Medieval Hebraism

Medieval Jewish rabbinical authorities’ interpretation of biblical texts were much-copied. Throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Christian theologians turned to these Jewish commentaries to broaden their understanding of scripture.


HERBERT OF BOSHAM, PETER LOMBARD'S COMMENTARY ON THE PSALTER, PART II (PSALMS 74–150)

Paris?, c. 1173–77, 20 x 11 3/4 in. (50.8 x 29.8 cm), MS. Auct. E. inf. 6, one of four volumes, fol. 129r

This work was compiled by Herbert of Bosham (died c. 1194), a Hebraist in the household of Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury. Twelfth-century Christian theologians often turned to Jewish commentaries on the Bible to broaden their understanding of scripture. Bosham consulted a Jewish scholar, whom he called "my grammarian." At bottom is a note: "The Hebrew does not have this verse [in Psalm 145] and Gamaliel says that [it] does not belong here." "Gamaliel" here alludes to the Talmud, or to a wider body of rabbinic sources.

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THE BOOK OF EZEKIEL

England, early 13th century, 8 1/8 x 6 in. (20.6 x 15.2 cm), MS. Bodl. Or. 62, fol. 59a

This book functioned as study tool for Christian scholars. The Hebrew text was copied as in a Latin codex, from left to right. The text here is Ezekiel 30:13–18. A Latin translation appears in the margins with further interlineations above the Hebrew. These follow the order of the Hebrew, making it easier to match Hebrew and Latin words and to show grammatical structures.



MAIMONIDES, COMMENTARY ON THE MISHNAH, AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT

Egypt, c. 1167–68, 11 3/4 x 8 1/4 in. (29.8 x 21 cm), MS. Pococke 295, fol. 295a

This manuscript contains the commentary of Maimonides (1135–1204) on "Nezikin" (Damages) and "Kodashim" (Holy Things), the fourth and fifth tractates of the Mishnah—the oldest collection of Jewish law. It was in the author’s family for generations and is thought to have been penned and illustrated by him. Composed in Judeo-Arabic (Arabic in Hebrew characters), it is his first major work and one that he revised often, as attested by the many corrections written in his own hand. The diagram shows a plan of the Temple.



NICHOLAS OF LYRA, COMMENTARY ON THE BIBLE, PROVERBS TO EZRA

Paris, c. 1400, 19 1/4 x 13 5/8 in. (48.9 x 34.6 cm), MS. Canon. Bibl. Lat. 70, fol. 165v

For medieval Christian theologians, the vision of the Temple in Ezekiel 40–48 was an important episode in the Hebrew Bible, linked to the coming of Christ. Nicholas of Lyra (1270–1340) was familiar with the Jewish interpretation (particularly that of Rashi, but also Maimonides and others), and drew upon it in his detailed examination of the text. This plan shows the burning fire of the sacrificial altar and the River of Paradise running through the building, described by Ezekiel.



THE BOOK OF PROPHETS, WITH RASHI'S COMMENTARY

France?, late 13th century, 16 3/4 x 14 1/8 in. (42.5 x 35.9 cm), MS. Opp. 2, fol. 207a

The French rabbi Solomon ben Isaac, known as Rashi (1040–1105), was a leading commentator on the Bible and Talmud. This copy of his exegesis of the Book of Prophets was made about two hundred years after his death. The biblical text is in large letters, with the commentary alongside it in a smaller hand. The arrangement of text in a decorative fashion is a distinctive feature of Hebrew manuscripts. The diagram illustrates Ezekiel's vision in chapter 45 of the division of the Promised Land. Rashi probably drew the original himself to clarify his written exposition.

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RICHARD OF ST. VICTOR, ON THE VISION OF EZEKIEL

England, early 13th century, 11 3/4 x 6 3/4 in. (29.8 x 17.1 cm), MS. Bodl. 459, fol. 37v

A number of medieval scholars at the Abbey of St. Victor in Paris were interested in Jewish interpretations of scripture and knew Rashi’s important work. The similarity between Rashi's drawing of the the division of the Promised Land among the tribes and this version of the same subject by Richard of St. Victor (died 1173) shows the spread of Rashi’s influence beyond Jewish scholarly circles.



RASHI, ON THE PENTATEUCH

France, early 13th century, 12 x 19 9/16 in. (30.5 x 49.7 cm), MS. Opp. Add. Fol. 69, fol. 40a

This drawing of the Menorah is placed within the column of text as a sign that it is not meant to be decorative, but is a diagram to clarify the description in the biblical passage.

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NICHOLAS OF LYRA, COMMENTARY ON THE BIBLE, GENESIS TO ECCLESIASTES

France, late 14th century, 19 x 12 3/8 in. (48.3 x 31.4 cm), MS. Bodl. 251, fols. 49v–50r

In this commentary, Nicholas of Lyra contrasts Jewish and Christian understandings of the table of the shewbread and the Menorah. Captions under the Menorah distinguish that drawn by “Rabbi Salomon” (Rashi) at left from that drawn “according to other learned men” at right.



HEBREW PSALTER

England, early 13th century, 6 x 3 7/8 in. (15.2 x 9.8 cm), MS. Bodl. Or. 621, fols. 2b–3a

This manuscript, open to Psalms 6:7–9:19, was used as a schoolbook in the first half of the thirteenth century. At least three Christians annotated the Hebrew text extensively in Latin and French. The notes in the margin mainly concern Hebrew grammar and vocabulary. The Latin translation relies on the Vulgate, but also reflects knowledge of Jewish sources.