Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Another שלמה ב''ר יצחק; Judeo-Arabic in "England," forced conversion to Islam in Spain.

This interesting seal was found around 1850 near Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland.

In 1887 the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition was held in London. It featured all sorts of fascinating exhibits and relics of Anglo-Jewish (and general Jewish) history, from before the expulsion of 1290 and from more modern times. It's catalog is about 200 pages with ten entries per page. It was a sort of highbrow celebration and tribute to and about English Jewry. This seal was among the exhibits.1

From the Catalogue of the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition (pg. 189-190):

Solomon ben Isaac. Red sealing wax. 1 1/16 in. xiii. Cent. [L. 8.] Round seal : a head in profile to the left, wearing a fillet with tasselled ends, the neck draped. Field replenished with foliage. Borders beaded, שלמה בן יצחק See Proceedings of the Soc. of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. i., pp. 39, 502 ; H. Laing, Supplementary Catalogue of Scottish Seals, No. 1294, from which it appears that the brass matrix of this seal was found on the east side of Arthur Seat near Duddingston, and is now in the Museum of the Soc. of Ant. of Scotland.

As you can plainly see, more than שלמה בן יצחק is written on this seal (actually, in fact, it says שלמה בר יצחק, and by the way, this isn't רש"י). Unfortunately this is the best image I could find and is hard to read precisely, even if you are aware of suggestions as to what it says. But let's get to that.

In the original PSAS article various suggestions of how to interpret the legend are given.

Among them are:

שלמה בר יצחק אלמעמס:אלה זל'ו
Recognizing the Arabic prefix al- אל, this interpretation assumes that אלמעמס is derived from either עמס, to take or carry up, or עמם gathering or collection, and is the family name of this שלמה בר יצחק. The last word might read זכר לברכה, but the interpreter was unable to make sense of the last letter, which he thought might be either a ו or a י.a

1061 שלמה בר יצחק אתעמס אלה

The second interpretation reads the word following the name differently, thinking that אתעמס is an Aramaic form of עמם, and translates it as "caused to bear [the government]" and thinks that the final letters are actually Arabic numerals that read 1061, for a year. (Parenthetically, this reading is interesting because it could be a dating from the destruction of the Temple, putting the seal to the early 13th century).

שלמה בר יצחק אִמ עָמַס אֶלָה וְלִין

This interpretation, a most poetic one, reads as follows: "Solomon, Son of Isaac! if God has loaded thee with benefits, then take thy rest." The interpreter instructs the reader to compare with Psalm 68:20: בָּרוּךְ אֲדֹנָי,יוֹם יוֹם יַעֲמָס לָנוּ הָאֵל יְשׁוּעָתֵנוּ סֶלָה, Blessed be the Lord, day by day He beareth our burden, even the God who is our salvation. Selah.

Then there is a gematria gobbledygook interpretation which doesn't bear mentioning.

Joseph Jacobs quotes Isidore Loeb and Joseph Derenbourg who realized that it probably said the following: Solomon ben Isaac who has donned the turban. May Allah guard him. (Joseph's English rendering.)

Indeed, אלתעמם does mean "who has donned the turban," ie, became a Muslim. The turban, 'imama or 'umama in Arabic عمامة, was a potent symbol of Islam in the Middle Ages (see).

Although I definitely see an abbreviated form of Allah, אלה, I cannot clearly read the final word as Jacobs read it, and only possessing his translation, I am not sure what Arabic word or acronym is supposed to be signified as "May Allah guard him."

According to this reading, this Solomon bar Isaac converted to Islam. Jacobs conjectured that he in fact fled to England as a result of this, about 1145, due to Spanish persecution. Jacobs further speculates that Solomon bar Isaac was none other than a Solomon bar Isaac mentioned in a responsum of R. Tam, Sepher Ha-yashar 71a. However, Wilhelm Bacher dismissed this as an impossibility, since that particular responsum is headed שאלה מאורליינס לרבינו תם, that is it came from Orleans and not Spain. Jacobs rejoined that it could still be the same Solomon bar Isaac for several reasons, but nevertheless he accepted Bacher's critique and all but withdrew his identification with the seal and the man in the responsum. I might add that we are not exactly dealing with the most uncommon configurations of names either.

Finally, in Malachi Beit-Arie's The Only Dated Medieval Hebrew Manuscript Written in England (1189 CE) and the Problem of Pre-Expulsion Anglo-Hebrew Manuscripts there is the suggestion that the "Solomon ben Isaac" listed in a Pentateuch Codex written in 1189 is this same person.

In any event, this most interesting seal in an unlikely place is worth pondering.

1 Speaking of Jewish England, in medieval Hebrew sources England is referred to variously as Engliterra, ארץ האי (the island country), and ריפת, which seems to be a transposition of the letters in Paris. Make of that what you will.

2 The catalog is in error. The article is on pp. 39-41. link


The Jews of Angevin England: Documents and Records from Latin and Hebrew by Joseph Jacobs, 1893, pg. 24-26.

Jews of Angevin England reviewed by Wilhelm Bacher, JQR, Vol. 6, No. 2. (Jan., 1894), pg. 357 (3rd pg. in Jstor article).

Catalogue of Antiquities, Works of Art and Historical Scottish Relics, 1859, pg. 93.

"Bronze Matrix with Hebrew Inscription," by Daniel Wilson, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Vol. I, 1851-1854, pp. 39-41.

Malachi Beit-Arie, "The Only Dated Medieval Hebrew Manuscript Written in England (1189 CE) and the Problem of Pre-Expulsion Anglo-Hebrew Manuscripts," Appendix II by Zefirah Entin Rokeah.

Max Markreishc, "Notes on Transformation of Place Names by European Jews," Jewish Social Studies, 23:4 (1961: Oct)

Another image:

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