Abraham Mapu (1808, Vilijampolė, Kaunas – 1867, Königsberg, Prussia) was a Lithuanian Jewish novelist in Hebrew of the Haskalah ("enlightenment") movement. His novels later served as a basis for the Zionist movement.
As a child, Mapu studied in a cheder where his father served as a teacher. He married in 1825.
For many years he was an impoverished, itinerant schoolmaster. Mapu gained financial security when he was appointed teacher in a government school for Jewish children. He worked as a teacher in various towns and cities, joined the Haskalah movement, and studied German, French and Russian. He also studied Latin from a translation of the Bible to that language, given him by his local rabbi.
He returned in 1848 to Kaunas and self-published his first historical novel, Ahavat Zion. This is considered the first Hebrew novel. He began work on it in 1830 but completed it only in 1853. Unable to fully subsist on his book sales, he relied on the support of his brother, Matisyahu. In 1867 he moved to Königsberg due to illness, published his last book, Amon Pedagogue (Amon means something like Mentor), and died there.
Mapu is considered the first Hebrew novelist. Influenced by French Romanticism, he wrote intricately plotted stories about life in ancient Israel, which he contrasted favorably with 19th-century Jewish life. His style is fresh and poetic, almost Biblical in its simple grandeur.
The romantic-nationalistic ideas in his novels later inspired David Ben-Gurion and others and served as the basis for the implementation of these ideas in the Zionist movement that later led to the establishment of the state of Israel. The American Hebrew poet, Gabriel Preil, references Mapu in one of his works, and focuses on the two writers' native Lithuania.
- Ayit Tzavua (1858) (Hypocrite Eagle)
- Ahavat Zion (1853) (Amnon, Prince and Peasant as translated by F. Jaffe in 1887)
- Ashmat Shomron (date unsure of) (Guilt of Samaria)
Streets bearing his name are found in the Kaunas Old Town and in the Israeli cities of Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem. A well-known Israeli novel called "The Children from Mapu Street" ("הילדים מרחוב מאפו") also celebrates his name.
- Patterson, David (2007), "Mapu, Abraham", Encyclopaedia Judaica 13: 505–507, retrieved 2013-08-15
- Mapu's works (Hebrew) at Project Ben-Yehuda
- Abraham Mapu (English) at the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature
- "Mapu, Abraham". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.
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