Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Who was the mysterious Peter Oaktree, 17th century Hebrew printer?

Sorry for the sparse posting recently. Hope to change that soon.

A חבר טוב sent these interesting images from a Bible printed in 1617.

So who is "כאפא אילון" and what kind of name is that? Kappa Ilon?

It seemed likely at the outset that כאפא was supposed to be something like כיפא, which is Aramaic for 'rock.' Thus, we are dealing with a 'Peter,' Peter being derived from petra, 'rock' in Greek. As it happens, כאפא is the Syriac form of this word. This is how it appears all over the Peshitta (it should probably be pronounced Khiphei or Kheiphei). As for אילון, that seems to refer to an oak. So who was Peter Oak, the printer?

Turns out that we are talking about Pierre de la Rovière. Pierre is Peter, כאפא , but is Rovière 'oak'? As a fairly common French name, but as far as I can tell, not exactly a French word, it wasn't so obvious. But it turns out that the name Rovière comes from the Latin word robur, which primarily connotes strength, but also an oak tree. So there we have it.

In the course of looking into this, I found a note in a bibliography of a personal library called Ohel Baruch, which I understand eventually wound up in the Yeshiva University library. Ohel Baruch listed the 5 Megillos from this edition, and it says that on the back of it is written:
Moses Henriques is my name,
England is my nation,
London is my dwelling place
and G-d my salvation.
Random, but cool. Actually, what is cool is that it may have actually said "G-d" (with the dash) because in the entry it has "dwelling" spelled "dwel(l)ing," indicating that an "l" was actually missing. There were many Moses Henriques, so sadly I can't know when this was written, but I'm sure it was at least 19th century. If so, that makes Gee-dash-dee older than I imagined.

Incidentally, if you look at the entry for Geneva in the Encyclopedia Judaica (2nd ed.) you will see:

Fully apart for the unfortunate mistake reversing the name (and skipping a yud in אילון) we can also see that the doubt raised as to whether גנווא is Geneva or Genoa evaporates, Pierre de la Rovière printed in Geneva.

My friend pointed out several other interesting features of this Bible, but I will not steal his material.


  1. I'm not surprised to find "G—d" in 19th-century England. That's the age where we find "d—mn" very commonly, so this is a reflection of the same phenomenon.

  2. I must admit that until I read the rest of the post, I had decided that it said Genoa. I wouldn't have written Geneva that way. It just goes to show that one should never assume anything.

  3. Martin, I also leaned toward "Genoa" at first.

  4. Not to be confused with the notorious "Oakman" (yimach shmo) whose ashes were strewn somewhere over the Mediterranean Sea.



Related Posts with Thumbnails