Lot 7
  • 7

Hebrew Bible: Pentateuch with Haftarot and the Five Scrolls, England: 15 Tammuz 4949=2 July 1189

2,000,000 - 4,000,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Parchment, Ink, Wood, Leather
482 pages (14 7/8 x 12 1/8 in.; 278 x 308 mm), in gatherings of four with the exception of the final quire of the Haftarot (pp. 311–330) and the final quire of the Scrolls (pp. 459–478), each of which comprise five bifolia, single sheet attached at the end of the codex (pp. 479–482); pricked along inner margins, ruled in hard point. Early foliation in ink using Hebrew letters, modern pagination in pencil, 3 text columns, 30 lines to a column. Ink on vellum in an Ashkenazic square script, with tagin on special letters throughout humash text (not shatnez getz); nikud (vocalization), cantillation marks and Masorah Magna and Parva, in another hand. Masoretic text in top margin cropped throughout (sometimes clean away), shaved along fore-margin of approximately a dozen pages, and at bottom margin of p. 13; bottom margin of pp. 1–2 and pp. 363–364 extended, as is top margin of pp. 41–42, all with some loss of text; fore-margins of about 40 leaves with varying degrees of repair, inner margins of about 35 leaves strengthened or guarded, occasionally touching text, top and bottom margins of about 7 leaves repaired, closed tears or holes on about 7 leaves slightly affecting text on pp. 73–74, 251–256, and 283–284; strong browning and staining on approximately 26 leaves; lower marginal tear (pp. 125–126) mended with old blue thread and newer vellum lacing, vellum lacing applied to tear on pp. 363–364, masoretic text in fore-margin (p. 265) blurred and faded; lower corner clipped (pp. 343–344); hole in middle column of pp. 273–274 affecting a letter or two; most stitching to naturally occurring faults removed, some minor scattered staining and dust-soiling, occasional discoloration. Together with: Treatment and binding report with several photographs and slides of manuscript leaves prior to treatment, miscellaneous newspaper clippings, correspondence, photocopies of articles and four retained endpapers. Modern quarter cream morocco over bevelled white oak boards by Roger Powell (1980), spine lettered gilt, edges stained red at some point in the history of the manuscript. Elaborate oak case lined in white felt, removable lid, top patterned with alternating light and dark diagonal wood stripes, graduating from a small diamond at the center to a large diamond encompassing the whole surface, metal latch closures.


(1) Solomon ben Azriel

(2) Senior ben Joseph (purchase note dated 25 Sivan, 5212=1452, p. 482);

(3) David ben Isaac ben Menahem (recording the death of his father on Adar 28, 5331=1571 with an elegy, p. 482; and an additional inscription, as David ben Isaac of Fulda, dated 5334=1573/4, p. 482);

(4) Zanwil ben Samuel (noted by Sassoon in Ohel Dawwid; Richler does not include Zanwill in the list of owners);

(5) Rabbi Isaac Dov (Seligmann Baer) Bamberger of Würzburg (ownership note by his son, dated 5611 [not 5615]=1851/2, p. 482);

(6) Rabbi Moses Loeb Bamberger (d.1899) of Bad Kissingen (his note on retained endpaper, as well as included correspondence), by descent to;

(7) [?] Bamberger, son of the previous owner (included correspondence with Prof Adalbert Merx, dated 1906)

(8) David Solomon Sassoon,his MS 282, after 1906 (his bookplate and his sale, Sotheby's Zurich, 21 November 1978, lot 9);

(9) Valmadonna Trust Library, Codex I


Benjamin Richler, The Hebrew Manuscripts in the Valmadonna Trust Library (Jerusalem, 1998), no. 1, p. 3, pl. 3 [with incorrect caption, correct caption is on p. 2];

David Solomon Sassoon, Ohel Dawid, Descriptive Catalogue of the Hebrew and Samaritan Manuscripts (Oxford, 1932), Vol. I, no. 282, pp. 16–18;

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), no. 2;

Malachi Beit-Arié, The Only Dated Medieval Hebrew Manuscript Written in England (1189 CE) (London, 1985) [describing this manuscript]. With appendix by Menahem Banitt, "The Glosses in Ms. Valmadonna I."

Myer David Davis, Hebrew Deeds of English Jews before 1290, London: 1888, #156, pp. 298-302.

The present manuscript was used by A. Berliner for his edition of the Targum Onkelos (Berlin, 1884) and by A. Merx for his Chrestomathia Targumica (Berlin, 1888). The text of the Targum Sheni was edited from this manuscript by M. David, Das Targum Sheni (Krakow, 1898). The manuscript also served as the basic text for the English translation by B. Grossfeld, The Two Targums of Esther (Edinburgh, 1991).

Catalogue Note

THE SUPREME MANUSCRIPT IN THE VALMADONNA TRUST LIBRARY—AND, BY CONSENSUS, ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PRIVATELY OWNED BOOKS IN THE WORLD— is the Pentateuch written in England during the first half of 1189. This is the only extant Hebrew book written in England that can be dated to before the expulsion of the Jews from the British Isles in 1290; it endures as one of the matchless monuments of Norman England. The survival of this manuscript is remarkably fortuitous, as it was completed by its scribe on the eve of a tumultuous period in the history of English Jewry. At the coronation of Richard I in September 1189, a riot began which resulted in an attack on the Jewish community of London and the murder of many of its members. Similar assaults were launched on Jews throughout England during the following year, culminating in a massacre at York in March of 1190. A contemporary chronicler, Ephraim of Bonn, reported that

“The mob which killed the Jews of York then looted the houses of the slain, took away gold and silver and the beautiful books they wrote, more precious than gold, unequalled in beauty … and brought them to Cologne and to other places, where they sold them to the Jews.”

Ironically, then, the Valmadonna English Pentateuch may have been saved for posterity largely as a result of its having been plundered and resold into Jewish hands.

A Hebrew shtar (legal deed or similar document) from Lincolnshire, preserved in the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey and dated 1271, gives a perfect description of just such a Hebrew Bible from England, given as a dowry in anticipation of the marriage, of Judith, daughter of Madame Bellaset to Aaron the son of Benjamin.  In addition to monetary consideration, the father of the future bridegroom is entrusted with a Hebrew Bible, “written on parchment, in three columns on each page, with nikud and Masorah, Targum and Haftarot, bound in a single volume.” It is tempting to think that the present manuscript, the only surviving pre-expulsion Hebrew Bible, could be identical to the one which made up such an important part of young Judith’s dowry in 1271.  Of course, no such conclusion can be reached based on the scant evidence. Within twenty years, however, the Jews would all be expelled from England under the edict of Edward I. The expulsion in 1290 brought to a swift end, an era of Jewish settlement which had begun under William the Conquerer; it ushered in a period of three and a half centuries of Jewish absence from English domains, until the readmission of the Jews in the 1650s.

That the present manuscript is the only surviving example of a Hebrew Bible from England which predates the expulsion of 1290, makes it one of the most important relics of the medieval English Jewish community. In 2012, the current, thriving Jewish community of Great Britain was invited to participate in a multi-faith reception honoring Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee. As part of this momentous event, they were asked to provide an item of spiritual and cultural importance to be examined by the Queen. It should come as no surprise that the object chosen by the Jews of Great Britain to represent them, was this venerable volume, this treasured witness to the antiquity of Jewish settlement in the British Isles, Codex Valmadonna I.

Neither the present manuscript, nor any other extant Hebrew manuscript, expressly indicates its composition in England before the expulsion of the Jews in the year 1290.  However, Professor Malachi Beit-Arié, the eminent Paleographer, Codicologist and Former Director of the National and University Library of Jerusalem (now the National Library of Israel) has shown that the manuscript was written in England based on the codicological evidence of the specific "pricking and ruling" technique employed, and which at the time of the creation of this manuscript, in 1189, was unique to England. Furthermore, the late Professor Menahem Banitt of Tel Aviv University was able to definitively confirm the attribution of the manuscript to England on etymological grounds by identifying the unique Anglo-Norman words which appear in the manuscript’s Judeo-French marginal glosses.

An ancient Aramaic version of the Bible, known as the Targum, sometimes accompanies the Hebrew text in the manuscripts, as it does here, verse by verse. Although incomplete, this is the oldest dated manuscript of the Targum Onkelos and of the Targum of the Five Scrolls, written in Europe and has served as the basis for several critical editions (see literature, below).