Librarian's Lobby
Daniel D. Stuhlman
March 1998

The Leningrad Codex

Over 10 years ago a series of meetings in Chicago between Astrid Beck, an editor-scholar and Bruce Zuckerman, a photographer-scholar, started the project to photograph and document the oldest complete Bible manuscript, known as the Leningrad Codex, or Leningradensis. The manuscript, copied in about 1010 CE, is in the Russian National (Saltykov-Shchedrin) Library, formerly known as Saltykov-Shchedrin State Public Library in St. Petersburg, formerly known as Leningrad. The result is The Leningrad Codex : a facsimile edition. When the publishers (W. B. Eardmans and Brill Academic) announced the publication over two years ago, the HTC Library immediately ordered a copy. After many delays, the book finally arrived this month. This is a massive book of 1061 pages printed on heavy glossy paper. The introductory essays and comments are in English.

The technical aspects of this project involved transporting a photographic team with specialized equipment and supplies to St. Petersburg. They even brought a portable darkroom that was used develope the film locally so that they could check their work. Over 6000 photographs using Kodak Technical Pan, Polaroid negative, and color transparency films were made. The team photographed about 45 surfaces per day. As part of the agreement with the library, they donated much of their equipment and a fax machine to the library. The photographic work was done in May/June 1990.

This manuscript cataloged as "Firkovich B 19 A" , is known as the Leningrad Codex. At the request of the Russian National Library "Leningrad" remains in the name of the manuscript. used to avoid confusion. The manuscript was purchased by a collector of Hebrew manuscripts, Abraham Firkovich, who does not discuss anywhere in his writings where he acquired the manuscript. The manuscript was brought to Odessa in 1838 and later transferred to the Imperial Library in St. Petersburg in 1863. The origin of the manuscript according to its colophon (information page for the book similar to our title pages) was Cairo. After almost 1000 years this manuscript is still in almost mint condition; it was not like the worn out parchments found in the Cairo Geniza. Conservation notes on pages 995-1006 document every smudge and stain.

The manuscript was first described in 1845 by Dr. Moses Pinner. In 1935 the manuscript was lent to the Old Testament Seminar of the University of Leipzig for two years while Paul Kahle used it in preparing Biblia Hebraica (Stuttgart, 1937 and later editions). This manuscript was several hundred years earlier than the Hebrew manuscripts used for the previous editions of the printed Hebrew Bibles. Rudulf Kittel, who edited the 2nd ed. of Biblia Hebraica died in 1929.

The manuscript is a beautiful piece of workmanship written in black ink on thick white parchment and bound in leather. The boards for the orignal binding includes metal clasps. Currenlty the leaves are not bound. It was decided that leaving the leaves in their present condition was better for preservation than rebinding them. The Biblical text written in large square script and includes all the nikudot, masoretic notes, and ta'amei ha-mikrah. The text is in three columns except for Psalms, Job and Proverbs which are written with two columns per page. Each column has the Massorah at the sides of the text and the bottom of the pages. The non-Biblical texts are in smaller square script with and sometimes without nikudot. At the end of the Bible texts are Massoretic lists counting verses and phrases. The pages in the facsimile are 24.5 x 22 cm. (height x width), with the text covering 19.5 x 19 cm. The book itself is 33 x 28.5 cm.

Included with the manuscript are two medieval poems. On folio 490 verso (left) is a poem by Moshe ben-Asher; on folio 491 recto (right) a poem by Shemu'el ben Ya'acob. The poems have been published three times.

The Lenigrad Codex is also an outstanding example of medieval Jewish art. There are sixteen pages and the end decorated in gold, blue, and red with Masoretic rules in micrography (an artistic arrangement of words printed in small letters). These pages were previously published in a book of Hebrew art.

Below is a small section of the page from Ex. 15:25 - 16:3 (page 92; folio 40 verso)

The lamed at the right of the text is for the Aramaic lat meaning this is the only place in the Tanach for this form of the word. Another form of the word with the same root may appear. One of the Massoretic comments is for a for the word in the text.

In another column I will describe more about this manuscript and the history of the Hebrew printed Tanach text. To be continued ...


1. The names of the city and library changed from the beginning of the project to the end. The Dead Sea scrolls, the Aleppo Codex, and the Codex Sinaiticus are older, but incomplete. The Russian State Library has a manuscript of Prophets that is about 80 years older. A codex is like a modern book that is bound with a cover and opens flat. Scrolls are rolled up like a Sefer Torah (with or without a holder). The first facsimile edition of the manuscript was published by Makor (Jerusalem, 1971) in a limited edition of 135 copies. It was based on a poor quality microfilm made by the State Public Library. The current publication used more advanced and careful photographic techniques.

2. St. Petersburg was the capital of Russia until 1918.

3. See Paul Kahle, The Cairo Geniza, 2nd ed. (New York, 1959) pp. 81-92. Kahle also describes how the text of Leningrad Codex is related to the Kittel's Biblia Hebraica (pp. 113 ff.) The 1958 Hebrew Bible, published by the British and Foreign Bible Society, edited by Norman Henry Snaith, is chiefly based on a Sephardi codex from the British Museum. The HTC Library has a copy of this Tanach. Another edition was prepared by the British and Foreign Bible Society edited by Meir Letteris from another manuscript. The Letteris text was published in the United States by Hebrew Publishing Company and used by other publishers.

4. Librarians have always used the metric system to measure books.

5. The side notes are called Massorah parva (kitanah) . The notes at the bottom and end are called Massorah magna (gedolah).

6. B. Klar, "Ben Asher," Tarbiz 14 (1953): p 156-173; Paul Kahle, The Cairo Geniza, p. 83-86; Aron Dotan, Ben Asher's Creed: a study of the history of the controversy (Missoula, 1977), p. 66-79.

Daniel D. Stuhlman is president of Stuhlman Management Consultants, Chicago, IL, a firm helping organizations turn data and information into knowledge. We are looking for new clients and opportunities. Visit our web site to learn more about knowledge management and what our firm can do for you. Previous issues of Librarian's Lobby can be found at:

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 ©2003 by Daniel D. Stuhlman. All rights reserved.
Last revised September 13, 2005