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date: 23 October 2019

St Petersburg Bible [Codex Petropolitanus ; Leningrad Codex]locked

  • Rachel Milstein

Extract

[Codex Petropolitanus ; Leningrad Codex]

Illuminated Hebrew Bible (St Petersburg, N. Lib., MS. Firk. Heb. I B 19A), copied in Fustat, Egypt, in 1008–10. Written in ink and lavishly illuminated in gold, blue, and red at the end, this codex of 491 vellum leaves is the only complete Hebrew Bible from the early medieval Near East. It was copied between 1008 and 1010 by Shmuel ben Ya’aqov for Mevorakh ben Yoseph in Fustat (Old Cairo), probably in a Karaite milieu. (The Karaites are a Jewish sect that denies the Talmudic rabbinical tradition and recognizes the Scriptures as the sole and direct source of religious law.) By the 14th century the manuscript was given to the Karaite Synagogue in Damascus and in that town it was purchased by Abraham Firkovich (1786–1874) in the 19th century.

Following a common practice in medieval Hebrew Bibles, the illumination of the St Petersburg Bible comprises mainly micrographic Masoratic notes (sets of grammatical variations taken from the Holy Script). These notes, together with Psalm verses and blessings, form discrete, monochromatic, and semi-abstract motifs in the margins of the text, or serve as outlines in full-page compositions. The scribe of the St Petersburg Bible points out in the colophon that he himself added the vocalization and the Masorah. These assume a decorative form of roundels only under the verses of the first song of Moses (Exodus 15:10–19, fols 40...

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