In spite of a few initial misgivings, Jews embraced the art of the printing press very shortly after its invention in the middle of the 15th century as a divine gift. Some 140 Hebrew titles were printed prior to 1500, and approximately 2,700 Hebrew books followed between 1500 and 1599, among them several exquisite editions of the Hebrew Bible. From 1518 onwards, out of both economic and scholarly motivations, Christians also began to print the Hebrew Bible, often with the help of Jews or Jewish converts, in Italy, Spain, Germany and the Low Countries. Among these editions were such highlights as the exquisite rabbinic bibles or so-called Miqra’ot Gedolot, published by Daniel Bomberg in Venice (1518, 1525 and 1548), which included the targumim, commentaries to every book, and the massoretic apparatus. But even Bomberg printed separate editions for Jews and Christians, with Papal approbation appearing only in the latter. It would take some two hundred years after Gutenburg until Jews and Christians would together edit and print a single edition of the Hebrew Bible which was sanctioned by both Christian and Jewish religious authorities.
This extraordinary feat was accomplished only in 1661, in the multi-religious society of the Golden Age Dutch Republic. It was a Hebrew Tanakh, printed in Amsterdam by the Sephardi Joseph ben Abraham Athias (1635-1700) together with the Dutch Calvinist and Utrecht professor Johannes Leusden (1626-1699), on the basis of Christian and Jewish editions compared with medieval Sephardic manuscripts that conversos had brought with them to Amsterdam.
Athias was born in Spain around 1635, where his father would be burned alive by the inquisition in 1665, and came to the Dutch Republic where he converted to the Judaism of his ancestors. He was a consummate book-man and print professional: printer, editor, proofreader, bookdealer, businessman and owner of his own type-foundry, first in the Zwanenburgstraat and later in the Nieuwe Heerengracht, a business he passed on to his son Immanuel. Joseph Athias became an immensely important printer and book dealer, to Sephardim, Ashkenazim and Christians both Dutch and foreign.
This research project focused on the Leusden-Athias Tanakh to reconstruct an extraordinary story of Jewish-Christian scholarly and business collaboration in the Dutch Golden Age. The Leusden-Athias Tanakh was a landmark in the history of Hebrew printing, the history of the textual scholarship of the Hebrew Bible, but also in Christian-Jewish relations. It was a conversation between religious and scholarly traditions made possible by the unique Dutch context. Based on archival research in Amsterdam and elsewhere, this article will combine the social, economic and cultural history of the book with the dynamics of Jewish-Christian interaction. The results of the research were published in “Never Printed like this Before”.