Biblical Archaeology Review 36:5, September/October 2010

Strata: Illuminated Manuscripts Reveal Jewish-Christian Collaboration

The vibrant colors and elegant gold-leaf Hebrew lettering attest to the care taken to produce the volume of Maimonides’ magnum opus, the Mishneh Torah.a Recently put on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, this exquisite 15th-century Italian illuminated manuscript contains Books 7–14 of one of the finest copies of the 12th-century scholar’s compilation of the code of Jewish law, or halakhah (the first six books are in the Vatican Library). But the handful of large painted panels and 41 smaller illustrations throughout the text also give scholars a rare glimpse at Jewish-Christian relations in the tumultuous Renaissance period.

Unlike most of Maimonides’ works, the Mishneh Torah was written in Hebrew (he usually wrote in Arabic), and the scribe who copied the 15th-century manuscript, identified at the end of the volume as Nehemia, was undoubtedly Jewish. According to curator Anna Nizza, however, the wealthy Jewish family that commissioned the book hired local Christian craftsmen to create the rich illustrations, some of which were based on existing Christian models, for example, illustrations of the Four Evangelists.

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