Unveiling the Role of Paratextual Elements in Medieval Hebrew Bible Manuscripts

Elvira Martín-Contreras

Medieval Hebrew Bible manuscripts are a treasure trove of historical, cultural, and religious significance. Among the most intriguing features of these manuscripts are the marginal annotations known as Masora (image 1: Ms. BH Mss1, fol. 4r. Imágenes propiedad de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid,CC BY 4.0). Traditionally, research has focused solely on the textual content of these annotations, neglecting their format, location, and variations across different manuscripts. Our project, PARAHeB, seeks to bridge this gap by conducting a comprehensive study of the Masora and other paratextual elements, examining their role and impact on reading, understanding, and interpreting the Hebrew Bible.

Our research aims to achieve two primary objectives. First, we will explore the relationship between the biblical text and its traditional paratext, the Masora. We will analyze factors such as the format and number of annotations, investigating how figurative forms in Masora annotations affect perception and whether this graphical representation highlights essential information. We will also assess the impact of the presence or absence of Masora on the reader’s experience and comprehension of the biblical text.

Second, we will investigate the interaction between the Masora and other paratextual elements when they coexist in manuscript margins. This includes examining how these elements are visually separated, their relationship to the biblical text, and the effects of multiple paratexts on a single page. We aim to understand the prioritization of different paratexts and how this influences the perception and reading of the text.

Using a comparative approach, we will analyze a selection of Hebrew Bible manuscripts, starting with the illuminated Hebrew Bible at the Chester Beatty Library (image 2). Our interdisciplinary study combines philology and experimental analysis, aiming to uncover the complex relationship between the biblical text and paratextual elements. This research will provide a deeper understanding of how these elements shape the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible.

For more info: https://paraheb.ilc.csic.es/index.html