Review, Francisco Javier del Barco del Barco,  Catlogo de manuscritos hebreos de la Comunidad de Madrid
Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 8 (2008) - Review

Francisco Javier del Barco del Barco,  Catlogo de manuscritos hebreos de la Comunidad de Madrid (3 vols., Literatura hispano-hebrea 5, 7 and 8; Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientficas, Instituto de Filologa, 2003-06). Paperback.

The three volumes under discussion are:

Volume 1: Manuscritos bblicos, comentarios bblicos de autor y obras gramaticales en las bibliotecas de El Escorial, Universidad Complutense de Madrid y Palacio Real; estudios introductorios a cargo de Maria Teresa Ortega-Monasterio, Maria Josefa de Azcrraga Servert and Luis Vegas Montaner (Madrid: CSIC, 2003). Pp. 271 + CD. ISBN (13)  9788400081447; € 29.42.

Volume 2: Manuscritos hebreos en la Biblioteca Nacional, Archivo Histrico Nacional y Museo Lzaro Galdiano ; manuscritos bblicos y obras gramaticales en la Real Academia de la Historia;  estudios introductorios a cargo de Maria Teresa Ortega Monasterio, Maria Josefa de Azcrraga Servert y Luis Vegas Montaner (Madrid: CSIC, 2004). Pp. 272 pp. + CD. ISBN (13) 9788400082291. € 31.19.

Volume 3: Manuscritos hebreos excepto bblicos, comentarios bblicos y obras gramaticales en las bibliotecas de El Escorial, Universidad Complutense de Madrid y Real Academia de la Historia, con la colaboracin de Arturo Prats Olivn; estudios introductorios a cargo de Maria Teresa Ortega Monasterio, Maria Josefa de Azcrraga Servert y Luis Vegas Montaner (Madrid: CSIC, 2006). Pp. 324 pp. + CD. ISBN (13) 9788400084233 € 33.65.

These three excellent volumes provide for the first time a clear view of the extant Hebrew manuscripts in the various libraries of Madrid. They present both a general 0verview of all the relevant collections and a detailed description of each of the 199 manuscripts. Not all the manuscripts preserved in the Madrid libraries were written in Spain, whether before or after the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. But many and particularly among the biblical manuscripts were written in Spain. The provenance of the other manuscripts is as diverse as their texts themselves. These were acquired and brought to Spain in later times.

The very existence, number and importance of these Hebrew manuscripts further undermine the simplistic idea that any interest in Jewish culture died in Spain following the expulsion of the Jewish in 1492. Already during the 16th century biblical studies were taught at the Universidad Complutense (Madrid) and prospered under the vigorous efforts of Alfonso de Zamora. These studies were coupled with the ambitious project of the edition of a Polyglot Bible presided by Cardinal F. J. de Cisneros.

The first of these three volumes deals with the mss. of the Bible, its Aramaic paraphrases, its grammars, dictionaries and commentaries. It includes an introductory study on the history of the libraries by M. T. Ortega-Monasterio. She demonstrates that the manuscript collection of the Palacio Real started in the second half of the 18th Century, like many other Hebrew manuscript collections in European libraries, and that it shows the same diversity of texts and provenance. This said, it includes a magnificent 16 volume Hebrew Bible, produced in Toledo in 1487 (Cat. n. 3, p. 116). The collection of the Universidad Complutense of Madrid, on the other hand, came from the historical collection of the University of Alcal de Henares. The latter collection grew out of the interest for learning the sacred texts and their meanings in the different languages for apologetic purposes and for use in  controversies.  Most of the manuscripts in this collection are Bibles that originated from Toledo. As for the library at the Monasterio Real del Escorial, the thrust of its founder, B. Arias Montano, was essentially humanist, although religion was certainly at the center of his worldview. Bibles are numerous in this collection. The second introductory essay in this volume was written by M. J. de Azcrraga Servert. It shows the particularities of the Hebrew tradition about the Bible in these mss. This introduction is completed by a similar introduction on Rabbinical Texts printed in volume III, pp. 57-69.

The volume includes F. J. del Barco del Barco’ descriptions of each and everyone of the 63 manuscripts. He points to their codicological features, e.g., size, writing material, quires, signatures, ruling, disposition of the page and ornamentation, binding and decoration. The presence of particular settings for a number of passages, the kind of vowels, the massora and the tradition which is used for them are all of particular interest in the case of biblical manuscripts. This codicological portrait is the most significant part of the work. The author’s detailed and careful observations display his excellent knowledge of the traditions governing the copying of the Hebrew Bible. This section represents the heart of the catalogue. It is well-written and a pleasure to read.

The historical part of the description is as complete and erudite as the first part and gives annotations revealing the history of the manuscripts as well as a complete bibliography.

Volume II is also dedicated to the Bible, its Aramaic paraphrases, its grammars, dictionaries and commentaries. In her introductory study, M. T. Ortega-Monasterio provides a history of the Hebrew manuscripts in three more libraries in Madrid: the Biblioteca Nacional, the library of the Real Academia de la Historia, the library of the Lazro Galdiano Museum and that of the Archivo Histrico Nacional. The introductory study by M. J. de Azcrraga Servert explains to the reader that not all “Hebrew manuscripts” are in Hebrew. Indeed, the Hebrew script was used by Jews to write other languages embracing both Semitic tongues like Aramaic and Arabic and non-Semitic ones such as Greek and Latin, French, Spanish, and even Chinese. Dictionaries of course are only partially in Hebrew characters.[1] There are few of them, mostly post medieval. The 67 manuscripts described here (65-122) include Bibles, Targum, commentaries, Talmud and religious laws, grammar and dictionaries, ethics and philosophy, sciences, liturgy, poetry and miscellanies.

Volume III provides descriptions of the non-biblical Hebrew manuscripts in the libraries of El Escorial, la Universidad Complutense of Madrid, the Real Academia of History and all Hebrew manuscripts in the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientficas.

The first introductory study, by M. T. Ortega-Monasterio, draws a general picture of the manuscripts in Hebrew script and of the texts that they include. She provides not only a very good introduction to these catalogues but to the entire field of Hebrew literature and Hebrew manuscript studies. The author remarks (p. 32) that that particular attention was given to scrolls. This is an important decision, since in all the other catalogues, and especially in that of the Institute of Microfilm Manuscripts in Jerusalem, the Torah scrolls are not described. In fact, even their existence is not acknowledged, and, in consequence, an entire field of studies and a vast source of biblical variants are simply ignored.

The collections described in these volumes served and grew around a particular project: The Complutense Polyglot Bible. They were created and grew under the leadership of a few individuals: Alfonso de Zamora (1474?-1520?), Benito Arias Montano (1527-1598), and Cardinal Zelada (1717- 1801). Older collections from convents and libraries were eventually included in the collections discussed here. As in the other volumes, F. J. del Barco del Barco provides good and comprehensive descriptions of the manuscripts, which in these volume number 76 manuscripts.  

During my (admittedly, cursory) reading of these three volumes (199 manuscript descriptions), I noticed only one mistake, and it can be easily corrected.  The commentary on the Song of Songs in no 47 is not by Samuel Ibn Tibbon, but by his son Moses Ibn Tibbon. There may be also a few mistakes in Hebrew citations.

Every one of the three volumes has two indexes of names, in Spanish and in Hebrew. Each one is enriched by the reproduction of the drawings of the watermarks of the papers with their identification in Briquet’s Dictionary and is illustrated by a generous number of color reproductions of double pages of manuscripts (28 in vol. I; 27 in vol. II; 26 in vol. III).

I would like to conclude this review with a reference to two features that are not found in any other catalogue of Hebrew manuscripts I am aware of. First, in vol. I, pp. 77-93 and vol. III, pp. 71- 85, L. Vegas Montaner describes and gives examples of the database which was built alongside with the writing of the descriptions. Although not all the details can be entered in these databases, this is a good demonstration of the usefulness of modern electronic systems. Second, every volume contains a CD that contains an electronic version of the complete paper edition, including the reproductions. One can copy them into one’s computer and use it when working in all the other libraries or at home. This CD is a very helpful addition to an already excellent volume, in both content and visual formatting.

Colette Sirat, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Sorbonne, Paris.


[1] For this reason our new series of catalogues is called  "Manuscrits en caractres hbreux conservs dans les bibliothques de France" (Brepols eds.). Volume III  in this series (forthcoming in 2009) describes the first part of the biblical manuscripts in the Bibliothque Nationale de France. These manuscripts are being catalogued by the author of the three books reviewed here,  F. Javier del Barco  del Barco.