3.3. Mishneh Torah (MS A 77)

A special group is formed by some illuminated Hebrew manuscripts – these come mainly from the collection of the Trieste brothers in Padova – which are universally reckoned among the most important works of their kind in existence anywhere. Originally they did not belong to Kaufmann's collection but were owned by his mother-in-law, Mrs. Róza Gomperz. This may have been due to financial reasons: perhaps they had to be acquired at such a high price that the old lady gave her consent on this condition only. In the donation deed Mrs. Gomperz made special mention of these items, which she herself donated to the Academy:

To this foundation I am attaching on my part 25 richly illuminated Hebrew parchment manuscripts of eminent value in the opinion of specialists on account of the Italian miniatures and colour illustrations included in them. 75

First of all one could mention here the in-folio manuscript of Maimonides' Mishneh Torah in four volumes (shelf-mark MS Kaufmann A 77), which is considered as one of the absolute masterpieces of mediaeval Hebrew art on account of its decorations and splendid illustrations. 76 The fact that a manuscript containing a work on religious law was produced with so much attention, care and considerable financial sacrifice can only be explained by the extremely high prestige in which the work was held within the community. 77 The manuscript was written in North-Eastern France and was completed in 1296. 78 Readers who are interested are referred to the in-folio facsimile editions in Hungarian and English containing the most important illuminations of the manuscript – alas in rather poor quality – in addition to important essays by Alexander Scheiber and Gabrielle Sed-Rajna. 79 The Hungarian and English versions are not identical: the English edition has some brief additional passages by Joshua Blau, Shlomo Pines and Isadore Twersky. Both editions were prepared under the artistic supervision of Tibor Szántó, who cut off part of the margins of the title pages of the books containing full-page illustrations, thus mutilating the illustrations in the margins in some places. This does not happen anywhere in the original manuscript.

From among its splendid illustrations we pick one out here on account of an interesting recent discovery. At the bottom of the frontispiece of Book Twelve “The Book of Donations and Acquisitions” we see Moses delivering the Tablets of the Law to the people of Israel.

Since the book contains the laws concerning donations and acquisitions, the artist has illustrated the frontispiece with the offering of the true gift, the revelation of the Law. The scene refers to a legend concerning the Biblical text: God uprooted Mount Sinai and placed it upside down, like an inverted basket, over the Israelites, in order to force them to accept the Law with its onerous obligations. The illustration shows Moses displaying the tablets of the Law to the Israelites, whose heads appear inside an opening in the mountain. 80

It was around 1984 that Evelyn M. Cohen discovered that beneath the present illustration there is another one showing “a nimbed, seemingly half-length figure. [...] The form on the right is somewhat higher than Moses, and the two figures are jointly holding the Tablets”. 81 The scene depicting Moses receiving the Tablets from the Lord can only have been executed by a Christian artist who was not aware that the representation of God was forbidden in Judaism. He seems to have received merely general instructions concerning the illumination program, which he then carried out as he was wont to do. When the blunder was discovered the owner had the original illustration painted over with another and so the present one was born. Only God's hand was left intact because it was a familiar way of representing God's presence. 82

Similarly, only a hand stretching out of a church is referring to God in a Christian manuscript preserved in Leiden and executed around 1000, where the artist-poet gives thanks to God for the completion of his work (poeta grăs agit dő p expleto opere suo). 83 The Revelation at Sinai was depicted similarly by the artist of the Bird's Head Haggadah (fol. 23r) too. 84 The same method of representation occurs in the Dresden Mahzor (c.1290; Sächsische Landesbibliothek; f.202v), while in the Bible of the Ambrosiana in Milan (1236-1238. B 30 f.182v) the Lord appears to Moses in the shape of an angel (?) in a cloud above Mount Sinai. 85

Of the two earliest Christian representations of this scene only that in the Grandval Bible (9th century) has God's hand reaching out of a cloud alluding to God's presence, while the Ashburnham Pentateuch (7th century) is already depicting God's face, with this anthropomorphic manner of representation later becoming characteristic of Christian art. In some cases we can see Christ in the Lord's figure. 86 The representation of God's presence by a hand can be regarded as exceptional in Jewish art. 87 God's presence is represented by a hand in the burning bush in the earliest version of this scene in the synagogue of Dura Europos (244-245). 88 The depiction of Ezekiel's vision (Ez 37) is remarkable in the Dura Europos synagogue, where in accordance with the Hebrew text we see God's hand reaching out of heaven: “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out...” (Ez 37:1a). 89 It may be noted that there is an exceptionally fine representation of Ezechiel's vision on a pulpit in the cathedral of Zwiefalten, in the vicinity of the upper course of the Danube in Germany. 90 In the Kaufmann Collection there is another representation of this scene which is strictly in keeping with the traditional method of avoidance of the representation of God's presence. In the Ulm Mahzor (MS Kaufmann A 383, f.177r) 91 the scene showing Moses receiving the Torah is depicted as follows: “Moses is kneeling on the slope of Mount Sinai, holding two Tables inscribed Torah. He is looking towards the arched dome of heaven, with rays above it, a star within it and clouds below it”. 92 It may be noted that in his brief note on this manuscript Kaufmann himself explicitly mentions God's hands, out of which Moses is receiving the Tablets, although in fact no hand can be detected in this illustration. 93 In a Mahzor executed in 1450 and preserved in Parma God's hand is seen stretching out of a cloud in heaven and delivering the Tablets to Moses. 94

75 Original in Hungarian. Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Collection of Manuscripts and Old Books, RAL No. 533. 1905. (Arrived 28 December 1906).
76 Gabrielle Sed-Rajna: The illuminated pages of the Kaufmann Mishneh Torah. In: Codex Maimuni. Moses Maimonides' code of law. The illuminated pages of the Kaufmann Mishneh Torah. [Ed. by Alexander Scheiber]. Budapest – Frankfurt 1984. 37. See also Bezalel Narkiss – Gabrielle Sed-Rajna: Index of Jewish art. Iconographical index of Hebrew illuminated manuscripts. Volume IV. Illuminated manuscripts of the Kaufmann Collection. Budapest–Jerusalem – Paris 1988. First Kaufmann Mishneh Torah. Card Nos. 1-45.
77 David Kaufmann: Zur Geschichte der jüdischen Handschriftenillustration. In: Müller – von Schlosser 1898. 281, 292. Munkácsi Ernő: Miniatűrművészet Itália könyvtáraiban. Héber kódexek. [=The art of miniatures in the libraries of Italy. Hebrew codices]. Budapest [c. 1938]. 16-17.
78 Sed-Rajna 1984. 37. NarkissSed-Rajna 1988. First Kaufmann Mishneh Torah. Card No. 2.
79 A Májmúni kódex. [Móse Májmúni törvénykódexe]. A budapesti »Misné Tóra« legszebb lapjai. [Szerk. Scheiber Sándor]. Budapest 1980. Codex Maimuni. Moses Maimonides' code of law. The illuminated pages of the Kaufmann Mishneh Torah. [Ed. by Alexander Scheiber]. Budapest – Frankfurt 1984.
80 Sed-Rajna 1984. 133. Cf. ibid. 31, 383. This legend occurs also in the Qoran. Joseph Gutmann: The haggadic motif in Jewish iconography. In: Eretz-Israel 6 (1960) 22*. An illustration depicting this scene can also be found in the so-called Regensburg Pentateuch (c. 1300; Israel Museum, Jerusalem, MS 180/52, fol. 154). Robert Suckale: Über den Anteil christlicher Maler an der Ausmalung hebräischer Handschriften der Gotik in Bayern. In: Geschichte und Kultur der Juden in Bayern. [Band 1.] Aufsätze. Ed. by Manfred Treml and Josef Kirmeier. [Veröffentlichungen zur Bayerischen Geschichte und Kultur, Nr. 17/88. Ed. by Claus Grimm.] München etc. 1988. 130.
81 Evelyn M. Cohen: The artist of the Kaufmann Mishneh Torah. In: Proceedings of the Ninth World Congress of Jewish Studies. Jerusalem, August 4 – 12, 1985. Division D. Volume II: Art, Folklore, Theatre, Music. Jerusalem 1986. 25-30, esp. 28. See also her contribution The Kaufmann Mishneh Torah illuminations in the present volume.
82 Evelyn Cohen: The decoration of medieval Hebrew manuscripts. In: A sign and a witness. 1988. 49-50. Lexikon der christlichen Ikonographie 1968-1976. II. 211-214. Cf. Louis Réau: Iconographie de l'art chrétien. Paris 1955-1959. II. I. 7 (La Main divine). On this motif in Jewish art see Mendel Metzger: La haggada enluminée. I. Étude iconographique et stylistique des manuscrits enluminés et décorés de la haggada du XIIIe au XVIe sičcle. [Études sur le judaďsme médiéval. II. La haggada enluminée I.] Leiden 1973. 2832, 286. On the motif of Moses receiving the Tablets of the Law see Metzger 1973. 301-310. Gabrielle Sed-Rajna: Die hebräische Bibel in Bilderhandschriften des Mittelalters. Übers. von Peter Hahlbrock. Frankfurt am Main – Berlin. 1987. 95-96. Gabrielle Sed-Rajna: Les synagogues antiques. Architecture, peintures murales, mosaďques du IIIe au Xe sičcle. In: Gabrielle Sed-Rajna – Ziva Amishai-Maisels – Dominique Jarrassé – Rudolf Klein – Ronny Reich: L'art juif. Paris 1995. Fig. 70. Gabrielle Sed-Rajna: Les peintures bibliques de la synagogue de Doura-Europos. Ibid. 567. In a Mahzor executed in 1450 (Parma, De Rossi 2895, p. 271), God's hand is seen stretching out of a cloud in heaven and delivering the Tablets to Moses. Munkácsi c. 1938. Plate XXIV, ill. No. 71.
83 Milo van Sint-Amand: Carmen de sobrietate. Sint Omaars, ca. 1000. Hs. Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, BPL 190, fol. 26v.
84 Metzger 1973. 303, Pl. LXVIII [fig. 388].
85 Ruth Mellinkoff: Antisemitic hate signs in Hebrew illuminated manuscripts from medieval Germany. Jerusalem 1999. 111 [Fig. 40], 116 [Fig. 47].
86 Metzger 1973. 306-307.
87 Metzger 1973. 307.
88 Metzger 1973. 286. Scheiber 1957. 17. Gabrielle Sed-Rajna: L'art juif. Orient et Occident. Paris 1975. 72.
89 Ibid. 76-77.
90 See Ursula Koslowsky: Münster Zwiefalten. [PEDA-Kunstführer Nr. 199.1/91]. Passau 1990. 33-35.
91 This manuscript is complemented by MS A 371. See Benjamin Richler’s contribution to this volume.
92 Narkiss – Sed-Rajna 1988. Card No. 20 [ad fol. 177].
93 Kaufmann 1898. 271 [ = Weisz 1906. 123-124].
94 Munkácsi c. 1938. Plate XXIV, ill. No. 71 [Parma, De Rossi 2895, p. 271].
95 Cohen 1986. 28-29. Cf. Ruth Mellinkoff: The horned Moses in medieval art and thought. (Berkeley – Los Angeles – London 1970. Reprint:) Eugene 1998. Lexikon der christlichen Ikonographie. Hrsg. v. Engelbert Kirschbaum. Rome-Freiburg-Basle-Vienna 1968-1976. III. 286. See, e.g., the Spanish Haggadah in the British Library (Or. 1404; fol. 14v). Müller – von Schlosser: Bilderhaggaden 1898. 105, Tafel IV2. Mellinkoff 1998. 1-9, 13-21, 76-80 and passim.
96 Wilhelm Gesenius: Hebräisches und aramäisches Handwörterbuch über das Alte Testament. Neudruck der 17. Aufl. Berlin 1959. 729. Eduard König: Hebräisches und aramäisches Wörterbuch zum Alten Testament. 2. u. 3. Aufl. Leipzig 1922. 420b. Das zweite Buch Mose. Exodus. Übersetzt und erklärt von Martin Noth. 2. Auflage. [Das Alte Testament Deutsch. Neues Göttinger Bibelwerk. Teilband 5.] Göttingen 1961. 214 [34:29-35], 220 [ad 34:29-35]. Ludwig Koehler – Walter Baumgartner: Hebräisches und aramäisches Lexikon zum Alten Testament. Dritte Auflage. Leiden 1967-1995. 1067b.
97 Henry George Liddell – Robert Scott: A Greek-English Lexicon. Ninth ed. With a Supplement 1968. Oxford 1985. 444b [doxázō II; dóxa IV].
98 For a balanced view of the present state of our knowledge about the possible collaboration between Christian and Jewish artists in France, with special reference to our manuscript, see Gabrielle Sed-Rajna: Les livres: La communauté racontée. In: Gabrielle Sed-Rajna – Ziva Amishai-Maisels – Dominique Jarrassé – Rudolf Klein – Ronny Reich: L'art juif. Paris 1995. 227-229. Cf. also Cecil Roth: The John Rylands Haggadah. In: Bulletin of the John Rylands Library. Vol. 43, No. 1, September 1960. 146-152.

There is another characteristic feature in this illumination suggesting that the artist was Christian. Originally he portrayed Moses with two horns, which a later hand attempted to obliterate from the manuscript: the traces of scraping are still visible on the parchment, while one of the horns has been transformed into a tuft of Moses' hair. Moses' representation with horns, which is based Jerome's Latin translation of the relevant passages (Ex 34:29, 35) in the Vulgate, was characteristic of mediaeval Christian art in Western Europe. 95 Contrary to a widely accepted view, this translation is not necessarily based on a misunderstanding of the text: the passages in question are Ex 34:29, 35, where in the Hebrew original the verb qâran occurs. Only here has this denominative verb (from qeren “horn”; in a metaphorical sense also: “something horn-like,” e.g. “rays”) the singular meaning “shone, was radiant,” which traditional interpretation – e.g., the influential Jewish exegete Rashi, who lived in France in the 11th century – deduces from the context. The Vulgate based its interpretation on the basic meaning of the verb: “to be horned.” This rendering can also be found in Aquila's Greek translation. 96 The Septuagint renders the expression in question with doxázō = “magnify, extol”; cf. dóxa = “glory, splendour, magnificence.” 97 Thus the rendering of the Septuagint should be translated something like this: “Moses did not know that the sight of the skin of his face was magnificent/in splendour.” Since the reference to horns does not occur in this place in the Septuagint, Moses is not portrayed with horns in Eastern Christian art. While in our modern times horns usually have negative connotations, in the ancient world they were one of the most common attributes of the gods, which symbolized honour, divinity, strength, kingship and honour. It has also been argued that Moses in fact wore a “sacred mask decorated with horns” during his conversation with God, a phenomenon which is not without parallells in the ancient world.

On the other hand, while the original meaning of the passage may really have been “horned,” Ruth Mellinkoff points out that Jerome in fact understood his own rendering cornuta metaphorically as glorificata erat, as he himself explained in his Commentary on Ezekiel, i.e. he did not believe that Moses descended from Mount Sinai with solid horns on his head. Mellinkoff has also pointed out that strangely enough it was in England in the 11th century that the representation of Moses with horns first appeared. Of course, the very positive connotation and frequent occurrence of horns in Norse archeology, art, folklore and mythology is well-known, so their appearance on the face or forehead of Moses was nothing new or unusual to readers in Northern Europe. 98