Bern, Burgerbibliothek, Cod. 359
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Dr. Justine Isserles, chercheure associée, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes-Saprat (Paris), 2019.

Handschriftentitel: Sefer ha-Yashar by Abraham ben Meir ibn Ezra (1089/92-1164/67)
Entstehungsort: Italy
Entstehungszeit: 2nd half 15th century
Beschreibstoff: Parchment, medium quality (e.g. holes: ff. 27, 31, 36, 46, 50 ; stiches: ff. 35, 57, 74; skin default: ff. 34, 60, 67; folds in parchment: f. 57. Skin and hair sides are distinguishable.
Umfang: 109 folios
Format: 240-245 x 175-180 mm
Seitennummerierung: The foliation is in Arabic numerals written in grey pencil in the bottom left corner of each recto side of the page (1-109). There is double pagination in Arabic numerals in grey pencil in the top right corner of each verso side of the page (I, 1 -16, 16a -b, 17 -214).
Lagenstruktur: 11 quires remaining. 10 quires of quinions [I-II (1r-20v); IV-VIII (29r-78v); X-XII (79r-108v)] and 1 quire composed of a quaternion [III (21r-28v), because the outer bifolio of this quire is missing)]. Moreover, quire IX of the manuscript is missing. Therefore, there were originally 12 quires composing this manuscript.
There is also 1 glued folio at the end of the manuscript (f.109r/v).
Certain quires have been numbered in Hebrew by the scribe in the top left corner of folios 11r (‎ב‎), 29r (‎ד‎), 39r (‎ה‎), 49r (‎ו‎), 59r (‎ז‎), 69r (‎ח‎), 79r (‎י‎), 89r (‎אי‎), 99r (‎יב‎) at the beginning of their respective quires II, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, X, XI, XII.‎
Each catchword is followed by a number in Hebrew (e.g. ff. 10v /‎א‎, 20v /‎ב‎, 38v /‎ד‎), with the exception of 2 folios: folio 28v, where the last folio of the outer bifolio of the quire is missing from the quire and folio 108v, which is the last folio of last quire the manuscript.‎
Zustand: Manuscript in good condition, although there are some small humidity spots on some pages of the manuscript and the lateral margins have been cropped, cutting off some of the marginal glosses (e.g. ff. 5v, 7r, 80v, 83v, 88v, 93r). The bottom hand corner of folio 1 has been cut out and the lateral and bottom margins of folio 22 have been cut off. As mentioned above, the first bifolio (1st and last folios of the quire) of quire III is missing and the totality of the quire IX is missing.
Seiteneinrichtung: Hardpoint ruling on the skin side, bifolio by bifolio throughout the manuscript. 1 + 1 columns of text. 31 ruled lines for 26-31 written lines. The end of lines is respected by letter elongation and compression. Some letters do however overlap into the lateral margins (e.g. ff. 76v, 80r, 108r). Full-page layout, except for folios 2r and 107r whose text is partially laid out in 2 columns. Indentations of the two first lines of text at the beginning of a new chapter throughout the manuscript.
Schrift und Hände: Italian bookhand script for the main text and initial words at the beginning of new chapters in an Italian square script. Both scripts are in a small module. One scribe copied this manuscript clearly and legibly. The text is not vocalized except for one word on folio 107v, line 15, which has been vocalized by a later hand.
Spätere Ergänzungen: Presence of several marginal glosses in Italian bookhand scripts (including corrections and words omitted in the text) by different hands in lighter or darker inks.
Folio 109r: Added text in a later hand in light brown ink.
Folio 20v: Latin note in the bottom margin in very dark brown ink, which has been barred out in grey pencil: Hic à Cap. 27 usque ad finem Geneseos desunt omnia.
Einband: Limp white leather binding of the 16th century (255 x 190 mm), with watermarked paper (Watermark: B, referring to the Le Bé family, 16th c., France) glued to the inner sides of the boards. A 14th or 15th century fragment of a rubricated Latin liturgical manuscript was used to consolidate and cover the 3 spine bands made of double-strapped skin sewing support for the quires. The verso of the limp binding at the beginning of the volume bears the modern shelfmark ‘Cod. 359’ in grey pencil. A later white parchment strip (different from the parchment colour of the binding) was glued on the spine of the manuscript partially overlapping onto each of the outer limp ‘boards’. The bottom of the spine contains the shelfmark of the manuscript ‘Mscpt. 359’ and at the top of the spine is the following handwritten note (possibly by a Burgerbibliothek librarian Marquard Wild, 17th c.) in brown ink: Aben Esrae Comment[arium] in Legem. Beza dono dedit Cevalerio. The back of the volume contains two handwritten notes, one with the following Hebrew text (perhaps written by Cevaliero): בזא‎ עבן עזרה על התורה מתן אדוני היקרי תאודורוס‎ ‎ (‘Even Ezra on the Torah given by my dear Master Theodore of Beza’) and one below with the Latin text: Comment. Aben Esrae Commentum in Legem: donum clarissimi D. Theodori Bezae.‎
The manuscript was lightly restored in 2012 (see small restorer’s note on bottom of inner board at the beginning of the volume).
Abraham ben Meir ibn Ezra (1089/1092-1164/67) is considered one of the most distinguished rabbinical authorities of the Middle Ages, accomplished in poetry, biblical exegesis, grammar, theology, philosophy, mathematics, astrology and astronomy. Born in Tudela (Navarre), Ibn Ezra fled Spain in 1140, during the Almohad fanatical regime and led an itinerant life, wandering Europe. He spent several years in Italy, Southern France, Normandie, the Angevin territories and England before returning to Narbonne in 1161, shortly before his death in 1164 or 1167.
During his peregrinations, Avraham Ibn Ezra developed a rich literary activity, composing mostly in Hebrew but also exceptionally in Latin, with the assistance of a Christian scholar (Renate Smithuis has recently attributed some astrological and astronomical works in Latin to Ibn Ezra, which he would have composed during the 1150s, see R. Smithuis, 2006). His writings have recently been chronologically listed and classified into the three groups of biblical commentaries, Hebrew language and theology and scientific treatises (G. Freudenthal and S. Sela, 2006), thus bringing to light the abundance and erudition of his scholarship, most of which is still preserved today in numerous manuscripts and printed books.
Particularly relevant here, MS Cod. 359 encloses an exegetical work by Ibn Ezra and the first of two commentaries on the Pentateuch, entitled Sefer ha-Yashar. These commentaries attained great recognition and popularity during the Middle Ages and were used as a vehicle for disseminating his teachings. Furthermore, according to Shlomo Sela, the main reason for Ibn Ezra’s success was his encyclopedic approach to biblical exegesis, where he introduced a wide range of aspects of human knowledge, beginning with insights on the ‘plain’ meaning of the biblical text (peshat), founded on philology and further expounding subjects relative to astrology, astronomy, calendars, mathematics, philosophy, logic and occasional esoteric references (S. Sela, 1999, 2000, 2003; Z. Langermann, 2018).
Ibn Ezra wrote two biblical exegeses in two phases and locations during his lifetime: in Italy (Rome:1140-43 and Lucca:1142-45), where a ‘short’ commentary was composed and in Normandie (Rouen: 1153-56), where his time was devoted to writing new versions of the exegeses composed in Italy, considered as the ‘long’ commentary. Both works eventually kindled ‘supercommentaries’, a new Hebrew literary genre in Jewish philosophical literature, which flourished during the 14th century and tended to interpret Ibn Ezra’s commentaries along similar lines (U. Simon, 1993; Z. Langermann, 2018). The ‘short’ commentary or alternately titled Sefer ha-Yashar copied in Cod. 359, pertains to the first phase of Ibn Ezra’s biblical exegeses and was written in Lucca between 1142-45 (G. Freudenthal and S. Sela, 2006 and S. Sela, 2003). This location is attested in the work itself, inserted in the middle of a commentary on Genesis 33:10 in Parshat Vayishlaḥ (J. L. Fleischer, 1970. See also MS Cod. 359, folio 23r, lines 11-12: והנה בין ירושלים ובין זאת המדינה שחברתי בה זה הפי' ושמה לוקא שעה ושליש שעה‎) where it is written: …There between Jerusalem and the city where I composed this commentary, whose name is Lucca, there are one and a third hours… The Sefer ha-Yashar has been preserved in numerous manuscripts and printed books (Ed. Princeps, Naples, 1488).
Additionally, the title of Sefer ha-Yashar (Book of the Yashar) given to this work is laden with intertextual references (G. Freudenthal and S. Sela, 2006). To cite a few, it was named after an ancient book of the Israelites mentioned in the Bible (Jos. 10:13 and II Sam. 1: 18) and is recognized in Targum Jonathan as a synonym for the whole Torah. It is also identified with the Book of Genesis by the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud (e.g. TB Avodah Zarah 25a; TJ Sotah 8a), since this Book contains stories relevant to the Patriarchs who were referred to as yesharim (righteous) and finally, the term yashar, which also means ‘correct and straightforward’, conveys the characterization of the biblical commentary itself.
  • f. 1r/v blank with some owners’ notes.
  • ff. 2r-4r Introduction f. 2r זה ספר הישר לאברהם השר ובעבותות הדקדוק נקשר ובעיני הדעת יכשר וכל תומכו מאושר Title translation: This is the Sefer ha-Yashar by Avraham the prince and in the ties of grammar are bound, and in my eyes, the knowledge prospers and all that sustain it are contented.
  • ff. 4v-29v Commentary on Bereshit (Genesis) (missing text between folios 28v and 29r. Quire III (21r-28v) is missing its outer bifolio).
  • ff. 29v-62r Commentary on Shemot (Exodus)
  • ff. 62r-78v Commentary on Vayiqra (Leviticus) , lacunary at end of Lv. 25:29 in Parshat Behar (בהר) and all of Parshat Beḥuqotai (בחקתי) (Lv. 26:3-27 :34). (Quire IX is missing, amounting to a quinion or 10 folios of text comprising of 7 pericopes; 5 fully lacunary ones and 2 partially lacunary ones, between folios 78v and 79r)
  • ff. 79r-88r Commentary on Bamidbar (Numbers) , lacunary in the following 4 pericopes (Nb. 1:1-15:41): Bamidbar (במדבר), Naso (נשא), Beha’alotekha (בהעלתך), Shelaḥ-Lekha (שלח לך), the last of which is partially missing.
  • ff. 88v-107r Commentary on Devarim (Deuteronomy)
    • (f. 107r) Colophon ending Sefer ha-Yashar followed by a liturgical poem beginning with the words הא לך ידיד תורה מפורשה. (see Davidson, vol. 2, Nr. 7)
      Transcription: נשלם פי' חמשה חומשי תורה כאשר פירשו אברהם בן עזרא
      תהילה לצור עוטה יש' תפארה ברחמיו יצילנו מזעם ועברה

      Translation: This completes the commentary on the Five Books of Torah as is commented by Avraham ben Ezra.
      Praise to the Rock who covers Israel gloriously in His mercy, Who will rescue us from fury and wrath.
  • ff. 107v-109r Selection of short texts on biblical pericopes from other exegetical commentaries by Avraham Ibn Ezra headed by the following title:‎ ליקוטים מפי' ר' אברהם בן עזרא‎ (Compilation of commentaries by R. Avraham Ibn Ezra).
    • (ff. 107v-108r) Commentary on Parshat Shemot (Ex. 1:1-6:1)
    • (f. 108r/v) Commentary on Parshyiot Ki Tisa (Ex. 30:11-34:35) and Aḥarei Mot (Lv. 16:1-18:30)
    • (f. 108v) Commentary on Parshat Balaq (Nb. 22:2-25:9)
    • (f. 109r) Commentary on Parshat Devarim (Dt. 1:1-3:22) and in a later hand a commentary on Parshat Bereshit (Gn. 1:1-6:8).
    • (f. 109v) blank page
Provenienz der Handschrift:
  • Before its arrival at the Burgerbibliothek in 1634, MS Cod. 359 passed through several Jewish hands since its production in the second half of the 15th century [f.1r: faint note with the posthumous name Israel ‎ז''ל‎ dated 1476 (‎רלו‎)] and until the second half of the 16th century. During this time, it appears thanks to owners’ notes, that the ha-Zarḥi family from Cologne not only owned MS Cod. 359 but also three other Hebrew manuscripts preserved at the Bodleian Library in Oxford (MSS Neubauer 2103, 1796/5 and 643) (J. Prijs, 2018, p. 405). These notes help identify the family members, such as in MSS Neubauer 2103 and 1796/5, which bear the name of Hosea ben Avraham of Cologne, clearly identifying the father-son relation between Hosea Raphael (f. 1v of MS Cod. 359) and Avraham ha-Zarḥi (f. 1r of MS Cod. 359). Furthermore, a note in MS Cod. 359 goes on to explain that Hosea Raphael (son of Avraham), inherited the manuscript in August 1519, when dividing the collection of Avraham’s books with his brother Isaac, after the presumed passing of their father (f.1v: Which has arrived to my destiny, Hosea Raphael (may he see his descendance and may his days be lengthened amen), when I divided the books with my brother Itsḥaq from Colo[gne] August 279 [1519 C.E.]). It is also known that Cod. 359 had been acquired previously by Avraham ha-Zarḥi, because of the latter’s note on the previous page (f. 1r): To ha-Shem belongs the earth and all it contains, financial acquisition of Avraham of Cologne ha-Zarḥi. Lastly, as further evidence to ha-Zarḥi family members, MS Neubauer 643 contains an owner’s note with the names of Avraham ha-Zarḥi’s descendants, Solomon and Avraham ha-Zarḥi, sons of Mordekhai from Cologne, living in Vadiana, Lombardy, during the second half of the 16th century, under the rule of Guilliemo of Gonzaga, duke of Mantua (1550-1587).
  • Before this manuscript was in Hortin’s possession, a Latin note on the back cover of the volume attests its ownership to Theodore de Bèze (1519-1605), the famous Genevan Calvinist theologian and Professor, and the latter’s gift to one of his disciples and colleagues, Antoine Chevalier (1507-1572), the first Professor of Hebrew language at the Académie de Genève. A subsequent Hebrew note, situated above the Latin one, was probably written by Chevalier. The proof of this possession testifies to the private ownership of medieval Hebrew manuscripts, mostly of biblical nature, by prominent Genevan religious leaders and Professors of the 16th century, who used them as vehicles to improve their understanding of the Old Testament. It is noteworthy to mention that the first preserved inventory of that library, dated 1572 (Ganoczy, 1969), only encloses a list of Hebrew printed books, suggesting that this library probably also held Hebrew manuscripts, but that their inventory was either lost or never even made. Indeed, the first Hebrew manuscript mentioned in a preserved list produced by the Académie library, can be found in a register for the years 1626 to 1666 (Arch. BPU Dd 1), where it specifies a commentary by Rashi on the Five Megillot (BGE, MS heb. 7), bequeathed in 1661 by Antoine Léger (1596-1661), a pastor and Professor of the Académie de Genève (Isserles, 2016).
  • Hebrew Owners notes in the manuscript: All in bookhand scripts.‎
    • f. 1r
      • Above right, 2 lines in very faint light brown ink, small script: practically illegible except for ‎ישראל ז''ל‎ and a possible date at the end of ‎רלו‎ (1476).
      • Above right, below 1st note, 6 lines written in dark brown ink, slightly larger script, mentioning a list of works and their respective pages:
        ‎ Transcription:‎ אבן עזרא. תרי עשר לג' דפין. פי' ירמיה מר' מנחם ב''ר שמעון נ' דפין. פי' [...] מר' מנחם ב''ר שמעון נה' דפין
        Translation : Ibn Ezra. 12 Prophets, 3 pages. Commentary on Jeremiah by R. Menahem bar Shimon, 50 pages. Commentary on […] by R. Menahem bar Shimon, 54 pages.
      • Upper part of page, middle, 1 line written in brown ink, small script:
        Transcription: ‏[...] ירושי מר' משה ע''ה
        Translation: The inheritors of R. Moses may peace be upon him.
      • Above left corner, 3 lines in dark brown ink, small script:
        ‎Transcription:‎ לה' הארץ ומלואה כנין כספי האברהם מקולונייא הזרחי
        Translation:‎ To the Almighty belongs the earth and all it contains, financial acquisition of Avraham of Cologne‏ ‏ha-Zarḥi.
      • Above left corner 6 lines in lighter brown ink and larger script, enumerating biblical works:
        Transcription: חומש נבעים תהלים [משלי] תרי עשר חמש מגילות
        ‎Translation:‎ Pentateuch, Prophets, Psalms, [Proverbs], 12 minor Prophets, five scrolls (Song of Songs, the Book of Ruth, the Book of Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and the Book of Esther).
    • f. 1v
      • Above right corner, dark brown ink, small script:‎
        Transcription:‎ הגיע לגורלי הושע רפאל יזייא' כשחלקתי הספרי עם אחי כמ יצחק מקולו אגוסטו רעט‏
        Translation:‎ Which has arrived to my destiny, Hosea Raphael (may he see his descendance and may his days be lengthened amen), when I divided the books with my brother Itsḥaq from Colo[gne] August 279 (1519 C.E.).
      • Above, middle page, dark brown ink, small script:‎
        Transcription: ה והנה אנחנו מאלמים אלומים בתוך השדה והנה
        Translation: ‎There we were binding sheaves in the field, when suddenly…‎ A solitary letter ‘‎ה‎’ followed by a partial verse from Genesis 37:7: There we were binding sheaves in the field, when suddenly… [Translation in English taken from Tanakh. The Holy Scriptures. The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text (Philadelphia, Jerusalem: The Jewish Publication Society, 1985), p. 59.]‎
Erwerb der Handschrift: This manuscript has been preserved in the Burgerbibliothek in Bern since 1634, date at which the owner at the time, Samuel Hortin (1589-1652), donated it to the library along with 8 other Hebrew manuscripts from his possession. This manuscript was listed in Hortin’s Clavis bibliothecae Bongarsianae (1634) catalogue of the Jacques Bongars (1554-1612) collection which also entered the library in 1634. This highly important collection includes 650 medieval and Early Modern manuscripts, as well as about 150 fragments from monasteries in and around Orleans and Strasbourg.
  • Many thanks to Dr. Florian Mittenhuber of the Burgerbibliothek, Bern, for sharing several of the following bibliographical references with me: S. Engel, H. Hagen, S. Hortin, J. R. Sinner, A. Wegmann, M. Wild
Catalogues in manuscript form
  • S. Engel, Katalog "Manuscripta", hs., 1740, [BBB Mss.h.h. III 110], f. 2r: '359. 'Aben Esrae Commentarius in Legem. M[embr.]'.
  • S. Hortin, Clavis bibliothecae Bongarsianae MDCXXXIIII, Bern 1634 [= BBB Cod. A 5], p. 80d: [Sign.] 'XII.14. Aben Esrae in Legem. Mss. in membr. D[onum] d[edit] Beza Rod. Cevalerio. 4°.
  • J. Prijs, Katalog der hebräischen Handschriften (Manuscript, 1945), pp. 1-4, 56.
  • M. Wild, Catalogus Librorum Bibliothecae Civicae Bernensis MDCIIIC, Bern 1697 [= BBB Cod. A 4], f. 20v: '359. Aben Esrae Commentarius in Legem. Beza dono dedit Cevalerio. 4°.'
Printed catalogues and secondary literature
  • I. Davidson, Thesaurus of Mediaeval Hebrew Poetry (New York: 1924-1933), vol.2, Nr. 7.
  • J. L. Fleischer, « R. Abraham Ibn Ezra and his Literary Work in Lucca, Italy” (Hebrew), Ha-Soqer 2 (5694 [1932]), pp. 77-85; 4 (5696 [1936/37]), pp. 186-194 (esp. p. 79, 186-194). This article was reproduced in R. Abraham Ibn Ezra: A Collection of Articles on his Life and Works (Tel Aviv: 5730 [1970], pp. 107-124.
  • O. Franz-Klauser, «Burgerbibliothek Bern. Die hebraïschen Handschriften, Verzeichnis mit Einleitung», Judaica: Beiträge zum Verstehen des Judentums, 55, (1999), p. 17 (Nr.11).
  • A. Ganoczy, La Bibliothèque de l’Académie de Calvin. Le catalogue de 1572 et ses renseignements (Genève : Librarie Droz, 1969), pp. 159-166.
  • H. Hagen, Catalogus codicum bernensium (Bibliotheka Bongarsiana) (Bern: B. F. Haller, 1875), p. 347.
  • J. Isserles, Catalogue des manuscrits hébreux de la Bibliothèque de Genève, notices et commentaires (Geneva: 2016), p. 160. Published online on (viewed 8.01.2019) (forthcoming paper edition: Geneva: Éditions Droz, 2020), pp. 160, 169.
  • Z. Langermann, «Abraham Ibn Ezra» (substantive revision, 2018), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (, viewed 8.01.2019).
  • 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 von Mosche Prijs (Basel, Benei Beraq: Sefer Verlag, 2018), pp. 305–306, 405 (Nr. 299).
  • S. Sela, Astrology and Biblical Exegesis I the Thought of Abraham Ibn Ezra (Hebrew), (Ramat Gan: 1999).
  • S. Sela, “Encyclopedic Aspects of Abraham Ibn Ezra’s Scientific Corpus”, in S. Harvey (ed.), The Medieval Hebrew Encyclopedias of Science and Philosophy, (Dordrecht; 2000), pp. 154-170.
  • S. Sela, Abraham Ibn Ezra and the Rise of Hebrew Medieval Science (Leiden: Brill, 2003), pp. 9-11.
  • S. Sela and G. Freudenthal, “Abraham Ibn Ezra’s Scholarly Writings: A Chronological Listing”, Aleph: Historical Studies in Science and Judaism 6 (2006), pp. 13-55 (esp. pp. 18, 27-28).
  • U. Simon, “Interpreting the Interpreter: Supercommentaries on Ibn Ezra’s Commentaries” in I. Twersky and J. M. Harris (eds.), Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra: Studies of a Twelfth Century Jewish Polymath (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993).
  • J. R, Sinner, Catalogus codicum mss. bibliothecae Bernensis, 3 vols. (Bern: 1760-1772), vol.1, p. 1.
  • R. Smithuis, “Science in Normandy and England under the Angevins. The Creation of Avraham Ibn Ezra’s Latin Works of Astronomy and Astrology”, in G. Busi (ed.), Hebrew to Latin- Latin to Hebrew: The Mirroring of Two Cultures in the Age of Humanism. Colloquium held at the Warburg Institute. London, October 18-19, 2004, (Berlin and Turin, 2006), pp. 26-61.
  • R. Smithuis, “Abraham Ibn Ezra`s Astrological Works in Hebrew and Latin: New Discoveries and Exhaustive Listing”, Aleph: Historical Studies in Science and Judaism 6 (2006) pp. 239-338.
  • Tanakh. The Holy Scriptures. The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text (Philadelphia, Jerusalem: The Jewish Publication Society, 1985), p. 59.
  • A. Wegmann, Schweizer Exlibris (Zürich: 1933-1937), #573.