The earliest surviving glossed Bibles from Ashkenaz (Franco-German lands) date from the 13th century CE. They show an orderly format that seemed to develop in response to the weekly synagogue practice of reading the Hebrew portion of the Torah (Pentateuch or The Five Books of Moses) and the Aramaic translation/paraphrase (explanations and expansions) verse by verse.
As the biblical commentary of Rashi (i.e. Solomon ben Isaac of Troyes, 1040–1105 CE) gained popularity in Ashkenaz, it too was integrated in the glossed Bible. The order in which the Torah and its accompanying texts were read and referred to determined the position of these texts on the page, and the manner in which they were handwritten.
The main Hebrew biblical portion occupies the central position. In the inner column is the Targum while Rashi’s commentary is in the outer margin. The size and mode of script reserved for the columnar texts indicate their hierarchical order. The upper and lower margins were often used if the amount of text was copious and required extra space on a particular page. By the 15th century CE glossed Bible modelled on Ashkenazic glossed Bibles, started appearing in Italy and in the Iberian Peninsula. These latter specimens often exhibit different selections of texts.
A 14th-century CE Pentateuch from Ashkenaz with Targum Onkelos and Rashi’s commentary. Included also are the Five Scrolls (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther), and the haftarot (readings from the Prophets) with Rashi’s interpretations. The manuscript was written on parchment by a scribe named Hayim Kohen and features numerous carmina figurata (text written within figural and geometrical designs and patterns).
Browse through the entire manuscript on the Digitised Manuscripts website.
- Article by:
- Javier del Barco
- The Hebrew Bible
Most readers of the Bible feel that they sometimes need an explanation – a gloss – to understand a text written and edited many centuries before it reached their hands. Dr Javier del Barco looks particularly into the practice of producing glossed Hebrew Bibles in medieval Ashkenaz.
- Article by:
- Barry Dov Walfish
Barry Dov Walfish explains the development of biblical interpretation in Judaism, looking at key corpuses such as the Masorah, Targum and Midrash.