Rabbinic law requires that a Torah scroll be written without punctuation, vocalization, or accentuation in order to be considered fit for ritual use in the synagogue. Words are separated by spaces, paragraph divisions break up the flow of the text, and four letters (alef, he, vav, and yod) are frequently used to mark certain vowels, but even with these devices, the correct pronunciation and parsing of the biblical text into intelligible units is not readily apparent from its appearance in a scroll. Instead, Jews in antiquity relied on inherited reading traditions, passed down orally from one generation to the next, in order to understand the Bible.
In the early Middle Ages, not before the sixth century but also not later than the seventh, systems of committing these reading traditions to writing in biblical codices (not scrolls) developed in Palestine, Babylonia, and eventually specifically in Tiberias (Palestine). The last system, referred to as Tiberian, would, with time, become the standard one used throughout the Jewish world to record the vowels and accents of the Hebrew Scriptures.
In addition, lists of information containing the details of the consonantal skeleton of the Bible, as well as its proper vocalization and accentuation – collectively known as the Masorah (lit., tradition) – were drawn up in order to ensure that scribes would copy the text correctly. The tradition of Aaron Ben-Asher (first half of the tenth century), scion of a famous family of Tiberian Masorah scholars, was considered particularly authoritative, especially after Rabbi Moses Maimonides (1138-1204) wrote of his decision to use a Bible edited by Ben-Asher (the famous Aleppo Codex) as the exemplar for a Torah that he himself copied.
While the Jewish community of Yemen, whose roots stretch back to antiquity (and possibly to Second Temple times), had long used the Babylonian (supralinear) system of vocalization and accentuation when transcribing Torah codices, it, too, gradually adopted the Tiberian system, probably under the influence of Maimonides, whom Yemenite Jews revered as a halakhic authority. Because of the high degree of exactitude with which Yemenite biblical manuscripts, known as tijan (sing., taj; Arabic for “crown”), were copied, as well as their adherence to the prescriptions of the Masorah, modern researchers consider these volumes to be valuable witnesses to the Ben-Asher tradition. Indeed, the famous Bible scholar Mordechai Breuer saw the fact that the eclectic version of the Bible that he had edited turned out, post facto, to match the tradition reflected in tijan as proof positive of the soundness of the methodology he had employed in making his editorial determinations. The present lot is a manuscript taj comprising almost the entire Pentateuch, with only three folios lacking from the end of Deuteronomy (32:17b-34:12).
The main differences between tijan and Hebrew Bibles copied in other parts of the Jewish world concern minute details of the biblical text, its vocalization, and its accentuation. Examples include the use of the plural form va-yihyu (they were), rather than the singular va-yehi, in Gen. 9:29 (see f. 11r) and the spelling of the word dakka (crushed) in Deut. 23:2 with a final alef, rather than a he (see f. 250v). Another distinctive feature of tijan is their scrupulousness in laying out the biblical text, especially the songs, in consonance with Maimonides’ prescriptions. This means that the last two lines of the Song of the Sea (Ex. 15:1-19; see ff. 85v-86v) each split their text into two blocks separated by an empty space and that the Song of Moses (Deut. 32:1-43; see f. 264r-v) is transcribed on sixty-seven, rather than seventy, lines. (Though the end of the Song of Moses is lacking here, it is evident that the scribe planned to complete the text in sixty-seven lines given the way he wrote lines 10 and 16.)
In addition to its value as a witness to the Yemenite textual tradition, this taj also boasts extensive rubrication of aliyyah and decorative parashah markers, as well as delicately interwoven micrographic Masorah forming elaborate geometric patterns. Moreover, appended at the end is a substantial fragment of Mahberet ha-tijan. This latter work, an anonymous compendium of masoretic and grammatical rules adapted and abridged from the (tenth-century?) Palestinian Judeo-Arabic treatise Hidayat al-qari (Direction of the Reader), was often copied together with tijan as a guide to the proper reading of the biblical text. Two versions of this treatise exist: a shorter, rarer one in Judeo-Arabic (editio princeps: Leipzig, 1891) and a longer one, incorporating material culled from other sources, in Hebrew (editio princeps: Paris, 1870; offprint: 1871); this lot includes a copy of the former.
Written in a clear, bold hand, elegantly decorated, and staunchly faithful to the Yemenite biblical manuscript tradition, the present lot truly embodies the superlative coronal meaning of taj as it was originally intended.
Sotheby’s is grateful to Dr. Benjamin Richler for providing information that aided in the cataloging of this manuscript.
272 folios (9 1/2 x 8 in.; 243 x 205 mm) (collation: i9, ii-xxiv10, xxv9, xxvi11, afterward indeterminate) on Yemenite (unmarked) paper; modern foliation in pencil in Arabic numerals in upper-inner (ff. 1-9) and upper-outer (ff. 10-272) corners of recto; single catchword added later on f. 183r; first and last folios of each quire signed in ink at head and foot, respectively, of recto and verso, respectively; some signatures cropped; written in elegant Yemenite square (text body) and semi-cursive (Masorah) scripts in black ink; double-column text of sixteen (Pentateuch; ff. 1v-264v) or twenty-two (Mahberet ha-tijan; ff. 265r-272v) lines each per page, except in the cases of the two Pentateuchal songs and the lines immediately preceding and following them (see also ff. 115v, 143v, each of which has a column with seventeen lines); ruled with a mastara (ruling board); justification of lines via dilation or contraction of final letters, slanted inscription of final words (producing a “carpet fringes” effect; see, e.g., ff. 39r, 142r, 179r, 270r), and use of anticipatory letters (f. 49v); complete Tiberian vocalization and accentuation of biblical text throughout (with frequent, typically-Yemenite confusion of pattah and segol vowels), Mahberet ha-tijan featuring vocalization of Hebrew words only; Masorah magna and Masorah parva written in micrography in margins; Tetragrammaton represented via three yods when not part of biblical text (as in the Masorah or Mahberet ha-tijan); some words added in margins by primary scribe (see, e.g., ff. 168r, 173v, 229v, 230r, and especially f. 214v); later marginalia (see, e.g., Masorah magna of f. 163r), completions (see, e.g., 151v, 171v), strikethroughs (see, e.g., ff. 134r, 213r), and corrections (see, e.g., ff. 47v-48r) intermittently throughout; pen trials on ff. 1r, 41v-42r, 138v, 248v. Two rubricated foliate ownership frames (ff. 1r, 272v); new parashiyyot generally indicated via decorated, rubricated marginal pe or samekh and accompanied by a verse tally and mnemonic for the previous parashah (though see ff. 177r, 195r, 197r, 230v, 262r); later parashah headers on ff. 2v, 188v-189r, 193v-194r, 195r; rubricated marginal Hebrew letters (bet through zayin) used to mark the start of new aliyyot; rubricated decorative devices used to mark the start of festival lections (ff. 22v, 24r, 81r, 82v, 89r, 90v, 95v, 111r, 153r, 178r, 242r); decorated, rubricated marginal Masorah markers used at biblical halfway points (ff. 33r, 95v, 131v, 134v, 143r, 190v, 244r); books generally end with masoretic notes on the number of verses and paragraph breaks they contain surrounded by foliate frames (ff. 66v, 123r, 162r, 218v); Masorah magna inscribed in various decorative geometric patterns in upper and lower margins; Arabic tha used to mark the end of many masoretic notes; decorative flourish in Masorah magna on f. 126r; where a full-line paragraph break occurs in the first or last lines of a column, a pe (standing for petuhah [open]) and/or four dots arranged in the shape of a diamond are written on that line to indicate that it has been intentionally left blank (see, e.g., ff. 63v-64r, 73v, 100r, 109v); the Song of the Sea (ff. 85v-86v) and the Song of Moses (f. 264r-v) are either (in the second case) written in two mini-columns with a space in between or (in the first case) made to look like brickwork; rubricated floral panels on either side of the paragraph preceding the Song of Moses on f. 264r; the word le-matteh (for the tribe of) aligned on each of twelve consecutive lines on f. 183v; the Arabic word fusul (chapter) enlarged and rubricated in Mahberet ha-tijan (ff. 265v, 266r, 267r, 269r-270r, 271v). Lacking approximately fifteen leaves (three from the end of the Pentateuch, twelve from Mahberet ha-tijan); Mahberet ha-tijan, originally situated at the front of the codex, has been rebound (with some leaves out of order) at the rear (order of leaves should be as follows: ff. [gap of about ten leaves], 271, 269, [gap of about two leaves], 265-268, 270, 272); scattered staining, including dampstaining (especially in outer edges) and smudging, at times obscuring small portions of text (see, e.g., ff. 130v-131r, 258v); frequent tape repairs, especially in lower edges; outer edges frequently cropped, sometimes affecting Masorah text; small tears in outer edges; a few isolated wormtracks, only slightly affecting individual letters, toward front and rear of volume; corners rounded; restorations along outer edges and/or gutter of ff. 1-9, 256-272; minor losses in gutter of f. 2, more serious losses along outer edges of ff. 263-264; tears on ff. 102, 188 repaired, but with damage to surrounding text; ff. 117, 247 reinforced along gutter; word at the foot of f. 194v repeated at the top of f. 195r; f. 240 a bit loose at foot. Modern calf, elaborately paneled in blind; some wear to edges of binding; spine in five blind-tooled compartments with raised bands; title and approximate date on spine; modern paper flyleaves and pastedowns.
Maimun ibn Mahbub Amar (ff. 1r, 272v)
Mordechai Breuer (ed.), Torah nevi’im ketuvim muggahim al pi ha-nussah ve-ha-masorah shel keter aram tsovah ve-kitvei yad ha-kerovim lo (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1989), 395.
Joseph Derenbourg (ed.), Manuel du lecteur, d’un auteur inconnu, publié d’après un manuscrit venu du Yémen et accompagné de notes (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1871).
Moshe Goshen-Gottstein, “Biblical Manuscripts in the United States,” Textus 2 (1962): 28-59.
Moshe Goshen-Gottstein, “The Rise of the Tiberian Bible Text,” in Alexander Altmann (ed.), Biblical and Other Studies (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963), 79-122, at pp. 119-120 n. 133.
Shelomo Morag, “Ha-mikra u-mesirato be-teiman: he‘arot ahadot,” in Shalom Gamaliel, Mishael Massuri Kaspi, and Simeon Avizemer (eds.), Orhot teiman (Jerusalem: Mekhon Shalom le-Shivtei Yeshurun, 1984), 26-35.
Adolf Neubauer (ed.), Petite grammaire hébraïque provenant de Yemen: texte arabe (Leipzig: Otto Harrassowitz, 1891).
Joseph Qafih, “Nikkud, te‘amim, u-masoret be-teiman,” Sinai 14,13-14 (October-November 1950): 261-266.
David Stern, “On the Term Keter as a Title for Bibles: A Speculation about its Origins,” Revue des Études Juives (forthcoming).
Yosef Tobi, “The Taj in the Yemeni Tradition,” in Aaron Amram (ed.), Keter taj ve-zot ha-torah, 2 vols. (Petah Tikva: Aaron Amram, 2004-2005), 1:11-17 (English section).
Doron Ya‘akov, “Yemen, Pronunciation Traditions,” in Geoffrey Khan, Shmuel Bolokzy, Steven Fassberg, et al. (eds.), Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics, vol. 3 (Leiden: Brill, 2013).
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