The Healing Power of the Hebrew Tongue

An Example from Late Thirteenth-Century England
  • Mark Zier


The study of the history of medicine has largely been undertaken as a part of the larger scope of the history of science, and for good reason. Yet both notions, of medicine and of science, could have rather different significations in the Middle Ages, and in this paper I would like to pursue one of the dimensions of medieval science that is not normally associated by historians of science today with the science of the health of the body: namely, the science of the Bible.


Jewish Community Thirteenth Century Twelfth Century Inside Corner Latin Translation 
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  2. 2.
    Adolf Neubauer, Catalogue of the Hebrew Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library and in the College Libraries of Oxford… (Oxford 1886), no. 117. The other MSS (three in number) are: a miscellany with a Hebrew-French vocabulary from Exeter Cathedral, now Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Bodley Or. 135; the Hebrew dictionary of R. David Kimhi, Sepher ha Shorashim, together with an abridgement, from Norwich Priory, now Cambridge, St. John’s College, MS. 218; and a fragment of a prayerbook of penitential hymns found in another codex from Bury St. Edmunds. Cecil Roth grudgingly concedes that there are a few other MSS that could have been in the possession of Anglo-Norman Jews before the Expulsion, but there is nothing to confirm these few cases; he cites four possibilities, three of which are biblical codices: see his Intellectual Activities of Medieval English Jewry, British Academy, Supplemental Papers 8 (London n.d.), pp. 10–11, esp. nn. 1–4 (p. 10) and 1–3 (p. 11). Beryl Smalley discusses Laud. Or. 174: The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages, 3rd rev. ed. (Oxford 1983), p. 342.Google Scholar
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    Two prominent Christian Hebraists of the period have connections with the west country: a certain Odo, whose Ysagoge in theologiam (written ca. 1138) exists in a MS of the priory of Cerne, a dependency of St. Peter’s, Gloucester, and Andrew of St. Victor, who was abbot of Wigmore in Shropshire not far from Hereford for several years between 1150 and 1175. Richardson discounts earlier claims for a school in Bristol that would have functioned as something of a domus conversorum in the middle of the 12th century, but see Michael Adler, Jews of Medieval England (London 1939), pp. 183 and 281.Google Scholar
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© Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto 1992

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  • Mark Zier

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