Margin of Error: A search for words lost before 1784 CE by

excessive trimming of folio 37 in the Kabbalah manuscript
Moscow-Günzburg 775 (14-15th century CE)
Lloyd D. Graham
The Hebrew manuscript Moscow-Günzburg 775 (Russian State Library, Moscow)
is best known for containing the only complete copy of Ozar Hayyim,1 an important
Kabbalah work by Rabbi Isaac of Acre (Israel, Spain and North Africa, 13th-14th
century CE).2 However, the initial pages of Moscow-Günzburg 775 (catalogued as
The Functional Names, Making Amulets, Spells, etc.: Excerpts from Practical
Kabbalah)3 are independent of this work. A point of connection is that some of the
contents of the initial codex are given in the name of Rabbi Isaac, including the
earliest known description in Judaism of the “seven Kabbalistic signs” or “seven
Seals,”4 a set of symbols which even today enjoys widespread popularity in
talismans from the Middle East and beyond.5
Folio 37b of Moscow-Günzburg 775 gives the earliest known exegesis of the
Divine Name associated with each of the seven Seals, but at some point the page
was damaged by excessive trimming that removed text close to its right-hand edge.
The angle of the cut means that the problem is more severe towards the bottom of
the page, and the overall result is the loss of several significant words and phrases
whose identity cannot be guessed (Fig. 1). It is now evident that Rabbi Abraham
Alnaqar used this page – or a copy thereof – as a source when, in Algiers in 1784
Fig. 1. Folio 37b of Moscow-Günzburg 775,
optimal composite of a light and dark scan from
the IMHM; manuscript image shown with
permission of the Russian State Library, Moscow.
Progressively increasing losses from the right hand
margin are accentuated by the blue line, which is
true to the vertical. Words referred to in this report
as difficult to read or interpret are also flagged
(blue asterisk and underline).

Giluy Milta B'alma (Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts weblog), gmb042 (7 April, 2013)


CE, he prepared his expanded edition of Rabbi Moses Zacuto’s encyclopedic
Shorshei ha-Shemot (Ms. Heb. 8°2454, National Library of Israel).6 Specifically, he
included material from Moscow-Günzburg 775 f.37b in “yod, item 142,” an entry
describing the Divine Name associated with each of the seven Seals. Since the
damage to f.37b predated his access to it, Rabbi Alnaqar was forced to
acknowledge as missing the words lost to the knife, admissions that are preserved
in the printed edition of Shorshei published in 1999 CE in Jerusalem.7
‫ סטיט סוד‬,‫ טת ר"ת טוב תמותה‬,‫)אאב"א בס"א מ"כ וז"ל ומ"כ יטת ר"ת יה טוב תחיה‬
‫ אגרפטי אויר גדולתו רבע פאתי‬,(‫ סטיטיה סוד טהור יעלה טובו יעלה )חסר‬,‫טוב יד טוב‬
‫[ ומ"ש חסר‬...] .(‫ שמריאל שדי מביט רואה יביטו אליו )חסר‬,(‫ מרום )חסר‬,(‫טובו )חסר‬
.(‫על כל סימן אינו כן בשמריאל ודוק‬
Translation:8 (Aab"a9 [+honorifics]: Yitath an acronym for G-d, good, living; Tath an
acronym for good, death;10 Setit an acronym for a good secret, good hand; Setityah
an acronym for the secret is pure and will rise,11 its goodness will ascend ([last letter]
missing); Agrepti an acronym for air, greatness, one-fourth, sides, good ([last letter]
missing); Marom (missing); Shamriel an acronym for The Almighty watches and sees,
and all will behold Him ([last letter] missing). […] and what was written as missing
[for] every sign is not so in Shamriel, as you will see if you check).

The word listed in Shorshei as missing from the expansion of Shamriel, the seventh
Seal Name, has not been lost by trimming, but rather is illegible in MoscowGünzburg 775 f.37b (blue asterisk in Fig. 1). Alnaqar’s remark at the end of the
excerpt seems to dispute that a final word is missing, perhaps because the last two
letters of the acronym (‫ )אל‬occur at the start of the last legible word (‫)אליו‬, where
they are united as a ligature. If so, he cannot have inspected f.37b in person, as the
presence of a final (but illegible) word commencing with the letter ‫ ל‬is unmissable.
Several other words in the expansion of Shamriel are also difficult to read in f.37b,
and in places Rabbi Alnaqar (or the copyist of f.37b on whom he relied) either has
taken liberties in order to offer meaningful words or had access to clarifying
information from elsewhere (compare the blue underlined words in Fig. 1 with the
words ‫ רואה יביטו‬in Alnaqar’s text).
Since the over-trimming of f.37b occurred in or before the 18th century CE,
the event substantially predates the manuscript’s inclusion in the Günzburg library,
which was founded in the following century by Joseph Yozel Günzburg (St.
Petersburg and Paris, 1812–78 CE).13 Towards the end of the 20th century CE,
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan included in the footnotes of some of his English-language
books a list of primary sources for the Seals,14 including the relevant pages of
Moscow-Günzburg 775, but none contain the information missing from f.37b of
that manuscript. Kaplan’s list includes several pages in an early copy of Rabbi
Joseph Tirshom’s Shoshan Yesod ha-Olam (Bibliothèque de Genève, Comites
Latentes 145),15 a work composed in Ottoman Turkey or Greece in the 15th-16th
century CE.16 The recent digitization of this manuscript and its full publication
online by the Bibliothèque de Genève17 have made it possible to re-examine the
work in its entirety. It turns out that page 141 in this manuscript, although not listed
Giluy Milta B'alma (Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts weblog), gmb042 (7 April, 2013)


Fig. 2. Shoshan Yesod haOlam (Bibliothèque de Genève,
Comites Latentes 145), p.141.
/141/large, reproduced here
under the Creative Commons
licence CC BY-NC 3.0.

by Kaplan, also describes the Seals; indeed, it presents essentially the same
information as Moscow-Günzburg 775 f.37b and does so without any omissions
(Fig. 2). This page either preserves information transcribed from f.37b before the
trimming accident or relies on a source independent of Moscow-Günzburg 775.
Since the last word of the expansion for Shamriel (which may always have been
illegible in Moscow-Günzburg) is clear in Shoshan, the latter is somewhat more
In Fig. 3, the lost words have been restored to Moscow-Günzburg 775 f.37b,
and the perceived meanings of the affected sentences – both before and after the
restoration of the wayward words – are shown in Table 1. The expansion of the
sixth Seal Name, flagged as missing by Rabbi Alnaqar, is also absent from the
Shoshan page and has not been lost from it by misadventure. Accordingly, it seems
that this Name is not regarded as an acronym but simply as the Hebrew word
Marom, which alludes to extreme height as a Divine attribute (Micah 6:6, Jeremiah
17:12). Elsewhere in the Shoshan page, there are subtle shifts in meaning which
seem to reflect word substitutions arising from misreadings of letters in f.37b.
Giluy Milta B'alma (Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts weblog), gmb042 (7 April, 2013)


Fig. 3. Lost and illegible
letters/words restored to the lower
part of Moscow-Günzburg 775
f.37b. Those based on the
corresponding text in Shoshan
Yesod ha-Olam (Bibliothèque de
Genève, Comites Latentes 145,
p.141) are shown in red.
Interpolated words not from
Shoshan are in green. Meaningful
replacements in Shorshei haShemot for problem words (as
discussed in this report) are shown
in blue. Manuscript image shown
with permission of the Russian
State Library, Moscow.

Table 1. Perceived meanings of the affected sentences.


Guess before restoration

After restoration


[G-d made a ladder with] two
steps from cold and heat to satiate
the world.
The secret of good is pure and will
rise; its goodness will ascend [last
word missing].

[G-d made a ladder with] two steps to/
levels for the sun, and from cold and
heat to satiate the world.
The secret of good is pure and will
rise; its goodness will elevate its being.

[missing] created His world with
four elements, fire, wind, water,
and earth; coldness and winter.

The Holy and Blessed One created His
world with four elements, fire, wind,
water, and earth; cold and heat, winter
and summer.

Air, greatness, one-fourth, sides,
good, [last word missing].

Air, greatness, one-fourth, sides, good,

Expansion of



Expansion of



A ring, master of every circle O

A ring, master of every circle [in] the
world, and this is its shape: O



The inclination of the seventh sign
is like this…

The seventh sign is a crooked mem,
like this…

Understanding and searching all
the world and all the thoughts,
which are a great perfection.

Understanding and searching all the
world and all the thoughts, with
weeping are exposed the deep and
secret things.

The Almighty [word illegible]
watches [and sees, and all will
behold]a Him [last word illegible].

The Almighty watches and sees, and to
Him hearts are revealed.

Expansion of

Using the words ‫ רואה יביטו‬from Shorshei ha-Shemot (above and Fig. 3), since those in MoscowGünzburg 775 f.37b (blue underline, Fig. 1) resist identification.
Giluy Milta B'alma (Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts weblog), gmb042 (7 April, 2013)


So what have we learned from this manuscript detective story? The over-trimming
of Moscow-Günzburg 775 f.37b occurred before the manuscript’s acquisition for the
Günzburg library. Rabbi Alnaqar, when editing Shorshei ha-Shemot, had access to the
contents of the compromised f.37b, most likely in the form of a transcript made earlier by
someone else. He did not know of the material in the later manuscript Comites Latentes
145 p.141, which preserves the lost text, and which probably derives from a source other
than the pre-accident f.37b. Use of the Shoshan text to repair the omissions in f.37b
means that, while the earliest explanations of the Seal Names and the expansions of their
acronyms remain mysterious and cryptic, they are at least – and at last – complete.19

IMHM record 000069801 (Moscow-Günzburg 775, f.39b-276a).
Eitan P. Fishbane, 2009, As Light Before Dawn: The Inner World of a Medieval Kabbalist, Stanford
University Press, Stanford, CA.
IMHM record 000069800 (Moscow-Günzburg 775, f.5a-39a).
Aryeh Kaplan, 1985, Meditation and Kabbalah, Red Wheel/Weiser, San Francisco, p.138 & 266; also
Aryeh Kaplan, 1997, Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation, Red Wheel/Weiser, San Francisco, p.169
& 172. Note that Kaplan’s folio numbering differs slightly from that used by the IMHM and in this
Hans A. Winkler, 1930, Siegel und Charaktere in der Mohammedanischen Zauberei, Walter de Gruyter &
Co., Berlin; Tewfik Canaan, 2004, “The Decipherment of Arabic Talismans,” In: Magic and
Divination in Early Islam, ed. Emilie Savage-Smith, Ashgate Variorum, Aldershot, p.125-177, at 169172; Edmond Doutté, 1908, Magie et Religion dans l’Afrique du Nord, Adolphe Jourdan, Algiers,
p.155-156; Lloyd D. Graham, 2012, “The Seven Seals of Judeo-Islamic Magic: Possible Origins of the
Symbols,” online at
J.H. Chajes, 2011, “Rabbis and their (In)Famous Magic: Classical Foundations, Medieval and Early
Modern Reverberations,” In: Jewish Studies at the Crossroads of Anthropology and History: Authority,
Diaspora, Tradition, eds. Raʿanan S. Boustan, Oren Kosansky, Marina Rustow, Univ. Pennsylvania
Press, Philadelphia, p.58-79, fn 73 (p.356); and J.H. Chajes, 2012, “‘Too Holy to Print’: Taboo
Anxiety and the Publishing of Practical Hebrew Esoterica,” Jewish History 26, 247-262, fn 3 (p.258).
Moses ben Mordecai Zacuto (the RaMaZ), 1999, Shorshei ha-Shemot, Hotzaat Nezer Shraga, Jerusalem.
English translations in this report are by, Translation Services USA, Babylon
Human Translation and the author.
Presumably ‫“( אני אב"א‬I, ʾAb"a, …”); at the start of his glosses, Abraham Alnaqar habitually identifies
himself as ʾAb"a bar Yoel, as explained in IMHM records 000062654 and 000077375. Alternatively,
the acronym may be a contraction of ‫( אברהם אלנקאר בלא"א‬as for example in IMHM record 000060869).
Moscow-Günzburg 775, f.37b gives a three-word expansion (translating as good, death, was) of the twoletter Seal Name ‫טת‬, as if the Name had been ‫ ;טתה‬Alnaqar drops the superfluous final word.
Moscow-Günzburg 775, f.37b again gives an additional word in the expansion, as if the Seal Name had
been ‫ ;סטטיטיה‬Alnaqar again does not include the extra word (‫)טוב‬, reducing the first part of the Name
to The secret is pure and will arise.
Moscow-Günzburg 775, f.37b again gives an additional word in the expansion, so that two words
correspond to ‫מ‬, the second letter of the Name. The additional word is unclear.
A.I. Katsh,
See note 4. Shorshei ha-Shemot was not included in the list, presumably because entries relating to the
Seals focus on the Names rather than the symbols.
IMHM record 000133810.
Meir Benayahu, 1972, “Sefer Shoshan Yesod ha-Olam le-Rabbi Yosef Tirshom,” Temirin, vol. 1, 1st ed.,
Mossad HaRav Kook, Jerusalem, p.187-269; Jeffrey H. Chajes, 2003, Between Worlds: Dybbuks,
Exorcists, and Early Modern Judaism, Univ. Pennsylvania Press, PA, p.65; Kaplan, Meditation and
Kabbalah, p.157.

Giluy Milta B'alma (Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts weblog), gmb042 (7 April, 2013)



Online at
Further to notes 10-12, it is worth remarking that supernumerary words in the expansions of the Seal
Names in Moscow-Günzburg 775, f.37b are absent from Shoshan Yesod ha-Olam, just as they were
omitted by Rabbi Alnaqar. The “insertions” in the fourth and seventh Names in f.37b (notes 11-12)
may simply represent false starts on words that were rendered correctly on the second attempt.
A paper containing a full analysis of the Seals’ symbolism and uses is forthcoming.

Giluy Milta B'alma (Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts weblog), gmb042 (7 April, 2013)


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