The Cover Page of the 1558 Mantua Book of the Zohar

This page describes the cover page of the first printed edition, the "editio princeps", of the Zohar published in Mantua, Italy in 1558. A high resolution image of this page is available here.

The following translation of the cover page and very interesting links and comments about it were made by a friend of mine.

This is the gate of the Lord (Psalm 118:20)


on the Torah, by the holy, Godly, Rabbi Simon ben Yohai Z"L (of blessed memory), with Sitrei Torah (Secrets of the Torah), Midrash HaNeelam (The Hidden Midrash) and Tosefta (Addenda) on some of the chapters. (These are subsections of the Zohar.) (Also included are) notes, indicating the chapter and verse of the Biblical quotations and a glossary at the end of the book.

Printed and proofread, with great care, by the young men, Emmanuel, the son of the honorable Gabriel, Y.Tz.V. (May God Protect Him), from Corropoli, a member of the Gallucci family and Abraham, Y.Tz.V., son of the honorable Rabbi Meshulam, ZT"L (May the memory of the righteous be a blessing)
from Modena.

HERE (in the city of) MANTUA

the dominion of His Highness, our Lord, The Duke Guglielmo Gonzaga, may his glory and majesty be exalted.

(Published) by the partners, the scribe Meyer Y.Tz.V., son of the honorable Rabbi Ephraim, ZT"L, from Padua,
and Jacob, Y.Tz.V., son of the honorable Rabbi Naphtali, the Cohen, ZT"L, from Gazzola.


The title page is framed by an arch with Solomonic columns. Twisted columns were supposed to have been used in Solomon's Temple. See Wikipedia onn Solomonic columns.

The Mantua Zohar was printed in three volumes, the first in 1558, the second in 1559, the third in 1560. It was printed at the press of Tommaso Ruffinelli -- likely a printer of Christian books. An article in Ha'aretz says "On August 4, 1558, the first print edition of the Zohar appeared" The date of printing did not appear on the cover page, but rather elsewhere in the book. Gershom Scholem in his Bibliographia Kabbalistica (1927) gives the date as between 1558 and 1560 for the Mantua Zohar. The Mantua edition sets the standard for Zohar pagination. For example, the Stanford Pritzker Zohar uses Mantua volume and page numbers to point to Aramaic page numbers. The Library of Congress owns a fine copy of this edition printed on blue paper, "blue the color of old Jewish books", indicating it was a deluxe edition for a rich patron.

Many words throughout the page are highlighted with double strokes (gershayim). Many of these highlighted words are abbreviations for honorifics such as Y.Tz.V. and ZT"L. Others seem to be there just to give certain words more emphasis and dignity, such as the highlighting of the name Guglielmo Gonzaga, the Duke of Mantua or the honourable rabbis.

From the translator:

See The 16th Century Hebrew Book (pdf) by Marvin J. Heller for other 16th century Italian frames with Solomonic columns -- plus a history of the Mantua and Cremona Zohars.

See Rabbi Judah Moscato and the Jewish Intellectual World of Mantua in the 16th - 17th Centuries (edited by Giuseppe Veltri, Gianfranco Miletto) for information about Mantua Hebrew Printing and Jacob ben Naphtali.

The Scandal of Kabbalah: Leon Modena, Jewish Mysticism, Early Modern Venice By Yaacob Dweck.

Sefer Ha-Zohar – The Battle For Editio Princeps Jan Doktór & Magdalena Bendowska

Collections of the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem.
Since March 3, 2015
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Title page for Sidra Shemot in the Mantua Zohar.