From its inception in 1754, the founders of Columbia University felt that the study of Hebrew was critical to understanding the classics. Columbia’s collection includes founder Samuel Johnson’s own copy of a Hebrew-Latin psalms with the Hebrew alphabet written in his own hand.
Another professor in the 18th century was Johann Kunze, who taught Hebrew at Columbia from 1784-1787, and from 1792-1794. Professor Kunze was well-known for his Hebrew scholarship far beyond Columbia. He was also close with Gershom Seixas, a Columbia trustee (appointed 1784) and important Jewish figure of the colonial era.
While Kunze was in New York (he had previously taught Hebrew at the University of Pennsylvania), he was also the pastor of the Trinity and Christ Church, the city’s only Lutheran house of worship. Kunze authored the first Lutheran hymnbook in English.
When he was teaching Hebrew at Columbia College, the only Hebrew type to be found was at Cambridge, where another professor of Hebrew (at Harvard) had brought in from England so he could print his textbook. In New York, however, Hebrew type was not easily attainable. It seems that Professor Kunze handwrote a Hebrew grammar for his class (in Latin), from which a student copied (and translated) a copy for himself in May of 1796.
We are pleased to announce the acquisition of this manuscript to the Columbiana collection of the University. This new manuscript is item 209 in the Columbiana manuscripts collection.