Chess , Jews and History; Chess Its Origin; Chess Among the Jews

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Author: Keats, Victor Abraham

Year: 1994-1995

Publisher: Oxford Academia Publishers

Place: Oxford


3 volumes. Chess, Jews and History 396+[1]-4 pages with facsimiles, diagrams, illustrations, plates, figures, appendices and index; Chess Its Origin [vii]+338 with plates, facsimiles, diagrams, illustrations, figures and index; Chess Among the Jews1 76+[70]-28+[36 unnumbered] pages with figures, illustrations, facsimiles, appendix and index. Quarto (12" x 8 1/2") bound in original publisher's blue and grey cloth with gilt lettering to spine and cover and covers with pictorial designs. First editions.

Chess Jews and History deals with the origins of chess from before 500 A.D. and its appearance in Jewish sources and literature until the middle of the 19th century. Chess is mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud, and Jews played a part in the spread of the game through medieval writings on chess, primarily in Spain. The book also covers allusions to chess in Hebrew literature together with background material on the historical periods concerned. Chess in Jewish History and Hebrew Literature contains many hidden or overlooked gems of chess literature along with much that is well known but unavailable, and provides authoritative translations, some completely new. It is an entertaining and informative survey, and will delight all those interested in the history of chess and its literature.

Chess: Its Origin. De Ludis Orientalibus combines two works of Hyde: Mandragorias, seu Historia Shahiludii (which had previously been published in 1689) and Historia Nerdiludii (unpublished before 1694). The work entitled Mandragorias is Hyde's history of the game of chess. It is the first such history to be based on authentic scholarship, and all subsequent writings on the subject are indebted to it. Hyde explains the somewhat idiosyncratic title in his opening chapter. The second part consists of three original Hebrew texts, of which the first two are of medieval origin. Hyde reproduces them from manuscript sources and supplies them with a Latin translation in parallel columns to the source test. The present book contains a complete English translation of all these texts. The work Historia Nerdiludii is devoted to various games of the East other than chess, in particular the game know in Arabic sources as nard -- a precursor to modern backgammon. Hyde's collected works contain his translation of part of the introduction to the philosophica treatise More Nevochim (The Guide to the Perplexed) by Maimonides (1131-1204), who himself mentioned chess in his writings. An English version of the same passage appears at the end of this book.

Chess Among the Jews Moritz Steinschneider has been described as the outstanding figure in Jewish bibliography. For much of his life he was active as a teacher in Berlin. In 1869 he became assistant librarian at the Berlin State Library. His interest in Arabic as well as Hebrew literature (reflected in Die arabische Literatur der Juden, Frankfurt am Main 1902) was one of the factors qualifying him to write on the history of chess. Steinschneider compiled a catalog of Hebrew books in the Bodleian Library at Oxford (Catalogus Librorum Hebraeorum in Bibliotheca Bodleiana, 1852-60) which is still in use today. A notable point is that nearly two centuries earlier, the Curator of the Library had been Thomas Hyde (1636-1702), another distinguished scholar who researched the subject of chess history in general and Hebrew chess literature in particular. Hyde published his findings in De Ludis Orientalibus (Book of Oriental Games, Oxford 1694); Steinschneider pays tribute to the work in his own monography entitled Schach bei den Juden - Chess among the Jews - of which the present book offers the first English translation. As Steinschneider explains in his preface, Chess among the Jews was originally written as a contribution to the book Geschichte und Litteratur des Schachspiels under the overall authorship of Antonius van der Linde. the latter book is one of the standard works on chess history; it appeared in Berlin in 1874, and was reprinted in Zurich in 1981. the section written by Steinschneider forms a largely self-contained essay, and was issued as an offprint in 1873 before publication of the main work. The painstaking research that went into Steinschneider's treatise is immediately obvious. The text lays emphasis on detailed descriptions of relevant Hebrew and other publications and on a careful comparison of their various editions. This approach is partly determined by the overall format of History and Literature of Chess, in which the historical exposition is constructed round exhaustive bibliographical inventories. In the process, Steinschneider unsparingly criticizes the failings of previous editors, translators and bibliographers. At time Steinschneider goes to undue length to clarify a minor controversy related only marginally to the main theme. Aiming for comprehensive documentation, he augments the text with references that occasionally contain only a minimum of relevant information. However, if Steinschneider must sometimes face the charge of pedantry and unnecessary diffuseness, we should bear in mind that these faults merely stem from excessive adherence to his own exacting scholarly standards.


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