Saturday, December 28, 2013

An Ashkenazi Paleography Puzzle

I'm trying to write a book chapter for an edited volume on the readership and ownership history of a particular Hebrew manuscript that, through a fictional colophon, implicates ones of my translators in the creation of that text in an attempt to accrete his textual, cultural, and intellectual prestige to the text, a life of Alexander the Great. I am writing about the text and the colophon in my book, but this book chapter will be an opportunity to talk about the material history of the text and how and why an Alexander romance falsely attributed to a medieval Andalusi exile was of interest to early modern European readers, who obviously had the text copied, sold it, and circulated it.

There are five owners' marks, and I've been able to read and identify three of them: the two most recent and the one that is probably the oldest of the five. The two newest ones are stamps that are well attested and weren't that hard to sort out; the oldest is a mess — a colleague in a different field looked at it and asked me: "What makes you even think that's language?" — which, not to toot my own horn or anything, was a real triumph to both decipher it and identify it as the mark of a French book dealer with particular known interests in Andalusi work.

But I'm really stuck on the other two.

< self-flagellation > I hate that I'm stuck. I hate that I haven't been able to work this out on my own or with help from people I know. I hate that I"m asking for help in such a public way and feel like it will, in some substantial way diminish the final product, if I ever even get as far as finishing it. I know that asking for help isn't asking other people to do my own work — being able to read the marks is just a first step, obviously, and there would be loads left for me to do and of course I'd give credit where credit would be due — but I can't quite shake the feeling. < / self-flagellation >

I think that the second one might begin: "zeh ha-sefer shayach le-yosef" (this book belongs to Joseph) but I'm not even sure about that. But if anyone out there is more familiar with early modern Ashkenazi hands than I am and can make some sense of these, I'd be beyond grateful, would acknowledge you in an effusive footnote, and would be more than happy to send you a batch of cookies, too, if that's your thing.

So here goes. Click to enlarge:


  1. I would read it as זה הספר שייך להקצין ר' הרמ"ב י"ץ
    Although the final kaf seems fairly strange, the context hardly permits anything but שייך.
    As to the name it’s an acronym, so its reading is especially doubtful (for example, ב can easily be ה and vice versa) and its meaning is obscure. The last flourish seems to be an acronym for ישמרהו צורו, but I have no idea why he put it twice.


  2. Thanks so much for your help! Ultimately, after one word was pointed out to me differently, I came to a different conclusion (to be posted soon) about the entirety of the name, but I really appreciate your weighing in!

    1. Nice, I'll wait to see your conclusion.
      So often it's the particular information we need (the name, the date) that is especially unreadable in a manuscript :)