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Accessible Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter December 13, 2017

Die Schlussformel »bis der Esel auf die Leiter klettert« im Kolophon der mittelalterlichen hebräischen Handschriften in Aschkenas

Michael Riegler
From the journal Aschkenas


This article discusses one item found in the colophons of medieval Hebrew manuscripts copied in Ashkenaz. Some opening and closing scribal formulas were found to be typical of the various cultural expanses of the Jewish world. Here we survey the Hebrew colophons for the closing formula at the end of the copying: »עד שיעלה חמור בסולם« (»until a donkey will go up the ladder«), a formula we found in 228 manuscripts, of which 130 are from Ashkenaz (including the Provence in France) making up over half (57 %) of the total manuscripts copied in this area. The rich imagination of the scribes wrought a few changes to the basic formula - not only a donkey »up the ladder« but also other animals and other objects. This formula, which first appears in a thirteenth century manuscript, is tracked in this article up until the middle of the 16th century. We discuss the origin of the formula, whether it is from Jewish or universal cultural sources. »The donkey formula« was used not only in colophons but in Hebrew literary sources as well. The question is whether the scribe used the formula in jest or to express a wish that »nothing bad should happen to him« since »never« will a donkey go up a ladder. There is no definite answer. The formula has spread from Ashkenazic culture to other areas, including Italy, Spain, Byzantium and the Middle East.

Published Online: 2017-12-13
Published in Print: 2017-12-1

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