The festival Sukkot is associated with rain. According to the Mishnah, there are four times during which the world is judged, on Sukkot it is “judged in regards of rain” (Mishnah Rosh Ha-Shanah 1:2, BT Rosh Ha-Shanah 16a). Just as the academic year began, New York was hit by Hurricane Ida, which had made a landfall in Louisiana a few days before and continued on across the land making a turn toward the North East and New York, retaining, quite unusually an incredible amount of water. As it hit the New York tristate area on September 1, 2021, it caused catastrophic damage, homes were destroyed and lives were lost. Fordham was not spared. And the Walsh Family Library in the Bronx campus suffered most devastating damage of all university buildings.
According to the director of Fordham libraries, Linda Loschiavo, as Sebastian Diaz reported in the Fordham Ram, “Everything in the staff areas (Cataloging, Acquisitions, Serials, the EIC) was under four plus feet of water and destroyed.” Michael Wares, Assistant Director of Technical Services in Fordham University Libraries, took a photo from one of the offices.
Some of the books lost were from the growing Judaica collection, one cart, waiting to be catalogued was lost in the water. A number of recent facsimile acquisitions generously donated by Dr. James Leach over the summer were irreparably damaged, among them a facsimile of Megillat Esther. Other lost manuscript facsimiles included a copy–numbered 3–of The Skevra Evangeliar, which is the fine facsimile edition of the so-called Lemberg Gospels (original residing in the Biblioteka Narodowa of Warsaw, Poland, Rps 8101 III).
Astonishingly, the library remained open. Staff, now displaced by the flood, moved to other parts of the library, including the back offices of the Special Collections and Archives, which are the home of Fordham’s growing Judaica Collection. And even in the midst of this crisis, on September 12th, the Special Collections and Archives accommodated the visit of 54 undergraduate students in two of our classes UHC 1851: Jews in the Modern World and ICC HIST 4312: Antisemitism and Racism (team taught by me and Professor Westenley Alcenat).
Vivan Shen, of the Special Collections and Archives, made sure that our students would not be denied the incredible experience of learning with historical artifacts. In those two classes, students were able to see and touch history: the transition from the medieval manuscript era to early printing technology, to more complex sixteenth century printing, and on to the 20th century. They were able to see the development of Jewish culture in conversation with the environment and societies in which they lived through books printed in sixteenth and seventeenth century Italy, even nineteenth century India and Iraq, and some amazing artifacts from the Jewish communities in the Bronx. They were also able to see how hatred is manufactured and disseminated and how it is possible to push back. (In 2019 students from my course on antisemitism co-curated an exhibit “Media Technology and the Dissemination of Hate” using special collections).
In this difficult time, days after a catastrophic flood and after a very difficult year, being together in person, in the library, touching and experiencing history, was indeed uplifting and inspiring. It could not be possible without the support and commitment of the library director and staff.
Magda Teter is Professor of History and the Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies at Fordham University. In Fall 2021, she teaches HIST 1851: Jews in the Modern World and, with Professor Westenley Alcenat, HIST 4312: Antisemitism and Racism.
The Special Collections of Walsh Library at Fordham University in New York City preserves several folios of a medieval manuscript with text from the Postilla super total Bibliam, a biblical commentary of the thirteenth-century Franciscan scholar Nicholas of Lyra (b. 1270 in La Vielle-Lyre France, one hundred thirty-five kilometers west of Paris).[i] This work was copied widely in later medieval Europe and published in an early printed edition of 1472, though it has never appeared in a modern scholarly edition.[ii] The text on the folios held at Fordham corresponds to Nicholas’s commentary on Ezekiel 42-48. On the last of these manuscript folios is a stylized depiction of the city of Jerusalem that has heretofore never been described or analyzed in published scholarship.
By way of introduction, a few notes about the manuscript as a whole are in order. The folios are approximately 42 x 21 centimeters. Each folio has two columns, and, in each column, there are approximately 66 lines. On the folio with the Fordham image, there are approximately 24 lines per column. The parchment itself has survived in good condition; the top left corner of several folios is torn, but otherwise there is no additional excess damage to the parchment.
There is no attached date to the Fordham MSS Group 2 folios, but an approximate date and a potential geographic location can be surmised when examining the script. The Fordham manuscript is a conglomerate of two scripts. On the one hand, the script itself is most closely related to a French style of script called Lettre Bâtarde, commonly used in France throughout the fifteenth century, which helps point to a potential location and time for the creation of the Fordham manuscript.[iii] The elongated and tall shape of the letter s and f, in addition to the slightly angular slant of letters such as a, indicate that they belong to this style. On the other hand, it also bears some similarity to another script found throughout Europe during the Gothic period (thirteenth through fifteenth centuries), Gothic Quadrata Bookhand.[iv] Gothic Quadrata Bookhand is characterized by angular letters and the regularity of the handwriting.[v] Another characteristic of Gothic Quadrata Bookhand that appears in the manuscript is “biting of bows.”[vi] This refers to instances when two letters share one stroke and the bows of the letters overlap.[vii] This is often the case in the Fordham manuscript. The script is thus an unusual blend of these two different styles.
The city of Jerusalem was a central subject for illuminators of medieval manuscripts. Images of Jerusalem often supplement texts, helping the reader to imagine what Jerusalem could look like. Some provide an idealized vision of Jerusalem; others strive for accuracy. Scholarship traditionally views these images through the lens of biblical exegesis. It is clear that a major driver behind the depiction of Jerusalem in these manuscripts is the tradition of a Heavenly or New Jerusalem, an idea first found in the Book of Ezekiel and developed as well in the Book of Revelation and other ancient texts. In these works, the Heavenly or New Jerusalem is imagined as a heavenly or future incarnation of Jerusalem; the New Jerusalem is often but not always associated with the apocalypse.
In medieval Hebrew manuscripts, Jerusalem is invoked in a variety of ways. One of the most direct references to Jerusalem is associated with a line often recited towards the end of the Passover Seder, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Among Jews of the diaspora, the hopeful exclamation looks forward to the Jews’ return to Jerusalem while also invoking the coming of the Messiah, and more generally a sense of hope and renewal. Another focus of Jewish manuscript illuminations is the temple of Jerusalem, as it appears in various biblical texts. 1 Kings and other passages throughout the Prophets and later Jewish texts portray the Temple of Solomon as God’s dwelling place on Earth, and illuminations in biblical manuscripts illustrate the temple accordingly.
Christian devotional manuscripts often place images of Jerusalem in two different contexts. First, Jerusalem is illustrated in depictions of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Mt. 21:1–11, Mk. 11:1–11, Lk. 19:28–44 and Jn. 12:12–19). The manuscript illuminations that depict this scene from the Gospels vary greatly in how they depict Jerusalem. Some manuscripts, such as the St. Alban’s Psalter and the Isabella Breviary, depict the walls of Jerusalem in the background with Jesus on a mule entering the city gate. It is the walls and gateway of the narrative, and not the larger city, that is the focus.[viii] These illuminations serve as reminders of how important Jerusalem was in the stories of Jesus as they are told in the Gospels, and how sacred the city became for Christians after its Christianization in the fourth and fifth centuries.
Depictions of Jerusalem also frequently appear in apocalyptic contexts, often in relation to the book of Revelation. In these cases, it is the New Jerusalem that is depicted, rather than the historic city, the Jerusalem of Jesus’ lifetime. These illustrations attempt to render what this heavenly city will look like. In the Christian Bible, the idea of a new Jerusalem appears towards the end of the Book of Revelations and it is believed to be where God will manifest upon return to Earth. John believes that the New Jerusalem is the place that Saints will return to Earth, alongside God.[ix] Revelations 20 describes the final judgement that occurs. This centers around both God and Satan deciding who is pious and who has sinned and thus if they will be sent to hell or to the New Jerusalem. But in Revelations 21:1-3, the New Jerusalem appears as a beacon for all who have been judged as pious:
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth was gone, and the sea is now no more. And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and he will dwell with them.” (Revelations 21:1-3)
For Christians, Jerusalem holds a special place as it is where Jesus died and was resurrected. But in the book of Revelation, composed by a Jewish follower of Jesus, John of Patmos, in the decades after Jerusalem’s destruction by the Romans, Jerusalem becomes the ideal city where the resurrected Christ will reside for eternity – and it is no longer the same Jerusalem in the same physical location, it is, rather, an ideal. This version of Jerusalem, while it resembles the physical city of Jerusalem, in fact comes down from Heaven along with the Saints and angels.[x] Creating an apocalyptic New Jerusalem reassures the believer of the promise of an experience with God and a hope for life after death.[xi] Jerusalem thus symbolizes eternal life alongside God in a metaphorical city of Jerusalem. The New Jerusalem, according to later Christian depictions, appears to be a place where God will always be found, replete with angels.
The image of Jerusalem in Nicholas of Lyra’s manuscript is interesting because it does not appear in a text about Jesus’ entry into the city nor as an illustration of the Book of Revelation. Rather, it is placed after the commentary on the description of the vision of Jerusalem in Ezekiel 48, immediately following the verses detailing the city gates:
“And these are the goings out of the city: on the north side thou shalt measure four thousand and five hundred. And the gates of the city according to the names of the tribes of Israel, three gates on the north side, the gate of Ruben one, the gate of Juda one, the gate of Levi one.” (Ezekiel 48:30-31)[xii]
There is nothing ornate about the illustration: there is no gold leaf and it does not contain a lavish rendering complete with people and a narrative. A closer examination, however, reveals that it is more than a simple schematic. The illustration in the manuscript depicts the city.
While the Jerusalem image is the only major artwork in the folios held by Fordham, the manuscript does feature some decorations associated with reading aids in the text, such as red underlining of the biblical text, red chapter headings, and illuminated book headings, showing which part of the Bible is dealt with in the associated commentary. The only parts that could be considered lavishly decorated are the abbreviations for the names of the biblical books on the top of the page. These, in addition to several initials, resemble common features in deluxe manuscripts. The drawing surrounding the letters is intricate and is featured across all of the folios. There is a large amount of detail prevalent in these initials. The artist who created this manuscript had an artistic flair.
These three images are examples of the intricate headers, or initials, on the top of the manuscript folio that state what part of the Bible is being discussed. These are just some of the more intricate decorative initials that are found scattered throughout. When these textual design features are compared with the image of Jerusalem, it becomes clear that the simplicity of the Jerusalem image was deliberate.
The 48 lines underneath the illustration contain a brief essay or extended sequence of Nicholas of Lyra’s thoughts connecting the idea of a historical city of Jerusalem with the description of the future Heavenly city of Jerusalem. For example, Nicholas of Lyra writes:
“It is certain however, from 3 and 4 Kings that the Temple of Solomon was built in the city of Jerusalem, and by consequence the temple was rebuilt by Zerubbabel, and in this the Latin and Jewish historians agree. The Temple, however, and the city of the vision which are described above are distant from each other by 28 miles or more. Therefore, it is impossible, it would seem, that the vision both of the rebuilding of the Temple and of the city should be understood [as taking place] after the return from Babylon.”[xiii]
This section of Nicholas of Lyra’s text indicates that he is concerned with solving the conundrum of the relationship between the temple in Jerusalem that Ezekiel describes in his text (that appears after the destruction of the first temple) and the temple in Solomon’s Jerusalem (that is, the first temple). This sentence, in conjunction with the illustration, demonstrates Nicholas of Lyra’s impulse to harmonize divergent biblical texts and solve textual problems.
The illustration itself depicts twelve distinct gates, which correspond to the tribes of Israel. At the top, labeled the western side (occidens), is Gad, Asher, and Naphtali. Next, on the side labeled North (aquilo), is Reuben, Judah, and Levi. At the bottom, where it is labeled East (oriens), is Dan, Simeon, and Joseph. The final set of names on the southern side (auster) is Zabulon, Issachar, and Benjamin.[xiv]
For a reader of Nicholas of Lyra’s commentary, the names associated with these gates gesture both backwards and forwards in the biblical text, referring both to the sacred geography of the Holy Land and also to the eschatological architecture of Ezekiel’s heavenly Jerusalem. The twelve tribes refer to Jacob’s sons (and in two cases grandsons), who appear in the second half of the book of Genesis as individuals, are then blessed by Jacob at the end of Genesis, and become tribes within the People of Israel in the remainder of the Pentateuch and Prophets, playing a prominent role as well in the conquest of the land following the Exodus from Egypt and the time spent wandering in the desert. The prominence of the names in the image of Jerusalem would likely have called to mind some elements of this sacred history and the sacred geography that went along with it.
But the reader would also have been reminded of the New Jerusalem, the city described in the book of Revelations 21, even though this image accompanies a commentary of Ezekiel. The chapter begins: “And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:1). In the description of the New Jerusalem that follows, John turns to the city’s gates: “And it had a wall great and high, having twelve gates, and in the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. On the east, three gates: and on the north, three gates: and on the south, three gates: and on the west, three gates” (Rev. 21:12-13). This description refers directly to Ezekiel 48 and the gates that the text describes, but John is very explicit about the function of these gates in an eschatological context: “And the gates thereof shall not be shut by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it. There shall not enter into it anything defiled, or that makes abomination or a lie, but they that are written in the book of life of the Lamb” (Rev. 21: 25-27). The image of Jerusalem can thus also be viewed as a map with the center representing the holiness of the coming New Jerusalem. At the center of the image, Jerusalem is not written but rather “city” (civitas), a city at the center of all the tribes, and perhaps the center of the world.
The apocalyptic resonances of the Jerusalem image in the Fordham folio become especially clear when compared with an image of Jerusalem in the Trinity Apocalypse (Cambridge, Trinity College Library, R.16.2) from the thirteenth century. In the Trinity Apocalypse, the city of Jerusalem is depicted as a simple square surrounded by twelve gates, three on each side. Unlike the Lyra illustration, however, the center of this apocalyptic rendering features the figure of Jesus Christ, an angel, and a tree. An angel at the bottom left corner of the illumination guides an individual into the center of New Jerusalem to be joined with God. God is clearly marked as being in the center of the image due to the figure of Jesus sitting with a lamb on one side and the Bible on the other side.
The image from the Fordham manuscript is not the sole image from a manuscript of Nicholas of Lyra’s commentary on Ezekiel that depicts the temple in Jerusalem. A manuscript from Oxford University (Bodleian, MS. Canon. Bibl. Lat. 70, fol. 165v), for example, contains an image depicting a vastly different depiction of the temple in Jerusalem. A manuscript of Nicholas of Lyra’s Postilla litteralis on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art likewise contains a drawing of the “Elevation of Solomon’s Temple” in bright reds, blues, and yellows.
In recent years, scholars have shown that Nicholas of Lyra’s commentary was influenced by the Tanakh commentary composed by Shlomo Yitzchaki, known as Rashi (1040-1105). Rashi had a unique style of commentary that subsequently became widely adopted. He often applied a more literal approach to commentating on the Bible, prioritized the “literal translation” rather than agreeing with midrashic commentaries often found in earlier rabbinic compilations of biblical exegesis.[xv] This method was soon adopted by Christian and Jewish scholars.[xvi]
How did Nicholas of Lyra learn about and read Rashi? Nicholas of Lyra grew up in Lyra, nearby a town called Evreux, also a center of Jewish thought at that time.[xvii] It is possible that he learned Jewish commentary orally through interacting with individuals in this town. However, this is not the broadly accepted theory. The more likely scenario is that Nicholas read and worked with Hebrew manuscripts themselves.[xviii] Several studies have noted Nicholas of Lyra’s dependence on earlier Jewish biblical commentaries, a reliance Nicholas himself acknowledged.[xix] Sarah Bromberg, in her study of Nicholas of Lyra, mentions, for example, the similar use of diagrams in Rashi’s writings.[xx]
What does a close examination of Nicholas of Lyra and Rashi’s commentary on Ezekiel reveal? Ezekiel discusses the layout and structure of the temple in Jerusalem. Rashi seeks to clarify portions of the Bible that seem confusing. One such example is Ezekiel 46:2-3:
“And the prince shall enter by the way of the porch of the gate from without, and he shall stand at the threshold of the gate: and the priests shall offer his holocaust, and his peace offerings: and he shall adore upon the threshold of the gate, and shall go out: but the gate shall not be shut till the evening. And the people of the land shall adore at the door of that gate before the Lord on the sabbaths, and on the new moons.” (Ezekiel 46:2-3)
Rashi’s commentary seeks to clarify this passage, which states that the gates to the temple will only close in the evenings. Rashi questions the specific timing of the gates’ closure: why do they remain open all day? His commentary explains that the gates are open to allow the people to come and bow down all day long. As Rashi writes: “And the people of the land shall prostrate themselves: all day, and whoever comes, too, and in the evening they shall close it.”[xxi] Rashi’s commentary does more than simply clarify the confusing parts of the text, however. It also points out some instances where there may be some inconsistencies, unusual wording that needs to be clarified, or expands on concepts.
Like Rashi, Nicholas of Lyra attempts to interpret the discussion of the temple courtyard to fit his reading of scripture, discussing the dimensions of Solomon’s temple in the context of the historical city of Jerusalem. Then, Nicholas compares the historical city with the city represented in Ezekiel as the New Jerusalem. Lyra attempts to understand exactly how the two biblical descriptions of Jerusalem relate in terms of their scale, layout, and architecture.
If Nicholas of Lyra himself depended on Rashi, and perhaps worked alongside Jewish scholars in making his commentary, what relationship might the Jerusalem image in the Fordham manuscript have with images of Jerusalem in Jewish manuscript traditions? In Hebrew religious manuscripts, the idea of a New Jerusalem is not closely tied with the notion of an apocalyptic narrative ending as much as it is with the idea of the community’s return to the actual city or the advent of the Messiah to the city to take up divinely ordained leadership. For example, the Worms Mahzor, a thirteenth-century manuscript from Germany, depicts a rebuilt Jerusalem – that is, the city in the future, when Jews will return and rebuild.[xxii]
In the Worms Mahzor, the illumination frames the text, acting as an accompaniment to it. Unlike the Fordham illustration, in which the image works to visually depict the text, the Worms Mahzor illumination works as background to supplement the words written. The most important words on the folios are encased by the historical city of Jerusalem. In the Fordham illustration, the text is placed below the image, suggesting that the text is in part explained by or subsidiary to the illustration. Also, the decorative elements stand in stark contrast to the Fordham manuscript.
Both the Fordham illustration and the Worms Mahzor depict Jerusalem’s gates, but they direct the gaze of the viewer very differently. In the Worms Mahzor, the viewer is invited to peer into the gates – and thus into the city – but what the viewer sees when they do so is the text of the Mahzor itself. In the Fordham illustration, in contrast, the eye is automatically drawn to the writing in the center of the illustration. The margins on the previous folio appear to draw a line oriented in the east-west orientation to the names of the tribes written. Once your eye is drawn to the first tribe, it then travels to all of the other names written across the border. This then suggests that the most important part of the illustration is the words, rather than the decorations. Or perhaps, they can be viewed in tandem.[xxiii] In both, the text stands at the center, with the illustrations supplementing, adorning, and explaining the text.
Felicity Richards received her BA from Fordham College at Lincoln Center in 2019 and her MA in History, with a medieval concentration, from Fordham University in 2021.
This blog post is an excerpt from Felicity Richard’s MA thesis, titled “Commentary on Ezekiel Found in the Fordham Collection: An Examination of Jerusalem in Nicholas of Lyra’s Commentary.” This manuscript illumination and corresponding essay will be featured in an upcoming exhibition at Fordham’s Walsh Library, curated by Prof. Sarit Kattan Gribetz in conjunction with her “Medieval Jerusalem: Jewish Christian, Muslim Perspectives” course.
The Depiction of Jerusalem. Nicholas of Lyra. Fordham Library. New York City, Fordham University Library, MSS Group 2m. f. 3v.
The New Jerusalem. Trinity Apocalypse. Cambridge, Trinity College Library. R. 16.2, 25 v.
Worms Mahzor. Jerusalem, National Library of Israel, Hebrew MS4, vol 1, f. 98r.
Next Year in Jerusalem. Barcelona Haggadah. London, British Library. MS Add 14761, f. 88.
Temple Diagram. Nicholas of Lyra. Bodleian, MS. Canon. Bibl. Lat. 70, fol. 165v.
Elevation of Solomon’s Temple. Nicholas of Lyra. Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cloisters Collection, 2011.20.4.
Dombibliothek Hildesheim, St. God. 1 (St. Alban’s Psalter).
London, British Library Add MS. 18851 (Isabella Breviary).
Bromberg, Sarah. “Exegetical Imagery for King Manuel I of Portugal: Solomon’s Temple in Nicholas of Lyra’s ‘Postilla.’” Zeitschrift Für Kunstgeschichte 77.2. (2014): 174.
Clemens, Raymond, and Timothy Graham. Introduction to Manuscript Studies. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007.
Geiger, Ari. “A Student and an Opponent: Nicholas of Lyra and His Jewish Sources,” in Nicolas de Lyre: francise an du XlVe siècle, exégète et théologien, edited by Gilbert Dahan(Paris: Institut d’études augustiniennes, 2011, 167-203.
Gundry, Robert H. “The New Jerusalem: People as Place, Not Place for People.” Novum Testamentum 29.3 (1987): 254-264.
Kogman-Appel, Katrin. “Jewish Art and Non-Jewish Culture: The Dynamics of Artistic Borrowing in Medieval Hebrew Manuscript Illumination.” Jewish History 15:3 (2007): 187-234.
Krey, Philip D. “Nicholas of Lyra: Apocalypse Commentator, Historian, and Critic,” Franciscan Studies 52 (1992): 53-84.
Lee, Pilchan. The New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation: A Study of Revelation 21-22 in the Light of its background in Jewish Tradition. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001.
Lucie-Smith, Edward. The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Art Terms, 2nd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2003: “Lettre bâtarde.”
Lyra, Nicholas. Postilla Super Totam Cum Postilla Nicolae Lyrani, edited by Jean and Jacques de Cuilly. Venice: Giunti, 1603.
Matenaer, James M. “Lyra in Light of Condemnation.” Franciscan Studies 65 (2007): 349-69.
Merrill, Eugene H. “Rashi, Nicholas de Lyra, and Christian Exegesis.” The Westminster Theological Journal 38.1 (1994): 66–79.
Meyer, Ann Raftery. Medieval Allegory and the Building of the New Jerusalem. Cambridge: DS Brewer, 2007.
Nuvoloni, Laura. “The Woodcut as Exemplar: Sources of Inspiration for the Decoration of a Venetian Incunabulum.” Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 15:1 (2012): 141-163.
[i] Philip D. Krey, “Nicholas of Lyra: Apocalypse Commentator, Historian, and Critic,” Franciscan Studies 52 (1992): 54.
[ii] Nicholas of Lyra, Postilla Super Totam Cum Postilla Nicolae Lyrani, edited by Jean and Jacques de Cuilly (Venice: Giunti, 1603).
[iii] Raymond Clemens and Timothy Graham, Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007), 169-170; “Lettre bâtarde,” in Edward Lucie-Smith, The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Art Terms, 2nd ed. (London: Thames & Hudson, 2003).
[iv] Clemens and Graham, Introduction, 153-154.
[v] Clemens and Graham, Introduction, 154.
[vi] Clemens and Graham, Introduction, 154.
[vii] Clemens and Graham, Introduction, 154.
[viii] Dombibliothek Hildesheim, St. God. 1 (St. Alban’s Psalter); London, British Library Add MS. 18851 (Isabella Breviary).
[ix] Robert H. Gundry, “The New Jerusalem: People as Place, Not Place for People,” Novum Testamentum 29.3 (1987): 255.
[x] Gundry, “The New Jerusalem,” 255.
[xi] Pilchan Lee, The New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation: A Study of Revelation 21-22 in the Light of its background in Jewish Tradition (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001), 8.
[xii] All references to Ezekiel in the context of the Latin commentary are from the Douai-Rheims translation, originally published in 1582.
[xiii] Nicholas of Lyra. Postilla, cols. 1479-1480.
[xiv] In Latin, the first row is Gad, Aser, Neptalim. The second row is Reuben, Juda, Leui. The third column is Dan, Simiamin, Ioseph. The final row is Zebulon, Isarcar, and Binyamin.
[xv] Eugene H. Merrill, “Rashi, Nicholas de Lyra, and Christian Exegesis,” The Westminster Theological Journal 38.1 (1994): 68-69.
[xvi] Merrill, “Rashi, Nicholas de Lyra, and Christian Exegesis,” 68.
[xvii] Geiger, Ari. “A Student and an Opponent: Nicholas of Lyra and His Jewish Sources,” in Nicolas de Lyre: francise an du XlVe siècle, exégète et théologien, edited by Gilbert Dahan(Paris: Institut d’études augustiniennes, 2011), 167-203, at 7.
[xviii] Geiger, “A Student and an Opponent,” 8.
[xix] James M. Matenaer, “Lyra in Light of Condemnation,” Franciscan Studies 65 (2007): 350; Sarah Bromberg, “Exegetical Imagery for King Manuel I of Portugal: Solomon’s Temple in Nicholas of Lyra’s ‘Postilla,’” Zeitschrift Für Kunstgeschichte 77.2. (2014): 174; Laura Nuvoloni, “The Woodcut as Exemplar: Sources of Inspiration for the Decoration of a Venetian Incunabulum,” Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 15:1 (2012): 146.
[xx] Bromberg, “Exegetical Imagery,” 175. The majority of the article discusses the depiction of Solomon’s Temple in Nicholas of Lyra’s Postilla. This illustration follows along with Lyra’s tradition of using diagrams to supplement his commentary.
[xxi] Rashi on Ezekiel 48:3.
[xxii] Ann Raftery Meyer, Medieval Allegory and the Building of the New Jerusalem (Cambridge: DS Brewer, 2007), 5.
[xxiii] Katrin Kogman-Appel, “Jewish Art and Non-Jewish Culture: The Dynamics of Artistic Borrowing in Medieval Hebrew Manuscript Illumination,” Jewish History 15:3 (2007): 206.
Guillaume Adam, better known by his English name William Adam or William of Adam, or by what he called himself and as he was addressed, Guillelmo Ade, was a French Dominican who traveled throughout southern and eastern Europe, Ethiopia, India, and Persia, where he spent much of his time in service to the Church.[i] It is unknown when he was born, but he lived during the first half of the fourteenth century, dying between 1338 and 1340. Although most of the major Crusades were long over, the idea of taking back the Holy Land and Jerusalem, under Islamic rule at the time, was still a topic of discussion throughout the Church. William was a staunch advocate of another Crusade, and his travels throughout the East, especially in Persia and the Byzantine Empire, greatly influenced his ideas about a potential future conflict in the region. Williams states in one of the works attributed to him, titled De modo Serracenos extirpandi or How to Defeat the Saracens, that “Among other members of my order who go to the nations of the inﬁdels to preach the faith, I have seen many lands, traveled through many provinces, and experienced the ways of many peoples, and often such laments have ﬁlled my ears, often they have moved me to bitter inner heartfelt tears.”[ii] (The term “Saracen” was used by medieval European Christian writers to refer to Arab Muslims, and is common in Crusader literature.) In this text, William writes about how to root out the Muslims from the Holy Land and even focuses on the capture of Constantinople as a necessary measure to achieve on the way to Jerusalem.[iii]
William of Adam’s treatise, translated by Giles Constable, reads more like a call to arms than a how-to manual, as its name suggests. William is incredibly passionate about this endeavor, especially its connection to Jerusalem. He states:
The voice of the church weeping with Rachel, the voice of the oppressed Christian people, the voice of those trapped in servitude to the Saracens, the voice of the land consecrated by the blood of Christ fill the world and resound with frequent, bitter, and loud laments. The church cries to the heavens, and there is no one to hear that her splendid sons have been taken. Her children are led into captivity before the face of the oppressor (Lamentations 1:5), and there is no peace for them on account of the affliction and extent of servitude…
Lastly, the Holy Land cries that strangers devour it before our face (Isaiah 1:7); it keeps a Sabbath in the enemy’s land (Leviticus 26:35) and remains without its due inhabitant (Jeremiah 4:7). It is crossed and occupied by uncircumcised and impure people, who pollute the temple and trample on holy things. It is inhabited by men who have shed like water the blood of their own Christian sons in the surroundings of Jerusalem.[iv]
In the first portion of this passage, William alludes to the matriarch Rachel, associated in medieval Christian literature with the Church. Rachel’s weeping refers to a passage in Jeremiah 31:15, in which Rachel weeps on behalf of the exiled Children of Israel who leave Jerusalem for Babylon: “Thus says the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”[v] In William’s text, Rachel weeps not for the Jews but for the Christians, who have lost sovereignty over Jerusalem. In the second half of this passage, William characterizes the Muslim rulers of Jerusalem as intruders in the Holy Land, claiming that they have desecrated it and all the holy things that it holds. He is also upset at the Christian rulers, whom he regards as a problem in the region because they sent Christians to die without true reason or a well-thought-out plan. William may have written this treatise not only to promote another Crusade but also in order to prevent unnecessary Christian deaths should another Crusade occur. During this time, the Egyptian Mamluks had control over the region, and William was one of the first writers to highlight the importance of the Indian Ocean and the trade routes connecting the Near East and Egypt to Asia, both for purposes of commerce and war. He suggests that a blockade would be needed in order to cut off the Mamluks from this important trade network.
Although these wars and plans never came to fruition, William had a successful career. He became a bishop of the archdiocese Sultanieh, which included a large portion of western Asia, Smyrna in Asia Minor, and Antivari, now known as Bar in Montenegro. With his experience in these regions, one could say that William would have been considered one of the leading thinkers of his day on the topic of whether and how Europe could launch another Crusade.
William of Adam wrote other works in genres apart from his Crusader thinking. For example, he is thought to have authored MS 29, an indulgence pertaining to Tarentaise, a valley in France, dated to 1335 and 1337. This manuscript is currently housed in Fordham’s Special Collections.[vi] While the indulgence is not from Jerusalem, one can see the importance of the city in William’s earlier writings. Michael Sanders and David Howe did extensive work on MS 29, and this essay expands upon their findings and contextualizes it within William of Adam’s broader world, including Jerusalem.
Indulgences are one of the most criticized aspects of the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages, and many disliked them even then. The major use of indulgences is what persuaded Martin Luther to write his 95 Theses and pin them to the door of the Wittenberg Church. But, what are indulgences? The official definition from the Roman Catholic Church, canon 992, states that “An indulgence is the remission before God of temporal punishment for sins whose guilt is already forgiven, which a properly disposed member of the Christian faithful gains under certain and defined conditions by the assistance of the Church which as minister of redemption dispenses and applies authoritatively the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.” Anne Bysted explains that there are three specific parts of this definition that help describe what an indulgence is.[vii] Firstly, an indulgence is a remission of temporal punishment, meaning that it does not remiss one of eternal punishment in Hell or the guilt of sin, which can lead to eternal punishment. One would need to go to confession before one dies in order to absolve yourself. Secondly, an indulgence is a remission before God, since the Church has a “treasury” of the merits of God and the saints, so one pays for an indulgence in order to receive those goods. Lastly, indulgences are remissions of penances, but not the sacrament of penance. In order to receive an indulgence, one needs to have gone to confession and had their sins absolved beforehand.
Even though the morality and ethics of indulgences are questionable, the organization that made it work was large and influential. Indulgences characterized the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages, and especially during the Crusades, one of the bloodier times in medieval Europe and the Near East. Apart from fighting for God, indulgences were used in order to make people fight during the Crusades. Fighting and/or dying during battle, or in later Crusades, sending money or supplies to Crusaders, were considered automatic indulgences that allowed the soldier or patron to go to heaven without fear of repercussion. Although the official Church has not confirmed that Crusaders who died were martyrs, to some like Jacques de Vitry, a medieval bishop of Acre during the early 13th century, it was an indulgence that Crusaders’ sins would be absolved and they would go straight to heaven if they “picked up the cross” and died.[viii] Crusaders had temporal and spiritual privileges that helped persuade them to go on a Crusade, and indulgences were there to confirm that their spiritual life was safe and that their property would be secure while going to war.[ix] Many Crusade indulgences were influential to the indulgence system and impacted how they could be used in the future, showing that even though Jerusalem and the Holy Land were incredibly far away, they were important enough to protect and die for.
Figure 1: MS 29. Notice the colorful illustrations and detailed penmanship of this indulgence. The response by the archbishop can be seen at the bottom.
Not all indulgences, however, were connected with the Crusades. MS 29 is a specific genre of indulgence called the collective indulgence that became increasingly popular. Collective indulgences were different from regular indulgences in one major way – they implemented multiple bishops in their creation in order to bypass certain rules about how many indulgences a single bishop could give. For example, there is evidence of a papal indulgence from the Church of Bethlehem, only a few miles away from Jerusalem, that would remiss one of sin for 40 days. This indulgence was issued at a time when the Church of Bethlehem needed money and land from England in the mid-13th century. The indulgence allowed “enjoined penance to anyone who aided them or sought to join their fraternity.”[x] Although this indulgence from Bethlehem was not a collective one, it highlights one of the main reasons why collective indulgences and indulgences in general were used – they were profitable. Since bishops had a limit for the amount of indulgences they would sell, they were limited in how much money they could make. By working with other bishops, they could bypass this rule and group their indulgences together, thereby selling more than they would be able to sell on their own. Sanders and Howe state: “They wanted financial support from the papacy for their dioceses or personal projects. Collective indulgences, or rather the fees garnered from them, were one of the ways they collected money.”[xi] This was especially true in poorer dioceses.
In this specific indulgence, William of Adam writes to James, the archbishop of Tarentaise, an area nestled within the French alps. With 16 other bishops, he asks “We, bishops, desire that the chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Blaise, which is in a village of the sacred diocese of Tarentaise, will be venerated frequently with fitting honors and perpetually by the faithful of Christ; by all who are truly sorry and have confessed; by all who go to the said chapel for the sake of devotion, prayer, or pilgrimage…” The bishops then say that in the chapel they will celebrate a multitude of feasts and holidays and that the people who worship there will take wonderful care of the chapel and what is inside of it. To those that succeed in this task, William writes, “we, by the mercy of the omnipotent God and the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul whose authority has been entrusted to each of us, each mercifully grant 40 days of indulgences from penances imposed upon them, provided that the will of the bishop of Tarentaise approves and consents to it. In witness of these things, we have ordered that the present letters be fortified with the affixing of our seals.” Note how he writes “each mercifully grant.” This is evidence of the loophole in effect, that each of the 16 bishops can give their allotted 40 days of indulgences to this one project, for a total of 640 days! The archbishop of Tarentaise responded two years later, in 1337; his response appears on the bottom of the paper in a different color and handwriting. Giving his seal as well, he accepts the conditions stated in the indulgences and grants the bishops the ability to sell them. According to Sanders and Howe, the remnant of strings at the bottom of the manuscript may have held the seals that the bishops provided in order to give the indulgence credibility and authenticity.[xii]
Figure 2: A focused view of the leftover strings and the puncture marks that used to hold the seals.
Figure 3: A magnified view of the illustration of Saint Blaise. Note the marks of the first draft of the bishop bishop behind the finished depiction of the saint.
MS 29 is more than just a collective indulgence, however. It is an illustrated collective indulgence. It features large lettering at the beginning of each major word, illustrated drawings of people and saints, and beautiful penmanship. Most likely, this indulgence was hung up and displayed, since there are puncture marks in the corners, to show that the bishops were given permission to sell indulgences. The upper left-hand corner features the depictions of people, angels, and prominently a beheaded bishop, who is believed to be Saint Blaise, one of the patron saints of the region. If you look closely at the illustration of Saint Blaise, one can see an older, original version of the drawing in pencil behind the illustrated one. It is thought that a scribe simply did not like the way he was drawing the saint or he made a mistake, so he stopped and started over. Seeing this reminds us that people living during this time were human beings, and that not all artifacts have to be the remnant of a perfect piece; making mistakes is part of being human and this small detail highlights that very well.
William of Adam was well versed in the customs and ideas of his day. He was fascinated by the crusading culture and wrote extensively on the subject, highlighting ways that Europeans may be able to win control over Jerusalem were they to go to war again. Although Jerusalem was not the subject of this collective indulgence, its author most certainly had experience both in the region and with the people of the city. This indulgence, however, most likely never left France until modernity. From what is known about the provenance, since the beginning of the 20th century it was in New York, switching hands between Jesuit institutions until it reached Fordham University in the 1980s. Since then, it has been in the collections of the university, kept in a climate-controlled room to make sure it is safe and secure. On a worldwide scale, this piece is miniscule, but it is still an incredibly important manuscript that allows us to understand what the average business dealings of the church were during the 14th century, especially with people who are not necessarily known a global scale, but nonetheless important in their local contexts.
Liam Pardois a junior History major and Medieval Studies minor. He is an avid fisherman who loves hiking to find new spots, all while enjoying the plant life along the way.
This blog post was originally written for Prof. Sarit Kattan Gribetz’s “Medieval Jerusalem: Jewish Christian, Muslim Perspectives” course; the indulgence manuscript and this essay will be featured in an upcoming exhibition at Fordham’s Walsh Library.
Ade, Guilelmus. How to Defeat the Saracens: Tractatus Quomodo Sarraceni Sunt Expugnandi. Translated by Giles Constable. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012.
Bysted, Ane. The Crusade Indulgence: Spiritual Rewards and the Theology of the Crusades, c. 1095-1216. Leiden: Brill, 2015.
Carr, Mike. “Benedict XII and the Crusades.” In Pope Benedict XII (1334-1342): The Guardian of Orthodoxy, edited by Irene Bueno. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018. Pp. 217–240. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv513csm.13. Accessed 3 Dec. 2020.
Sanders, Michael, and David Howe. “An Indulgence with William of Adam, Archbishop of Antivari and Author of How to Defeat the Saracens.” The Crusader States.www.crusaderstates.org/indulgence-commentary.html. Vincent, N. “Goffredo de Prefetti and the Church of Bethlehem in England.” The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 49.2 (1998): 213-235. doi:10.1017/S0022046998006319
[i] Ade and Constable, How to Defeat the Saracens, 1; Richard, “Adam, Guillaume.”
[ii] Ade and Constable, How to Defeat the Saracens, 25.
The Maḥzor ʻim kaṿanat ha-paiṭan in Fordham’s Special Collections was published by Kashman ben Joseph Baruch Printing House in Amsterdam in 1767. It contains prayers for the holiday of Sukkot and was designed for the prayer leader’s personalized use. The prayer leader is identified in the Maḥzor’s cover page as the “paytan,” which is a term that means a liturgical poet and refers to the person who leads services. This Maḥzor features texts written in different types of script: traditional Hebrew block script, Rashi script, and Yiddish cursive script (see figure 1). It was intended for Ashkenazi Jews living Amsterdam and elsewhere in Europe. The copy in Fordham’s collection contains 93 leaves with leaves 6 or 7 and leaf 9 missing from the digitized item. It contains solely printed pages. Unlike the printing house’s other publications, this Maḥzor does not bear the printer’s mark.
The Maḥzor s cover page claims to be “better than other maḥzorim today” and states that “nothing of its sort has been printed until now.”[i] It advertises the addition of Yiddish explanations to and commentaries of the Hebrew prayers.[ii]The prayers and Torah readings in traditional Hebrew script act as the headers of each leaf, followed by a smaller text in Rashi script, and concluding with commentary in Yiddish (see figure 2). There are also smaller instructions inserted between prayers that detail the specific intentions and directions for the prayer leader (and for those using the prayer book as individuals as well). Despite the Maḥzor’s lengthy commentary, it is possible that the book was also meant for the broader Ashkenazi community. The numerous Yiddish books printed in 18th-century Amsterdam sometimes featured “marginalia in Yiddish explaining the order of the service, local liturgical customs, and various rules about worship.”[iii]Ashkenazi Jews were encouraged to read the Yiddish explanations and recite the Hebrew prayers in synagogue.[iv]
Amsterdam’s Ashkenazic community had been growing since the 17thcentury. Individuals fled Germany after the Swedish invasion during the Thirty Years’ War in the 1630s and established themselves at the margins of the thriving Sephardic community already present in the city (who themselves settled in Amsterdam following the expulsion of Jews from Spain in the late 15th century).[v] The Sephardic Jews in Amsterdam regarded the more recent Ashkenazi Jewish arrivals as a social blight but nevertheless provided minimal economic support for them. Ashkenazi Jews continued to move to Amsterdam in waves. Jews from Lithuania and Poland left their home countries for Amsterdam in the 1650s.[vi]As they became outnumbered by the Ashkenazim, the Dutch Sephardic Jews “encouraged the separatist tendencies” among Eastern Europeans in order to weaken intracommunal Ashkenazic relations.[vii]Whereas Ashkenazim numbered around 500 in the 1640s, a century later Ashkenazim outnumbered their Sephardic brethren by 80 percent: of the 13,000 Jews living in Amsterdam, 10,000 were Ashkenazic.[viii]
Maintaining a strong sense of cultural identity was important to the Dutch Ashkenazim who were disconnected from their home countries and alienated by the contemptuous Sephardic Jews. The Ashkenazim were more likely to retain their traditional attire than the Sephardim, as Dutch artists depicted Ashkenazi Jews as visually distinct from the assimilated Sephardic Jews.[ix]Publishing texts in Yiddish allowed the Ashkenazim to further distinguish themselves from the Sephardim. Yiddish books were previously printed in Poland and Italy, but many of these publishing houses had collapsed by the 1750s. Amsterdam printers thus filled the market void left by these printing centers.[x]
Printing was an economic enterprise that elevated Ashkenazic Jews whom the Sephardim had deemed tramps and beggars.[xi]Jewish printers in Amsterdam produced an unprecedented number of Yiddish books and “declared that Dutch Yiddish books were better than those produced elsewhere.”[xii]The Fordham Maḥzor reflects this pride in Dutch Yiddish identities when it proclaims itself superior to other maḥzorim. The flourishing Yiddish printing industry in Amsterdam attracted literary agents from throughout Europe[xiii]and led the Dutch Ashkenazim to market to Jews in Europe.[xiv]It is likely that copies of the Maḥzor in Fordham’s collections were distributed outside of Amsterdam. As Dutch printers realized the potential for a broader European market, they developed an interest in reporting news in Yiddish— the first known Yiddish newspaper was published in Amsterdam.[xv]Shlomo Berger posits that the Yiddish press’ ability to unite Ashkenazim both in Amsterdam and abroad “[testifies] to an interest in Jewish life outside the Holy Land that attaches a unique importance to Jewish existence in Europe.” The ability to read Yiddish connected diasporic Jews who were unable to read Hebrew fluently. Furthermore, Yiddish offered a more contemporary appeal than Hebrew, which the Ashkenazim deemed archaic. Indeed, 18thcentury Jewish printer Hayyim Druker claimed that “building a Yiddish literary corpus was… about being involved in a process of change.”[xvi]
The Maḥzor in Fordham’s collection was thus part of a movement to modernize Jewish liturgical practice and strengthen Ashkenazic identity. Amidst these changes, Ashkenazi Jews still maintained a sense of belonging to the city of Jerusalem. The particular Maḥzor in Fordham’s Special Collections contains prayers for the festival Sukkot. Jeffrey Rubenstein recounts how the biblical harvest festival of autumn gave way to the rabbinic festival of Sukkot, which celebrates God’s protection of the Israelites following their flight from Egypt. Sukkot has long been linked with Jerusalem, as evidenced by King Jeroboam’s efforts “to prevent Israelites of the northern kingdom from making pilgrimage to Jerusalem” during the autumnal festival.[xvii]During the time of Jerusalem’s First and Second Temples, Sukkot was one of three pilgrimage festivals. Jews traveled to Jerusalem to make the obligatory sacrifices involved with Sukkot,[xviii]and the sukkah built on Sukkot “originated as the temporary shelters erected by pilgrims.”[xix] Even the timing of Sukkot links celebrants to Jerusalem, as Sukkot occurs at the “time of year that inaugurates the rainy season in the land of Israel.”[xx]
Beyond its pilgrimage ties to Jerusalem, Sukkot is intimately associated with the memory of the First and Second Temples. Torah readings for Sukkot include accounts of the sacrifices that were brought by priests in the temple on each of the days of the holiday. One of the haftorahs in the Maḥzor is 1 Kings 8: 2- 21, which contains Solomon’s Temple dedication address. This liturgical reading connects Sukkot with the time of the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, and reminded those who attended synagogue services and heard the Torah chanted of their connection with Jerusalem and its temple.[xxi]The dedication of the second temple also fell around Sukkot.[xxii]
Rubenstein claims that Sukkot “gave expression to fundamental beliefs of the Israelites: the revelation and theosophy, salvation of Israel, the exodus, renewal of the covenant, and the inviolability of Jerusalem.”[xxiii] Observance of Sukkot, which survived the traumatic destruction of the First and Second Temples, continues to assert Jerusalem’s sanctity. It is possible that Sukkot, with its themes of displacement, God’s protection, and Jerusalem’s “inviolability,” appealed to Ashkenazic Jews in Amsterdam. Like the Israelites fleeing Egypt, the Ashkenazim left conflict and persecution in countries such as Germany, Lithuania, and Poland. Another haftorah in the Maḥzor, Zechariah 14: 1-21, declares that Jewish survivors of a cataclysmic war must go to Jerusalem annually to pay homage to God during Sukkot.[xxiv]The scripture associated with Sukkot refers to war, something with which the Dutch Ashkenazim were familiar. Salvation from war, both in Zechariah’s time and the 18thcentury, involves reflecting on Jerusalem’s memory.
At the time of the Maḥzor’s printing, Jerusalem’s temples were long-destroyed and Jerusalem was under Ottoman rule. The Ashkenazim yearned both for their homelands and Jerusalem. As a commercial object produced by Ashkenazic printers for Ashkenazim around the world, the Fordham Maḥzor demonstrates the unique methods Jews employed in relating to one another as well as their Holy Land. Reading texts in Yiddish allowed diasporic communities to understand and continue their religious practices despite their distance from Jerusalem and inability to read Hebrew. At the same time the Ashkenazim were, as Druker believes, modernizing their language and faith, they were maintaining Jerusalem’s memory through their rituals.
The Maḥzor for Sukkot belongs to the exhibit’s “Regional Relations” section. The objects in “Regional Relations” span different eras of Jerusalem’s occupation. From Roman bottles to medieval European indulgences, the objects demonstrate how Jerusalem established itself in the imaginations and practical lives of those outside the city. The Maḥzor is at once an emblem of a successful Ashkenazic printing industry and a symbol of diasporic longings for Jerusalem.
Ashley Condeis a FCRH senior English and Theology major from Los Angeles, CA. She is interested in Jewish Studies and enjoys listening to music and playing Animal Crossing.
This blog post was originally written for Prof. Sarit Kattan Gribetz’s “Medieval Jerusalem: Jewish Christian, Muslim Perspectives” course; the Maḥzor and this essay will be featured in an upcoming exhibition at Fordham’s Walsh Library.
Baskind, Samantha. “Distinguishing the Distinction: Picturing Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews in
Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Amsterdam.” Journal for the Study of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewry 1, no. 1 (2007): 1-13.
Berger, Shlomo. “Books for the Masses: The Amsterdam Yiddish Book Industry.” European