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Reviving an ancient Hebrew font

The 1569 Plantin Polyglot Bible is famous for more than just its antiquity—it also showcases Le Bé, a complex and beautiful Hebrew font considered a typographical triumph of its era. Now, experts have used high-tech software and their eye for typography to recreate the rare Bible’s font for use in modern publishing. The font is making its first 21st-century appearance in an ebook publication of Hebrew poetry.

Here’s a short video describing the font’s journey from the yellowed pages of a 1569 Bible to an iPad near you:

Letters lost and found from Tablet Magazine on Vimeo.

If this sound like a simple achievement, consider the complexity of the calligraphic Hebrew font in question:

[Type designer Scott-Martin] Kosofsky had known the type existed but rarely saw it used. “It wasn’t until recently, until the advent of opentype technology, that you could add programming to fonts,” he says. “That — the problem of all the diacriticals that go into biblical and liturgical Hebrew — could be solved.” In other words, Hebrew, with all its vowel and accent signifiers and chanting cues, can amount to 2,000 combinations – a typographic nightmare. The latest tech allows font designers to work digitally with languages that have large character sets (not uncommon in the non-Western world). Metal or early digital type had compromised the aesthetics of many of these older fonts, if they were attempted at all.

Tools (and experts) like this mean that we can not only read texts from the distant past, but we can see the same letters and words the original readers did, complete with typographical flourishes and quirks.

Filed under History, The Bible