CE27 - Culture, créations, patrimoine

David Qimhi’s Sefer ha-Shorashim: Jews and Christians reading the Hebrew Bible during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance – RACINES

Submission summary

In the sixteenth century, Christian humanists, who desired to learn Hebrew and to understand the Masoretic text of the Bible, mainly relied on David Qim?i’s work, Sefer ha-Shorashim or Book of Roots (Narbonne, 1210). This dictionary, which presents, in alphabetical order, the roots allowing to group conveniently all the words of biblical Hebrew, reached an impressive amount of popularity among Jews in the Middle Ages. Qim?i’s motivation for writing it was to put the study of the Hebrew language within the reach of a large audience and not only scholars.
In the Renaissance, Sefer ha-Shorashim became an essential instrument for the dissemination of the knowledge of Hebrew and Jewish biblical exegesis among the Humanistic scholars and the Christians Kabbalists. It contributed indeed to reshape the interpretation of the Bible at the time of the Reformation and it continued to be an essential reference for the teaching of Hebrew until the nineteenth century.
The importance of this dictionary must not be underestimated: of all the translations of Hebrew works that have marked the history of Jewish Studies among Christians in the Renaissance, this is probably the only tool daily employed to have been preserved. Sefer ha-Shorashim was adapted in Latin by Johannes Reuchlin (1506), then by Sebastian Münster (1525), but also translated by various Latin authors for different purposes: Sante Pagnini (1529) was motivated by the desire to understand the Hebrew text of the Bible and to transmit his knowledge of Hebrew language to Christians; in contrast, Giles of Viterbo (ante 1517) sought, beyond the mastery of language and of the biblical text, hidden meanings (sodot) and kabbalistic hermeneutics; in Oxford, circa 1600, another translation was made by or for Henry Savile, one of the best known translators of the King James Bible.
The fortune of the text is remarkable: it is extant in more than eighty manuscripts copied between the 13th and 15th centuries by Spanish, Provençal, Italian, Ashkenazi and Oriental scribes, a fact which shows a widespread dissemination throughout the Jewish centers; the numerous editions, or abridged ones, of its Latin version provides evidence of how it was received by Christian humanists.
The central axis of the project RACINES aims at preparing the critical edition of Sefer ha-Shorashim with its Renaissance Latin translations. The project intends to offer to the scientific community and beyond, the original text in XML-TEI based on the extant manuscripts, followed by its analysis and impact on the Jews, in the Middle Ages, and on the Christians, in the Renaissance. Two editorial axes are envisaged: 1. the critical edition of the Hebrew text based on the most reliable manuscripts family with the possibility of consulting simultaneously the Latin translations, displayed on the screen for side-by-side comparison; 2. the further history of the text in the Jewish and Christian learned traditions with a more specific work around the Provençal glosses in Hebrew characters.
The online edition of the Hebrew text and its Latin version will also allow the researchers to evaluate the influence of Sefer ha-shorashim on the new translations of the Bible in Latin and in vernacular, made during the sixteenth century, which was at the core of the religious debates raised by the Reform. The electronic edition, which includes a research on specific elements (grammatical terminology, rabbinic sources, translations of the Bible, vernacular glosses, indexes, etc.), will be widely open to the community of scientists, researchers, students and to all the people interested in Hebrew culture and lexicography, Christian Hebraism, humanist translations of the Bible and Kabbalah.
Because Sefer ha-Shorashim was a medium of Hebrew knowledge, linguistic as well as kabbalistic for Christian Hebraists, the history of its text and of its transmission contributes to the knowledge of humanist networks in Europe.

Project coordinator

Madame Judith KOGEL (Institut de recherche et d'histoire des textes)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


IRHT Institut de recherche et d'histoire des textes
University of Bologna / Departement of Cultural Heritage

Help of the ANR 312,341 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: January 2019 - 48 Months

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