First Hebrew book to describe the New World from 1586 up for auction

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First Hebrew book to describe the New World from 1586 up for auction

Igeret Orchot Olam, written almost 450 years ago by Rabbi Abraham ben Mordechai Farissol, contains earliest known descriptions of lands outside Europe and the Middle East.

A rare first edition book in Hebrew, describing the discovery of the New World, is up for auction in Jerusalem. 

Igeret Orchot Olam, written by Rabbi Abraham ben Mordechai Farissol and published in 1586 in Venice, contains one of the earliest known descriptions of America and the sub-Saharan continent.

It also has hand-written comments from a renowned 17th century Rabbi.

The book is a geographic exploration divided into two parts. The first contains a general description of the Earth, its climate zones, continents, and countries. The second focuses on the discoveries of Spanish and Portuguese explorers, with a detailed account of the travels of Vasco da Gama around the Cape of Good Hope on his way to India.

The author also discusses locations for Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden), the Sambation River and the Ten Lost Tribes.

An entire chapter of the book is dedicated to America, with descriptions of the landscape and geography that detail “tall mountains and vast forests full of ferocious animals and reptiles.”

The author writes about America’s inhabitants: Indian tribes, their way of life, habits and wars, almost a century after the arrival of Columbus. The book features three rare copper-etching illustrations by artist Anton Balzer, a resident of Venice, with comments and additions by Rabbi Yisrael Landau and other sages of the time.

The book contains the signature of Ish Ger on its title page, final leaf and other places. The signature is an acronym for Rabbi Avraham Yosef Shlomo Graziano,  a 17th-century Jewish-Italian scholar and known collector of books and manuscripts.  Igeret Orchot Olam contains a number of glosses in his handwriting, including some lengthy ones, with explanations, additions and revisions.

Rabbi Abraham Farissol (ca. 1452 –1526), was an Italian Torah scholar, born in Avignon in the south of France, who immigrated to Italy at a young age, settling in Ferrara, where he lived most his life.

He was a cantor and teacher, and was renowned as a meticulous copyist of manuscripts. He was chosen by the Jewish community of Ferrara to represent them in the disputation with Dominican monks, which influenced him to write Magen Avraham, a polemical work in part against Christianity and Islam. Igeret Orchot Olam became his most famous work.

The auction will take place in two weeks at the Kedem Auction House in Jerusalem. Its chief executive and co-founder Meron Eren said: “This rare volume is an important historic work that offers a closeup of a world we know little about. It will make a wonderful addition for the serious collector of rare ancient books.”

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