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BL Oriental MS 6360 - Sefer ha-Levanah (Book of the Moon)

BL Oriental manuscript 6360, is in fact part of a larger work which had become separated. The rest of the original text is continued in Oriental MS. 14759. The two manuscripts together comprise a complete copy of Sefer Mafteah Shelomoh ('The Book of the Key of Solomon'). This is one of only three known Hebrew manuscripts of this infamous magical text known in Latin as Clavicula Salomonis. JHP

The Or. 6360+14759 text is much easier to read than Gollancz' manuscript. According to Claudia Rohrbacher-Sticker the manuscript probably dates to the seventeenth or eighteenth century, although Greenup believed it to date from the sixteenth century. Dr. Rohrbacher-Sticker also describes the text as supporting the view of Gershom Sholem and others that it is "a late Jewish adaptation of a 'Latin (or rather Italian) Clavicula text of the renaissance period'." She adds the opinion that it was probably translated into Hebrew by the scribe himself, which would make it the ancestor of Gollancz' manuscript. JHP

Oriental MS 6360 page Title.


Claudia Rohrbacher-Sticker 

NOWADAYS it is almost a truism to say that there are more and deeper marks of mutual influences between many Christian and Jewish religious traditions of the medieval and early modern period than have long been acknowledged. This is especially true where magic is involved, a branch of knowledge whose adherents seemingly tended to be less concerned than others about questions of religious propriety, and who often displayed a marked interest in foreign beliefs and practices. And yet it is surprising to encounter the manifold traces of inter-religious and cross-cultural contacts and to find even specifically Christian formulae and practices in a Hebrew manuscript which represents an important string of Jewish magical traditions.

Or. MS. 14759, a manuscript of 53 folios which was acquired by the Hebrew Section of the British Library in 1993, proved to be a continuation of Or. MS. 6360, a manuscript of 15 folios. Written by the same hand, in Sephardic 'rabbinic' and square script, and in all probability dating back to the seventeenth or eighteenth century, the two manuscripts add up to a complete copy oi Sefer Mafteah Shelomoh ('The Book of the Key of Solomon'). This Hebrew handbook of magic, a vademecum of astral magic and necromancy, is part of a very complex flow of traditions which goes back for many centuries. Since the Middle Ages, numerous Latin, Italian, French, German and English versions have appeared of a book entitled Clavicula Salomonis, Clavis Salomonis, and the like, of which quite a few purport to be translations from the Hebrew. To be sure, the claim that a text of this sort had been translated from a Hebrew original is not very conclusive in itself Christian interest in the Kabbalah and, above all, in its magical aspects having greatly increased since the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, such a claim of Jewish provenance more often than not simply served the purpose of establishing the antiquity and authoritative character of certain traditions or practices. Indeed, while there are indications that an old Hebrew version of this book did exist, it has never emerged.

For hundreds of years such a Hebrew version of Clavicula Salomonis had been referred to only in the most unreliable terms, and at the end of the nineteenth century was in fact believed to have been lost long ago.^ It came as a sensation, therefore, when Hermann Gollancz found a Hebrew manuscript entitled Sefer [Mafteah] Shelomoh in the library of his father, Samuel H. Gollancz, at the beginning of the twentieth century. 

Gollancz published a detailed description of this voluminous manuscript, which had been copied around 1700 in Amsterdam in Sephardic ('Italo-Spanish') cursive script, and later brought out a facsimile edition, Besides the manuscript edited by Gollancz, there is a second one in the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana in Amsterdam (MS. Ros. 12). This eighteenth-century transcript by Isaac Zekel ben Yidel Kohen Worms from a copy by Judah Perez (London, 1729) 'corresponds' to the Gollancz manuscript but seems to depend upon different exemplars. British Library Or. MSS. 6360 and 14759 now supplement the scanty Hebrew textual basis.

BL Oriental MS 6360 Fol.21

While he did not claim to have discovered the 'original text' of the Clavicula Salomonis traditions, and although he was aware of the numerous 'foreign' elements in his manuscript, Gollancz in a noticeably apologetic manner sought to prove its 'Jewishness'. According to Gershom Scholem, however, Mafteah Shelomoh is a compilation of various traditions of the most diverse provenances: it 'contains Christian, Jewish, and Arabic elements which either lie unmixed side by side or show in parts a mutual permeation. In the case of one of the lesser traditions contained in the book, the incantation of King Baraqan, Scholem was able to prove its Arabic origin. The frequency of Christian, Latin, and Italian elements led him to the assumption that the text discovered by Gollancz was a late Jewish adaptation of a 'Latin (or rather Italian) Clavicula text of the renaissance period'. This view, which has been shared by other scholars, is supported by an examination of Or. MS. 14759.

It was probably the scribe himself who translated this text into Hebrew. However, many foreign-language words and even entire passages are not translated but just transliterated into Hebrew characters. It was essential to retain the magical potency of foreign-language names and incantation formulae, and therefore a translation of such names and formulae was not desirable. Or. MS. 14759 contains a considerable number of Greek and Latin elements of this sort. In the long and complex flow of magical traditions, some of these names and formulae may even have been conveyed through several different 'carrier-languages' before they were copied down by the scribe of Or. MS. 14759. There are at least two examples in this Hebrew manuscript for the reemergence of Hebrew/Jewish elements which bear the unmistakable marks of such a history.

BL Oriental MS 6360 Fol.22

More frequently, foreign-language words are retained to preserve their specific meaning, and a Hebrew explanation is often added in parenthesis. In some instances the scribe explicitly admits that he ' did not understand' a certain term or ' did not know what it was', and he omits a whole paragraph because he 'did not understand the language'. Sometimes an Arabic equivalent is given. Italian appears to have been the predominant language of the original exemplar, but the scribe seems not to have been fluent in it. The Italian word for 'badger' is unknown to him, and so is the word 'rostri', for which he gives both a Hebrew translation and an Italian synonym. Some of his translations are rather clumsy, and at least in one case he needs to reintroduce the term he wanted to translate in order to make himself clear.

Apart from many names and words of Christian origin, Or. MS. 14759 contains numerous recipes  which explicitly refer to Christian rituals and symbols. The cross is depicted time and again in this Hebrew manuscript, which even advises the magical utilization of a sanctified cross put in holy water.

The rich pictorial illustrations in Or. MS. 14759 are of special interest. As in Or. MS. 6360, they were obviously executed by the scribe himself Besides several diagrams, some remarkably naturalistic drawings (e.g. fig. i) serve to illustrate magical prescriptions (segulot). One picture shows the escape of prisoners in a ship which is carried through the air by demons, the escapees wearing oriental garb. In Or. MS. 6360, a drawing on the title-page shows Solomon himself, dressed like a European gentleman of the Baroque. Again, Mafteah Shelomoh proves to be at the crossroads of cultures and religions.

BL Oriental MS 6360 Fol.24  / Ars Armadel

From Wikipedia:  

A Hebrew text survives in two versions, one kept at the British Library, on a parchment manuscript, separated in BL Oriental MSS 6360 and 14759. The BL manuscript was dated to the 16th century by its first editor Greenup (1912), but is now thought to be somewhat younger, dating to the 17th or 18th century. The discovery of a second Hebrew text in the library of Samuel H. Gollancz was published by his son Hermann Gollancz in 1903, who also published a facsimile edition in 1914. Gollancz' manuscript had been copied in Amsterdam, in Sephardic cursive script, and is less legible than the BL text. The Hebrew text is not considered the original. It is rather a late Jewish adaptation of a Latin or Italian Clavicula text. The BL manuscript is probably the archetype of the Hebrew translation, and Gollancz' manuscript a copy of the BL one.

An edition of the Latin manuscripts of the British Library was published by S. L. MacGregor Mathers in 1889. L. W. de Laurence in 1914 published "The Greater Key of Solomon", directly based on Mathers' edition, to which he made alterations in an attempt to advertise his mail-order business (for example by inserting instructions like "after burning one-half teaspoonful of Temple Incense" along with ordering information for the incense)


British Library Oriental MS. 6360. 17th or 18th century. Hebrew.
  "Sepher Maphteah Shelomoh (Book of the Key of Solomon)"

British Library Oriental MS. 14759. Continuation of Or.6360.
Claudia Rohrbacher-Sticker:
Esoteric Archives:
Philip Pruncu: PDF Link to Ms Supplier: