A note on the Biesenthal and Lebrecht edition

The most recent edition of Sefer ha-shorashim was published by Johann Heinrich Biesenthal and Fuerchtegott Lebrecht in Berlin in 1847. I shall henceforth refer to it as the BL edition. In a brief introduction to their work, the editors announce that they used the Naples edition from 1490 and three different manuscripts (p. 444) – a Spanish codex, a German codex (both of which then belonged to the Hebrew bibliographer Heimann J. Michael in Hamburg), and a third manuscript from the University Library in Jena (manuscriptum jenense quod ex illa bibliotheca summa cum liberalitate ad tempus mihi concessum est). Although Biesenthal and Lebrecht do not explicitly mention it, they also consulted early printings. Indeed, as I shall demonstrate below, their edition is mostly based on the second and third Venetian editions, that is the Bomberg revised edition (1546) and the Giustiniani edition, which also contains linguistics notes by Elijah Levita.

The three manuscripts that the publishers used are still extant. The manuscripts that once belonged to Heimann J. Michael were acquired by the Bodleian Library in 1848 together with all of his other manuscripts; they respectively bear the call-numbers Mich. 75–76 and Mich. 83. The Jena manuscript is preserved in the Thüringer Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek in Jena (MS rec. adj. 6).

Close analysis of these three manuscripts reveals that they all belong to the same family (work on the stemma is in progress). Indeed, they all contain passages that do not appear in manuscripts belonging to other families. The BL edition, however, contains sentences that are not found in any of these manuscripts

Moreover, the BL edition includes many more vernacular glosses in Hebrew characters (leʻazim) than are found in most manuscripts (including the three mentioned above) and in the Naples editions as well. In fact, the editors integrated in the text-block the Italian leʻazim added in the 1546 Bomberg revised edition; besides, they sometimes also recorded in the footnotes the Latin translations appearing in the margins of the Giustiniani edition, dated from 1546. These additions are not introduced uniformly: some are marked within square brackets, while others are tacitly inserted in the text without any editorial mark.

In the BL edition, the entry devoted to the root לשם (p. 183) ends with the unvocalised gloss טופצ״ו בלע״ז, i.e. “‘topazzo’ [i.e. topazio] in Vernacular”. The only place where this gloss can be found is the Bomberg revised edition (see col. 264), where, at variance with the BL edition, the gloss is vocalised (טוֹפַצוֹ).

Let us now consider the root אנך. In the BL edition, the expression הבנאי is explained by a gloss appearing in brackets: רוצה לומר פְּייומְבִּין, “that is to say piombin” (from Lat. plumbino, see Karl Jaberg, and al., Sprach- und Sachatlas Italiens, s. v. “piombino”). These words are to be found only in the Bomberg revised edition (col. 37), not in the 1529 Bomberg edition (col. 37), nor in the Giustiniani edition (col. 36). In the BL edition, the footnote ad locum quotes the expression perpendiculum plumbeum, present in the margin of the Giustiniani edition.

Despite all this, the BL edition does not record all of the leʻazim found in the previous editions. The editors made a selection based on their knowledge of medieval European languages. They favoured vernacular glosses attested in Provençal and Italian dictionaries; and when they did not find such an attestation, they usually picked the variant in which some Greek or Latin roots could tentatively be discerned. The BL edition thus reveals itself as an idiosyncratic and not always trustworthy edition.

In his explanation of the root ח.ל.ק, in order to translate the expressions בְּחַלְּקֵי נחל (Isa. 57:6) and חַלֻּקֵי אבנים מן הנחל (1 Sam. 17:40), and therefore to explain the use of the root ח.ל.ק in this specific context, Qimhi resorts to the plural codols (from Lat. cotŭlus). The term codol, attested in the Emil Levy’s Provençal dictionary (p. 87), means ‘pebble’, ‘small stone.’

In the printed editions and in the manuscripts, this gloss is recorded with many variants. The Jena manuscript reads קודלש. Manuscript Mich. 75–76 reads קודולש. Manuscript Mich. 83 reads קֿאללוס. The Naples edition of 1490 reads קורולש (qwrwls) (fol. 38r), a mistake arguably depending on a faulty manuscript. The 1529 Bomberg edition (col. 157) and the Giustiniani edition (col. 151) have the surprising reading  קוקולש (qwqwls), which is probably a typographical error (but Meyer-Lübke, REW, s.v. “cochlea”, reports the existence of Sicilian kókula and Abruzzese kókęlę, meaning “von fließendem Wasser abgeschliffener runder Stein”, or “Kiesel”, that is ‘pebble’).

The 1546 Bomberg revised edition has קוגולש (qwgwls), which corresponds to the Venetian noun cuogolo/cogolo (also from Lat. cotŭlus, see Cortelazzo and Zolli, Dizionario, s.v. “cogolo”; Meyer-Lübke, REW, s.v. “cochlea”, Venetian kógolo) and may be viewed as a correction of the previous edition. Ignoring this Italian vernacular word, in the BL edition one reads קוגל″ש (qwgls). This reading clearly rests on the reading found in the 1546 Bomberg revised edition קוגולש; as made clear by the footnote, the editors dropped the second waw in order to render the reading closer to the Greek term kuklos, ‘circular object’. Very interesting also is the last part of their annotation: “although most editions have קוקולש (qwqwls), one should probably read קלקולוש,  from Lat. calculus, pebble”.

The vernacular glosses, provide valuable evidence concerning the interdependence of the various editions. While both of the Naples editions (1490 and 1491) do nothing but reproduce the glosses found in the manuscript(s) they rested upon, the 1529 Bomberg edition translated some of the glosses into Venetian vernacular. The 1529 Bomberg edition is at the basis of the two later Venetian editions: the Giustiniani edition (1546), which reproduces the vernacular glosses almost as are found in the 1529 Bomberg edition, and the 1546 Bomberg revised edition, in which some of the glosses le‘azim were amended and others were added.

To conclude, as substantiated above, although Biesenthal and Lebrecht did not acknowledge it, their edition of Sefer ha-shorashim heavily relies on the 1546 Bomberg revised edition. Neither a Lachmanian nor a diplomatic edition, the editors’ work is more like a “reprint” of the 1546 Bomberg edition, amended and annotated on the basis of the other sources they had at their disposal.



Cortelazzo, Manlio, Paolo Zolli, and Michele A. Cortelazzo, Dizionario Etimologico Della Lingua Italiana, 2004.

Jaberg, Karl and al., Sprach- und Sachatlas Italiens und der Südschweiz, Zofingen: Ringier, 1928–40.

Levy, Emil, Petit dictionnaire provençal-français, Raphèle-lès-Arles: Culture provençale et méridionale, 1980.

Meyer-Lübke, Wilhelm, Romanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch, Heidelberg: C. Winter’s, 1911.

Qimḥi, David, Sefer ha-shorashim, Johann H. Biesenthal and Fuerchtegott S. Lebrecht (eds), Berlin: G. Bethge, 1847.

Roth, Ernst, Leo Prijs, Hans Striedl, and Lothar Tetzner, Hebraeische Handschriften, Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1965.

Citer cet article : Judith Kogel, «A note on the Biesenthal and Lebrecht edition», dans Liber radicum, Sefer ha-shorashim, 27/03/2020, https://shorashim.hypotheses.org/341.

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