Calendars Beyond Borders: Exchange of Calendrical Knowledge Between Jews and Christians in Medieval Europe (12th-15th Century)

in Medieval Encounters
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During the Middle Ages, calendars played a significant role in both the Jewish and Christian communities as a means of reckoning time and structuring religious worship. Although calendars spawned a rich and extensive literature in both medieval Latin and Hebrew, it remains a little-known fact that Jews and Christians studied not only their own calendrical traditions, but also those of their respective rival group: Jewish scribes incorporated Christian material into Hebrew calendrical manuscripts, while some Christian scholars even dedicated entire treatises to the calendar used by Jews. The present article will examine these sources from a comparative perspective and use them to shed new light on the intellectual exchange that took place between Jews and Christians during the twelfth to fifteenth centuries. Particular attention will be paid to the role of oral vs. written transmission in the transfer of calendrical knowledge from one context to another.

Medieval Encounters

Jewish, Christian and Muslim Culture in Confluence and Dialogue




See, e.g., Ivan G. Marcus, “A Jewish-Christian Symbiosis: The Culture of Early Ashkenaz,” in Cultures of the Jews: A New History, ed. David Biale (New York, ny: Schocken Books, 2002), 449-518; Elisheva Baumgarten, Mothers and Children: Jewish Family Life in Medieval Europe (Princeton, nj: Princeton University Press, 2004); Jonathan Elukin, Living Together, Living Apart: Rethinking Jewish-Christian Relations in the Middle Ages (Princeton, nj: Princeton University Press, 2007); Joseph Shatzmiller, Cultural Exchange: Jews, Christians, and Art in the Medieval Marketplace (Princeton, nj: Princeton University Press, 2013); Eva de Visscher, Reading the Rabbis: Christian Hebraism in the Works of Herbert of Bosham (Leiden: Brill, 2014).


For general orientation, see Sacha Stern, Calendars in Antiquity: Empires, States, & Societies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012); Bonnie J. Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).


Carlebach, Palaces, 116.


Sacha Stern, “Christian Calendars in Hebrew Medieval Manuscripts,” Medieval Encounters, Special volume on Religious Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, ed. Harvey Hames (forthcoming); Elisheva Baumgarten, “Calendars Shared and Contested: Jews and Christian Ritual Time in the High Middle Ages” (forthcoming).


For more details, see C.P.E. Nothaft, “Duking it out in the Arena of Time: Chronology and the Christian-Jewish Encounter (1100-1600),” in Medieval Encounters (n. 6); Nothaft, “Between Crucifixion and Calendar Reform: Medieval Christian Perceptions of the Jewish Lunisolar Calendar,” in Living the Lunar Calendar, eds. Jonathan Ben-Dov, Wayne Horowitz and John M. Steele (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2012), 259-267.


Deborah Copeland Klepper, “Nicholas of Lyra and Franciscan Interest in Hebrew Scholarship,” in Nicholas of Lyra: The Senses of Scripture, eds. Philip D.W. Krey and Lesley Smith (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 289-311.


Friedrich Zurbonsen, “Hermann Zoestius von Marienfeld und seine Schriften,” Westdeutsche Zeitschrift 18 (1899), 146-173; Josef Tönsmeyer, “Hermann Zoestius von Marienfeld, ein Vertreter der konziliaren Theorie am Konzil zu Basel,” Westfälische Zeitschrift 87 (1930), 114-191; Ferdinand Kaltenbrunner, “Die Vorgeschichte der gregorianischen Kalenderreform,” Sitzungsberichte der kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Vienna), phil.-hist. Kl., 82 (1876), 289-414 (336-354).


See C.P.E. Nothaft, “A Tool for Many Purposes: Hermann Zoest (d. 1445) and the Medieval Christian Appropriation of the Jewish Calendar,” Journal of Jewish Studies (forthcoming). Hermann’s own deluxe copy of the work is in ms Wolfenbüttel, Herzog-August-Bibliothek, Gud. lat. 206.1 4°, pp. 108-129. It was given a printed edition as Hermanni Zoestii Monachi ex ordine Cisterciensi qui tempore Concilii Basileensis vixit: Tria Opuscula Theologica, ed. Hector Gottfried Masius (Copenhagen: Erythropel, 1701). A new critical edition, based on nine manuscripts, will be included in ch. 6 of Nothaft, Medieval Latin Christian Texts (n. 8).


Judith Olszowy-Schlanger, “The Money Language: Latin and Hebrew in Jewish Legal Contracts from Medieval England,” in Studies in the History of Culture and Science. A Tribute to Gad Freudenthal, ed. Resianne Fontaine et al. (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 233-250 (237); Philip Slavin, “Hebrew Went Latin: Reflections of Latin Diplomatic Formulas and Terminology in Hebrew Private Deeds from Thirteenth Century England,” Journal of Medieval Latin 18 (2009), 306-325; Shatzmiller, Cultural Exchange (n. 1), 7-44; Cecil Roth, The Jews of Medieval Oxford (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951), 126-136; M.D. Davis, Hebrew Deeds of English Jews before 1290 (London: Jewish Chronicle, 1888).


See Ephraim Kanarfogel, “Anthropomorphism and Rationalist Modes of Thought in Medieval Ashkenaz: The Case of R. Yosef Bekhor Shor,” in Simon Dubnow Institute Yearbook VIII, ed. Gad Freudenthal (Göttingen: Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009), 120 n. 4, where he communicates four lists of tequfot according to R. Joseph Bekhor Shor in mss New York, Jewish Theological Seminary, 4460, fols. 253r-54r; Cambridge, University Library, Add. 561, fol. 225r; Lund, University Library, L.O.2, fol. 2v; Heidenheim 51, fol. 104r. However, there are some changes and additions to be made to this list. The tequfot in Add. ms 561 are found on folio 223v, not 225r, and ms Heidenheim 51 contains another list of tequfot according to R. Bekhor Shor on folio 152v, dated ca. 1398/1399. msjts 4460 contains a calendar with multiple lists of tequfot, which explicitly mentions R. Bekhor Shor as the author, but because these lists do not contain any Christian names of months or festivals, and only the Jewish month names, this manuscript has been left out of the corpus (pace Kanarfogel). Furthermore, to Kanarfogel’s list can be added mss Oxford, Bodleian Library, Opp. 59, fol. 170v; Paris, BnF, Heb. 407, fol. 235v; Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, Or. Fol. 1198, fol. 41v; Heb g.1, fol. 148r, Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, Or. Oct. 352, fol.19v.


MSS Or. Fol. 1198, fol. 41v; Or. Oct. 352, fol. 19v; Add 561, fol. 223v; L.O.2, fol. 2v; Heb. 407, fol. 235v. Very little is found on St Solenne, whose saint day was progressively celebrated throughout northern France during the Middle Ages, as can be seen by this saint’s presence in the Franco-German lists of tequfot in our corpus. The only other reference to St Solenne found so far, other than in Alfred Giry’s, Manuel de diplomatique (Paris: Hachette, 1894), 310, is a brief description of this saint day in François Paris, Martyrologe ou idée générale de la vie des saints et de leurs vertus et de leurs principales actions (Paris: Daniel Horthemels, 1691), 701.


See Frederic Lesueur, Les églises du Loir-et-Cher (Paris: Picard, 1969), 508. On the description of the tequfot list in ms Opp. 59, see Justine Isserles, “Parallèles esthétiques entre des manuscrits hébreux de type liturgico-légal et des manuscrits latins et vernaculaires de type littéraire de l’époque scolastique,” in Manuscrits hébreux et arabes: mélanges en l’honneur de Colette Sirat, eds. Nicholas de Lange and Judith Olszowy-Schlanger (Turnhout: Brepols, forthcoming 2014).


MSS Or. Fol. 1198, Or. Oct. 352, fol. 19v, fol. 41v; L.O.2, fol. 2v; Opp. 59, fol. 170v; Heb. 407, fol. 235v; Heidenheim 51, fols.104r and 152v. This word is a Jewish adaptation of the Latin Natalis. In the Oxford MS, the name of the month delair/דלייר) is used instead of December, which is a contraction of the French de l’hiver, meaning “of winter.” See Frédéric Godefroy, Dictionnaire de l’ancienne langue française et de tous ses dialectes du IXe au XVe siècle, 10 vols. (Paris: Wiether, 1881-1902), 2:479.


Ibid., 82.


See Jean Combes, “Les foires en Languedoc au Moyen Age,” Annales: Economies, Sociétés, Civilisations 13 (1958), 231-252.


See Stern, “Christian Calendars” (n. 6). Stern explains the avoidance of Roman numbering with the difficulty of its translation into Hebrew, but also points to documented translation attempts from medieval Iberia and Italy. See n. 38 in Stern’s article and Mauro Perani, “The ‘Gerona Genizah’: An Overview and a Rediscovered Ketubah of 1377,” Hispania Judaica 7 (2010), 137-173.


Abraham bar Ḥiyya, Sefer ha-ʿIbbur (2.5), ed. Herschell Filipowski (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1851), 44-45. A new edition and translation of the Sefer ha-ʿIbbur is currently being prepared by Ilana Wartenberg and Israel Sandman.



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