Conference Report “Bibles and Scholars : a Tribute to Paul Kahle and Gérard Weil”, Aix-en-Provence, Maison Méditerranéenne des Sciences de l’Homme, 9 to 12 of June, 2022.

The colloquium “Bibles and Scholars : a Tribute to Paul Kahle and Gérard Weil” has been held in Aix-en-Provence, from 9 June to 12 June 2022. Organized by Elodie Attia (CNRS Aix-Marseille Université). Originally planned for April 2020, it had been delayed due to the COVID 19 crises and to the loss of Prof. Philippe Cassuto (IREMAM, Aix-Marseille University) who was co-organizer, and one of the last disciples of Gérard Weil. With the support of the European Association of Jewish Studies.


The legacy of Paul Kahle (1875-1964) and Gérard E. Weil (1926-1986) for the study of biblical text, the biblical scribal traditions and the Masorah is of the utmost importance: it is sufficient to recall the fact that they are two of the best biblical studies scholars of the last fifty years and that what is still today the most widespread critical edition of the Hebrew Bible (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia) is based on the B19a Leningrad manuscript identified by Kahle in 1926 as codex optimus, while the text of the Masora Magna was edited by Weil in 1977 in the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. The conference intended to celebrate the two scholars, remembering their scholarly connection and deepening the impact of their studies on the history of the text of the Hebrew Bible as handed down through ancient and medieval Hebrew or non-Hebrew manuscripts. The event invited also different specialists and people who worked with Gérard Weil to exchange their experiences around of such heritages. The scientific fields and disciplines involved were Qumranic studies, biblical editions, Masoretic studies, Medieval manuscript studies. The event gave opportunities to shed new light about the ‘Weil Archives’ which, since 2017, are kept at the BIAA (Library of the TDMAM Research Center). The event gave the opportunity to close the last year of the ANR Project Manuscripta Bibliae Hebraicae (Principal Investigator: Élodie Attia) specifically devoted to Medieval Hebrew Bibles of Western Europe before 1300.




The colloquium was divided into four sessions and one introductory opening session. The last day was planned for visiting ancient synagogues of the Comtat Venaissin, with the help of the cultural services of the regional council (PACA).


The afternoon opening session was introduced by Élodie Attia (CNRS – TDMAM Aix-Marseille University), who focused on the biography of both scholars and explained how the idea of this conference came about as a result of the university recovering the private library of G. Weil in October 2016. She recalled their different backgrounds and the evolution of their work, having both begun with Babylonian biblical texts and shared the idea that the Babylonian System (expressed by the Berlin ms Or. Qu. 680) was a pre-Masoretic system leading somewhen to the Tiberian System (p. 105 Weil 1962). They both thought it important to study the Bible as an academic subject in the field of humanities, and not only as an object of belief. The common idea of the existence of “a monolithic Masoretic Text”, based on a “model codex”, was, according to Weil, inaccurate (cf. “La Massore”, REJ, 1972). Attia also highlighted the importance of computer sciences applied to languages and text analysis, which Weil pioneered in the 1960s and early 1970s. She also spoke of Philippe Cassuto, who was Gérard Weil’s last and outstanding disciple between 1983 and 1986, and one of the greatest specialists of Masorah and Hebrew languages. Anne-Marie Guény-Weil, former CNRS colleague of G. Weil, read an unedited text by him (une homélie funèbre) which demonstrated all the admiration and friendship that Weil had for Kahle. Gérard Jobin, former CNRS colleague of G. Weil, shared his memories, recalling us of the activities of the “Section Biblique et Massoretique” of the Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes, in Strasbourg, Nancy, and then Lyon, where he knew Philippe Cassuto as a young PhD student in the late 1980s. Prof. Corrado Martone (Turin Univ.) reminded us that in 2014 the project of reorganising, cataloguing, and partially putting online the huge archive of the German orientalist Paul Kahle (1875-1964) was completed. A colloquium was held in Turin on this occasion (since published in Henoch Review). Bruno Chiesa, Professor of Hebrew Language and Literature at the University of Turin from 2000 to 2015 (the year of his untimely death), was the main architect of this project, which without him would never have been completed (and perhaps not even begun). After a description of the Kahle holdings, this paper dealt with the personality and scientific activity of Chiesa. During the discussions, Viktor Golinets underlined the difficulty of working on Scholar Archive, but its necessity too, as in the case of Gotthelf Bergsträsser, Prof. of Semitic Languages in Munich, and his critical edition of Qur’an manuscripts, which remained forgotten for years and has, since 2007, been used within the framework of the Corpus Coranicum project (Science Academy of Berlin-Brandebour). Viktor Golinets also suggested that the use of the archives of the Deutsche Bible Gesellschaft would be useful to counterbalance Kahle’s opinion of Weil’s Masoretic edition of the BHS. Elvira Martin-Contreras recalled the fascinating book of Marie Kahle (What Would You Have Done?: The Story of the Escape of the Kahle Family from Nazi-Germany, London, 1945). Corrado Martone pointed out the fact that some of Kahle’s archives are nowadays preserved in Bonn. (Note: Colette Sirat was due to participate but she unfortunately had to cancel.)


The morning of the second day began with a session attended by specialists of Qumranic studies and chaired by Viktor Golinets (HFJS Heidelberg).

The presentation by Jean-Sebastien Rey (Nancy Univ.) started with Khale’s crucial analysis of the textual history of Hebrew witnesses of the book of Ben Sira found in the Cairo Genizah and Dead Sea Scrolls. Rey sought to demonstrate that, contrary to Kahle’s hypothesis, it may be possible to reconstruct the stemma of the medieval Hebrew manuscripts. The presentation focused on placing the so-called manuscript C, an anthological manuscript dating back to the 13th century, in this stemma. The MS C’s relationship to other manuscripts has always been a conundrum for scholars. To reconstruct the stemma, Rey used the method of conjunctive and disjunctive errors designed by Paul Maas, and based his study on the critical edition he is preparing with Eric Reymond (Yale). Finally, on the basis of Altschul’s work, Rey questioned the utility of stemmatology when it is not used to reconstruct an Urtext or an archetype. Between old philology and new philology, a path is emerging to understand the mouvance of the text, its variance throughout history, but also to apprehend the genealogy of scribal versions that shed new light on scribal behaviours. During the discussions, this method appeared to be useful for Masoretic editions. Rey mentioned the editorial Lachmaniann Method (diplomatic Archetype), the Bédier’s Method (each manuscript is important in the reconstruction of an eclectic edition), the New Philology Method (each manuscript is a unique product), and a fourth method developed by Nadia Altschul (genealogy of scribal versions), which he preferred. Elvira Martín Contreras discussed the place of the variance: according to her, variance should not always be seen from the prism of its relationship to another text, but can also express a separate different tradition. According to Rey, it appears that working on each text independently (New Philology) in the end leads to the question of a stemma a stemma. Ron Hendel also pointed out some unconscious terminological judgment used by Rey in the form of a bias for naming the “variances”. He made the suggestion of using “horizontal transmission or vertical transmission”, with which Rey and the audience agreed. In “Qumran Biblical Manuscripts Written by Unprofessional or Unskilled Scribes”, Eibert Tigchelaar (Leuven Univ.), via Zoom, raised two difficult questions: first, “how do scholarly models of textual communities influence our interpretation of the Dead Sea Scrolls?” (or sources); second, “how does the study of the scrolls as scribal objects enable a reassessment of scholarly models?”. The specific approaches suggested were the “material and palaeographical approaches” and the question of the “copying process through variants and errors”. He first highlighted the problem with “old terminology” (rather subjective in nature, such as “unskilled / vulgar / elementary / substandard biblical mss”) and the further issues it causes. Recent scholarship on the Dead Sea Scrolls (Longacre, Popovic) has suggested new more neutral terms for describing manuscripts and hands, for instance 4Q76 and 4QXIIa. Tigchelaar also explained that what he called “unskilled writing” seemed to have correlations with elements such as smaller-sized scrolls, larger-sized script, the use of nonstandard orthography, and copying errors. Finally, he highlighted some research perspectives such as knowing more about the purpose and function of the copied (biblical) manuscripts. Concerning the use of palaeography in the study of the text and textual history of the Bible, he suggested that the question of the skill of the scribes and quality of the manuscripts may provide insights that could, for instance, help build theories about the textual history of the Bible, using these manuscripts to formulate hypotheses about the scribes’ concerns about the form of literary compositions. In the discussion, Gurrado and Attia pointed out that, regarding the terminology, that there are lots of common perspectives with medieval palaeography. As for the function of the biblical manuscripts, it is a question shared with the MBH project on Late Hebrew Bibles. With “Paul Kahle and the Research on non-Tiberian (pre-Masoretic) Hebrew”, Ursula Schattner-Rieser (Insbrück Univ.) reminded us that Khale was the first to use non-Hebrew sources that predated the medieval Masoretic text. Kahle argued that the first Masoretes (Soferim) established the consonant text using existing old manuscripts and corrected their textus receptus after them with their own rules, by eliminating variations and replacing them with new correct ones. The Masoretes would have then ensured that all significant deviations from the model manuscript disappeared. Only minor differences existed after the establishment of Musterkodices / model codices by Masoretes. Beyond textual differences – Kahle was particularly interested in phonological and morphological variants in the Isaiah scroll from Qumran. On some points, Kahle was perhaps right in his arguments about artificial correction: regarding the so-called waw-consecutive, the imperfect tense construct derived from an old prefixed preterite verb originated, according to Bauer’s comparative historical study of the Semitic verb, from Akkadian (p. V, p. 20).

In Origen’s Secunda, there is no such thing as a strong waw. The conjunction is always

“ou-” like “oua” in Samaritan Hebrew and the Yemenite pronunciation. Bauer had already described the prefixed preterite yaqtul as “timeless” and the lack of distinction between the short and long imperfect forms should not have caused difficulties in understanding the text. Those familiar with this usage in Biblical Hebrew or other Semitic languages can easily recognise the preterite meaning of these imperfect forms, whether they are formally distinct or not. That the narrative refers to the past is usually clearly defined by the context, or the situation, and by adverbs. There was no misunderstanding, as proved by the Aramaic Targums which generally rendered the preterite yaqtul in general as past tense. In his talk entitled “The Distribution of Morphological and Orthographic Features in Selected Dead Sea Scrolls: A Quantitative Linguistic Inquiry”, prepared with Eibert Tigchelaar, Dirk Speelman, and Pierre Van Hecke, Johan de Joode echoed Weil’s studies on quantitative linguistics published in the 1980s. Here, quantitative linguistics was applied to the Dead Sea manuscripts. Emanuel Tov suggested eighteen linguistics features which can serve as indicators of a Qumran scribal practice found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. De Joode’s contribution critically assessed Tov’s hypothesis by analysing the statistical frequencies of these linguistic features. A dimensionality reduction technique known as “correspondence regression” was used to visualise the number of “traditions” present in the manuscripts. Advanced 3D visualisation techniques suggest that a) there is indeed a contrast between MT and non-MT manuscripts, b) there are multiple documents that fall “between” these two extremes, and c) there are considerable variations within MT manuscripts and non-MT parchments, particularly parchments in the non-MT group which cluster significantly. The fact that there is a non-MT-like group is not surprising given the binary features defined by Tov. The data do not support the hypothesis of a single practice.


The afternoon of the second day continued with the presentation of two achievements of the MBH Project: first, the creation of the “Weil Fund” by Christiane De Olivera Rodrigues (MA Aix-Marseille University – former MBH Project Assistant). She presented the ongoing process of cataloguing the Weil holdings by the TDMAM Centre, and the difficulty of gathering archives, notes, and private documents. More than half of the Weil private library has been integrated into the main catalogue (currently 500 items entered in the Frantiq catalogue website). Maria Gurrado (IRHT – CNRS, France) presented the final v. 2 of the Graphoskop software developed thanks to the MBH Project in 2021. Graphoskop is a plug-in for IMAGE J, available on the website of the MBH Project (open data). This tool can help to find, for instance, discriminating elements between two scripts that are very similar in type and ductus (Attia, Gurrado, Mailloux 2019). The lively discussion with Johan de Joode on the quantitative methodology showed the need to go further this method. The session ended with an exhibition of some valuable books from Weil’s private library. For instance, the BHK Bible volume annotated by the hand of Weil is one of a kind and a project for its digitisation is being discussed.


The morning of the last day was dedicated to “Biblical Editions”, another important aspect of Kahle’s and Weil’s work. It began with Michael Segal’s presentation “The Hebrew University Bible Project Edition of the XII Prophets” based on his famous Aleppo Codex. The critical apparatus is very rich, encompassing traditions such as Greek. The discussion underlined the very long-term process of such an edition – not deviating from the original project led by Moshe Goshen-Gottstein decades ago. Elvira Martin-Contreras (CSIC, Madrid) recalled that Paul Kahle was linked to the original project of the edition of the Cairo Codex of the Books of Prophets, which the Spanish School of Madrid started to publish in 1979 under the editorial leadership of Federico Pérez Castro. The friendship between these two scholars played an important role in the origins of this editorial project. Their correspondence also gives us an idea of the preliminaries to the edition of the Cairo Codex of the Prophets. The first volume, the Minor Prophets, and the Preface justifying the edition and explaining its structure and character were published in 1979, and the last of the seven volumes containing the biblical books in 1987. In 1992, Volume VIII, an alphabetical index to the Masora Parva and Masora Magna annotations, was published. Between 1995 and 1997, other complementary studies were published: the analytical indices of the Masora Magna, of the Masora Parva, and of the occurrences of let cases. This edition was, in Prof. Dotan’s words, “a real innovation in the field of biblical publications” for several reasons. This statement is based on two facts: 1. it was the first printed edition of the earliest dated biblical manuscript, and 2. it was the first edition to contain the biblical text and its Masora Parva and Masora Magna annotations only, reproducing the codex as exactly as possible, with no modification or emendation. It was the first edition to reproduce both the Masora Parva and Masora Magna of a whole manuscript, and to give the biblical references in parentheses in an apparatus below the biblical text. It was also the first edition to add an apparatus with explanatory notes giving additional information for understanding the Masoretic notes. Ronald Hendel (Berkeley Univ.), via Zoom, presented “Kahle on the History of the Pentateuchal Text: Reception and Reappraisal” reminded the humble position the researcher should stay towards his own objectivity while using theory of others. Kahle’s views on the early textual history of the Hebrew Pentateuch are often misunderstood, in part due to his terse formulations. Talmon harmonised Kahle’s views on the Old Greek version(s) – and his disagreements with Lagarde – with his views on the early Hebrew text(s). On the latter, both Kahle and Lagarde accepted the genealogical (or Lachmann) model of textual history, which is arguably correct. Hence, there is no Kahle theory of “pristine texts” for the Hebrew Pentateuch, and those who advance this theory must do so on different grounds. Attia remarked that Weil too was against the idea of an existing Tiberian Model Codex. Edson de Faria Francisco (Metodista di Sao Paulo Univ.) highlighted the importance of the Masorah of the Leningrad Codex B19a in the Biblia Hebraica series, and its contribution to the current Masoretic studies.


The last session was dedicated to Masoretic studies and Hebrew manuscript studies.

Yossef Ofer (Bar Ilan Univ.), via Zoom, first discussed the studies of both Kahle and Weil on the Babylonian Masorah, which is so important as it was an ancient stage of the Masorah, and explained how it could have emerged among several traditions that are difficult to trace and explore due to a scarcity of sources. “The Targum of the Sin of the Golden Calf in Halakhic Sources and in the Babylonian Masorah” explored the phenomenon of untranslated verses in Exodus 32. This tradition to not translate certain verses in Exodus 32 into Aramaic was expanded by the Masoretes over the generations: from six verses to eleven, and then to sixteen verses. The explanation of this phenomenon is to be found outside the Masoretic tradition. This sheds new light on the different traditions of the Pentateuch Masorah. In his lecture, Viktor Golinets (Hochschule für Jüdische Studien, Heidelberg) asked the question, “(How) Can the Masorah be Edited?”. He aimed at discussing with the audience approaches and solutions to editing the Masorah in editions thereof as well as in scholarly editions of the Hebrew Bible. Firstly, using the list of all available editions of the Masorah, he showed that there are only a few manuscripts whose Masorah has been edited (and several manuscripts have been edited repeatedly). Secondly, he pointed out that every edition of the Masorah had its own purpose and this purpose determined strictly the way in which the Masorah was presented and displayed in the edition. The present situation is still quite the same as when Weil began to work on his catalogue of Hebrew biblical manuscripts, and on his edition of the Masoretic notes to the Hebrew Bible in the Leningrad Codex. Apart from M. Breuer’s edition, which sought to reconstruct the orthography of a number of Hebrew words, there is no comparative edition of the Masoretic notes of a considerable number of biblical manuscripts. Hence, the possibilities of conducting a comparative study of Masoretic notes and answering specific questions about the development of the Masorah as a system are still very limited. In “Cataloguing Biblical Manuscripts I: From “Manuscrits dates” to the BNF Project of Cataloguing Hebrew Manuscripts”, Javier del Barco (Complutense Madrid Univ.) examined the context of the development of the catalogue of Hebrew manuscripts from Sfardata Project (for every dated manuscripts) to the MBH project (for Bibles only) underlined that the famous “archaeological turn” and the establishment of codicology as a historical discipline in the mid-1950s open the way to a series of ambitious cataloguing projects that initially focused on dated manuscripts. Following in the footsteps of the Comité international de paléographie latine, the Comité de paléographie hébraïque was founded in the 1960s, with the primary objective of cataloguing the dated Hebrew manuscripts following new methodologies which focused more on the archaeological and material study of the codices. As a result of this task, the volumes of Manuscrits médiévaux en caractères hébraïques portant des indications de date were published, a fundamental pioneering work that represented a new paradigm for the study of Hebrew manuscripts. The French school of Hebrew codicology, which participated in this innovative task under the guidance of Colette Sirat, has since produced numerous tools for the study of Hebrew manuscripts. More recently, two ambitious cataloguing projects have been developed, which aim to produce a new catalogue of the more than 1,500 Hebrew manuscripts held by the BNF. The first project was, again, started under the direction of Colette Sirat and has produced several volumes of catalogues with highly informed and detailed descriptions, while the second project, still in its infancy, has followed in the footsteps of the previous one in terms of its objectives. In his presentation, del Barco sought to explore how the study of Hebrew manuscripts in the French school has evolved from the pioneering Manuscrits médiévaux until the more recent projects of cataloguing manuscripts at the BNF sur the ANR Project BiNaH. In “Cataloguing Biblical Manuscripts II: From Weil’s Cataloguing Project to the Current Manuscripta Bibliae Hebraicae Project”, Élodie Attia (CNRS, Aix-Marseille Univ., ANR MBH Project) reported that Weil set up a Unit for Documenting the Hebrew Bibles and that a project for cataloguing Hebrew and Aramaic biblical manuscripts was developed in parallel with applying computer sciences to the biblical text. Reports on the activities conducted at the Research Centre he headed show an intense work of describing manuscripts (fragments, codices, scrolls) from European Libraries and Russia between the late 1960s and the 1970s. His premature death prevented him from joining C. Sirat’s publication project Manuscrits dates, which was planned for 1985. The MBH Project follows in some of the footsteps of Gérard Weil and Philippe Cassuto in a new technical context, but in which Weil was a pioneer. The collaboration with Javier del Barco and interoperability open up enriching perspectives.

The final round table discussions focused on the diverse possibilities in Hebrew Bible studies for exploring either ancient or medieval manuscripts by always drawing on complementary perspectives: the editorial work done using one or several manuscripts as basis and the ways to consider them; the textual critical perspective; or the material historical-critical perspective with the problems of dating and locating, classifying and cataloguing the Hebrew Bibles, which is one of the many problems that arise when examining them in depth. Future collaborations will help to explore shared issues (for instance, the terminological issues with naming the phenomenon in palaeography). Hebrew Bible manuscripts are most common objects produced by Jews over time, and are multiple spectral objects, requiring different levels of interpretation.


Élodie Attia


Citer ce billet
Élodie Attia (2022, 9 septembre). Conference Report “Bibles and Scholars : a Tribute to Paul Kahle and Gérard Weil”, Aix-en-Provence, Maison Méditerranéenne des Sciences de l’Homme, 9 to 12 of June, 2022. MBH - Manuscripta Bibliae Hebraicae. Consulté le 15 juin 2024, à l’adresse