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  • The Ancient Sefer Torah of Bologna: Features and History ed. by Mauro Perani
  • Fabrizio Lelli

Manuscript studies, Hebrew manuscripts, Pentateuch scroll, Jewish history

Mauro Perani, ed. The Ancient Sefer Torah of Bologna: Features and History. Studies in Jewish History and Culture 59. Leiden: Brill, 2019. Pp. xii + 235. Hardcover or E- book, $179. ISBN: 978- 90- 04- 41560- 7.

A recent discovery has aroused the interest of scholars of Hebrew and Jewish studies from all over the world. While preparing a new catalogue of the relatively small collection of Hebrew manuscripts kept at the Bologna University Library (Nuovo catalogo dei manoscritti ebraici della Biblioteca Universitaria di Bologna, in inBUB, Ricerche e cataloghi sui Fondi della Biblioteca Universitaria di Bologna 3 [2013], 13–192, also printed separately), Mauro Perani and Giacomo Corazzol rescued from oblivion an ancient Torah scroll, whose major role in the history of the transmission of the biblical text was highly praised in the past but faded from view in more recent times, in part due to past errors in its description. Perani’s identification of the scroll, BUB [Biblioteca Universitaria di Bologna] Rot. 2, with a Sefer Torah known to have been owned by the convent of Saint Dominic in Bologna allowed him and other scholars to track the complex history of this majestic artifact back to the Middle Ages, when it was attributed to the scribal skills of the biblical Esdras.

The incredible vicissitudes of “Esdras’s scroll” and the amazing number of illustrious Christian pilgrims who paid homage over the centuries to this much- worshipped relic are reconstructed in detail by Rita De Tata and Saverio Campanini in their essays in the first section of the volume. There we learn, for instance, that in the midst of the seventeenth century Queen Christina of Sweden was shown the manuscript and that, in the previous century, Pope Leo X with King Francis I of France, and Pope Clement VII with Emperor Charles V, had admired the scroll in the library of the Dominican convent. In Pope Clement’s days, King Henry VIII of England sought the support of this revered authority to legitimize his famous divorce from Catherine of Aragon. To that end, “Pope and Emperor had the ‘volumen coriaceum,’ that is to say, the scroll made of vellum, exhibited and unrolled in order to make sure that the words advocated by the King of England were [End Page 366] already present in the ‘primum originale Pentateuchi’ (the first archetype of the Pentateuch) . . . and behold, the verse quoted by the advocates of the King was there” (35). It is not surprising that the relevant section of the Book of Leviticus, used to corroborate the King’s position, at some point was:

Erased with a blade or a scraper. It stands to reason, considering also that this erasure is the only one in the entire text of the Pentateuch of the Bologna scroll, to ask who (and when) could have done that, and to what purpose. The detective story, in order to find a reasonable solution, needs further investigations but one can, for the time being, suggest the hypothesis that this mutilation, ostensibly favorable to the party of the Pope, against the claims of the King, took place in these years


BUB Rot. 2 is a complete Sefer Torah that was mistakenly confused in the nineteenth century with the other (acephalous) and more recent Torah scroll preserved in the Bologna Library (Rot. 1). Donated during the first decade of the fourteenth century (possibly by Provençal Jews) to Aimerico Giliani da Piacenza, master general of the Dominicans, the manuscript was preserved from Giliani’s death in 1327 until the early nineteenth century in the Dominican convent of Bologna, along with the casket containing the head of the founder of the Order and a thorn from Christ’s crown. Although the identification of its scribe with Esdras began to be questioned in the early modern era, the scroll continued to enjoy renown as one of the most ancient extant Hebrew manuscripts of the Pentateuch.

In the second section of the volume, essays by Mauro Perani, Judith Olszowy- Schlanger, and Jordan Penkower consider the dating of...


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pp. 366-370
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