Lot 6
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Hebrew Bible: Pentateuch and Haftarot with Targum [Franco-German: 12th–13th Century]

1,500,000 - 2,000,000 USD
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  • Parchment, Ink, Leather
321 leaves [189, 132] in 2 volumes (17 x 13 in.; 432 x 330 mm). Ink on parchment, written in Ashkenazic square script, ruled in hard-point, text in 3 columns, 33 lines to a column, withnikud (vowel points) and cantillation marks, with Masorah Magna and Parva to the Pentateuch; Targum Onkelos (Aramaic paraphrase)  following each verse of the Pentateuch; modern pagination in pencil:  — Vol. 1: 189 leaves= ff. 1-146 + ff. 2–44 [leaves formerly of vol. 2], initial words in each parashah (pericope), mostly flourished and accompanied by decorations on 30 pages (including heads of a woman, man, dragon, and an animal) between columns, some letters in first and last lines flourished with foliage, and bird and dragon heads, two large decorative initial word panels opening the books of Exodus (f. 57v) and Leviticus (f. 108v), text arranged in triangular and elongated diamond patterns (ff. 145v–146r); f. 1 very fragmented, ff. 2-18 extensively remargined all around throughout with losses to a few words of several lines of biblical text, and particularly to masoretic text; residual organic staining in lower inner margin, some discoloration and scattered staining, a few contemporary sutured mends not affecting text, top margins of ff. 31–39 somewhat frayed, partially costing masoretic text. — Vol. 2: 132 leaves (a later unfoliated imperfect title page + ff. 45–175), initial words in each parashah mostly flourished and accompanied by decorations in between columns on 10 pages, large decorative initial word panel opening the book of Deuteronomy (f. 49v), monumental large decorative final word of biblical text, Yisrael f. (95r), a few letters in final text lines flourished (some with bunches of grapes), Judeo-Arabic text on 175v written in an ovoid design in red and black ink ; inner margins stained throughout occasionally migrating to a text column, top margins cropped or remargined with loss of masoretic text (ff. 64–72, 81, 90), repairs to top margins of ff. 91–96, f. 151 creased and faded with marginal note shaved, a few contemporary sutures not affecting text, ink faded on ff. 170–174, scattered text loss on ff. 174–175, f. 175 remargined all around, f. 175v age-darkened. Together with: Carbon dating reports, housed in an integrated slipcase within rear board of Vol II. Modern burgundy morocco, center panel tooled to a diapered pattern within a roll-tooled border, terminating at each corner with a circular spread-eagle stamp, the spine in six compartments with raised bands, lettered and numbered gilt, brass clasps and catches. Morocco tipped cloth slipcases.  


(1)  Rabbi Jacob ben Aboud ha-Kohen, of the Maghreb

(2)  Rabbi Isaac (bill of sale from the former dated 1495, witnessed by the scribe of the deed, Nathan ben Abraham and Joshua Pagi [?Fagi]), and Moses al-Nazri [signature in Arabic]), f. 95v

(3)  [?] ben Mordechai, Cairo, within later title-page (between 1520-1566)

(4)  Rambam Synagogue, Cairo (see Gottheil)

(5)  Valmadonna Trust Library, MS 3


Benjamin Richler, The Hebrew Manuscripts in the Valmadonna Trust Library (Jerusalem, 1998), no. 3, pp. 4–5, pl. 1 (incorrectly captioned as Valmadonna MS 1);

R. Gottheil, Jewish Quarterly Review, XVII (1905), pp. 625–627, no. 12

Catalogue Note

This manuscript is one of the oldest and most complete Ashkenazic Pentateuchs to have survived to the present. Although there is not, at present, a legible colophon which can testify to the date of the manuscript's writing, both paleographic analysis of the characteristics of the scribal writing and scientific evidence of radiocarbon dating, place the present manuscript in the very rarefied company of the few surviving examples of Biblical codices from the 12th to 13th centuries.

Each biblical verse is followed by its Aramaic translation, a tradition hearkening back to antiquity, when Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Jewish people. In addition to the distinctive Ashkenazic square script used for the biblical text, the scribe of our manuscript embellished his work by adding decorative elements to the opening words of more than thirty of the fifty-four weekly portions, into which the text is divided for weekly readings throughout the liturgical year. While some of these decorations are subtle flourishes, others are more elaborate, including heads of a woman, a man, a dragon, etc. Large decorative initial word panels open the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, while the text at the end of Leviticus is artistically arranged in a double page spread of both Hebrew verses and Aramaic translation, arranged in triangular and elongated diamond patterns. All of the scribe's artistic efforts, however, pale by comparison to the monumental coda to the Five Books of Moses. Here he has created a colossal rendering of the final word in the Pentateuch, the word Yisrael. The five Hebrew letters stretch across the entire breadth of the page, while the ascender of the final letter lamed soars upward, inexorably climbing along the outer margin until it reaches the very top of the parchment. The interiors of the letters are inhabited by geometric and floral designs as well as the stylized animal heads and bodies typical of late medieval Ashkenazic illustrations.

One particularly fascinating scribal variation found in this manuscript is the unique arrangement of the first section of the pericope Ha'azinu, comprising the Song of Moses (Deuteronomy, 32). In almost all Hebrew manuscripts, including Torah Scrolls, these 43 verses are arranged in two parallel columns. In the present manuscript however, these verses are arranged according to the special stichographic layout called ariah 'al gabei leveinah (a half brick over a full brick), a design usually reserved exclusively for the Song at the Sea (Exodus, 15).

This massive manuscript was primarily written by two different scribes, each of whom left us a textual clue to his identity. The Pentateuch was copied by a scribe named Isaac whose name is pointed out by scribal flourishes in the margins in several locations in vol. I, including on f. 15r, where he perches a falcon upon a branch emanating from the first letter of his name; the Haftarot were (predominantly) written by a scribe named Jacob whose name is similarly pointed, although more plainly, in vol. II, on f. 101r. Marking one's own name in these fashions was a traditional practice of many medieval scribes of Hebrew manuscripts. In addition, twelve leaves (ff.146r-151v, 170r-175v) were penned by a third, anonymous scribe, apparently to replace leaves written by Jacob, which had gone missing at a very early date (paleographically, the hand of the scribe of the replacement leaves is very nearly contemporary to the hands of both Isaac and Jacob.) Although the third scribe did not mark his name in the margins, recent examination of the final page of the manuscript (f. 175v) under ultraviolet light has uncovered a partially legible formulaic documentary text on the final leaf of the manuscript. Given its placement immediately below the bold scribal coda (Hazak, Hazak, ve-Nithazek) it would seem to be either a colophon, the work of our third scribe, or perhaps an early bill of sale.  Although neither the date nor the name of the scribe has as yet been deciphered, new technological advances have recently been introduced into the field of manuscript studies, which hold out the strong likelihood that this information is in fact retrievable. Most notably, technological advances in multispectral imaging (a non-invasive, non-destructive form of computational photography which can enhance difficult-to-read text using an extended light spectrum) are now capable of peeling back accreted layers of intermediating scribal activity and revealing the original scribe's work with renewed clarity. These processes have successfully produced dramatic results in such important manuscripts as the Magna Carta, Codex Sinaiticus, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. 


Volume I
Genesis 1:1-1:13 lacking; Genesis 1:14-Leviticus 27:29 (ff.1r-146v); A single leaf (comprising Leviticus 27:29 - Numbers 1:34) lacking between f. 146- f.2 (of second pagination, see above); Numbers 1:34-32:32 (ff. 2r-44v of second pagination, see above)

Volume II
Later illustrated, imperfect title-page;
Numbers 32:32-Deuteronomy 34:12, end of Pentateuch (ff. 45r-95r);
Haftarot (ff. 96r-175v)