We are pleased to announce that applications for classes beginning in Michaelmas Term 2023 through our Oxford School of Rare Jewish Languages are now open! For more information and to apply, please consult this page.
The deadline to apply is 5 September 2023 at 12 noon UK time.
This post is based on research undertaken during Professor Dr Saloumeh Gholami’s stay at the OCHJS as an Oxford School of Rare Jewish Languages Visiting Fellow in Trinity Term 2023. She will be teaching Judeo-Hamadani at the OSRJL.
‘Written here is the Torah of Moses, the man of God, in Persian language, by the poor, humble, and youngest of all Israel, Joseph son of Moses, may his light shine. Completed on Friday, which is the twenty-fourth day of the second Adar, in the year one thousand six hundred thirty of contracts. And if I have erred in my writing, may He forgive me and wipe away all my sins, and write freedom for me, by merit of the wise and their disciples, and He will forgive me and establish upon me the verse “and it will be forgiven to him” for all unintentional sins. . . . The Rock of Israel, a good sign, a granary upon all His people Israel, and may He show us the building of Zion . . . by merit of Moses, Aaron, and Samuel, and may He make us rejoice in the joy of building Jerusalem, and the mountain God will establish . . . Jerusalem [triple exclamation] may the scattered of Israel gather, amen and amen.’
This text is the translation of the Hebrew colophon of ‘Torat Mosheh’ (‘Moses’ Law’), a significant artifact in Judeo-Persian literary tradition. Dated 1319 CE, the manuscript represents the most ancient extant Judeo-Persian translation of the Pentateuch originating from Iran, thereby signifying a key milestone in the trajectory of Persian Jewish scriptural translations.
The term ‘colophon’—derived from the ancient Greek word ‘kολοφών’, signifying ‘summit’—characteristically refers to an inscription appended at the end of a manuscript or book (Carter, 1952). This inscription, often composed by the scribe, encapsulates pertinent details regarding the work’s genesis, inclusive of the work’s title, the scribe or patron’s identity, the location of its copy or replication, along with the date of its completion. Fundamentally, colophons represent a form of meta-text providing an introspective commentary on the production aspects of the text itself.
Approximately one third of the Judeo-Persian manuscripts currently housed in the British Library’s collection contain colophons. A comparative analysis of these colophons reveals a consistent structural framework, indicative of an entrenched tradition, rooted both in Jewish and Iranian cultural customs. This observation provides a potent testimony to the cross-cultural influences embedded in these texts and their historical contexts.
Typically, colophons begin with the title of the book and proceed to indicate the date of the copy. In a substantial proportion of colophons, the practice of indicating the scribe’s name, when deemed relevant, often follows the mention of the date of copy. Noteworthy features of some colophons are the genealogical details pertaining to the scribe. This information represents a valuable historical and sociological resource. Concurrently, in consonance with enduring Iranian cultural conventions, scribes tend to depict their identities, personifying values of humility and deference. This self-representation routinely materializes through their employment of particular idioms, such as ‘poor and young scribe’, ‘the exiled, the poor servant’ and ‘humble servant’.
Customarily, the notation of the scribe’s name in the colophons is followed by a string of benedictions or well-intentioned wishes. Phrases such as ‘may his memory be a blessing’, ‘may her/his soul rest in peace’ and ‘may God have mercy on him’ pervade not only Persian manuscripts but also Zoroastrian colophons. Nevertheless, certain expressions appear to be unique to the Jewish cultural context and are absent from other colophons. Specific examples of these exclusive phrases include: ‘may his soul be bound up in the bond of life’ and ‘may his light shine’.
At the end of a considerable number of the colophons, the scribe mentions that the book is completed and lacks nothing (e.g., colophon of Manuscript Or 10007 in the British Library, 16th century).
Notably, the prayer יהי רצון מלפני הקדוש ‘may it be the will of the Holy One’, found in a number of Judeo-Persian colophons, bears striking similarity not only to Hebrew texts but also to the phrase ‘may it be according to the will of Ahuramazda’, the Zoroastrian God, which is consistently present in the Middle Persian colophons of the Avestan manuscripts.
In the realm of Judeo-Persian manuscripts, Hebrew serves as the primary language of the colophons employed.
Through a comparative analysis of the colophons found within Judeo-Persian manuscripts and their Judeo-Gorani counterparts, which encompass literary Gorani texts transliterated using Hebrew characters, distinct stylistic disparities become evident. Notably, Judeo-Gorani texts, originating from a later era spanning between 1874 and 1926, exhibit a language style closely resembling modern Persian. In stark contrast to Judeo-Persian manuscripts, the majority of Judeo-Gorani colophons are in the Persian language, not Hebrew. However, they do sometimes include Hebrew expressions typically consisting of a concise prayer, the copy date and the scribe’s name.
This is the transliteration of one of the colophons of Nāder-Nāme:
1כאתבתי בשביל ]ס”ט אג[א דאוו]ד בנו[ אשר
-2תמאם שוד כתאב נאדר נאדר ]ר[וז א
-3רוז א שבת כא אום חודש אדר שנת
-4שנת תרמה הרכה [כ]אנד אז דועא
-5מן בנדה כונה כאר […]
[…]-6דל שאד […]
[…]-7 ד לענת כׄודא [.]ד
-9מן נמאנם כׄת
1-Katavti bishvil . . . āqā dāvūd binū āšir
2-tamām šod ketāb nāder nāder rūz 1
3-rūz 1 šabat 21om ḥodeš ādār šanat
4-šanat 5645, har ke [ḫā]nad az doʿā
5-man bandeh gonah kār [. . .]
7-…d laʿnat xodā…d
9- man namānam xat
(Nikravesh, Hamidreza in press: In Gurānī in its Historical and Linguistic Setting, Problems and Prescriptions, edited by S. Gholami and Sh. O. Karim, [Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, forthcoming]. In Series Trends in Linguistics. Documentation [TiLDOC]).
‘I wrote this for Āqā Dāvūd binū Āšir. Nāder’s book reached its completion on Sunday, the 21st of Hodesh Adar, in the year 5645. To all who read these words, do not forget me, a man burdened with sin . . . In my prayers, I feel the impending curse of God . . . My survival seems doubtful, yet this writing, my legacy, will endure in the world. I penned these lines. The end has come.’
This colophon serves as a compelling illustration of the intercultural exchanges among Jewish, Zoroastrian and Islamic scribal traditions.
In lines four and five, the phrase ‘har ke [ḫā]nad az doʿā, man bandeh gonah kār [. . .]’ echoes a verse found in a Zoroastrian manuscript, the Videvdād. This manuscript is part of the collection at the Muze-ye Zartoštiyān, a renowned Zoroastrian Museum, and its adjoining Fire Temple in Kerman. This precious collection previously belonged to Manuchehr Rostami, the son of the late Rashid Rostami, the high priest of Kerman. It was later donated to the museum. The manuscript in question was meticulously penned by the eminent Mūbed, Rostam Molla Iskandar Molla Goštāsb Monaǰem-e Kermani, in the Gregorian year 1880. Its time of creation coincides nearly exactly with that of our Judeo-Gorani manuscript, being composed merely five years prior to the Nāder Nameh.
The same verse can be found in the colophon of Jong-e naẓm-o naṯr, an Iranian Islamic manuscript authored by Fatḥ-ollāh ibn-e mollā ʿAbd-ʿAlī Bihārī and written in 1881.
هر که خواند دعا طمع دارم زانکه من بنده گنهکارم
har kē xānad doʿā ṭamaʿ dāram
From everybody, who reads (this book), I long praying
zānke man bande-ye gonahkāram
Because I am a sinful servant
Another example of the relationship of various scribal traditions is the phrase at lines 8-10 in the Judeo-Gorani colophon ‘jahat yādegār man namānam xat bemānad’. This phrase is also attested in Zoroastrian manuscripts—for example, in a Videvdād at The Central Library and Documentation Centre of University of Tehran written in 1635 CE:
نوشتم من این خط که تا روزگار برآید بماند ز من یادگار
neveštam man īn xat ke tā rūzegār
I authored this manuscript with the intention
barāyad bemānad ze man yādegār
that it may endure beyond my lifetime, serving as a testament to my existence.
The same phrase is also observed in a section of the extant colophon of the Divan-e Hafez at the British Library (Sig. Or. 4745, see S. Farridnejad, pp. 532-533):
נושתם אין תא בראייד רוזגאר
מן נמאנם כ׳ט במאנד יאדגאר
זאן כס כה נמאנד יאדגארי
נאייד פס מרג דר שמארי
This specific verse is attested in many Islamic Iranian manuscripts, such as in Changranghāchah-nāmah manuscript (MS 301) at The John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, scribed on 22 March 1660 CE.
The comparative analysis of the colophons found in the Judeo-Persian and Judeo-Gorani manuscripts clearly demonstrates the influence of the prevailing tradition of colophon-writing in broader society on the scribes. Undoubtedly, the scribes were influenced by the popular tradition of their time, but they also subtly exhibited aspects of their own religious culture and the prevalent tradition of Hebrew scribing. The extent to which these signs are consciously or unconsciously applied to the colophons remains unclear. It appears that the older the colophons are, the stronger the scribes’ connection to Jewish culture, as can be seen in the final part of the colophon brought up at the beginning of this article. As the colophons approach more modern times, they take on a more Iranian, and even occasionally Islamic, flavor and scent.
The OSRJL is pleased to share information about the online Judeo-Persian Literature in Translation class taught by Drs Ofir Haim (one of the OSRJL Judeo-Persian teachers) and Julia Rubanovich at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. For details, please consult the class syllabus.
We are delighted to begin the second year of the Oxford School of Rare Jewish Languages (OSRJL). Applications for OSRJL language classes beginning in Michaelmas Term 2022 are now open. To apply, fill out this form before 12 September 2022 at 12 noon UK Time.
For more information about the OSRJL and its language classes, please see this page. Additionally, please note that the programme is also accepting applications for Visiting Fellowships at this time.