of the Holy Land, indicating its boundaries according to Rashi's interpretation.

Moses b. Gershom Gentili [ Hefez ],
of Venice, 1663-1711
Graphical element
[ Hanukat ha-Bayit ]
Venice: Bragadin, 1696.

This work by Gentili, a philosopher and mathematician, is a study of the structure and function of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. It contains a number of charts and plans in Hebrew, including a large fold-out map of the entire Temple.

Humphrey Prideaux, Dean of Norwich,
Histoire des Juifs et des peuples
Paris: Guillaume Cavelier, 1726.

Prideaux was an English orientalist and lecturer in Hebrew at Oxford. This French edition of his standard work, The Old and New Testament Connected in the History of the Jews and Neighbouring Nations, contains many maps and engravings, and also an abridgement of Newton's ancient Chronology, translated from the original manuscript and published here for the first time.

Joseph Solomon b. Moses Luzki,
of Luck and Yevpatoriya, d. 1844
Graphical element
[ Igeret Teshu'at Yisrael ]
Yevpatoriya? (Crimea): s.n., 1840

This very rare "Epistle of Salvation" is an account of Luzki's successful mission to St. Petersburg in 1827 to obtain an exemption of the Karaites from compulsory military service, imposed on the Jews that year, under Czar Nicholas I.

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