The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at Penn brings manuscript culture, modern technology and people together.


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A Legacy Inscribed: the Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection of Manuscripts

The exhibition A Legacy Inscribed: The Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection of Manuscripts is now available online. The original exhibition was curated by Lynn Ransom and took place March 1 – August 16, 2013 in the Penn Library’s Goldstein Family Gallery, located in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.

In 2011, University of Pennsylvania Board members Barbara Brizdle Schoenberg and LawrenceJ. Schoenberg (C53, WG56) donated the Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection of Manuscripts to the libraries. The Schoenberg collection brings together many of the great scientific and philosophical traditions of the ancient and medieval worlds. Documenting the extraordinary achievements of scholars, philosophers, and scientists in Europe, Africa and Asia, the collection illuminates the foundations of Penn’s academic traditions.

Each section of the exhibition – Arts and Sciences, Communication, Design, Education, Engineering, Law, the Medical Arts, and Social Policy and Practice – showcases texts, textbooks, documents, and letters that embody the history and mission of the schools that form the University. Often illustrated with complex diagrams and stunning imagery, the manuscripts bring to the present the intellectual legacy of the distant past.


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13th Century Entanglements, Part 3

S.J. Pearce is an assistant professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at New York University, where her teaching and research focus on the intellectual history and literature of Jews, Christians and Muslims in medieval Spain.  She is currently completing a book-length project that examines the ways in which Jewish intellectuals in 13th-century Spain and France understood Arabic to be a language of cultural prestige.  She earned her Ph.D. at Cornell University (Near Eastern Studies, 2011); and during the 2012-13 academic year, held the Louis and Hortense Apfelbaum Fellowship at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.  The 2012-2013 Fellows contributed to a new web exhibit titled 13th Century Entanglements:  Judaism, Christianity & Islam, in which each Fellow presented a manuscript or printed work used in research during the year.  Dr. Pearce chose LJS 453, and her text from the exhibit follows.

Commentaries on the Scientific and Philosophical Texts of Aristotle

This substantial codex, copied in Germany in 1446 and consisting of 269 folios written in several Ashkenazi scribal hands, was recently acquired by the University of Pennsylvania through a gift made by the noted collector Lawrence J. Schoenberg and Barbra Brizdle Schoenberg. LJS 453 contains Hebrew translations of Arabic commentaries on the scientific works of Aristotle. Although it represents a fifteenth-century copy of the commentaries on works on various aspects of natural history, as well as on cosmology and meteorology, the texts themselves are the product of developments in intellectual history and tastes that flourished in earnest in the thirteenth century and continued into the fourteenth. As early as the second half of the twelfth century, Jewish readers living in regions of what are modern-day Spain and France began to translate Arabic-language scientific, philosophical and religious texts into Hebrew, with the consequence that these texts became available to a wider readership. The beginnings of this translation movement, which was consciously modeled on the ninth-century movement in the eastern Mediterranean to translate Greek-language texts into Syriac and Arabic, also led to the creation of a brand new technical vocabulary in Hebrew, since translators were often required to coin new terms for concepts in these fields that had not previously ever been discussed or written about in Hebrew.

The texts in this volume include: Solomon ibn Ayyub’s translation of Averroes’ commentary on De Caelo; translations by the noted Hebrew poet Kalonymos ben Kalonymos of the commentary on De generatione et corruptione and the Meteorologia; and Jacob ben Makhir’s translation of De Animalibus. The volume also contains Hebrew translations of Abraham ibn Ezra’s commentary on Psalms and fragments of Moses Maimonides’ Epistle to the Yemen. Taken together, these texts offer a coherent and complete, if not comprehensive, overview of the major intellectual and religious trends and debates that were current in thirteenth-century Spain and France. Beginning in the second half of the twelfth century, the father-and-son pair of translators, Judah and Samuel ibn Tibbon, began to adapt Arabic texts into Hebrew, often times at the request of particular communities with low levels of Arabic literacy but interest in reading texts of classical antiquity and the medieval Arabic commentaries upon them; this trend continued in northern Spain and southern France and allowed for the wide dissemination in the Jewish world of texts that were of scientific and dialectical-rationalist character.


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13th Century Entanglements, Part 2

Katelyn Mesler received her Ph.D. from Northwestern University in 2012.  In 2012-2013, she held the Erika A. Strauss Teaching Fellowship at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, and she is currently a Mandel Fellow in the Scholion Interdisciplinary Research Center in the Humanities and Jewish Studies (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem).  She has published several articles on topics ranging from medieval Christian eschatology to magic, medicine, and science in the medieval Jewish and Christian traditions.  The 2012-2013 Fellows contributed to a new web exhibit titled 13th Century Entanglements:  Judaism, Christianity & Islam, in which each Fellow presented a manuscript or printed work used in research during the year.  Dr. Mesler chose LJS 449, and her text from the exhibit follows.

If You Find an Engraved Stone: The Transmission of Science and Magic

Among the scientific writings of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages are treatises known as Lapidaries, short encyclopedic works on the properties of stones and minerals. One type of lapidary, exemplified by Marbode of Rennes’s famous Latin work On Stones, listed the name of each stone (often alphabetically), followed by details such as their color, where they are found, and any special “virtues” or powers that the stone possesses (such as the loadstone’s power of attraction or the bezoar’s reputation as an antidote for poison). Another type of lapidary was concerned with the symbolic meaning of the twelve biblical stones of the high priest’s breastplate and the heavenly Jerusalem.

The Techel/Azareus Complex, pictured here, is a Latin lapidary in which engravings of astrological symbols are said to imbue the stones with powers. The prologue (in red) offers an origin story for the text and the stones it describes: “In the name of the Lord, Amen. This is Cheel’s great, precious, and secret little book of the sigils that the children of Israel made in the desert after their departure from Egypt, in accordance with the motion and course of the planets and constellations.” Entries for the stones begin with the phrase “If you find…” and then describe in detail the images, based largely on Greco-Roman astrological iconography, that one might find engraved on a stone. The reader is then instructed on the special virtues and magical uses of any stone that meets the description.

The origins of the Techel/Azareus Complex remain a mystery, but the text has roots and parallels in the Greek and Arabic lapidary traditions. The oldest identified copy of this Latin lapidary dates to the twelfth century. In the course of the next few centuries, it was translated into several vernacular languages and became one of the most widely circulated and cited of all medieval lapidaries. Notably, the text was also translated into Hebrew (via Anglo-Norman) in the thirteenth century. By the end of the Middle Ages, two more Jewish versions had appeared: one written in Italian in Hebrew characters and a second Hebrew version (via Castilian and Catalan) that may have originated outside the Latin tradition. The lapidary in all its versions is part of a wider movement in the Middle Ages to transmit and translate scientific works, bridging not only ancient and medieval traditions but also cultural, linguistic, and religious ones.


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Students Meeting Manuscripts

Julia Perratore is a recent graduate of Penn’s doctoral program in the History of Art and a lecturer in Penn’s Critical Writing Program.  This summer she taught an introductory course on medieval art, and she describes here how she incorporated manuscripts into her curriculum.

July calendar page (f. 7r), Rouen book of hours (Ms. Codex 1056)

July calendar page (f. 7r), Rouen book of hours (Ms. Codex 1056)

In my view, it is essential for those coming to the study of medieval art history for the first time to experience medieval art objects first-hand. In an effort to bring my small group of students into contact with primary materials, I had them visit the Special Collections Center on two separate occasions. First, I sent them on their own to view the Legacy Inscribed exhibition of manuscripts from the collection of Lawrence Schoenberg. I assigned each student a different manuscript to study closely, and their observations formed the basis of their first written assignment, a formal analysis focused on illuminated initials and their part in the overall mise-en-page. I also had them do a small amount of research on their assigned manuscript to learn more about its background. There is no substitute for having the entire manuscript, offering the entire page layout, available to you – issues of scale and proportion that are otherwise meaningless really come to the fore when you have the actual object before you.

This independent exploration was followed by a group visit to the Special Collections Center during one of our class sessions, when Lynn Ransom treated us to a tour of books of hours in the always-impressive Lea Library. My students were thrilled to get a sense, not only of how these books are decorated, but how they were organized and used. They confided to me that it was much easier to understand how such books could structure and impact a person’s entire life when they had the chance to go through the pages themselves. They were also particularly thrilled to touch the parchment of one manuscript, and they were soon keen to determine when a given text was written on the “hair side” or “flesh side” of the parchment – something they would never have observed, and perhaps never have even comprehended, if they had only read about it. One student was so enthusiastic about his encounter with books of hours that he looked into buying one for himself! He went straight to the internet to investigate specimens currently on auction. Alas, everything was far too expensive, but it seems a new generation of enthusiasts – and perhaps even collectors – is born with every visit to Special Collections.


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13th Century Entanglements, Part 1

Charles H. Manekin, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Maryland, held the Ellie and Herbert D. Katz Distinguished Fellowship at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies in Spring 2013.  The 2012-2013 Fellows contributed to a new web exhibit titled 13th Century Entanglements:  Judaism, Christianity & Islam, in which each Fellow presented a manuscript or printed work used in research during the year.  Professor Manekin chose LJS 229, and his text from the exhibit follows.

Commentary on Averroes’ Middle Commentaries on the Isagoge of Porphyry, the Categories and De Interpretatione of Aristotle
LJS 229

LJS 229

It is hard to overestimate the importance of the first three books of the logical canon known as the Organon—the Isagoge (Introduction) of Porphyry of Tyre, and the Categories and the De Interpretatione of Aristotle—for medieval intellectual life. Already in late antiquity these books were an essential part of the medical curriculum, and all medieval physicians, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian, were expected to have mastered their comments. Students of scientific subjects commenced their studies with either these particular books, or at least their subject-matter, e.g., how we categorize the world we experience, what sorts of properties distinguish natural kinds from each other, and how we combine our concepts to form judgments about the world.

The first three books of the Organon were never translated into Hebrew. Instead, paraphrases of them by the 12th century Muslim philosopher Averroes (Ibn Rushd) were translated from the original Arabic into Hebrew in Naples by Jacob Anatoli in 1232 (together with the next two books of the Organon, the Prior and Posterior Analytics, on syllogistic inference and scientific demonstration, respectively.) Averroes’ paraphrases or “Middle Commentaries” of the first three works are extant in over eighty Hebrew manuscripts (and likely more), making them, according to the great literary historian and bibliographer, Moritz Steinschneider, the most popular works in Hebrew written by a non-Jew. They were commented upon by Jewish savants such as Levi Gersonides in the fourteenth century, and Judah Messer Leon in the fifteenth century.

The particular commentary found in the Schoenberg Collection (LJS 229) is anonymous and has not yet been studied. No other copy of it exists, to my knowledge, but the section on the De Interpretatione is found in Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cod. hebr. 46. The commentator refers often to the logical writings of the 10th century Muslim philosopher, Alfarabi, some of which were translated into Hebrew in the late 12th and early 13th century. He also refers to the Arabic version of Averroes’ text. But, most interestingly, he cites and criticizes at least once the interpretation of “my teacher, R. Levi,” which a cursory comparison of the manuscripts reveals to be Gersonides. If this is correct, then the author of the commentary in LJS 229 was another member of Gersonides’ “school,” where students read texts with Gersonides and occasionally wrote their own glosses as comments, as has recently been studied by Prof. Ruth Glasner of Hebrew University. Since Gersonides also refers to the Arabic version of Averroes, this manuscript sheds additional light on the methodology employed by members of Gersonides’ circle.

As interesting as the anonymous commentary is in itself, the physical codex sheds light on the intellectual life of Provence in the second half of the 15th century. One finds the following statement of ownership in Latin: “Iste liber est meus mestre Benustruc[?] Avidor.” This individual may be identified with the 15th century ProvenC’al savant, Avigdor Benastruc, who translated into Hebrew around 1490 the anonymous French Romance of Belle Maguelone, and who wrote a manuscript that included works by the Provencal Jewish scholar, Isaac Nathan, the composer of the first Hebrew concordance of the Bible. If that is the case, it shows that as late as the late fifteenth century, if not later, basic works in Aristotelian logic were studied in Provence, and the influence of Gersonides and his students was still very much felt.