Of all medieval Hebrew manuscript Psalters (tehillim), one of the earliest and most important to survive is the masterpiece Ms. Parm. 1870 (Cod. De Rossi 510), the treasure of the Palatina Library in Parma, Italy.
The Abundant Illuminations
This profusely illuminated book of Psalms was written and decorated in about 1280, probably in Emilia in Northern Italy.
Its 452 pages contain the biblical text in a clear, large vocalized Hebrew hand.
Each psalm is illuminated and numbered, and many are exquisitely illustrated with musical instruments or with scenes described in the text – extraordinary for a Hebrew manuscript of the period, and proof that it was the work of Jews.
Only a wealthy patron could have commissioned so lavish and tasteful a manuscript; and the presence of Ibn Ezra's commentary suggests that he was also well educated.
Early copies of Abraham Ibn Ezra's great commentary on Psalms are rare, and the one in this manuscript records many wordings not to be found in other versions.
The manuscript also contains the ceremonies for engagements, marriages, circumcisions and funerals, as well as those for the end of a Sabbath followed by a Festival, times at which Psalms were especially recited.
The Richness of the Book
The 150 psalms probably correspond to the 150 readings into which the Pentateuch was divided and originally read over a three-year cycle a custom that died out in the Middle Ages.
The illustrations in this manuscript are particularly valuable for musicologists and art historians of the Middle Ages: depictions of contemporary musical instruments are extremely rare, and the present volume contains many.
This sumptuous manuscript comprises 226 folios (452 pages), 13.5cm x 10cm (5.33" x 4.0") contained in 23 quires. One 16-page quire, added at a later date, contains the ceremonies for engagements, marriages, circumcisions and funerals, as well as those for the end of a Sabbath followed by a Festival, times at which Psalms were especially recited.
The rich decorations are characterized by the delicate use of harmonious colours; gold is used liberally but with sensitivity, the illuminator carefully balancing the Psalms and commentary with the images in the margin.
This manuscript is one of the great treasures of early Hebrew manuscript illumination. The Palatina Library in Parma, Italy, which holds close to 1650 Hebrew manuscripts, is one of the world's greatest collections. Giovanni Bernardo De Rossi, a Christian Hebraist, whose collection is now housed in the Palatina, built up one of the richest libraries of Hebrew manuscripts and printed books ever in private hands.
A Witty and Self-assured Author
Abraham Ibn Ezra, born in 1089 in Tudela, Spain, was a master of several branches of medieval learning - mathematics, astronomy, grammar and philosophy, as well as the exposition of biblical texts. He combined far-reaching rationalism, with a firm belief in astrology in a way that may seem surprising to a modern mind, yet was normal at that time.
He may have been poor for much of his life but travelled widely, and was able to face ill-fortune with equanimity and even humour. His opponents were not spared his savage wit, which was rich even for a Spanish Jewish poet. All this must be seen against a background of genuine religious humility, which emerges in his finest works of poetry and prose.
Abraham Ibn Ezra left a large body of writings – he is said to have written no fewer than 108 different books, not all of which have survived or been published. His highly influential thought and literary creativity did much to spread the science and spirituality of Spanish Jewry far beyond the regions in which it originated.
Aged seventy-five and feeling his death approaching, he punned on a scriptural verse: 'And Abraham was seventy-five years old when he departed from the 'anger of the world'. The Bible actually states, in Genesis 12:4, that he left the city of 'Haran', but Ibn Ezra could not resist jesting on its similarity to haron, ‘anger’ or ‘fury’.
The Story of the Manuscript
Throughout history, Abraham Ibn Ezra has been respected as one of Judaism's greatest sages. His commentary on the book of Psalms displays some of the qualities they so admired: his fine feeling for complex language, his independent intellect and deep insight into human nature.
Di Rossi believed this manuscript was completed in Rhodes in August-September 1156, but this is in fact the date on which Ibn Ezra completed his commentary on Psalms of which this is a copy.
As to the location, it seems that Ibn Ezra wrote his commentary in Rouen in Northern France. Since in Latin this was called Rodamagus, shortened to Rodez (as reflected in hebrew documents), it was easy for a misunderstanding to arise.
The attribution of the book of Psalms to King David – who conquered Jerusalem for his people – is based not only on his reputation as a "sweet singer of Israel" (2 Sam. 23:1), but on the recognition that no fewer than 73 include his name. The fact that others bear different attributions has been accounted for in different ways.
Ibn Ezra handles the question of authorship with characteristic balance and intelligence. The commentaries of Ibn Ezra enjoyed great popularity from the start, and are still admired, especially by advanced students, not only for their encyclopaedic character and terse and enigmatic style, but for their critical, thought – provoking spirit as well as their wit. Numerous super-commentaries were written on his glosses, making his work a vital link in the long chain of Jewish Bible commentary.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Parma Psalter": The Parma Psalter facsimile edition, published by Facsimile Editions Ltd., 1996