Zürich, Zentralbibliothek, Ms. Or 159
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Dr. Justine Isserles, chercheure associée, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes-Saprat (Paris), 2019.

Manuscript title: Sefer Tehilim, Book of Psalms
Place of origin: Ashkenaz
Date of origin: ‎10th January 1433 C.E. (5193)‎
Support: Parchment of medium quality, hair and flesh sides distinguishable. Some stitching (e.g. ff. 103, 107, 120) cut parchment folio (e.g. ff. 140).
Extent: I + 161 + III‎
Nota bene : Although the manuscript has been foliotated from 1 to 162, folios 1 and 162 are in fact two flyleaves in the volume (see below under the binding of the manuscript), identified above in Roman numerals as ‘I’ at the beginning of the volume (numbered in the manuscript as f.1) and the first (I) of three (III) flyleaves at the end of the volume (numbered in the manuscript as f.162). Therefore, because of this particular case, the manuscript itself (all the quires) goes from folios 2 to 161 (ff. 2 and 161 are blank pages but are part of the quires I and XX, composing the manuscript).
Format: ‎103 x 70 mm
Foliation:
  • Pagination and foliotation from right to left. Pagination in Hebrew numbering in ink at the top right and left corners of each page ‎א‎-‎קס‎ (1-160). Between numbers ‎קלח‎ (138) andקלט ‏‎ (139) a page has been skipped (page 139 should be 140).
  • Nota bene regarding the digitized manuscript: The digitized manuscript has been foliotated from folios 1r to 164v. Flyleaves II and III at the end of the volume have been numbered as folios 163r/163v and 164r/164v respectively.
Collation:
  • There are 20 quires which are counted from folio 2r/v (since f.1r/v is considered ‘flyleaf I’ in this description). There are 19 quaternions (I-XIX) and 1 quinion (XX): I (2r-8v)1 ; II-XIX (9r-151v); XX (152r-161v)2
    • 1 There is a stub between folios 5v-6r. Although no text is missing, the presence of the stub can be explained as a folio which was cut out by the scribe who had probably copied an erroneous segment of text. Furthermore, there is a second stub between folios 8v-9r which belongs to the Megillah fragment, inserted at the beginning of the volume and identified here as flyleaf I (f.1r/v in the foliotation of the manuscript).
    • 2 Stub of Megillah fragment from flyleaf I at the end of the volume, inserted between folios 151v and 152r.
  • Catchwords :‎ ff. 8v, 24v, 32v, 40v (partially cropped catchword); 48v, 56v, 64v, 72v (cropped catchword), 80v, 88v, 96v, 104v, 112v, 120v, 128v, 136v, 143v, 151v.‎
Condition: Well preserved manuscript except for stains from humidity and use. Cropped lateral and bottom margins.‎
Page layout: ‎2+3 columns of text. 13 ruled lines for 12 written lines. Letter elongation and compression at the end of lines.‎ ff. 137-157: Outer pricking visible. Brown pencil ruling hardly visible throughout the manuscript (e.g. ff. 148v-149r).‎ Full page layout. Inner and outer indentations of the text around the initial words.‎
Writing and hands: Square Ashkenazi vocalized monumental script for first initial word at the beginning of the Book of Psalms. Square Ashkenazi script of medium module for the main text and larger module for the initial words. One scribe copied this manuscript. ‎
Decoration: Rubricated initial words throughout the manuscript until folio 123r, with the exception of f. 24v, where the word is in brown ink.
Additions:
  • Pastedown at the beginning of the volume, with illegible small cursive script in red ink.‎
  • ff. 43r, 62v, 136r: small notes in the lateral margins.‎
  • f. 58v: notes in right lateral margin in a bookhand script in dark brown ink.‎
  • ff. 121r, 122r, 146v, 151v: square vocalized script in brown ink.‎
Binding: Brown leather binding on wooden boards of the 16th century (114 x 74 mm). The boards have a 3-lined blind stamped rectangular frame, and 2 inner columns in which have been inserted tooled medallions with profile portraits of men with different headdresses, interspersed with floral patterns.The horizontally 3-lined blind stamped spine has only been partially preserved. It has been detached and inserted into the protective grey paper jacket custom-made for the volume (see inside the folds of the jacket). The spine bears a paper sticker which is printed with the shelfmark of the manuscript Or 159. Presence of two catchplates, clasps and straps.‎
Contents:
This very small format (103 x 70 mm) 15th century Hebrew Book of Psalms from Ashkenaz, is representative of private use hand copies, which are more seldom preserved in separate textual units, rather than incorporated in the Hagiographs section of Hebrew bibles or in liturgical manuscripts. Nonetheless, this genre of biblical literature is already attested in the Dead Sea Scrolls, circa 1st-2nd century C.E. (W. Yarchin -JBL- 2015, see also examples from the Cairo Genizah in M. Dukan, 2004) and can therefore affirm its precedency over the Christian Psalter, whose oldest Coptic complete witnesses date back to the 5th century. Small format medieval Hebrew Books of Psalms were also produced in other geo-cultural regions, such as in Spain (see Bibliothèque de Genève, Ms heb. 6, a 14th century Sephardic pocket size rectangular shaped measuring 90 x 110 mm, containing 150 Psalms, see J. Isserles, 2016) and in Italy, where of all medieval Hebrew manuscript Psalters, one of the earliest complete and most important examples to survive is the masterpiece Bibliotheca Palatina, Ms. Parm. 1870 (Cod. De Rossi 510), a profusely illuminated book of 150 Psalms (135 x 100 mm) written and decorated circa 1280 in Northern Italy (see the catalogue description and link to view the digitized manuscript at http://aleph.nli.org.il, [viewed 25.02.2019]). It is also noteworthy to add that Ms Or. 159 consists of 149 Psalms, rather than the canonical 150, which is only one among many configurations found in early and late medieval Hebrew manuscripts, enclosing between 143 and 151 Psalms (W. Yarchin, 2015, p. 360).‎
Tehilim or Psalms (from the Hebrew ‎תהילה‎ (tehilah) meaning ‘praise’) are included in almost every ceremony and prayer of the Jewish liturgical year and it has been customary for centuries to recite the Book of Psalms cyclically each week. In addition to this devotional practice, which is still viewed today in the Jewish Tradition as a vehicle for gaining God's favor, Psalms also conceal a theurgic use, where formulas containing a choice of verses, can be recited in times of trouble, such as poverty, disease or physical danger. One such work containing these verses is the Geonic period Shimmush ha-Tehilim (B. Rebiger, 2010 and G. Bohak, 2015).
  • ff. 1r/v : Flyleaf I (beginning of volume): Megillah fragment
  • ff. 2r/v Folio 2r: hardly legible writing and two words in Hebrew: ‎אש‎ in red ink and ‎אב‎ in brown ink.
    Folio 2v: Psalterium written in brown ink.
  • ff. 3r-160v Book of Psalms Ps. 1 to 149. Each Psalm has been numbered in the lateral margins from ‎א‎ to ‎קמט‎.
    A colophon is found at the end of the manuscript on folio 160v, with the date of 10th Shevat (5)193‎ (10th January 1433 C.E.) and giving the name of the scribe Levi son of Meir ha-Cohen.‎ Transcription:‎ Lines 1 to 3 are in a square script:‎
    זה התהילים נכתב ונסתיים י בשבט
    בשנת קצג' לפרט באלף השישי חזק ונתחזק
    הסופר לוי בר מאיר הכהן ז'צ'ל' לא יזוק
    Lines 4-5 have been added later in another bookhand script:‎
    לא היום ולא לעולם עד שיעלה חמור בסולם
    '' '' '' '' '' אשר יעקוב אבינו חלם
    Translation:‎
    This Book of Psalms has been written and finished on the 10th of Shevat‎
    In the year 193 according to the small count (of) the 6th millennium, Strength and we shall be strengthened, this scribe Levi bar Meir ha-Cohen may his holy memory be blessed, will not be subjected to any damage
    Not today nor forever until a donkey climbs on a ladder
    Of which Jacob our Father has dreamt.
  • f. 161r/v : Blank Page
  • f. 162r/v : Flyleaf I (back of volume)‎
    • Flyleaf Iv: illegible Hebrew cursive script in brown ink.
  • f. 163r/v : Flyleaf II (back of volume)
    • Flyleaf IIr: C. 64.210 in red ink and app 64 in brown ink. (number 64 barred out).
    • Flyleaf IIv: illegible Latin script in brown ink.
  • f. 164r/v : Flyleaf III (back of volume)
    • Flyleaf IIIr: Partial undecipherable Latin note.
    • Flyleaf IIIv: Latin note on paper stuck to the manuscript in with a brief description of the content of the manuscript, name of scribe and date in brown ink and old shelfmarks:C. 64.210 in red ink and app 64 in brown ink. Both have been barred out and the shelfmark Or. 159, written in grey pencil below.
Provenance of the manuscript:
  • Notes at the end of the volume: Hebrew note on ff. 160v-161r, mentioning the births of Meir and David.
    Transcription: ‎f. 160v:‎
    ‏‎בני מאיר יצו' נולד ה' ניסן היה
    ‎ב מילה פרט רסו'[...] ‏‎
    f. 161r :
    [...] '‏‏ בני דוד יצו' נולד בתחילת ליל ב
    קורין ליל א' בט' אב [...]‏
    [...] ולשמרת מכל דבר רע'
    Translation : ‎ f. 160v: My son Meir, G. is my rock and my redeemer, born on the 5th Nissan (there was‎ a brit milah) according to the small count on 266 […] (9th April 1506 C.E.)‎
    f. 161r: My Son David G. is my rock and my redeemer, born at the beginning of the second evening (Monday) named in the evening of Sunday 9th Av […]‎ and for the protection of all that is negative […] (also a play on words for the date 270 (= 15th August 1510 C.E.)‎
  • f. 161r/v: Hebrew note II (different bookhand script from note I, only note on f. 161v is partially legible, starting on line 2):‎ Transcription:
    בת ברוינכן שתי' נולד יג' סיון רסח'‏
    בת רעכלן שתי' נולד כח' תמוז רסט'‏
    ‏Translation: ‎Daughter Broinchen (Bräunchen) may she live, born 13th Sivan 268 (22nd May 1508 C.E.)‎ Daughter Rechlin, may she live, born 28th Tamuz 269 (26th July 1509 C.E.)‎
Manuscript catalogues:
  • J. Prijs, Die hebraïschen Handschriften der Zentralbibliothek Zürich. Im Auftrag der Verwaltung der Zentralbibliothek beschrieben von Joseph Prijs (7 vols.), vol. 1, Nr. 18, pp. 29-30
Printed catalogues and secondary literature:‎
  • J.-M. Auwers, “La numérotation des Psaumes dans la tradition hébraïque : une enquête dans le Fonds hébreu de la Bibliothèque nationale”, Revue biblique 109 (2002), pp. 343-370.‎
  • G. Bohak, “Jewish Magic in the Middle Ages”, in The Cambridge History of Magic and Witchcraft, D.J. Collins (ed.) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), pp. 268-300.‎
  • M. Dukan, La Bible hébraïque: Les codices copies en Orient et dans le zone sépharade avant 1280, Turnhout, 2006, pp. 71-77, 371-393.‎
  • M. Dukan, “Le Livre des Psaumes dans la tradition juive”, Revue des Etudes Juives 163 (2004), pp. 87-109.
  • J. Isserles, Catalogue des manuscrits hébreux de la Bibliothèque de Genève, notices et commentaires (Geneva: 2016), p. 160. Published online on https://doc.rero.ch/record/261214?ln=fr (viewed 25.02.2019) (forthcoming paper edition: Geneva: Éditions Droz, 2020), pp. 58-61.‎
  • J. Prijs, Die hebräischen Handschriften in der Schweiz: Katalog der hebräischen Handschriften in den Schweizer öffentlichen Bibliotheken … redigiert auf Grund der Beschreibungen von Joseph Prijs (Basel, Benei Beraq: Sefer Verlag, 2018), pp. 66-67, (Nr. 71).‎
  • B. Rebiger, Sefer Shimmush Tehillim: Buch vom magischen Gebrauch der Psalmen. Edition, Übersetzung und Kommentar (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010).‎
  • W. Yarchin, “Is There an Authoritative Shape for the Hebrew Book of Psalms? Profiling the Manuscripts of the Hebrew Psalter,” Revue Biblique 122 (2015), pp. 355-370.‎
  • W. Yarchin, “Were the Psalms Collections at Qumran True Psalters?”, Journal of Biblical Literature (JBL), 134, 4 (2015), pp. 775-789.‎