Benjamin Kennicott’s Vetus Testamentum Hebraicum (the Columbia connection)

Benjamin Kennicott is probably best known today for the incredible illuminated manuscript at the Bodleian Library at Oxford that bears his name.  However, his magnum opus was a two-volume print edition of the Hebrew Bible, based on extensive research from various manuscripts.

We have discussed here earlier the great interest in Hebrew texts by various faculty in the early days of King’s College, and so it is not surprising that Kennicott turned to the College for help in borrowing a  manuscript in the course of his research for the Bible.  The manuscript was owned by Sampson Simpson (famous for presenting a Hebrew address at the Columbia College commencement in 1800),

Reference to Simson ms, Vetus Testimentum, v.1, p.82

with King’s College President Myles Cooper serving as courier for the loan (see article from “The Gazette of the United States, July 7, 1802).

Kennicott apparently kept up his conversations with administrators at King’s College, and, shortly before the Bible was printed, wrote  Cooper to say that he would “be honored with any Subscription from your Territories,” Indeed, King’s College, New York, is listed on the subscriber list.

Additional Fellows at King’s College in New York were very interested in the Bible, and other subscribers from Columbia’s predecessor are listed among the subscribers as well.  (I was surprised to see that Harvard College, where the first Hebrew grammar in America was printed, was not on the list.)

The Vetus Testamentum Hebraicum has been digitized and is freely available on the Internet Archive.

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