Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Gemara manuscript

I'm thinking of writing a series of "biographies" on important Hebrew manuscripts. As a beginning, I want to introduce Firenze, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale , II.1.7-9. These volumes actually contain (at least) two manuscripts, each containing tractates of the Babylonian Talmud.

7 is a very early manuscript, the earliest dated Ashkenazic codex. It contains the end of Seder Kodashim, including the Mishnah text of Middot and Kinnim. It was written by a single scribe, and he recorded the colophon that allows us to date the manuscript to 1177. The volume in its present state also includes a copy of Berakhot, which was probably written at about the same time but by 8 different scribes. The main part of the manuscript spent a lot of time in Ashkenaz, where it accumulated marginal glosses (hagahot!) in Ashkenazic script, while the glosses in Berakhot were written by Italian Jews. Berakhot was probably the first part of the manuscript to arrive in Florence, where it was censored in 1472.

The lasting value of these manuscripts lies more in their para-textual aspects than in the text itself. The textual tradition of Ms. Firenze 8-9 is typically Ashkenazic, as Shamma Friedman demonstrated conclusively in regard to Bava Mezia - closely related to MS Munich 95 and (for Sanhedrin) to MS Karlsruhe . However, it is Ashkenaz post-Rashi, incorporating the extensive textual emendations proposed by that extremely influential 11th century sage. Volume 7 is also typically Ashkenazic, according to Yoav Rosenthal's work on Kareitot, though it seems like it doesn't follow Rashi as much.

But the paratext! First of all, volume 7 is obviously of great importance for the under-developed field of Ashkenazic paleography (I suspect that greater consumer demand for Genizah paleography has pushed that field forward, with Ashkenazic manuscripts being left behind. Also, there are so many dated documents in the Genizah that there is a solid basis for the methodology, while there are very few early dated manuscripts from Europe. One important paleographer at least, Tamar Leiter, wrote or is writing her doctorate on Ashkenazic manuscripts).

Second, these manuscripts have been in Christian hands in Florence for hundreds of years, and they (but only vols. 8-9) contain hundreds of Latin glosses, translating passages that Christian readers found interesting. These glosses were studied by Hen Merhaviah. I've forgotten too much Latin to read them myself, but simply noting their presence on the page can alert the Talmudic reader to a passage of potentially polemical significance.

There is also the matter of the scribe's name. Volumes 8-9 were copied by a scribe named Reuven, who marked his name in various places. Berakhot, as mentioned, was written by a whole club of scribes. But Kodashim was copied by a single scribe. He didn't mention his name in his colophon. There is one place where the name Yitzhak is marked out clearly. The paleographers think this was added later, and that it does not reflect the scribe's name. In their written description, they make no attempt to explain what it is. The context, though, might give a clue.


1. Codices hebraicis litteris exarati quo tempore scripti fuerint exhibentes, vol. IV (1144-1200), ed. Malachi Beit-Arie, Colette Sirat, Mordechai Glatzer and Tamar Leiter, Paris and Jerusalem 2006.

2. Shamma Friedman, Talmud Arukh, Jerusalem 1996.

3. Mordekhai Sabato, Ketav Yad Temani le-Masekhet Sanhedrin, Jerusalem 1998, p. 11.

4. Yoav Rosenthal, Babylonian Talmud Tractate Kareitot: A Study of its Textual Traditions, PhD dissertation, Hebrew University 2003, p. 55.


Anonymous andy said...

What do you mean when you write that the context might give a clue?

11:24 PM  

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