The Cervera Bible Animals and Decorated Letters

There is a common misconception that Judaism as a religion is opposed to any artistic expression. The art of painting, in fact, was never absolutely prohibited. Many Jewish communities throughout history decorated their books with colorful illustrations, and the Bible was no exception. Jewish artists used the mostly colorful images to convey insights, feelings and moods which they linked to the written word in order to breathe new life into the stories of the Bible.

Cervera Bible​, Lisboa - Biblioteca Nacional de Lisboa 72, p. 244

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In the year 1300 a Bible manuscript was copied in the town of Cervera in the region of Catalonia, Spain. The manuscript copying work included not only the Bible text, but also a copy of the two-part grammatical treatise by Rabbi David Kimchi (known by the acronym RaDaK) titled Sefer Hamikhlol, which includes Sefer Hadikduk (The Book of Investigation) and Sefer Hashorashim (the Book of Roots). RaDaK’s treatise binds the Bible from the front and back: the manuscript opens with the text on Hebrew vocalization and concludes with the text on the correct vowelization of the Holy Scripture with the text of the Bible in between. Thus the Cervera Bible offers its readers a wonderful opportunity to sharpen their knowledge of Hebrew.

Besides comprising Kimchi’s treatise, the Cerevera Bible is an exceptional work whose unique style and magnificent illustrations have influenced other manuscripts.

The Cerevera Bible was also signed in a distinctive way. Most manuscripts are signed by the scribe or the illustrator, but rarely by both. The Cervera Bible features signatures of both the scribe and the illustrator. Yosef Hasarfati who decorated the manuscript chose to sign his name in zoomorphic letters (letters made out of animal forms).

The Illustrator's Signature

Cervera Bible​, Lisboa - Biblioteca Nacional de Lisboa 72, p. 907

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The scribe, Shmuel ben Avraham, signs the Bible and notes that the work was executed in Cirvira (Cervera), where he was staying while recovering from a broken leg. The Bible’s original owner is also mentioned (but his name has been erased), to whom the scribe wishes that “God grant [him] pleasure from it and give him sons who will study Torah and perform good deeds and study it day and night.”


The Scribe's Signature

Cervera Bible​, Lisboa - Biblioteca Nacional de Lisboa 72, p. 877

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