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Hebrew Bible
1300–1350 (before 1366)
The Cloisters Collection, 2018
Episode 12 / 2018
First Look

Words adorn words and proclaim their power."

Every aspect of the decoration of this manuscript is a celebration of the sacred text, a complete Hebrew Bible comprising the five books of Moses (Torah), the Prophets and the writings.

Words adorn words and proclaim their power. They vary in size, they wrap around one another, they turn corners, and sometimes process with deliberate rhythm and cadence. With almost microscopic precision, word patterns distinguish the beginning and end of each of the biblical books. The Psalms and the four biblical songs—the Song of the Sea, the Song of Moses, the Song of David, and the Song of Deborah—have a recognizable form that silently hints at their inherent music.

This book is meant for both quiet study and reading aloud. The commentary encourages a deep dive into the text, a letter-by-letter, word-by-word immersion. Its complete vocalization and accentuation make it easy to pronounce even for a modern reader.

Curiously, this book draws on colorful Christian and Islamic decorative devices to enliven the most academic passages. The most elaborate decoration occurs at the beginning and end of the book, where scholarly commentary bookends the biblical text.

In turning its pages, we can sense a medieval Jewish community in its contemplative moments and its joyous celebrations.

Barbara Drake Boehm
Paul and Jill Ruddock Senior Curator for The Met Cloisters
Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters
Melanie Holcomb
Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters
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