Basel, Universitätsbibliothek, Cod. A IV 37
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Dr. Justine Isserles, chercheure associée, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes-Saprat (Paris), 2019.

Manuscript title: Sefer Moreh ha-Nevukhim ‎ספר מורה הנבוכים)‏‎) by Moses ben Maimon (1135-1204), translated into Hebrew by Samuel ben Judah Ibn Tibbon (1150-1230)
Place of origin: Ashkenaz
Dates of origin:
  • Folios 1r-12v and 197r/v: 2nd half of the 15th century
  • Folios 13r-196v: 2nd half of the 14th century
Support: Folios 13r-196v: Parchment of medium to low quality: natural cuts in the vellum on the edges of the folios (e.g. ff. 13, 14, 24-25, 58, 59, 72, 80-81, 106-108, 115-116, 140, 165, 167-168, 179-180); holes (e.g. ff. 30-31, 60-61, 87, 93, 113-114, 118, 119, 167, 174, 177); stiches (e.g. ff. 30, 36, 71, 114, 160, 177, 180, 190, 194); Hair and flesh sides distinguishable.
Folios 1r-12v and 197r-198v: white vellum with no tarnishes.‎
Extent: I + 197+ II
Format: 243-245 x 175-178 mm
Foliation: Hebrew foliotation in brown ink extending from‎ז ‏‎ to ‎קפח‎ (the Hebrew foliotation is omitted between folios ‎מו‎ and ‎מז‎ as well as between ‎קסד‎ and ‎קסה‎), starting from folio 13r to 196r. Modern foliotation in Arabic numerals in grey pencil from 1 to 198 (folio 198 is considered as a flyleaf here). Both foliotations go from right to left and are located in the top left-hand corner of each folio.
Collation: Quires: 27 quires composed of 2 ternions, 1 folio, 23 quaternions and 1 bifolio:‎ I ternion (1r-6v); II ternion (7r-12v); III folio (13r/v); IV-XXVI quaternions (14r-196v -1)*2 ; XXVII bifolio (197r-198v).
*: Stub from folio 13 between ff. 21v and 22r.
*2: Stub between folios 196v and 197r
Catchwords at the end of quires III to XXV (ff. 13v-189v). ‎ Catchwords to the first word of the next folio located at the bottom margin on the verso of every folio of quires I and II (ff. 1r-12v)‎
Condition: Well preserved manuscript, except for folios 13-21 which are heavily stained and darkened (from use and humidity) and whose parchment has folds on several folios (e.g. ff. 13-21, 92-93, 118, 155-156, 190) and some minor tares (e.g. ff. 20-21, 59, 87, 116, 174, 187-194). The rest of the manuscript has slightly darkened folio borders, mostly from use, some humidity stains and other stains such as food stains (?) (e.g. ff. 135r-135v, 157v-158r) and ink stains (e.g. ff. 77v-78r, 153). All margins were cropped to fit the 17th century binding: lateral and bottom margin cropping was not always straight: e.g. ff. 17, 19, 20, 22, 29, 97-98, 179, 181, 182, 190, 191, 194, 195, 196). The bottom margin of folio 115 has small surplus of parchment protruding from the edge of the volume.‎
Page layout: Full page layout throughout the whole manuscript. Inner and outer indentations throughout the text.‎
  • Folios 1r-12v and 197r/v: lead pencil ruling. 21 ruled lines for 21 written lines.‎
  • Folios 13r-196v: lead pencil ruling. 34 ruled lines for 33 written lines.
  • Folios 70r-77v (quire XI): 36 ruled lines for 33 written lines.‎
Pricking: ‎
  • Folios 1r-12v and 197r/v: no traces of pricking
  • Folios 13r-196v: external traces of pricking (traces of double pricking on folios 13 and 78).
  • Folios 1r-12v and 197r/v: 1 + 1 columns of text. The end of lines is respected by slight elongation and compression of letters.
  • Folios 13r-196v: Two different types of justification grids. The end of lines is respected by elongation and compression of letters, graphic fillers and beginning of letters or words which are fully spelled out on the next line of text.
  • ‎ff. 13r-29v: 1 + 1 columns of text.
  • ‎ff. 30r-196v: 2 + 1 columns of text.‎
Writing and hands: Ashkenazic script throughout the manuscript.‎

  • Folios 1r-12v and 197r/v: ‎ ‎2nd half of 15th century scribe: Medium module bookhand script for the main text and slightly larger module square script for the initial words.‎
  • Folios 13r-196v:‎ ‎2nd half of 14th century scribe: identified as ‎יעקב‎ (Jacob) by a series of dots next to his name, on folios 126r and 178v. Small module bookhand script for the main text, medium module square script for the initial words in the text and sentences ending chapters (e.g. ff. 16v, 80r, 132r); larger module square script for initial words at the beginning of each chapter (e.g. ff. 16v, 80v, 132v).‎
  • Numbering of chapters in Hebrew, inserted in the lateral margins for Part I and Part III of the work. Part II contains the numbering of the chapters within the text. However, on folios 80v and 81r, there is a numbering of ‘introductions’ (‎הקדמה‎) from 1(‎א‎) to 19 (‎טו‎).‎ Part I: Starting with the 2nd chapter (‎ב‎) on folio 17r and continuing until chapter 76 (‎עו‎) on folio 78v.‎ Part III: The scribe erroneously numbered the 1st chapter with 2‎‏ ‏‎(‎ב‎) on folio 132v instead of 1 (‎א‎). Part III runs until on folio 197v. Therefore, there are 54 chapters instead of the 55 (‎נה‎) written on folio 195v.‎
Decoration: Catchwords are surrounded by decorative frames.‎
Additions: There are numerous later marginal glosses and corrections for omitted text in the margins and corrections directly in the main text, mainly by 2 hands in a bookhand script and in dark brown ink. The marginal glosses and corrections stem from the Hebrew translator of the work by Samuel ben Judah Ibn Tibbon (1150-1230) and were added by a later hand (e.g. ff. 49v, 38r, 62r, 71r). ‎‎
Some of the marginal glosses in a reddish-brown ink are signed by a hand identified to that of Judah Levi (‎יהודה לוי‎) on folios 89r, 102r, 116r and in acrostics on folio 105r (‎י''ל‎).‎
Folio 196v: a later hand copied out a partial continuation of the text in the bottom margin, which is copied out again in full on folio 197r.‎
Between folios 18r and 119r, a later cursive hand in brown ink has written out the numbers of the chapters in the top margin.‎
Between folios 81r and 131r: a hand has written a running title (which has often been cropped) in the top margin, indicating part II of the work (‎חלק שני‎). He also indicated Part III (‎חלק שלישי‎) on folio
Binding: A 17th century white leather (pig skin) quarter binding covering wooden boards (262 x 177 mm). The leather has been tooled with vertical double frames enclosing elaborate scroll and floral motifs. The binding has two catchplates and leather straps. The spine contains 7 raised bands. Below the headband is the following brown ink inscription: A.IV. 37. ‎מורה נבוכים ‏‎. Between the 2nd and 3rd raised bands is the following inscription: Liber. More. neb. huchim. R. Mosis. Masemon.
‎ Above the tailband is an old paper sticker with a red frame bearing the shelfmark of the manuscript: Mscr. A IV. 37. First flyleaf at the beginning of the volume is composed of watermarked paper consisting of a coat of arms (Briquet n°1179). The pastedown at the end of the volume contains the shelfmark of the manuscript written in grey pencil A. IV. 37.‎
Maimonides, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (acronym Rambam) was the foremost figure in Judaism from the Middle Ages onwards. No other spiritual leader exercised such an influence in his own and subsequent generations. A Rabbi, philosopher, astronomer and physician, Maimonides was born in 1135 Cordova, Muslim Spain, under the Almoravid rule. In 1148, he had to flee, as a result of the Almohad invasion and Jewish persecutions. After many years of tribulations, he and his family settled in Fez in 1160 and several years later, in Fustat in Egypt, where he was appointed head of the Jewish community in 1177 and as one of the physicians to the Vizier of Egypt in 1185. It was during these busy years that Maimonides not only wrote his two monumental works, Mishneh Torah (compiled 1178) and the Guide to the Perplexed (completed 1190 or 1200), upon which his fame mainly rests, but also corresponded with many other Jewish communities, leaving us written traces of his answers and opinions on various subjects, such as with the famous Iggeret Teiman (1172), an epistle to the communities of Yemen, urging them not to accept forced conversions. He is also the author of a Treatise on the Art of Logic (1160s) and eleven medical works influenced by Galen and Avicenna, whose majority have been translated into Hebrew and Latin (Zonta, pp. 35-61).
‎ The Guide to the Perplexed was written in Judeo-Arabic under the title Dalalat al-Ha’irin circa 1190 or 1200 and was translated twice into Hebrew shortly after, as Moreh Nevukhim (Zonta, p. 28). The first and literal translation was made by Samuel ben Judah Ibn Tibbon (1150-1230) in 1204 (Ed. Prin. Italy, 1473-74) and a second, freer translation was made by the poet Judah al-Ḥarizi between 1205 and 1213 (Schlossberg). Our manuscript described here, Ms A IV 37, is a copy of the translation by Samuel ben Judah Ibn Tibbon, as stated in the first words of the introduction folio 5v, line 16: Rabbi Samuel ben Tibbon copied may his memory be blessed ( ‎רבי שמואל בן תבון המעתוק ז''ל‎). Although there are numerous extant manuscripts of the Hebrew translations of this work, either by Ibn Tibbon or al- Ḥarizi, housed in various public and private libraries around the world, there are only a handful of manuscripts of the work in Judeo-Arabic; the earliest extant complete copy, having been copied in Yemen in 1380. It is now part of the Hebrew manuscript collection in the British Library (Tahan), under the shelfmark Ms Or. 2423 (On the extant manuscripts, editions and textual transmission of the Moreh Nevukhim, see Friedländer, pp.16-26).
‎ Whilst the Mishneh Torah is a halakhic work, systematizing the material in the Talmud and intended as an aid for anyone wanting to live a life according to traditional Jewish praxis, the Guide to the Perplexed is considered the leading work of Jewish medieval philosophy. It attempts to reconciliate traditional Jewish theology and Aristotelian rationalism, which was very influential in Maimonides’ time. Furthermore, the Guide was addressed to a select and erudite readership, able to understand ideas deliberately concealed from the masses. The guide is divided into three books and mainly focuses on the philosophic interpretation of Scripture (Robinson, pp. 460-462 and notes), discussing a number of subjects relative to: divine attributes, anthropomorphism, existence and unity of God, Creation, structure of the universe, prophecy, the nature of evil, divine Providence, the nature of Man, moral virtue and the 613 laws (mitsvot) contained in the five Books of Moses (Encyclopedia Judaica, pp. 771-775). In addition to profoundly influencing the course of medieval Jewish philosophy, the Guide had a strong impact on Christian scholastic thought. Among the scholastics are Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart and Duns Scottus, who either quote Maimonides by name or cite him anonymously in their works. Later on, 16th century Christian Hebraists, such as Agostinus Justinianus, published the first Latin translation of the Guide, based on al-Harizi’s Hebrew translation, under the title Rabbi Mossei Aegyptii Dux seu Director Dubitantium aut perplexorum (Paris: 1520), followed by a second translation by Johann Buxtorf ‘The Younger’ (1599-1664) who based himself on Ibn Tibbon’s version of the Guide and entitled it Doctoris Perplexorum (Basel:1629). Furthermore, the particular importance of this copy of the Guide, is not only that it was owned by Johann Buxtorf ‘The Younger’, as attested by the latter’s note and signature on the pastedown at the beginning of the volume, but it was also used as the base for his Latin edition of the Doctoris Perplexorum.
‎ Almost immediately after their completion, toward the end of the 12th century, the Mishneh Torah and Moreh Nevukhim, with their subsequent Hebrew translations, were not received without contention by most medieval rabbinical authorities. Indeed, especially between the 13th and early 14th centuries, the debate known as “the Maimonidean Controversy” raged in several phases among Jewish scholars of Franco-Germany, Provence and Spain (see Dobbs-Weinstein, Grossman, Nahon, Silver). In 1232, a ban was placed upon both these works as well as the study of philosophy (Woolf, p. 432) by Provençal rabbis [involving among others, David Kimḥi (Radak, 1160-1235) and Solomon b. Abraham of Montpellier (Shlomo Min ha-Har,1st half 13th c.]. Furthermore in 1305, as the cultural war between the proponents and the opponents of philosophy had been going on in Jewish Europe for over a hundred years, Rabbi Solomon Ben Adret (Rashba, 1235-1310), an important rabbinical authority in Spain, was persuaded to also prohibit the studying of philosophy and science, but only to those under the age of twenty-five. Although his ban was only destined to his own community of Barcelona, Adret’s enormous influence led many others to accept it. Consequently, one can observe that the main focus of the controversy changed during the successive phases, going from the rejection of Maimonides’ views and the content of both his works to the general ban on the study of philosophy and science themselves; ending with a shift to the age under which it was forbidden to study these subjects.
‎ ‎ Finally, with the expulsion of the Jews from the Kingdom of France in 1306, the heat of the controversy abated, however, leaving the question about the possibility or impossibility to combine Jewish tradition and science/philosophy unresolved. Punctual contentious flares were reignited in the 16th and 18th centuries, but opposing Maimonides generally became more and more questionable in the following centuries, until today, when Maimonides is universally considered one of the greatest rabbinical authorities in Jewish tradition.
‎ The Basel Moreh Nevukhim, Universitätsbibliothek, Ms A IV 37:‎ The Basel manuscript of the Moreh Nevukhim was copied in two periods of time, both of which can be suggested thanks to palaeographical criteria: the first and largest part of the work, extending from folio 13r to 196v was copied by a scribe in a bookhand Ashkenazi script dated to the 2nd half of the 14th century and the second later scribe, copied several missing folios at the beginning (ff. 1r-12v, 1st quire) and the end of the manuscript (ff. 197r/v), equally in a bookhand Ashkenazi script, but from the 2nd half of the 15th century. It is noteworthy to mention that the second scribe managed, thanks to choosing the appropriate module of his bookhand script, to finish copying his page (f. 12v) exactly at the spot where the older copy starts at the beginning of a new quire on folio 13r.‎
Lastly, this copy of the work not only includes Samuel ben Judah Ibn Tibbon’s introduction to his translation (ff. 1r-5v) (see folio 5v, line 16: ‎רבי שמואל בן תבון המעתוק ז''ל‎) but also the introduction from a commentary to the Guide by Shem Tov ben Joseph ben Shem Tov (ff. 5v-7v) (see folio 5v, line 18, beginning with ‎אמר שם טוב בן לאדוני החכם הרב רבי יוסף בן כבוד החכם השלם החסיד רבי שם טוב‎), a 15th century Spanish rabbi, philosopher and preacher who became a vigorous defender of Aristotelian and Maimonidean philosophy. He wrote several Hebrew works on philosophical subjects, but it is for his commentary on the Guide of the Perplexed that Shem Tov is generally known and which is printed in most Hebrew editions of the Guide.‎
  • The beginning and ending of the work, copied in the second half of the 14th century, are lacunary (ff. 1r-12v and 197r/v), but were completed by another hand on another parchment during the 2nd half of the 15th century.
  • ff. 1r-5v : Introduction to the work by the Hebrew translator Samuel ben Judah Ibn Tibbon (1150-1230) (see end of text, folio 5v, line 16: ‎רבי שמואל בן תבון המעתוק ז''ל‎).
  • ff. 5v- 7v : Introduction to the work by Shem Tov ben Joseph ben Shem Tov (15th century) (see folio 5v, line 18, beginning with ‎אמר שם טוב בן לאדוני החכם הרב רבי יוסף בן כבוד החכם השלם החסיד רבי שם טוב‎). ‎
  • ff. 8r-80r : Part I, chapters 1 to 76.
  • ff. 80v-132r : Part II, chapters 1 to 48.
  • ff. 132v-197v : Part III, chapters 1 to 54 (numbered 2 to 55 in the text).
Provenance of the manuscript: This manuscript was owned by Johann Buxtorf II (1599-1664), known thanks to an owner’s note on the pastedown at the beginning of the volume. Pastedown at the beginning of the volume with the following signed text in dark brown by Johann Buxtorf II: Liber More nebbuchim, R. Mosis Masemonidis. Johannis Buxtorfis.‎ Below is the following note in grey pencil signed with the initials Pr. (Probably standing for Joseph Prijs): qui Laudat hume mascr. in praefatione ad lectoren suae editionis huius operis Basil 1629 in folio paenultimo rect. This note mentions to compare the hands of the aforementioned note with the preface to readers in the edition of the Moreh Nevukhim by Johann Buxtorf II, entitled Doctor perplexorum and printed in Basel.
Acquisition of the manuscript: Folios 1r and 198v: Oval black stamp of the Basel Public Library, containing the name BIBL. PUBL. BASILEENSIS
Manuscript catalogues:‎
  • J. Prijs, Die Handschriften der Universitätsbibliothek Basel. Die hebraïschen Handschriften. Katalog auf Grund der Beschreibungen von Joseph Prijs redigiert von Bernhard und David Prijs mit einem Anhang von Stephen G. Burnett und einem Beitrag von Thomas Willi (Basel: 1994), pp. 49-50 [Manuscript catalogue, vol. 2, Nr. 27a, pp. 100a-100e].‎
Printed catalogues and secondary literature:‎
  • L. V. Berman, "The Structure of Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed," Proceedings of the Sixth World Congress of Jewish Studies, vol. 3 (Jerusalem, 1977), pp. 7-13.‎
  • C. M. Briquet, Les filigranes. Dictionnaire historique des marques du papier dès leur apparition vers 1282 jusqu’en 1600. A Facsimile of the 1907 Edition with Supplementary Material Contributed by a Number of Scholars, Allan Stevenson (ed.) (Amsterdam: The Paper Publications Society, 1968), 4 vol.‎
  • Dictionnaire historique de la Suisse (DHS), s.v. Johann Caspar Ulrich, ‎ (viewed 6.05.2019) and s.v. Johann Jakob Breitinger, (viewed 6.05.2019).‎
  • I. Dobbs-Weinstein, “The Maimonidean Controversy”, in History of Jewish Philosophy (ed.) D. F. and O. Leaman (London: Routledge, 1997), pp. 331-349.‎
  • Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem, Keter Publishing House, 1973), vol. 11, s.v. Maimonides, Moses, pp. 752-764; 768-777 and s.v. Maimonidean Controversy, pp. 746-753.‎
  • A. Grossman, “Me-Andalusia le-Europa: Yaḥasam shel Ḥakhme Ashkenaz ve-Zarefat ba-Me’ot ha 12-13 el Sifre ha-Halakhah shel ha-RiF ve-ha-Rambam”, Pe’amim 80 (5759/1999), pp. 24-29.‎
  • M. Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, translated from the original Arabic Text by M. Friedländer (New York: Dover Publications, 19562) (1st ed. 1904).‎
  • M. Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, trans. Shlomo Pines (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963).‎
  • G. Nahon, « Géographie occidentale et orientale des controverses maïmonidienne et post-maïmonidienne », in Des Tibbonides à Maïmonide. Rayonnement des juifs andalous en pays d’Oc médiéval (ed.) D. Iancu-Agou (Paris, Les éditions du Cerf, 2009), pp. 19-31.
  • W. A. M. Popper, The Censorship of Hebrew Books (New York: KTAV Publishing House, 1969), appendix § 132-133.‎
  • J. Prijs, Die hebräischen Handschriften in der Schweiz: Katalog der hebräischen Handschriften in den Schweizer öffentlichen Bibliotheken … redigiert auf Grund der Beschreibungen von Joseph Prijs (Basel, Benei Beraq: Sefer Verlag, 2018), pp. 38-39 (Nr. 38).‎
  • S. Rawidowicz, "The Structure of the Guide of the Perplexed," in lyyunim Bemahasbevet Yisrael (Hebrew) (Jerusalem: Rubin Mass, 1969), vol. 1, pp. 237–96.‎
  • A. Raz-Krakotzkin, The Censor, the Editor and the Text: The Catholic Church and the Shaping of the Jewish Canon in the Sixteenth Century, translated into English by Jackie Feldman (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007).‎
  • J. T. Robinson, “Philosophy and Science in Medieval Jewish Commentaries on the Bible”, in Science in Medieval Jewish Cultures (ed.) G. Freudenthal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 454-475.‎
  • L. Schlossberg, Sefer Moreh Nevukhim, 3 vols. (London: 1851-79).‎
  • D. J. Silver, Maimonidean Criticism and the Maimonidean Controversy 1180-1240 (Leiden: Brill, 1965).‎
  • I. Tahan, “The Hebrew Collection of the British Library: Past and Present”, European Judaism: A Journal for the New Europe 41,2 (2008), pp. 43-55.‎
  • J. Woolf, “Admiration and Apathy. Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah in High and Late Medieval Ashkenaz”, in Be’erot Yitzhak: Studies in Memory of Isadore Twersky (ed.) J. M. Harris (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), pp. 427-453.‎
  • M. Zonta, “Medieval Hebrew Translations of Philosophical and Scientific Texts. A Chronological Table”, in Science in Medieval Jewish Cultures (ed.) G. Freudenthal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 17-73.‎