Two Ashkenazi Pentateuchs side by side

We recently talked about the technical details that allow us to view digitized Bodleian and Vatican treasures side-by-side in the same interface. We used this technology to compare and contrast two, four and finally six copies of the Gutenberg Bible. Today we're kicking off a series of posts on a similar theme. Our digital curators--with help from their analogue colleagues--have chosen items from the Bodleian and Vatican collections that mirror or complement each other, and we will be presenting these pairs on this blog. We're starting with two Ashkenazi Pentateuchs: manuscripts of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, produced in the Ashkenazi Jewish communities of Central and Eastern Europe. These manuscripts are the Bodleian's MS. Canonici Or. 137, produced c.1300, and the Vatican's Barb.or.161, produced between 1295 and 1297.

 

 

 

 

In many ways the manuscripts are strikingly similar. Both are written in punctuated Ashkenazi square script, in a three-column layout; both are written on parchment; both have been rebound in blind-tooled leather. In both manuscripts, the folios appear to have been ruled with plummet or leadpoint (the precursor of the modern pencil), although the grid of ruling is slightly more pronounced in the Bodleian's manuscript. 

 

ruling, fol. 31vruling, fol. 67v
Barb.or.161, fol. 31v, vs. MS. Canonici Or. 137, fol. 67v

 

The Bodleian's manuscript appears to be slightly smaller than the Vatican's, with less text per page (although it is by no means small, measuring about 40cm in height). Furthermore, in addition to the Hebrew text of the Pentateuch, the Bodleian manuscript also includes the Aramaic translation, the Targum Onḳelos, and Hafṭarot. The most obvious difference between the two manuscripts, however, is that the beginning of each of the five books in the Bodleian manuscript is decorated with micrography in the shapes of birds, plants and deer.

 

Vatican fol. 1vBodleian fol. 1v
Barb.or.161, fol. 1v, vs. MS. Canonici Or. 137, fol. 1v

Vatican fol. 66rBodleian fol. 167v
Barb.or.161, fol. 66r, vs. MS. Canonici Or. 137, fol. 167v

 

Juxtaposing manuscripts that are similar in many ways may allow us to learn more about the ways in which they do differ. For example, where exactly do these manuscripts diverge, that one was elaborately decorated and the other was not? Was it a question of intended function, cost, or simply a scarcity of skilled micrographers? We hope that by making these images available to palaeographers and codicologists across the world, we may find answers to these and other questions.