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Shabbatai Donnolo’s Sefer Hakhmoni: introduction, critical text, and annotated English translation

Mancuso, P.; (2009) Shabbatai Donnolo’s Sefer Hakhmoni: introduction, critical text, and annotated English translation. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

The focus of this thesis is a critical edition and an annotated English translation of Sefer Hakhmoni, one of the earliest commentaries on Sefer Yetzirah (The Book of Formation). The author, Shabbatai ben Abraham Donnolo, lived in Byzantine Southern Italy in the 10th century. He produced works on diverse topics ranging from medicine and pharmacology (Sefer ha-mirqahot, Antidotarium, Practica) to the study of the celestial bodies (Sefer ha-mazzalot and Barayta de-mazzalot), but he owes his greatest fame to Sefer Hakhmoni, his opus magnus wherein, by commenting on Sefer Yetzirah, he tried to reconcile the professional expertise he had acquired in the milieu of Byzantine Southern Italy with his Jewish background. The thesis is divided into four parts. The first part consists of seven chapters outlining the historical and cultural context of Donnolo's life in medieval Italy. The second part is a study of the manuscript tradition of Sefer Hakhmoni, followed by the critical edition of the Hebrew text and the annotated English translation. The first chapter offers a general overview of the presence of Jews in medieval southern Italy. The Jewish community of Apulia originated in the captive Judean population deported by Titus from Palestine to Italy after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. It was during the Byzantine period, however, that this Jewish community came to flourish, with the establishment of Talmudic schools and academies and the rebirth of the Hebrew language as a literary medium. This is evidenced by the funerary inscriptions of the Jewish catacombs of Apulia where, from the 8th century on, Latin and Greek were gradually being replaced by Hebrew, and by the emergence, from the 10th century, of Hebrew literature including the works of Donnolo, Sefer Yosippon and Sefer Yuhasin (Megillat Ahima‘atz). The second and third chapters present a detailed analysis of Donnolo’s life and literary production. He was born in Oria, from where he was deported, probably to Taranto, by Arab raiders in 925. According to his own account in the introductory section of Sefer Hakhmoni, he learned Greek, Latin and the local vernacular, all of which he used extensively in his works. He spent most of his life in Rossano Calabro, one of the most important Byzantine cities, where he was on good terms with the Christian ecclesiastical and political establishments. The fourth chapter is devoted to the study of Donnolo’s scientific and exegetical Jewish and non-Jewish sources. The fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of the first part attempt to explain why Donnolo set Sefer Hakhmoni, his major work, as a commentary on Sefer Yetzirah – an anonymous work of uncertain provenance which, prior to the appearance of the first 10th century commentaries by Sa‘adiah Gaon, Dunash ibn Tamim and Donnolo himself, was virtually unknown in the Hebrew literary tradition. By commenting on Sefer Yetzirah’s cosmological and metaphysical statements, Donnolo was able to display his own scientific knowledge, underpinned by Neo-Platonic principle whereby the microcosm reflects the structure and model of operation of the macrocosm. The second part of the thesis provides a detailed analysis of the thirty-two extant manuscripts of Sefer Hakhmoni and the relationships between them, concluding with a graphic outline of the stemma codicum. This is followed by the critical edition of the Hebrew text and the annotated English translation. The fourth part consists of the bibliography and of an appendix concerning the study of astrological chart contained in the introductory section Donnolo’s text.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Shabbatai Donnolo’s Sefer Hakhmoni: introduction, critical text, and annotated English translation
Language:English
Additional information:This thesis contains some material in Hebrew. Authorisation for digitisation not received
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Hebrew and Jewish Studies

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