I + 99 + I leaves
Full page: (183-185) x (138-140) mm
Text space: (110-120) x85 mm
The text is written by a single scribe, Moshe ben Shabbetai from Fonni.
The text is written in semi-cursive Italian script in greenish-brown ink, while the captions and initial words are written in square Italian script.
NNumber of columns:
The text is written in one column.
Number of lines
The text is written in 22-23 lines per page.
Ruling is executed by stylus and brown plummet (e.g. fols. 11-12v). 1+1 vertical lines for margins and 22-23 horizontal lines.
Pricking is noticeable in outer margins (e.g. fols. 1-10).
11 quires of 10 leaves each except for quire II (10-1) (between fols. 18 and 19 one leaf is missing); VIII (10-2) (between fols. 73 and 74, in the middle of the quire one bifolio is missing); XI (2-1+1) (the last quire consisted of a bifolio and one single leaf; today one leaf of this bifolio is missing and the quire consists of two single leaves. Between fols. 97v and 98 also the text is missing).
Horizontal catchwords for quires are written in the lower left hand corner on the final verso of each quire. The catchwords are decorated with curls.
It seems that fol. 25v was originally blank.
- Decorative cartouche on fol. 25v framing the word "Decipher" ("פענח") which opens the second part of the manuscript containing the text of Pa'ne'ah Raza.
- Drawing of womb on the outer margin of fol. 28v illustrating the marginal note about androgyny.
- Decorated catchwords with simple curls at the end of the quires (e.g. fol. 29v).
- Curled ascenders and descenders of the letters in the first and last lines of some pages (e.g. fol. 27v).
- Shaped text at the last two pages of the manuscript (e.g. fol. 99).
According to the colophon, the manuscript including Reishit ha-Lekakh and Pa'ne'ah Raza (excerpt) was copied by Moshe ben Shabbetai from Fonni for Yehudah ben Benjamin Cohen. The script and codicological features of the manuscript indicate that it was produced in Italy during the 15th century.
The statement of the scribe that he is from Fonni may indicate that at the time he copied this manuscript he was not in Fonni and identifying his city of origin. The city of Fonniis located in central Sardinia, although A. Freimann supposes that the scribe is referring to Giffone (גייפוני) which is in Calabria(Freimann, Jewish Scribes, p. 306).
Little is known about the Jewish communities of Sardinia in the period extending from the time of the establishment of a native government in Sardinia (665) to that of the annexation of the island to Aragon(1325). During the first century of Spanish domination, the Jews of Sardinia enjoyed prosperity. The Aragonian king granted them many privileges, and their numbers were greatly augmented by the arrival of new settlers from Barcelona,Majorca, and other places. One of the largest Jewish communities in this period was in Alghero. However, in 1492 Sardinia, along with all other territories ruled by Spain, expelled their Jews.
Thus, the statement of the scribe that he is from Fonni may indicate that he copied the manuscript somewhere in Italy, after the expulsion from Sardinia in 1492. On the other hand, it is possible that, like many other Jewish scribes, Moshe ben Shabbetai simply moved from his native Fonni to another place in Italy, without any connection to the expulsion.
Moshe was responsible for the shaped text (fols. 99 and 99v), the decorated catchwords, ascenders and descenders. However, at a later period, probably in the 16th century, another hand added a decorative cartouche on fol. 25v, which was originally blank and separated between the two texts included in the manuscript, Reishit ha-Lekakh and the excerpt of Pa'ne'ah Raza, as well as the inscribed marginal illustration on fol. 28v was also added by 16th century's hand.
Reishit ha-Lekakh (The Beginning of Learning) is a text on Hebrew language and grammar, influenced by Ars grammatica, a text by Aelius Donatus, a Roman grammarian and teacher of rhetoric in the middle 4th century CE (Rothschild, La tradition vive, pp. 193-210). Reishit ha-Lekakh is divided according to eight parts of speech, which are defined philosophically. It also discusses the optative, an old verb form, which assigns an expression of a wish. The question of the authorship of this text is problematic. Supposedly, it was written by Shmuel ben Yaakov Gema (Baber, Ateret Tzvi, pp. 5-6).
Reishit ha-Lekakh was very popular in Italy. One of the earliest extant examples of Reishit ha-Lekakh was copied in 1287 in Italy (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, héb. 1221, fols. 231-249v) (see Beit Ariè, Otzar Kitvei Yad, vol. II, no. 13). Other manuscripts including Reishit ha-Lekakh also were mostly copied in Italy (for example: London, Montefiore Library, 217, fols. 328-339 (ca. 1300); Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, ebr. 403, fols. 51v-66 (14th c.)), a fact which probably points to the Italian origin of this text.
The text of the Vienna manuscript and of the Vatican manuscript open with a poetic introduction:
"אני ראשית לכל לקח ומבוא... יצרני ילדני שמואל בנו יעקב..."
("I am the beginning of every learning and introduction… I created and gave birth, Shmuel ben Yaakov…")
This poem mentions the name of the author, Shmuel ben Yaakov, but it is not clear if it is indeed Shmuel ben Yaakov Gema and when this poem was added to the text (in the earliest example of Reishit ha-Lekakh, in the Paris manuscript, the poem does not appear).
The text of the excerpt of Pa'ne'ah Raza (The Deciphering of a Secret) is a commentary on Torah based on gematria. This text is different from the original Pa'ne'ah Raza (end of the 13th century), written by Yitzhak ben Yehuda Halevi, although the division of the text according to the Parshiot and the character of the commentaries are similar in both versions. Similar versions of the text appear in a manuscript from the Vatican Library, copied in Italy in the 14th-15th century (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, ebr. 238, 28 leaves) and in a manuscript from the National Library in Paris, copied in Sienna in 1426 (Bibliothèque Nationale, héb. 1467, fols. 37v-93). The text of the Paris manuscript opens similarly to the Vienna manuscript: "I will start to write a few words of the book of Pa'ne'ah in short"(אתחיל לכתוב קצת מלות ספר פענח בקיצור).