BIBLE with Masorah, in Hebrew, MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
Ocaña, Spain, 1491 and Evora, Portugal, 1494
328 x 270mm. Two volumes bound in four: I, 270 leaves, 14, 2-348, 352(of 8, iii-viii opening vol.II); II, 182 leaves, 16(of 8, i and ii ending vol.I), 2-168, 176, 18-228, 236, 244; III, 184 leaves, 14, 2-68, 76, 8-238, 246(of 8, vii and viii opening vol.IV); IV, 193 leaves, 12(of 8, i-vi ending vol.III), 2-248, 253(of 4, iv cancelled blank), 264, COMPLETE, mostly two columns of 21 lines written in brown ink in a Sephardic Hebrew square script with nikud, Masoretic notes and colophons without nikud, below 21 horizontals and between pairs of outer verticals and three central verticals ruled in blind, justification: approx. 195mm x 70-30-70, some sections with hymns or songs decoratively laid out in subdivided columns or in long and short lines, the Song of the Sea written space-under-script and script-under-space, Masorah Magna and Parva written in a small square hand in upper and lower margins and beside the columns, sometimes in a decorative zig-zag layout, Masoretic notes in four columns of script framed within a square of script, occasional marginal or intercolumnar flourishing (stain in outer margin of first 12 leaves of vol.III touching outermost letters of 2-3 lines of text on 7 leaves, without affecting legibility, repair to this area on eight leaves, small stains and repairs to outer margin of final two leaves of vol.IV). English 19th-century purple straight-grained morocco gilt with the arms and monogram of Theodore Williams in the centre of upper and lower covers, strapwork-patterned gilt doublures, edges gilt and gauffered (very slight scuffing at some corners).
A HANDSOME AND COMPLETE FOLIO BIBLE: AN ELOQUENT WITNESS OF THE TURBULENT FATE OF THE SEPHARDIC JEWS
1. Abraham ben Jacob ben Zadok: he is named by the scribe, Isaac bar Ishai ben Sason, in the colophons at the end of volumes II and IV as the person for whom the manuscript was made. Beyond identifying the scribe and patron of the Bible these colophons reveal the extraordinary circumstances of its production. It was originally written as two discrete volumes, the Prophets (now volumes III and IV) was completed 9 Elul 5251 (1491) in Ocaña, Castile. The Pentateuch and Writings (now volumes I and II) were completed 2 Kislev 5255 (1494) in Evora in the Kingdom of Portugal. Isaac bar Ishai points out that this was two years after the expulsion of the Jews from Castile. The majority of Spanish Jews, like Isaac and his patron, moved to Portugal where King João II allowed their entry. But their security was illusory and, only two years after the completion of the Bible, a new king issued the 5 December 1496 edict expelling all Jews from that kingdom too.
2. Convent of the Discalced Carmelites S. Paolo, Florence: the manuscript, still bound as two volumes, was seen here by Benjamin Kennicott, who included it as Nos 520 and 521 in his Dissertatio Generalis in Vetus Testamentum (1780), bound with the Vetus Testamentum Hebraicum (Oxford, 1776). This location was also given by Giovanni Bernardo de Rossi when -- remarking on its excellent condition -- he made fuller transcriptions of the colophons: Variae Lectiones Veteris Testamenti, (Parma, 1784), vol.I, p.86. The library of the Convento della Conversione di San Paolo was established in Florence around 1700 by Padre Ildefonso, a member of the Accademia della Crusca. It was sacked by the Napoleonic forces and what books remain from it are now relocated to the theological college of San Matteo in Arcetri.
3. ?Andoche Junot, duc d'Abrantès (1771-1813). The 1827 sale catalogue informs that the 'Bible was deemed one of the finest Hebrew manuscripts of the Vatican, and reckoned the finest in existence. Junot, when Governor of Rome, laid his vandal hands on it, and deprived that noble library of one of its greatest treasures'. The Bible appears in neither the 1816 nor the 1817 sale catalogues of books from Junot's exceptional library. Nonetheless, such a provenance is plausible: it accords with movement of the Bible from Italy to England -- where Junot's books were sold -- at exactly the right date.
4. The Reverend Theodore Williams: no 348 in his sale at Stewart, Wheatley and Adlard, 7 April 1827, sold to Thorpe for £99. 15s. The binding has Williams' arms and monogram stamped in gold on upper and lower covers. (These are misidentified as belonging to T. Wycliffe in C. Davenport, English Heraldic Book-Stamps, 1909, p.410.) Commending the 'finest specimens of the art of modern binding' the sale catalogue names Charles Lewis of Duke St and John Clarke of Soho; in a note added at Williams' request Clarke's merit was extolled as the best binder of the day, and it seems likely that he was responsible for these purple bindings, which appear to have been a particular favourite of Williams.
5. Philip Augustus Hanrott: no 436 in his sale at Evans, 16 July 1833, to Pickering for £58.16s. The catalogue mentions the provenance from the Vatican, Junot and the Reverend T. Williams.
6. Beriah Botfield.
Masoretic notes, alternately from Ben Asher and Ben Naphtali ff.1v-5; Genesis ff.5v-56; Exodus ff.56-98v; Leviticus ff.98v-128v; Numbers ff.128v-170; Deuteronomy ff.170-206; Masoretic notes f.206v; Chronicles ff.207-270v
Chronicles f.1; Psalms ff.1v-62v; Job ff.62v-88v; Proverbs ff.88v-110; Ruth ff.110v-113v; Song of Songs ff.113v-116v; Ecclesiastes ff.117-124v; Lamentations ff.124v-128v; Esther ff.128v-136v; Daniel ff.136v-152; Ezra/Nehemiah ff.152-177; colophon ff.177v-178; Masoretic notes ff.179-182
Masoretic notes ff.1v-4v; Joshua ff.5v-31; Judges ff.31-57; I-II Samuel ff.57-119v; I-II Kings ff.119v-184
Isaiah ff.1-44; Jeremiah ff.44v-101; Ezekiel ff.101-151; Hosea ff.151-157; Joel ff.157-159v; Amos ff.159v-165; Obadiah ff.165-166; Jonah ff.166-167v; Micah ff.167v-170v; Nahum ff.170v-172; Habakkuk ff.172-173v; Zephaniah ff.173v-176v; Haggai ff.176v-178v; Zechariah ff.178v-186v; Malachi ff.186v-189; colophon f.189v; Masoretic notes ff.190-193
This large, handsome and complete Bible, the work of the scribe Isaac bar Ishai ben Sason, was originally written as two volumes. The remains of foliations in arabic numerals indicate that the manuscript continued as two volumes until the present binding was put on for Williams. The fact that the original second volume (now vols III and IV), containing the Prophets, is dated earlier than the first volume (now vols I and II), containing Pentateuch and the Writings, suggests the possibility that the first volume was written as a replacement for one lost at the time of the expulsion from Spain.
When Isaac bar Ishai ben Sason, in spite of all disruption to scribe and patron, had finally completed his commission and commended his work to its owner, he wrote a final note (vol.II, f.182). Written in verse, it reads, 'This book was carefully checked, copied and corrected until it was clear as sunlight. Vowel-points were supplied, plene and deficient spellings were written according to tradition, without omissions, according to the instructions of our sages whose wise advice was not ignored. It was written according to their guidance and behest. This book will prevail over all books and 'parteth between the mighty' (Proverbs, 18:18). (4)