A rare volume as it was oft censored or totally destroyed due to its content. Among them is the stories of Yeshu, disciple of R. Joshua b. Korhah, which the Church deems heretic as the timeframes differ with their own by hundreds of years. This section of text on f. 43 was excised from future editions and only restored in modern editions.
Daniel Bomberg, the son of an Antwerp merchant, can be referred to as the father of the printed Babylonian Talmud. Indeed, among his many accomplishments are the first printing of Babylonian Talmud (1520-23) and the Jerusalem Talmud (1522-23, a beautiful copy in this auction), the first Mikra’ot Gedolot (1515-17), the first Alfas (1522), the first Kariate printed book (1528-29). Why the Christian (Calvinist) Bomberg printed Hebrew books is a subject of many bibliographers’ articles. He was associated with Felice da Prato, an apostate who subsequently became a friar, who influenced him to print Hebrew books. Israel Mehlman assumes that proselytism played a role in the process, albeit a small one. The activities of Bomberg on behalf of the Jewish community were not limited by printing. The British Jewish historian, Cecil Roth, writes that Bomberg helped Marranos find refuge in Turkey. He is recorded as having fought for and obtained certain rights for his Jewish workers denied other Venetian Jews. For a detailed, in-depth review of the Bomberg Talmud see Printing the Talmud, Prof. Marvin J. Heller, Im Hasefer, Brooklyn, 1992, pages 135-182. For all his righteousness Bomberg nevertheless appears to have plagiarized much of the text for his Talmud from the Gershom Soncino tractates. Soncino complains in his Mikhlol that the Venetian printers copied his editions (Heller p. 145). Support for his complaint can be found in the errors Bomberg duplicated from Soncino tractates.
Ephraim Dienard best describes the rarity of the tractates in the late 19th and early 20th century (Atikos Yehudah p. 42): “I doubt the existence of greater than three complete sets in the world. The tractates utilized in yeshivot were torn and lost. Especially rare to find are complete volumes of the following tractates: Berakhot, Bezah, Sabbath, Chagigah, Gittin, Kiddushin, Ketubbot, the three Bavaos. The majority of tractates in Jewish Theological Seminary (New York), Hebrew Union College (Cincinnati), University of California in San Francisco, Library of Congress are of my doing, complete ones not to be found.” Needless to say conditions have not improved in the 21st century, the Holocaust and Jewish perils have only added to the scarcity of these volumes.