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.
Penned by the scribe Levi Halpan (or Halfon), this 15th-century CE parchment codex (hand-copied bound book) contains the Pentateuch, the Aramaic translation and Rashi’s explanations. A fourth column containing the commentary of Abraham ibn Ezra (1089-1167 CE) has been added at the beginning of Genesis, as seen on folio 1r. Ibn Ezra was regarded as one of the most distinguished biblical interpreters among the Jews of Sepharad (chiefly the Iberian Peninsula). Rashi’s text is occasionally fashioned in ornamental 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.