77889 - Hebrew Epigraphy and Palaeography

Academic Year 2021/2022

  • Docente: Mauro Perani
  • Credits: 6
  • SSD: L-OR/08
  • Language: Italian
  • Teaching Mode: Traditional lectures
  • Campus: Ravenna
  • Corso: Second cycle degree programme (LM) in History, preservation and enhancement of artistic and archaeological heritage and landscape (cod. 9218)

Learning outcomes

The course aims to illustrate the characteristics and peculiarities of the Hebrew language starting from the history of writing and the alphabet, following a path that includes pictographic signs and consonant sequences. We will also examine the graphic significance and the acoustic significance that can be found in ideographic signs, hieroglyphics, syllabic cuneiform and therefore in the consonant signs of the Phoenician alphabet. Part of the course is dedicated to the study of epigraphs, useful for the most ancient phase to illustrate the position of Hebrew among the Semitic languages. There will be some lessons dedicated to the material forms of the evolution of the book (clay tablet, papyrus roll, codex). At the end of the course the student acquires the necessary skill to orient himself in the reading of the Hebrew scriptures pertinent to the three writing traditions of the West - Italian, Sephardi and Ashkenazi - in their three types: square, semi-cursive and cursive. The student is also able to read medieval Jewish manuscript sources.

Course contents

The course aims to illustrate the Jewish civilization in its multiple aspects throughout three millennia of history and evolution. When we speak of Judaism, we refer to a complex and manifold reality which can be defined as culture, civilization, history and religion. Today, the term ‘Judaism’ is rarely referred to in its multiple aspects. When speaking of Judaism, people majorly have in mind the last eighty years of history, from the 1938-fascist- promulgation of racist laws to the Shoah, culminating in the extermination of six million Jews between 1943 and 1945, the birth of the State of Israel in 1948 and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, unsolved until today. Judaism is, however, an inordinately rich reality, a civilization stretching over three millennia which saw its dawn in the last two centuries of the second millennium before the Common Era, still thriving today.

Judaism holds no place among the powers which dominated and subjugated other nations as did the Egyptian, Assyrian-Babylonian, Persian and the Hellenistic civilization and the Roman Empire. Throughout history, the Jewish civilization found itself rather subjugated and dominated by (these) powerful nations which in great part have disappeared, while Judaism continues to exist and thrive with nine million Jews living in the State of Israel, about the same number in the United States of America and smaller numbers in other countries all over the world. Its importance and longevity have their base in the system of values it developed which crystallized in the Hebrew Bible and became, albeit comprising fewer books called deuteron-canonical, the Christians’ Old Testament.

The characteristics of the Hebrew language and its evolution will be illustrated up to today’s spoken language of Israel: Ivrit. We will study the evolution of the script called archaic Hebrew, which is in fact none other than Phoenician used by Jews that has survived only in a few stone inscriptions and learn that, as with all other alphabets born from the Phoenician matrix, the consonant letters of Hebrew underwent a notable evolution over the course of six or seven centuries.

The fundamental traits of the Jewish civilization will be illustrated starting from the Bible, moving on to the Mishnah and the Talmud, both constituting what the Rabbis called the oral Torah.The historic background will be covered up to the two Jewish wars in which the Jews tried to free themselves from the yoke of the Roman Empire but which turned into two great catastrophes for the Jewish people, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 of the Common Era and, as a consequence, their European and North African diaspora. From there, we will move on to the study of Jews in the countries of Europe from the late ancient to the medieval, modern and contemporary period.


Ebraismo, a cura di Giovanni Filoramo, testi di Cristiano Grottanelli, Paolo Sacchi e Giuliano Tamani, Laterza, 1999.

Corrado Martone, Il giudaismo antico (538 a. e. v.-70 e.v.), Carocci, 2008.

Mauro Perani, La donna nell’ebraismo e nella riflessione mistico-esoterica della qabbalah, in L. Graziani Secchieri (ed.), Vicino al focolare e oltre. Spazi pubblici e privati, fisici e virtuali della donna ebrea in Italia (secc. XV-XX), Collana Atti del MEIS, Giuntina, Firenze, 2015, pp. 281-304, (disponibile in Academia.edu Perani).

Mauro Perani, La mistica ebraica, in Ebraismo, numero monografico della rivista «Credere oggi», n. 135, 3/2003, Edizioni Messaggero Padova, Padova 2003, pp. 113-140, (disponibile in Academia.edu Perani).

Mauro Perani, Lettere ebraiche come simboli. Ideologia e simbolica della lingua parlata da Dio nel suo viaggio da simbolo a lettera e ritorno, in P. Degni (cur.), Lettere come simboli. Aspetti ideologici della scrittura tra passato e presente, Udine, Forum, 2012 (Libri e Biblioteche, 29), pp. 119-170, (disponibile in Academia.edu Perani).

Notes and lecture notes from the professor that will be sent to you.

To prepare for the exam, the first text indicated is mandatory, while as the second the student can choose the text by Corrado Martone or two of the teacher's three studies.

Teaching methods

Investigations with students, in the Epigraphy and Hebrew Paleography Laboratory, on scrolls and manuscripts. Visit to the Hebrew manuscripts reused as bindings at the State Archives of Bologna.

Assessment methods

Through exercises and oral.

Teaching tools

Videos and Powerpoints on the indicated topics.

Office hours

See the website of Mauro Perani


Good health and well-being Quality education Peace, justice and strong institutions

This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.