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Obj. ID: 26158
Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts
  David Nezer Zahav's Astronomical Miscellany Treatises, Lecce (Italy), 1427-1438

© Center for Jewish Art, Photographer: Unknown,
Summary and Remarks

Despite the lack of a colophon for our manuscript, its scribe was identified by Schwarz as David bar Elijah Nezer Zahav on the basis of palaeographical comparison with the script in another manuscript copied by David Nezer Zahav in Specchia in 1415 (Vienna, Österreichicshe Nationalbibliothek, Cod. hebr. 30). One of the owner's inscriptions (fol. 111), inserted into the last astronomical table and missed by Schwarz, supports his suggestion. In this inscription Yaakov Levi de Aragon informs us that the manuscript belongs to ("of" or even "by") David son of Elijah [Nezer Zahav] (or it is also possible to read as: [it was written] for David…), the physician and the leader of the Lecce Congregation. It was completed in1438 inLecceby Yaakov Levi himself (he completed the astronomical tables from fol. 103v, continuing the quire which David started). Later, in 1456, still in Lecce Daniel Aziz, probably the owner of our manuscript in those years exchanged it for another manuscript in front of few witnesses. The inscription concerning this exchange was also written by Yaakov Levi, who also signed it as one of the witnesses.   

The first astronomical text in our manuscript is in fact just the third article of the first part of a larger work called Livyat Hen. Livyat Hen was composed by Provencal philosopher Levi ben Abraham ben Hayyim in the late 13th century as a philosophical work touching upon many different fields. Levi ben Abraham divided his work into two main parts which he called "pillars" corresponding to the two pillars of Solomon's Temple, Yakhin and Boaz. The first pillar, Yakhin, is a kind of encyclopedia of sciences consisting of five articles, among which (the third article) is our astronomical text called Mishpatei ha-Tekhunah [Astronomy]. The second one, Boaz, is composed of two articles concerning Judaism. The second part was preserved relatively well in two versions (Sirat, Liwyat Hen, pp. 167-177); only the third article from the first part (our astronomical text) was preserved. This article appears in few manuscripts, almost all of them from 14th – 15th centuries (see: Freudenthal, Sur la partie astronomique du Liwyat Hen, pp. 107-108).

The second text of our manuscript Orah Selulah by Yitzhak ben Shlomo Alhadib deals with astronomical calculations connected to the calendar. Yitzhak ben Shlomo ben Tzadik Alhadib was born in Castilia in the middle of the 14th century and immigrated to Sicily in 1396, where he composed most of his works. The Orah Selulah consisting of 8 "gates" (chapters) is based on two astrological works: one is "Shesh Kanafaim" (Six Wings) by Emmanuel ben Yaakov tov Elem (1365) and the second is "Luhot be-Hohmat ha-Thuna" (Astronomical Tables) by Yaakov ben David Yom Tov (Poel) (1361) (see: Reanan, Yitzhak Alhadib, p. 16). At the end of his work Alhadib added astronomical tables based on Al-Battani, Al-Kammad and others. The table of the cycles in our manuscript opens with the 273rd 19-year cycle which corresponds to the years 1427-1446, allowing establishing the terminus post quem for the manuscript's production as 1427.

Concerning the scribe of our manuscript, as it was mentioned above, we know about one more manuscript copied by the same scribe, David Nezer Zahav (Cod. hebr. 30). His father Elijah [Zebi] ben David [Ibn Muallem] Nezer Zahav (see: Zuckermann, Catalogue, p. 5, no. 37) produced six manuscripts, the earliest one in Vlona in Albania in 1385 (Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, Cod. Parm. 2367[1]) and the rest in Lecce in Southeastern Italy in 1386 (Torino, Biblioteca nazionale, A. VI. 41.[2] The manuscript was burned. For details see: Palaeographical Project, Y 31), in 1400 (Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, Cod. Parm. 2373[3]), in 1414 (Breslau, Jüdisch-theologisches Seminar, 37.[4] The manuscript was burned. For details see: Zuckermann, Catalogue, p. 5, no. 37), in 1415 (Breslau, Jüdisch-theologisches Seminar, 60[5]), in 1425 (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Mich. 336[6]). According to the colophons of these manuscripts we can see that till 1414 Elijah Nezer Zahav copied manuscripts for himself, whereas from 1414 (Breslau, Jüdisch-theologisches Seminar, 37 and 60) he copied them for his son David the physician. Probably around 1414-1415 David really started to practice as a physician in Specchia (town in the Italian province of Lecce) and later he moved to Lecce. The subjects of the manuscripts copied by the father and the son are related to Torah, Halakha, Kabbalah, astronomy and of course medicine, because of David's profession (we do not know if Elijah was also physician).

Medicine and astronomy (or astrology) were closely connected in Medieval Europe[7] and that is probably why two manuscripts in this group, one copied by Elijah for his son David (Breslau, Jüdisch-theologisches Seminar, 37) and the second one (our manuscript) – by David himself for his own use (?) are dedicated to astronomy.


Most of the manuscripts of Elijah and David Nezer Zahav are decorated with marginal text illustration, executed by these two scribes. In our manuscript there are just few illustrations, but the medical manuscriptVienna, Cod. hebr. 30, also by David Nezer Zahav, is richly illuminated in the style similar to that of our manuscript.  

Concerning the provenance of the family Nezer Zahav we do not know a lot. From the earliest manuscript copied by Elijah Nezer Zahav we know that in 1385 he was in Vlona, Albania(Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, Cod. Parm. 2367). One year later he moved to Lecceand copied another manuscript there (Torino, Biblioteca nazionale, A. VI. 41). The rest of his manuscripts were produced in Lecce(the latest in 1415), as well as our manuscript by his son David. Thus, we can not determine if this family was originally Romaniotes or Apulian (Pugliese)[8] from Albania who escaped from there, probably because of the invasion of Ottomans (Egro, Albanian Lands, pp. 86-87) or if it was Apulian family living in Vlona temporarily.

[1] Mordechai ben Elijah was scribe from Provence, as he states in Catalonian Mahzor copied by him in 1456 (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Mich. 318). From this year till 1464 this scribe worked in Italy.

[2] Miscellany including Commentary on Torah, Halakhic works and Responses.

[3] "Musar ve-Sodot" by Moshe di Leon.

[4] Zikhron Tov (Exegesis) by Nathan ben Shmuel Ha-Rofe.

[5] Commentary on Ibn Ezra, "Six Wings" by Emmanuel ben Yaakov tov Elem and astrological tables.

[6] Commentary on Torah by Yehoshua Ibn Shuib.

[7] Commentary on the commentary on Ibn Ezra by Ezra ben Shlomo Gattigno. 

[8] Many medical treatments in Medieval Europe were done in accordance with the disposition of the stars, because of the belief in their influence on the human body (Shatzmiller, Jews, Medicine and Medieval Society, pp. 37-38).


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David Nezer Zahav's Astronomical Miscellany Treatises | Unknown
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Austria | Vienna | Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (ÖNB)
| Cod.hebr.57 (Schwartz, No. 187)
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Unknown |
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Historical significance: Collective Memory/Folklore
Historical significance: Person
Architectural Significance: Style
Architectural Significance: Artistic Decoration
Urban significance
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1. Fols. 3v-93: Levi ben Abraham ben Hayyim, third article of the first part of Livyat Hen (see: Remarks). Fol. 3v is titled: "שעריו ארבעה מראש שער שלשים ושש עד סוף שער\ הארבעים שהוא סוף החלק ותכלית הספר" "It has four gates (chapters) from the beginning of the 36th gate till the end of 40th gate that is the end of the part and the purpose of the book." 2. Fols. 97v-100: Yitzhak ben Shlomo Alhadib, Orah Selulah. Fol. 97v opens with: "אמר יצחק בן שלמה בן צדיק המכונה בן אלחדב ספרדי ראיתי בעל הכנפיים..." "Itzhak ben Shlomo ben Tzadik, called ben Alhadib Sephardi said: I saw a winged creature..." 3. Fols. 100v-111: Astrological tables: Fol. 100v: Table of the cycles (לוח המחזורים). It covers the 19-year cycles 273-280 [=years 1427-1560(1579)]. Fol. 101: Table of the years of the cycle (לוח שנות המחזור) Fol. 101v: Table of the months (לוח החדשים) Fols. 102-111: other various tables: לוח חק החמה, לוח חק לבנה, לוח מה שבין האופקים מאמצע העולם עד מערב באורך, לוח שעות וחלקי' לחצאי היום במרחבי', לוח לקות הירח, לוח חלוף ההבטה באורך וברוחב לאופק מרחב ל', לוח חלוף ההבטה באורך וברוחב לאופק מרחב לו', לוח חלוף ההבטה באורך וברוחב לאופק מרחב מ', לוח תקון חלוף ההבטה, לוח ההבאה, לוח חצי שמים, לוח מרחב הירח, לוח מהירות הירח, לוח לקות החמה??? ושעות.

Material: Parchment and paper (see: Quires) + paper flyleaves:

I + 112 + I  leaves  


Watermarks of the paper leaves

Watermark of a bell resembling a very similar watermark which appears in another ms. Göttweig Monastery (near Vienna) Codex 314. dated 1410-1413. 



Full page:  210 x140 mm

Text space:  150 x 80-90 mm

Tables (mostly):  160-175 x100 mm





The text is written by the main scribe, David Nezer Zahav. The astrological tables from fol. 103v are written by Yaakov Levi (see: Remarks).



David Nezer Zahav copied the text in semi-cursive Sephardi script in brown ink. The astrological tables by Yaakov Levi are also written in semi-cursive Sephardi script in brown ink.


Number of columns:

The text is written in one column.


Number of lines

The text is written in various numbers of lines, mainly 35-46 lines per page.



Ruling by stylus and plummet for the first treatise (e.g. fols. 65-70); plummet for the second treatise (e.g. fols. 99-100); brown ink (fols. 102-111) and red ink (fols. 100v-101v) for tables.

The ruling for the text is for the frame only: 1+1 vertical lines and 1+1 for top and bottom horizontal lines.



The pricking is noticeable in all four margins.



8 quires of 16 leaves each except for first two leaves (fols. 1-2) which are single paper leaves, VII (16-1) (fol. 84 is single leaf) and VIII (16-1) (fol. 100 is single leaf).

The leaves are mostly paper leaves, but the outer bifolia and sometimes the inner bifolia of the quires are made of parchment. The parchment leaves are: bifolia 3/18, 10/11, 19/34, 26/27, 35/50, 51/66, 67/82, 83/97.    



In the third article of the first part of Livyat Hen (fols. 3v-93) the catchwords guide the order of the quires and are written horizontally at the end of each quire in the lower left-hand margin in semi-cursive script. One of them is decorated (fol. 66v, see: Decoration program).

In the text of Orah Selulah the catchwords guide the order of pages (fols. 98v-99v) and they are written in the middle of the lower margin of each page in semi-cursive script.


Hebrew numeration



Blank leaves


Fol. 47, ??

Number of Lines
Hebrew Numeration
Blank Leaves
Façade (main)
Location of Torah Ark
Location of Apse
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Location of Women's Section
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Direction Toward Jerusalem
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Scribal Notes
Some marginal notes and corrections were done by the original scribe as a result of proofreading (e.g. fols. 85v and 87v).
Trade Mark

?? Binding of the Library from 1754.

Decoration Program

The decoration is executed by the scribe in brown ink:


I.   Marginal illustrations: a seated man in a fish's mouth and a seated ferocious dog with an inscription (fol. 54v)

II. Decorated catchword: a horse facing a dog (fol. 66v)

III. A hand with a pointing finger to the text (e.g. fols. 36v, 50, 67, 93)


Suggested Reconsdivuction
Fol. 111: inscribed within two outer columns of the astronomical table by Yaakov Levi: 1- "לחכם\ המעול'[ה]\ הרב\ הרופא\ מנהיג\ קהל\ קדוש\ לצי\ כבוד\ רבי\ דוד\ בן כבו'[ד]\ החכם\ המעול'[ה]\ ר' אליה\ אשר בכל\ לצי עבד\ אלהיו עבודי?\ והיתה\ מנוחתו\ כבוד." "Of the wise (or for the wise), prominent Rabbi the physician, leader of the Holy Congregation of Lecce, honourable Rabbi David son of the honourable wise Rabbi Elijah, who worshipped his Lord in all of Lecce and may he rest in dignity." 2- "נשלם\ זה\ הספר\ בחדש\ אדר\ שנת\ חמשת\ אלפים\ ומאה\ ותשעי'[ם]\ ושמנה\ לבריאת\ עולם\ למנינינו\ פה\ לצי\ וכתבתי\ אני\ יעקב\ די\ ארגון." "This book was completed in February 1438 from the Creation of the World, here in Lecce and I, Yaakov de Aragon wrote it." Fol. 112v: inscribed in the upper part of the page on the right (the text was partly erased, but it can be read in ultraviolet light): "בפנינו עדים חתומי מטה בא דניאל עזיז/ ואמר לנו: היו עלי עדים נאמנים וכתבו/ וחתמו איך החלפתי זה הספר זה לדעת/ חמשה שערים אחרונים מספר הכמל?/ מר"ל [מורנו רבי לוי?] ממשפטי התכונה שהם שער/ ל"ו ל"ז ל"ח ל"ט מ' [כוונתו למאמר השלישי של החלק הראשון של "לוית חן"] עם ספר אחר מדוד/ גאקו? זה לדעת שני מאמרים הראשונים/ משמע טבעי ארוך וכדי שיהיה לו לראיה/ ולזכות הנני מחייב את עצמי להוציאו מכל." "Daniel Aziz came to us, the witnesses who signed below, and told us come and be his loyal witnesses and write and sign on how I exchanged this book to know five last gates of R. Levi? Mishpatei ha-Tekhunah [Astronomy], gates 36, 37, 38, 39, 40 [he means the third article of the first part of Livyat Hen] with other book of David Gako? in order to know the first two articles... To give him an evidence for this…“ The inscription continues clearly: "מערער מה שהיה הנה לצי יום ששי/ עשרים ושנים לחדש שבט שנת ר'י'ו'/ לפרט האלף הששי/ מודה אני דניאל עזיז על כל מה שכתוב לעיל/ אני אלאב מעיד על כל מאן דכתיב לעיל/ אני יעקב לוי מעיד על כל מה שכתוב לעיל/ אני שבתולי המכונה דיצו מעיד כל מה שכתו' לעיל." “To attest to what happened here in Lecce on Friday the 22nd of the month of Shevat, 5216 (1456). I Daniel Aziz testify for all written above. I, Eliav testify for all written above. I, Yaakov Levi testify for all written above. I, Shabtuli called Dizu testify for all written above." The inscription, except the names Daniel Aziz, Eliav and Shabtuli is written by Yaakov Levi. Regarding Daniel bar Gershom Aziz, mentioned in the inscription, it is known that he possessed some other manuscripts. He ordered two manuscripts from the scribe Mordechai ben Elijah : Kanon (3rd Book) by Avicenna in 1464 (Boston, F. A. Countway Library of Medicine, heb. 1) and Ma'ase Efod by Isaac ben Moshe Duran (Berlin, Staatsbibliothek (Preussischer Kulturbesitz), Or. Oct. 3064). The ordering of Avicenna's Kanon may mean that Daniel bar Gershom Aziz also was a physician. Fols. 1-3: Inscriptions by Kalonymos ben David and his father David Kalonymos (see: Schwarz, Catalogue, pp. 216-217). It seems that most of the marginal notes and corrections were also added by David Kalonymus and his son. Ex libris (fols. 1 and 3v) and notes in Latin by Sebastian Tengnagles (1573-1636), who served as the director of the Imperial Library in 1608-1636. The notes are a kind of Index of authors and subjects mentioned in the text. Sometimes he also wrote in Hebrew (near the Latin inscriptions) in square letters (e.g. fols. 68 and 81v). The manuscript was in Paris between 1809-1814.
Main Surveys & Excavations
Egro, Albanian Lands: D. Egro, "The Place of the Albanian Lands in the Balkan Geopolitics During the Ottoman Invasion (the 14th – 15th centuries)", in Studia Albanica, (2005/1), pp. 79-91. Freudenthal, Sur la partie astronomique du Liwyat Hen: G. Freudenthal, "Sur la partie astronomique du Liwyat Hen de Lévi ben Abraham ben Hayyim", in Revue des études juives, CXLVIII (1-2) (1989), pp. 103-112. Reanan, Yitzhak Alhadib: O. Reanan, Shirei Yitzhak ben Shlomo Alhadib, Lod, 1948. Roth, Toldot ha-Yehudim be-Italia: Cecil Roth, Toldot ha-yehudim be-Italia, Tel Aviv, 1962. Shatzmiller, Jews, Medicine and Medieval Society: J. Shatzmiller, Jews, Medicine and Medieval Society, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1994. Sirat, Liwyat Hen: C. Sirat, "Les différentes versions du Liwyat Hen de Lévi ben Abraham", in Revue des études juives, CIII (1963), pp. 167-177.
Michal Sternthal and Aliza Cohen-Mushlin |
Author of description
Ilona Steimann | 19.02.2007
Architectural Drawings
Computer Reconstruction
Section Head
Michal Sternthal |
Language Editor
Judith Cardozo |
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The following information on this monument will be completed:
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