Beyond Hebraism: Hebrew Manuscripts in a Late Medieval Monastic Setting
Hundreds of Hebrew manuscripts and their fragments that ended up in late medieval monastic libraries represent an intriguing episode in the history of Christian Hebraica collecting. The new keepers of the manuscripts, who could not always read Hebrew, attributed to these Jewish objects a range of opposite meanings and treated them accordingly. Whether the Hebrew codices were considered by them a repository of ancient mysteries and were placed in special cases, separately from other books, or whether they were deliberately mutilated or destroyed as representatives of Jews and even as ‘diabolic’ magical artefacts, these and other uses as a whole attest to one of the most peculiar book-collecting practices. This practice suggested that a written artefact embodies certain qualities as an object per se beyond its specific textual content. Building on this premise, this project examines the process of integration of Hebrew manuscripts into monastic libraries from the earliest extant examples of such collecting that survived from the thirteenth century to the rise of professional Hebraism in the first half of the sixteenth century. Such integration was never direct but involved a certain degree of redaction, transformation, and adaptation of a Jewish book to the new religious and cultural context, both textually and materially. As a result, the book accommodated layers of owners’ modifications, becoming a hybrid object in terms of its language, textual sequence, and materiality. Specifically the questions of how Hebrew manuscripts were changed to accord the role assigned to them in the monastic libraries, and how such changes reflected and, in turn, shaped the reception of Hebraica in a Christian milieu represent the focus of this project. Although this project addresses the specific situation of the books’ flow from Jews to Christians, it promises to contribute greatly to the study of the circulation of written artefacts between different cultures and the modes of their preservation in foreign hands.