Rare first edition Hebrew book describing 'the New World' to be auctioned in Jerusalem

The book contains the signature of Ish Ger on its title page, final leaf and other places.

 Rare first edition Hebrew book describing 'the New World' to be auctioned in Jerusalem (photo credit: KEDEM AUCTION HOUSE)
Rare first edition Hebrew book describing 'the New World' to be auctioned in Jerusalem
(photo credit: KEDEM AUCTION HOUSE)

A rare first edition Hebrew book, which describes the discovery of the New World, is up for auction at the Kedem Auction House. Igeret Orchot Olam (Letter of World Visits), 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. The auction will take place in two weeks.

Igeret Orchot Olam is divided into two parts. The first part 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 as he made his way to India. The author also speculates locations for the Garden of Eden, the Sambation River and the Ten Lost Tribes.

An entire chapter of the book is dedicated to America, detailing its landscape of “tall mountains and vast forests full of ferocious animals and reptiles.” The author also writes about America’s inhabitants: the Indian tribes and their way of life, their habits and wars. The book features three impressive illustrations by artist Anton Balzer, 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 page 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 scripts in his handwriting, including some lengthy ones, with explanations, additions and revisions.

Rabbi Abraham Farissol (ca. 1452–1526), was an Italian Torah scholar and Renaissance man. Born in Avignon in the south of France, he immigrated to Italy at a young age. After a brief period in Mantua, he settled in Ferrara, where he lived most of his life. He was involved in the community, serving as a cantor and teacher, and was renowned as a meticulous copyist of manuscripts.

Rare first edition Hebrew book describing 'the New World' to be auctioned in Jerusalem. (credit: KEDEM AUCTION HOUSE)Rare first edition Hebrew book describing 'the New World' to be auctioned in Jerusalem. (credit: KEDEM AUCTION HOUSE)

Due to his familiarity with both Jewish and secular texts, he was chosen by the Jewish community of Ferrara to represent them in the dispute with Dominican monks. Farissol’s great interest in the Age of Discovery led him to compose Igeret Orchot Olam, which became his most famous work.

“This rare volume is an important historical work that offers a close-up of a world we know little about,” according to Meron Eren, CEO and co-founder of Kedem Auction House. “It will make a wonderful addition for the serious collector of rare ancient books.”