The Lisbon Bible - Pages 1 and 2
Copyright © The British Library Board
List of Commandments
Volume 1, folios 7v and 8r
Volume One begins with a lavishly decorated 22-page section listing the 613 Commandments mentioned in the Torah that Jews are required to keep. Their inclusion underpins Judaism's fundamental principle that the Torah is essentially the Law that guides one's entire life. These pages contain Commandments 164-183 which deal chiefly with ritual purity in the family.
The text in the frames surrounding the main text form part of the copious masoretic material found in the Lisbon Bible. The Masoretes were Jewish scholars active in Babylonia and in Tiberias, Palestine, between the 8th and 10th centuries A.D. The name Masorete derives from the Hebrew mesor and masorah, meaning "handing down" and "tradition". Hebrew writing being consonantal (i.e. lacking vowels) it was essential to capture the correct spelling and pronunciation of scriptural text so as to avoid ambiguities. These scholars devised a system of rules of pronunciation, spelling and intonation of the biblical text which ensured its correct transmission over the centuries. Their greatest and lasting contribution was standardizing the Hebrew Bible, thus upholding the traditions of the Jewish people. Two of the leading Masoretes were the 10th century scholars Aaron Ben Asher and Moses Ben Naphtali of Tiberias. The masoretic text on these pages is Sefer Dikduke ha-te'amim, a grammatical treatise on vowel points and accents attributed to Aaron Ben Asher. The inclusion of masoretic or grammatical treatises either at the beginning or the end of the text was a characteristic of Hebrew biblical manuscripts crafted in medieval Spain. The example of the Lisbon Bible suggests that Hebrew Bibles created in 15th-century Portugal follow the same tradition.
This opening provides examples of the main decoration scheme for which the Lisbon Bible is famous: richly embellished frames with motifs varying in colour and design and gold ornamental lettering. The concentric frames form an aesthetic shield around the sacred text of the Commandments penned in two columns on the vellum ground. The ornate outer border on the right is filled with fleshy floral and vegetal sprigs, exotic birds and golden dots. Inside the first frame is another frame consisting solely of minute script placed directly on the vellum ground. The innermost frame has a dividing perpendicular bar covered in blue lacy scrolls which set off the burnished gold lettering. Each page has a panel containing a gilded heading on a red penwork ground. Slight modifications in colour and design are visible in the outer frame on the left page. In it three green birds hide among delicate leafy scrolls and predominantly blue and green flowers with gold pistils.