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COLOPHON, inscription at the end of a manuscript, of a book or part of a book written by the copyist, in which he records details of his work. Colophons were not added to every manuscript, and many of them have been lost because usually the last (and first) pages of the book were damaged. The colophon contains a number of details for the study of the text, for history in general, for the history of culture, and for pale-ography. It is generally written in the first person and tends to include the following details: the name of the copyist, the title of the work, the date of the completion of the copying, the place where it was copied, the name of the person for whom the work was copied or whether the scribe copied it for himself, and good wishes for the owner and for the copyist. Not all these details are included in every colophon, and their order is not always the same. Some colophons are very extensive. Others are brief, containing only the date of completion.

Names and Formulas of Blessings

The names mentioned in colophons usually include that of the father and at times also the family name. In Yemenite and Karaite manuscripts, several generations and even very lengthy genealogies are listed. The names are accompanied by colorful expressions of blessings for the living and the dead, which almost always take the form of *abbreviations . Some of these formulae are common to various cultural regions of the Middle Ages, while others are characteristic only of the land of origin. For example, the formula of blessing for the living, יִראֶה זֶרַע יַאֲריךְ יָמִים אָמֵן=) יי״א)), "May he see his seed prolong his days" – based upon Isa. 53: 10 – and יִחְיֶה ׂשָנִים רַבּוֹת וְטוֹבוֹת=) ישר״ו), "May he live many and pleasant years," or יַעֲמֹד וְיִחְיֶה ׂשָנִים רָבּוֹת, "May he exist and live many years"), is characteristic of Italy, probably only from the middle of the 14th century. The formula of blessing for the dead, רוּחַ ה׳ תְּנִיחֶנּוּ=) רי״ת, "May the Spirit of the Lord cause him to rest" – Isa. 63:14), is characteristic of Oriental countries. The copyist often bestows flowery honorific titles on his customer. In later Yemenite manuscripts, it became customary for the copyist to precede his name by expressions of humility.

Places of Origin and Dates

The copyists were accustomed to note, in addition to the place of the copying, their own or the owner's places of origin, thus providing interesting historical information. Details of this category are especially found in manuscripts written in Italy. For example, an Oxford manuscript (Bodleian Library, Ms. Opp. Add. 302, fol. 37), was copied in Ancona in 1402, by a copyist from Perpignan for someone from Rome then living in קסא. The date was given according to the eras customary among Jews. In Italy, from the 15th century onward, a mixed date consisting of the Jewish year and the Roman month came to be employed. In Hebrew manuscripts written by apostates, the Christian year is also to be found. In many manuscripts, especially from the 15th century onward, the year is given in the gematria form of a word or words from a biblical verse. In many colophons, the day of the week and of the month is also given, thus making it possible – with the help of chronological tables – to verify the dates. In some manuscripts, the dates in the colophons were forged by changing the letters or by erasing and re-writing the date with the aim of antedating the manuscript. In others, whole colophons, which do not belong to the copyist, have been added, but these can be identified by the difference of handwriting. It appears that only in about one-third of the medieval manuscripts which have colophons is the place of copying mentioned. This is most often omitted in manuscripts written in Germany. It is sometimes difficult to identify the name of the place, because of the Hebrew spelling of the special Hebrew appellation of localities during the Middle Ages.


The final part of the colophon, the concluding felicitations, is often the longest. In manuscripts written for a specified person, it contains good wishes and blessings addressed to the future owner, and in many cases there are some for the copyist particularly when the manuscript is written for himself. Most express the wish that the owner or the copyist, his children, and his descendants would be allowed to study the book. Appropriate biblical verses were also added, the most popular being Joshua 1:8, as in one of the oldest European manuscripts (Prophets, Codex Reuchlin 3 of the Badische Landsbibliothek, Karlsruhe): "This Book of the Prophets, the Targum and the Text, was completed by Zerah b. Judah, the most humble of scribes, in the year 4866 of the Creation [1105/6] and in the year 1038 of the Destruction of the Temple, may it be speedily rebuilt in our days; may we be granted to study them [the Prophets] and to teach [them] without affliction or misfortune. May the verse be fulfilled in him: 'This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein; for then thou shalt make thy ways prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.'"

Concluding Formulas

Next to the colophon, the copyists usually wrote further concluding formulas containing praises to the Creator or a blessing for the copyist. Various formulas are known, some written out in full and others in abbreviated form, either before or after the colophon. Some formulas of this category are, for example: ברוּך דיהב חילה לעבדיה בר אמתיה=) בד״ח לב״א, "Blessed be the All Mercifull Who hath given strength to His servant the son of His maidservant"), בָּרוּךְ נוֹתֵן לַיָּעֵף כֹּח וּלְאֵין אוֹנִים עָצְמָה יַרְבֶּה=) בנל״כ ואע״י, "Blessed be He Who giveth strength to the faint and to him that hath no might increaseth power" (Isa. 40:29)); בָּרוּךְ ה׳ לְעוֹלָם אָמֵן וְאָמֵן=) בילא״ו, "Blessed be the Lord forever, Amen"); יֶשַׁע יִקְרָב ("May salvation come soon"); ברוּך רחמנא דלצלן מריש ועד כאן ("Blessed be the All Merciful Who helped us from the beginning till now"); לְבוֹרֵא עוֹלָם [תְּהִלָּה] תַּם וְנִשְׁלַם שֶׁבַח ("[It is] finished and completed, praise [or "glory"] unto the Creator of the world"); תּוֹדַה לָאֵל=) ת״ל, "Thanks unto the Lord"); חָזָק הַכּוֹתֵב וְאַמִּיץ הַקוֹרֵא ("Strengthen the writer and give courage to the reader"); כְּבוֹדְךָ ה׳ ("Thy glory, O Lord!"); and many others. One of the most famous formulas is עַד אֲשֶׁר יַעֲלֶה חֲמוֹר בַּסֻּלָּם אֲשֶׁר יַעֲקֹב אָבִינוּ חָלַם חֲזַק וְנִתְחַזֵּק, הַסּוֹפֵר יֻזָּק לֹא הַיּוֹם וְלֹא לְעוֹלָם ("Be strong and let us be strengthened, may the writer not come to any harm, neither today, nor ever after, until the ass ascends the ladder, of which Jacob our father dreamt"), which is found first in Ashkenazi manuscripts but which may have its origin in anti-Muslim polemics (cf. A. Altmann, in Studies in Mysticism and Religion presented to G. Scholem (1967), 1–33). Copyists usually inserted their names in this formula as well.

The Oldest Colophon

The most ancient colophon known is at the end of a manuscript of prophetical books of the Bible, found in the Karaite Synagogue of Cairo. It was written by Moses b. Asher in Tiberias in the year 827 after the destruction of the Temple (895/6 C.E.). This lengthy colophon contains all the details and rhetorics which are likely to appear in a colophon. In Ashke-nazi manuscripts, the tendency is to write the colophon in very large letters. According to Sefer Ḥasidim (ed. Wistinetzki-Frei-mann, (1924), no. 700), it is forbidden to write the colophon in the actual manuscript of the biblical text. Colophons were also written in the form of poems, especially during the late Middle Ages, with the name of the copyist or the owner in acrostics. At times one can find in the colophon other valuable details, such as the time taken by the copyist (Maḥzor Worms, Jerusalem National Library, Ms. Heb. 4° 781) in the colophon of the year 1272 (it was copied in 44 weeks); the salary of the copyist; his adventures and biography; echoes of historical events and valuable information for the criticism of the text, the condition and quality of the original from which the copy was made, working conditions. Occasionally the copyist apologizes for mistakes made. The information as to whether the manuscript was copied by a professional copyist or not is naturally of importance for the criticism of the text. Besides the colophons of copyists, those of masoretes and punctuators in biblical and liturgic manuscripts are also found. In case the copyist also wrote the masorah and punctuated the manuscript, he usually pointed this out explicitly, as in a Jerusalem manuscript (Heb. 8° 2238): "I, Isaac ben Abraham ha-Levi, have written, punctuated, and added the masorah, with the aid of the Almighty, in the year 1418 of the Seleucid era [1106/7 C.E.]."The colophons of masoretes are sometimes hidden in letter decorations of the masorah. On rare occasions, the proofreader wrote the colophon. Those who completed the missing parts of manuscripts sometimes added their own colophons.

[Malachi Beit-Arie]

In Printed Books

When books were first printed, the colophon was used by the printer to convey information about himself and his assistants and about the date of the beginning and/or finishing of printing, as was the practice of manuscript copyists. It often contained apologies for mistakes or self-praise for their absence and sometimes, paeans in honor of the new and wonderful art of printing. One also finds in colophons the name of the ruler under whose protection the production took place, thanks to financial backers of the venture, the number of copies printed, and so on. The Jewish printer also used the colophon to give thanks to God for permitting him to accomplish his holy task and to pray that he might be enabled to continue his work and witness the restoration of the Temple. Warnings to respect the printers' copyright for a stated number of years, with references to the sanctions of rabbinic law, such as excommunication, were also inserted in the colophon. These appeared later in the approbations (see *Haskamot ). The formulas were much the same as those used in manuscripts. For the date the Jewish era was normally used, the year being given in general by complicated chronograms, which lead to much confusion in determining the exact dates.

The colophon in printed books is a source not only of bibliography but of the history of printing and Jewish genealogy in general, e.g., the colophon of Judah Halevi's Kuzari (Fano, 1506), which provides important data on the Yaḥya family. Colophons varied in size: in Rashi's commentary on the Pentateuch published by Soncino (Rimini, c. 1525) the colophon occupies a whole page. The length and shape was influenced by the space available, the idea being that, as in the Scroll of the Law (Sof. 1:12), no blank space must be left at the end. In works appearing in several volumes one occasionally finds a different colophon at the end of each volume, e.g., Meshullam Cusi's Turim (Pieve di Sacco, 1475 and after). Colophons were sometimes rhymed verse with an acrostic giving the name of the printer or even the proofreader.

The type used for the colophon was sometimes larger than that in the text, e.g., the Augsburg Turim (1540) or Ẓahalon's Yesha Elohim (Venice, 1595). Sometimes the colophon was printed in the shape of funnel, diamond, goblet, pyramid, or, very often, an inverted cone, the lines tapering off to a short line or a word. At a later stage the more elaborate title pages and approbations made the use of colophons superfluous.


MANUSCRIPTS: M. Steinschneider, Vorlesungen ueber die Kunde hebraeischer Handschriften (1897), 44–56 (Heb. tr., Harẓa'ot al Kitvei Yad Ivriyyim, ed. by A.M. Habermann (1965), 61–75, 120–1); A. Freimann, in: zhb, 11 (1907), 86–96; 14 (1910), 105–12; idem, in: Alexander Marx Jubilee Volume (1950), 231–342; L. Zunz, in: ZHB, 18 (1915), 58–64, 101–19; C. Bernheimer, Paleografia Ebraica (1924), 149–63, 253–68. BOOKS: A. Berliner, Ueber den Einfluss des ersten hebraeischen Buchdrucks (1896); D.W. Amram, Makers of Hebrew Books in Italy (1909); A. Freimann (ed.), Thesaurus typographiae hebraicae saeculi XV, 8 pts. in 1 (1924–31); M. Steinschneider and D. Cassel, Juedische Typographie (1938).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.