77889 - Hebrew Epigraphy and Palaeography

Course Unit Page

  • Teacher Mauro Perani

  • Credits 6

  • SSD L-OR/08

  • Teaching Mode Traditional lectures

  • Language Italian

  • Course Timetable from Nov 12, 2018 to Dec 13, 2018

Academic Year 2018/2019

Learning outcomes

The course aims to illustrate the characteristics and peculiarities of the Hebrew language, starting from the history of writing when human beings used the pictographic signs up to the alphabet, developed by the Phoenician people applying the principle of acrophony, according to which the name of a figure in a pictographic writing is abandoned (dag = fish) maintaining only the initial letter "d" with a consonant value. We will also examine the graphic and acoustic sign that can be found in the syllabic ideographic, hieroglyphic, cuneiform and therefore in the consonant signs of the Phoenician alphabet. A part of the course is devoted to the study of the few initial Hebrew inscriptions, useful for the oldest phase to illustrate the position of Hebrew between the Semitic languages. Another part will be a study of the Italian corpus of Hebrew inscriptions for the first millennium CE, which is a unique treasure Worldwide. Some lessons will be devoted to the material and to the evolution of the forms of the book, (clay tablet, papyrus, scroll, code). At the end of the course, the student will acquire the necessary skills to read and translate Hebrew inscriptions. The student will also be able to read the Jewish sources of the medieval manuscript.

Course contents

The Hebrew among the Semitic languages. The Hebrew archaic alphabet of the pre-exile period (X-VI centuries a.e.v.): Phoenician alphabetical signs used by the Jews. From the he semi-cursive writing of the Aramaic papyrus of Elefantina of the V century a.e.v to the already developed square Hebrew of the Dead See Scrolls from Qumran.

The shapes of the book: from the clay tablets of Ebla (III millennium B.C.E), and the papyrus, and from the scrolls of parchment to the codex, which in the Jewish world spread only from the eighth century C.E.

Origin and development of the Hebrew writing. From the semi-square writing of the Elefantina papyri of 5th century to the square script of the Dead Sea scrolls in Qumran (III century B.C.E). Developments of the oriental Hebrew square writing in the first millennium C.E. and its differentiation in the Western world from the XII-XIV centuries in the three typologies, namely Italian, Sephardic and Ashkenazi and their three variants: square, semi-cursive and cursive script. The two eastern typologies of Hebrew writing: Byzantine and Yemenite writing.

Epigraphic documentation. Semitic and Hebrew epigraphs from Palestine, Sinai, Zoar (Jordan) and the Mediterranean basin. The Hebrew epigraphic documentation from Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria and other southern regions of the first millennium C.E. The Jewish academies of Puglia in their golden era during the IX-XII centuries in preserving and spreading the Palestinian Jewish and Hebrew heritage in Europe. Exercises for reading ancient Hebrew inscriptions, medieval and modern age.

The manuscript documentation. The Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in Qumran in 1947 and in the following years. The documentary gap of eight centuries from I to IX C.E. The oldest surviving Hebrew manuscripts.

Hebrew Palaeography. The Hebrew writing of the Western world, in their square, semi-square, semicursive and cursive typologies. Exercises to read Jewish manuscripts in the square, semicursive and cursive of the three types of Hebrew writing of the West: Italian, Sephardic and Ashkenazi.

Expected skills. The student will acquire the ability to read the ancient and medieval Hebrew sources, both epigraphic and manuscript. Ability to preserve and publish the Italian Hebrew manuscript and epigraphic heritage. Hebrew manuscripts and epigraphs preserved throughout the world, were produced about half by Italian Jews.



A. Yardeni, The Book of the Hebrew Script. History, Palaeography, Script Styles, Calligraphy & Design, Jerusalem 1997.

M. Perani, Lo sviluppo delle scritture ebraiche di tipo italiano nell’Italia meridionale dal Tardo-antico alle scuole pugliesi dei secoli IX-XIII e le vicissitudini dei manoscritti ebraici, in Mariapina Mascolo (cur.), Mauro Perani responsabile scientifico, Ketav, Sefer, Miktav. La cultura ebraica scritta tra Basilicata e Puglia. Studi sull’ebraismo nel mediterraneo, SEM 2, edizioni di pagina, Bari 2014, pp. 271-311.

G. Lacerenza, L’epigrafia ebraica in Basilicata e Puglia dal IV secolo all’alto Medioevo, in Mariapina Mascolo (cur.), Mauro Perani responsabile scientifico, Ketav, Sefer, Miktav. La cultura ebraica scritta tra Basilicata e Puglia, cit.,pp.189-267: 192.

M. 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.

G. Nahon, Inscriptions hébraïques et juives de France médiévale, Paris 1986.

F. Cantera - J. M. Millas, Las inscripciones Hebraicas de España, Madrid 1956.

Teaching methods

Reading exercises on epigraphs; Epigraphy and Hebrew Codicology in the Laboratory. Frontal lessons; visit and study of some important Hebrew manuscripts held in the Romagna libraries. Visit to collections of Jewish manuscripts and epigraphs of various collections.

Assessment methods

Oral examination.

Teaching tools

Photographic databases of Hebrew epigraphs. Corpus Epitaphiorum Hebraicorum Italiae. Electronic tools for epigraphs. Books within Books Proget: www.hebrewmanuscript.com

Office hours

See the website of Mauro Perani