Sheet no. 1
Opening decoration: The scroll opens with a panel containing several narrative scenes from the Esther story. In the decorative panel, in the central part of the upper register, there is the royal couple seated on the throne with a canopy that is placed on a pedestal. The king and the queen are accompanied by courtiers; on the right, the princes of Media and Persia are standing (Es. 1:14) and Esther's maidservants on the left (Es. 2:9). Below, there are three rectangular frames: the central panel contains the benedictions recited before the Megillah reading, while the panel on the right shows the chamberlains, Bigthan and Teresh, hanging on two gallows (Es. 2:23), whereas the one on the left depicts Haman and his sons hanging on three gallows (Es. 7:10 and Es. 9:14 or Es. 9:25). The lowest register contains three episodes that are (from right to left): Mordecai receiving the clothes from Hatakh (Es. 4:4), Haman leads Mordecai through the streets of Susa (Es. 6:11), Esther and Mordecai write letters instructing the Jews to observe Purim (Es. 9:29). Below the opening panel is added a cartouche painted by hand in which buildings and a tree can be recognized and some Arabic numerals are written on it.
In the upper margin, landscapes nos. 1, 2, and 3 are printed and in the lower margin, there are frames nos. 1-3 with illustrations:
Frame 1: The fest of Ahasuerus is represented (Es. 1:3-8). Six men are seated at a round laid table. On either side of the table, servants are visible.
Frame 2: Queen Vashti is portrayed while she is strangled by two women standing on either side of her. During the execution, she stands with her arms spread, and her crown lies on the floor. The Book of Esther does not mention the fate of Vashti after her refusal of the king's order and the source for this representation remains unknown.
Frame 3: The frame contains the depiction of the walled city. In the central part of the wall, there is a gate at which a man (Mordecai) is seated (Es. 2:19, 2:21).
| Cod. Levy 159
B | Basket | Basket with flowers
G | Garland
A | Acanthus Leaf
V | Vase
A | Angel of Death | Angel's head
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | *Esther's Story Characters (depicted not in narrative scenes): | Ahasuerus and Esther, enthroned
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Seven maidens given to Esther (Es. 2:9)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Bigthan and Teresh hanged (Es. 2:23)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Mordecai receiving clothes from Hatach (Es. 4:4)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Mordecai's triumph (Es. 6:11)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Mordecai and Esther writing the Purim letter (Es. 9:29)
S | Scene, unidentified
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Ahasuerus' banquet (Es. 1:3-8)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Execution of Vashti - strangulation
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Ahasuerus and the seven princes of Persia and Media (Es. 1:13-15) | Seven princes of Persia and Media (Es. 1:14)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Mordecai at the king's gate (Es. 2:19 and/or 2:21)
C | City
L | Landscape
H | Herm(a)
The manuscript is preserved in very good condition.
In two places, the first and second membranes are sewn with red thread.
Color saturation is not the same on all membranes; some parts of the print are unpainted.
The Book of Esther in Hebrew with initial benedictions
The scroll is formed of 4 sheets containing 16 columns of the text with 27 lines, except for col. 14 with 19 lines (the first 11 lines in the column are divided into two parts).
Every sheet contains 4 columns of text.
The text is inscribed in the Hebrew square script, in black and brown ink, on the flesh side of parchment membranes.
The initial word of the Megillah is enlarged and bolded.
The letter ח (Es. 1:6) is slightly larger than an average letter in the scroll; additionally, it is highlighted by its form - it contains two parts joined with a roof and is decorated with scrolled feet. The letter ת (Es. 9:29) is enlarged and bolded. Other enlarged and diminished letters are included in col. 14.
In col. 13 several letters are extremely elongated and due to this, their shape is difficult to recognize. The last line in the column is inscribed on the printed border.
The ruling - made with a hardpoint - is slightly visible; it can be discerned in some places only.
There are some erasures and corrections in the text.
The sheets in the scroll are stitched.
The benedictions open with enlarged and bolded words ברוך written separately in the lines. The formulas are written in the square script. They include the ligature of א and ל letters.
There are two variants of the scrolls decorated with this pattern that in the Index are marked "I" and "II". In some exemplars, just below the decorative herms, the pedestals with angel's heads and bases were added, therefore, the text panels are higher; this type is marked with "II". Whereas, the rest of the manuscripts containing no pedestals with angel's heads and bases are marked with "I". The latter are more numerous.
Similar narrative scenes are included in the scrolls with "portrait medallions".
The earliest scroll sharing a similar engraved pattern is dated to 1701; this is the megillah BCM 25 from the Braginsky Collection in Zurich (see http://braginskycollection.com/esther-scrolls/; accessed on 22.04.2020).
The scroll is described in:
Falk Wiesemann, Codex hebraicus 159, [in:] Irina Wandrey ed., Manuscript Cultures, vol. 6, 257-259.
Photographs and a short description of the manuscript in English are available on https://resolver.sub.uni-hamburg.de/kitodo/PPN893258520 (accessed on 12.02.2020).
Other scrolls sharing the same or similar pattern are discussed for example in:
Jiřina Šedinová, From the Mss. Collections of the State Jewish Museum in Prague. The Scrolls of Esther, "Judaica Bohemiae" 1979, nr 15/2, 79-80.
A Journey through Jewish Worlds: Highlights from the Braginsky Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts and Printed Books, eds. Evelyn M. Cohen, Emile Schrijver, Sharon Liberman Mintz, Amsterdam 2009, 234-237.
Schöne Seiten. Jüdische Schriftkultur aus der Braginsky Collection, eds. Emile Schrijver, Falk Wiesemann, Evelyn M. Cohen, Sharon Liberman Mintz, Menahem Schmeltzer, Zurich 2011, 282-283.
Victor Klagsbald, Catalogue raisonné de la collection juive du Musée de Cluny, Paris 1981, 63-64, object 72.
Dagmara Budzioch, The Decorated Esther Scrolls from the Museum of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw and the Tradition of Megillot Esther Decoration in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries – An Outline [Polish: Dekorowane zwoje Estery z Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego w Warszawie na tle tradycji dekorowania megilot Ester w XVII i XVIII wieku. Zarys problematyki], Warsaw 2019, 1:163-176, 2:41-49.
http://braginskycollection.com/esther-scrolls/ (accessed on 22.04.2020)