A Distinguished Old Testament Scholar Rebuts Paine’s Age of Reason
One of the first books by a Jewish author to be sold by a Jewish bookseller in America. DAVID LEVI.
A Defence of the Old Testament, in a Series of Letters Addressed to Thomas Paine. New York: William A. Davis, for Naphtali Judah, bookseller, 1797. First American edition. Contemporary sheep, skillfully rebacked in period style, retaining original spine label. Lower margin of S3 torn away, costing several words, occasional spotting. Front fly leaf inscribed by previous owner. 4¼ x 6½ in., 240 pp.
David Levi responds to Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason, which ridiculed the bible, and religion in general. For instance, Paine wrote that “it would be more consistent that we called [the Old Testament] the word of a demon, than the Word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my own part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.”
David Levi (1742–1801) was an English-Jewish writer, Hebraist, translator, and poet. Born to poor immigrant parents, he worked as a shoemaker, a hatter, and then as a printer. His Succinct Account of the Rites and Ceremonies of the Jews (1782), set out to both explain Judaism to Jews, and to correct Christian misconceptions about Judaism. Next, he translated the prayer books of the Ashkenazi and Spanish and Portuguese Jews. He supervised a six volume translation of the Old Testament into English, and published a Hebrew grammar, dictionary, and guide to the Hebrew language.
In 1786, Joseph Priestly published his Letter to the Jews, urging conversion. Levi answered with a three-volume Dissertation on the Prophecies of the Old Testament which he printed and published himself in 1793-1800. Republished in England, Levi’s Dissertation was considered authoritative by many Jewish and Christian scholars well into the nineteenth century. On Levi’s death, a Protestant friend, Henry Lemoine, published an obituary in The Gentleman’s Magazine, October 1801: “He’s Gone! the Pride of Israel's Busy Tribe.”
Naphtali Judah (1773?-1855) was one of the first Jewish booksellers and publishers in New York, establishing his business in 1795.
Rosenbach 114, Evans 32376