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Soncino. [1]

This appellation designates a Jewish family who won a lasting name by their early and extensive enterprises in Hebrew typography. They were of German origin, and may be traced to the city of Spire, but take the name by which they are best known from Soncino, a small town in Lonmbardy, where they established a press, from which issued a number of valuable works in Hebrew literature, more especially some of the earliest printed Hebrew Bibles. The first production of the Soncino press is the treatise Berakoth, dated 1484, a full description of which is given by De Rossi in Annales Hebroeo-Typographici, Sec. 15 (Parmae, 1795), p. 28 sq. The printer was Joshua Solomon ben-Israel Nathan, who was the head of the family, and with him was associated his brother Moses, whose son Gerson established a press at Constantinople. In the preface the printer speaks of himself as "Gerson, a man of Soncino, the son of R. Moses, the son of the wise and excellent R. Israel Nathan ben-Samuel ben-Rabbi Moses, being of the fifth generation from the rabbi Moses of Spirah." Soon after the printing of the treatise Berakoth this press issued the former and later prophets (i.e. Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets), with Kimchi's commentary. The whole comprises 459 leaves. The first word in Joshua, Judges, and Samuel ( ויהו ) is printed in large letters; in the greater and smaller prophets the first word is wanting, but a great space is left. Neither pages, chapters, nor verses are numbered; above the text the name of the book is printed. Each page is divided into two columns; the commentary stands below the text, which has no minuscular or majuscular letters, no vowels or accents. A full description of this part of the Old Test. (Soncino, 1485-86) is given in Eichhorn's Repertorium, 8, 51 sq., together with its variations. At the same time (1486) there appeared the five Megilloth, i.e. Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther, and also the Psalter; and two years later (1488) the Biblia Hebraica Integra, cum Punctis et Accentibus (fol.). This is the first complete Hebrew Bible with vowel points and accents. This Bible is very rare; only nine copies are known to be extant, viz. one at Exeter College, Oxford, two at Rome, two at Florence, two at Parma, one at Vienna, and one in the Baden-Durlach Library. It has a title, but at the end of the Pentateuch we find a postscript, which seems to have been added after the completion of the twenty-four books. According to Kennicott, this edition is said to contain more than 12,000 variations, which is probably an exaggeration. The firm of the Soncini extended their operations by erecting presses at Naples, Brescia, Fano, and other places; and to their operations Jewish literature is greatly indebted. For a list of the works edited by the Soncini, see Furst, Bibl. Jud. 3, 352 sq. (B.P. )