Lot 5
  • 5

 Hebrew Bible: Pentateuch [Aragon: 11th–12th Century]

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Parchment, Ink, Leather
133 leaves (14 3/8 x 11 7/8 in.; 367 x 303 mm). Ink on parchment, ruled in hard-point on vellum, written in a Sephardic square script, text in three columns, 27 lines to a column, with nikud (vowel points) and cantillation marks; Masorah Magna above and below, Masorah Parva in column margins; modern foliation in pencil; catchwords; collation: 1-78, 85, 9-178; lacking only a singleton at the end (text: Deut 34:1-12); ff. 1r, 61v, 62r, 109v, 110r, blank; monumental verses from Psalms arranged in bold decorative geometric designs (ff. 1v, 2r); cantillation exercise comprising vocalized and accented biblical verses, above a micrographic design incorporating verses from psalms arranged in arches and floriated roundels (f. 3v). A few naturally ocurring holes to parchment, though not affecting text. Some discoloration (light browning and/or age-darkening) affecting about a third of the manuscript, some staining, chiefly scattered; neat repair to inner margin of f. 126r, withal a remarkably well-preserved manuscript.  Modern pigskin antique, paneled in blind, center panel criss-crossed with double-fillets within a border alternatively stamped with a decorative ovoid tool and a circular tool containing the symbol of the Evangelist John (an eagle with a nimbus), the spine in seven compartments with raised bands, braided ties, brass pin and ring fastener. Matching folding case, spine lettered gilt. Brick cloth slipcase. 


(1)  Elia ben Abraham Albo (his purchase note, f. 2v)

(2) Yao [Ya'akov] Zaportas- (his inscription f.2r). Graetz identifies this early 17th century court interpreter, active in Oran, as Jacob ben Aaron Sasportas (1610-1698), who later filled rabbinical positions in a number of prestigious Sephardic communities, including London, Hamburg, Livorno and Amsterdam. He is best remembered for his anti-Sabbatean tract, Tzizat Novel Tzvi.

(3)  Otto Muneles, bibliographer of Prague Jewry. Sold by him in 1950 to:

(4)  N. Wahrmann, a Jerusalem antiquarian bookdealer. Sold by his estate to: 

(5) Valmadonna Trust Library, MS 2


Benjamin Richler, The Hebrew Manuscripts in the Valmadonna Trust Library (Jerusalem, 1998), no. 2, p. 4, pl. 2;

Brad Sabin Hill, Manuscripts and Early Printed Books from the Library of the Valmadonna Trust; an exhibition at the Pierpont Morgan Library (New York, 1989), introduction, pp. 10–11, and no. 1--(there erroneously labeled "Franco-German?,c. 10th to 11th century").  

Yom Tov Assis, The Golden Age of Aragonese Jewry: Community and Society in the Crown of Aragon, 1213-1327. London and Portland, Ore.: Littman, 1997.

Catalogue Note


The earliest biblical manuscripts from Europe, very few in numbers, are no older than the tenth or eleventh centuries. The present manuscript is among the oldest copies of the Pentateuch written in Europe and may be the oldest to have survived from the once glorious Jewish community of Spanish Jewry. The unparalleled precision and beauty of Spanish Hebrew bibles have long made them particularly desirable to collectors of Hebrew books.  With the expulsion of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the fifteenth century, Sephardic Jews were dispersed to every corner of the known world.  With them they took their most precious possessions, their books.  Even so, complete Hebrew bibles written in pre-expulsion Iberia are exceedingly rare. To find one written three or four centuries earlier, during the Golden Age of Sephardic Jewry is almost unknown in the annals of book collecting.

In addition to the biblical text itself, the manuscript includes both masorah magna and parva (great and small masorah), the extra-biblical notations which ensure the correct transmission of the writing and reading of the Hebrew Bible.  The notes of the masorah parva are expressed in extreme brevity, generally by abbreviations in the margins of the biblical text. The longer masorah magna, in the upper and lower margins of the page, provides a more detailed explanation and expansion of the masorah parva as well as additional notes.  In two instances, at the end of Exodus and again at the end of Numbers, our scribe took great pains to avoid having to begin the following book of the Pentateuch (respectively, Leviticus and Deuteronomy) at the end of a quire. On folios 60v and 61r, and again on ff. 108r and 109v, he expanded the final verses of the book by writing them in short two or three line segments with spaces in between, in order to fill up the recto of the following leaf as well. The scribe did not reprise this pattern at the end of Genesis and Leviticus, where he merely followed the more traditional practice of leaving several blank lines between books.

The manuscript is in remarkably fine physical condition though it quite naturally shows some signs of its age. Indeed, in light of its great age it is tantalizingly near-complete, lacking only its final leaf, upon which were copied the last twelve verses of the book of Deuteronomy and the scribal colophon. In the remarkably erudite catalog prepared for the exhibition of treasures from the Valmadonna Trust Library at the Morgan Library in 1978, Curator Brad Sabin Hill narrates the curious circumstances that brought about the absence of this single leaf:

This is the oldest codex in the Valmadonna Library, one of several very early Bible codices which the Library holds. The details of its provenance will no doubt be appreciated by cognoscenti in the world of Hebrew books. The manuscript comes from the estate of Nahum Wahrmann, a distinguished antiquarian dealer, who in 1950, shortly after the Communist coup, brought it out of Czechoslovakia… Wahrmann had purchased the manuscript from Otto Muneles, the bibliographer of Prague Jewry, who owned it personally. In order to facilitate its removal from the country, Muneles detached the final leaf, containing the colophon which betrayed its antiquity and value. It was Muneles' hope to reunite the colophon leaf with the manuscript (then in Wahrmann's possession), once he left Czechoslovakia and reached Israel. This never came to pass, for Muneles died in Prague before being able to leave the country. The new owner, Wahrmann, died soon after while travelling in Italy, and … all subsequent efforts to find the missing leaf have likewise been in vain but, but of the antiquity and importance of the manuscript there is no question. One can only lament, as did the ancient sages: "Alas for that which is lost, and cannot be found.”

While the characteristic Sephardic square script in which the present manuscript was copied was not uncommon during the medieval period across the Iberian Peninsula, we may nevertheless confidently locate our manuscript as having emanated from the Kingdom of Aragon based on the two early ownership inscriptions in the present manuscript, as both Albo and Zaportas (Sasportas) were prominent Aragonese Jewish families.