The year 1809 saw the publication Of the first Hebrew
Psalter in America, indeed the first printing of any portion of the Hebrew
Bible, Sefer Tehilim, Liber Psalmorum Hebraice,
Cambridge, 1809; and of the two-volume A Compendious Lexicon of the
Hebrew Language, by Clement C. Moore (1779-1863), printed in New York.
Volume I contains "an explanation of every word which occurs in the
Psalms"; volume 2 is "a lexicon and grammar of the whole
language." The Preface offers a mode of study which will enable
"any person acquainted with the general principles of language,
without the aid of a teacher, to read and understand the Holy Scriptures in
the original Hebrew."
Moore hopes that "his young countrymen will find it
of some service to them, as a sort of pioneer, in breaking down the
impediments which present themselves at the entrance of the study of
Hebrew." As Professor of Hebrew at General Theological Seminary in New
York, Moore introduced two generations studying for the Episcopalian
ministry to the Hebrew language. (He is best known as the author of the
poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas," which opens with "Twas the
night before Christmas.")
Five years later, the first Hebrew Bible in America, Biblia
Hebraica, "editio prima Americana, sine punctis Masorethicis,"
was published in two volumes in Philadelphia in 1814. The title page
indicates that it is a reprinting of the second edition of the Joseph
Athias Bible, edited by Leusden with Latin notes by Everardo Van der Hought,
and that the Hebrew is printed without vowels. In some of the first copies
of the first volume off the press, an inserted page provides the history of
In the year 1812, Mr. Horwitz had proposed the
publication of an edition of the Hebrew Bible, being the first proposal of
the kind ever offered in the United States. The undertaking was strongly
recommended by many clergymen ... and a considerable number of
subscriptions for the work were obtained by him.
Early in 1813, Mr. Horwitz transferred his right to the
edition with his list of subscribers, to Thomas Dobson, the present
publisher.... The first volume is now published. The printing of the second
volume, which will complete the work, is considerably advanced; and the
publisher hopes to have it completed in the course of a few months.
Mr. Horwitz's was not in fact the first proposal for
printing a Hebrew Bible. In 1810, Mills Day of New Haven issued a proposal
for "publishing by subscription an edition of the Hebrew Bible,"
and attached to the proposal a sample printing of the first chapter and a
half of Genesis. The subscription price was $3.25 for each of the two
volumes planned. Two years into the project, at age twenty-nine, Day died
and the project died with him.
Jonathan Horwitz, recently arrived from Amsterdam with a
font of Hebrew type, now made his proposal, but he was not alone. The New
York publishing firm of Whiting and Watson announced its plan to publish a
Hebrew Bible under the patronage of the Theological Seminary at Andover.
Horwitz countered with an advertisement in the New York Evening Post (January 16, 1813), declaring not only that he had received the patronage
of Harvard College and the Andover Theological Institution but also that
both institutions had already subscribed for forty copies each. Horwitz had
even more competition to contend with. Two leaders in missionary work, John
M. Mason and James McFarlane, were ready to enter the field, and in 1812
the president of the London Society for Promoting Christianity Among Jews,
the apostate Joseph Samuel Christian Frederick Frey, had already published
the first volume of a vocalized Bible for the English-speaking countries.
It was rumored that as soon as the project was completed, he would depart
for the United States to see to its distribution there.
Faced with all this competition, what was a pious
foreign Jew to do? Horwitz decided that discretion was the better part of
valor. In 1813, he sold his type to the Philadelphia printer William Fry,
and his subscription lists to the bookseller Thomas Dobson, and entered the
medical department of the University of Pennsylvania from which he received
his M.D. in 1815.
After the "lean years" which followed the
Revolutionary War, in the early decades of the nineteenth century America
was in the throes of a great religious revival. As part of its intellectual
aspect, the study of the Hebrew language was renewed. Much of it revolved
around Moses Stuart, Professor of Sacred Literature in the Theological
Seminary at Andover, and his disciples. Grammars, lexicons, and
chrestomathies were published, as well as books on the Bible and the Holy
Land. The Jewish community was wary of these activities because the same
scholars and divines were also involved in missionary activity. The
appearance of a work on the Hebrew language which bore approbation from
both leading Christian clergymen and leading Jews marked the beginning of
friendlier intellectual discourse.