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18. Seal of Isaac Judah Son of Judah Lobel

*Yitzhak: Yehudah: bar: Yehudah: Lobil

Dimensions: 32 mm. Matrix.

Location: unknown.

Bibliography: Blanchet, 1889; Schlumberger and Blanchet, 1914, No. 679; Blumenkranz, 1965–66, No. 2, 23 (8); Bedos, 1980b, No. 2, 23 (8).

In the field of this copper seal a four-legged animal appears in a rearing position. The Hebrew letters are around, commencing at a star, and run between two grained circles. From its style the seal dates from the end of the thirteenth or the beginning of the fourteenth century.

Adrien Blanchet personally acquired the seal matrix at Pau, the chief town of Béarn, in the extreme southwest of France near the Spanish border. He does not disclose the circumstances surrounding the purchase or information as to its origin. Blanchet points out that the name Lobel is often found among Jews from Spain. A Samaya Lubel (one of the several variant spellings) was a prominent physician at the court of Henry IV of Castile in the third quarter of the fifteenth century. The name Lobel appears six times in the community lists of Barcelona from 1383 to 1392; a Jaffuda Lobell is specifically noted there; since “f” and “h” often shift phonetically in the romance languages, this Jaffuda is probably a Judah (Jehudah) Lobell. According to Blanchet, the name Lobel comes from lobillo, the diminutive of the Spanish word lobo or “wolf.” With the disappearance of the final sound, a process noted in other seal names as well, the Hebrew name is a literal reuse of lobil. Thus the animal shown in the field is a wolf, and this seal is another example of armes parlantes. (I must admit, however, that to me, in the stylistic context of this period, the animal looks more like a lion than a wolf.*)

The problem does not lie in the etymological derivation of the name Lobel, for in its several variations the name is a rather common Jewish one. The difficulty is more one of the peculiar name pattern. Most Jews from this period did not have surnames, at least in the Hebrew usage, except where Halevi or Hacohen (later Katz, from kohen tzedek or “righteous priest”) was added to refer to the owner’s sacerdotal background. Sometimes, as with Todros Halevi bar Samuel Halevi of Toledo, the name Halevi had already become a recognized surname. The same process occurred, as noted, with the name Chaim, and among Sephardic Jews the adoption of surnames was well advanced by the fourteenth century.

The difficulty with this seal, even if we accept Lobel as a proper surname, is that the name sequence does not follow the usual rules by which Jewish names are inscribed. If Lobel is a recognized surname, its place at the end of the inscription is correct. But how do we get Isaac Judah son of Judah? The name “Isaac Judah” implies that Judah is either a surname, which makes no sense given Lobel, or that Judah is the first name of the father of Isaac. If this is true however, why the need for the repetition? The correct phrasing would then be Isaac son of Judah Lobel or, more formally, Isaac Lobel son of Judah Lobel. Another way of interpreting this name pattern is to assume that Isaac’s father had the name of Judah and Judah’s father had the name of Lobel; thus it is being stated that Isaac is the son of Judah and Judah is the son of Lobel, a most odd construction indeed. The last possibility is that the owner had two first names, Isaac Judah, and there are rare cases of such a double name, that of Abba Mari being a contemporary example, but that is such an odd usage that H. Graetz, recognizing the problem, hyphenated the name, always using Abba-Mari (Graetz, 1894). This peculiar name may result from the fact that the parts originally were not names per se but rather respectful descriptions. Both are Aramaic in origin, Abba coming from Av or “Father” and Mar being “Lord” or “Sir.”


*Ashkenazi names such as Loebel, Lovell, etc., come, of course, from a different root, the German Löwe for “lion.” If this were an Ashkenazi name and if the animal is indeed a small lion, the device would still be an example of armes parlantes.

*Ashkenazi names such as Loebel, Lovell, etc., come, of course, from a different root, the German Löwe for “lion.” If this were an Ashkenazi name and if the animal is indeed a small lion, the device would still be an example of armes parlantes.

Adrien Blanchet personally acquired the seal matrix at Pau, the chief town of Béarn, in the extreme southwest of France near the Spanish border. He does not disclose the circumstances surrounding the purchase or information as to its origin. Blanchet points out that the name Lobel is often found among Jews from Spain. A Samaya Lubel (one of the several variant spellings) was a prominent physician at the court of Henry IV of Castile in the third quarter of the fifteenth century. The name Lobel appears six times in the community lists of Barcelona from 1383 to 1392; a Jaffuda Lobell is specifically noted there; since “f” and “h” often shift phonetically in the romance languages, this Jaffuda is probably a Judah (Jehudah) Lobell. According to Blanchet, the name Lobel comes from lobillo, the diminutive of the Spanish word lobo or “wolf.” With the disappearance of the final sound, a process noted in other seal names as well, the Hebrew name is a literal reuse of lobil. Thus the animal shown in the field is a wolf, and this seal is another example of armes parlantes. (I must admit, however, that to me, in the stylistic context of this period, the animal looks more like a lion than a wolf.*)

Additional Information

ISBN
9780814344859
MARC Record
OCLC
1055142843
Pages
70-70
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-02
Language
English
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC-SA
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