Megilat Ester

Everything you would like to know about the scroll C-331, but were afraid to ask.

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The most important part of Purim celebration is reading aloud twice the Book of Esther from the handwritten scroll – Megillah Ester, which describes salvage of Jews from extermination by Persians. Presented Megillah Ester (C-331) is probably the oldest amongst those in the collections of the Jewish Historical Institute. It represents very popular type of Italian scrolls (probably Venetian), in which ornamental borders were pressed on the parchment as copperplate engravings. The scroll is one of more than twenty manuscripts of this type remaining in the world, and was most likely made in the late 17th century. Motives from this pattern can be found on many Megillahs created later.

The pattern on parchment was pressed as black and later hand painted in colored temperas. Hebrew text of the Book of Esther was handwritten by sofer. What draws attention to this scroll is the richness of decorative details, which were very carefully planned. They begin with multicolored ornament depicting flagellum of some plant in which animals were placed: a lion, an eagle, a leopard and a deer. They probably refer to the quote from Pirkei Avot 5:23: “Be brazen like the leopard, light like the eagle, swift like the deer, and mighty like the lion to do the Will of your Father Who is in Heaven”. On the right hand side of the first sheet the ornament closes up in the shape created by five semicircles. The central part of the initial decoration is ornamental cartouche with scrollwork, which was left blank in the manuscript. On both sides of it are lions standing on their hind legs. Directly behind this decoration motives can be found which are later repeated multiple times in the farther part of the pattern. Eleven times, on upper and bottom margins are repeated interlace patterns connected with cartouches containing illustration referring to 36 episodes from the Book of Esther. Decoration of these scrolls is completed with also repeated eleven times pattern with acanthus leaves and floral motive in rectangular frame placed among the spaces filled with text. The scroll ends up with an elaborate decoration dominated by the floral motive (plants depicted in the bottom part are mirror image of those placed in the upper part), while there is an ornamental “bar” running through the middle which supports the cartouche. In this copy the backdrops of the upper and the bottom margin were left blank (in other copies it is carmine or blue). 

Total dimensions of this copy is 17 x 157 cm. The scroll is complete. It is made of three parchment sheets sewn together. It has been preserved in a very good condition – the borders of individual sheets are flush, the parchment is very light, with no stains or rips (folded only where the text fields are). That aside the parchment is smooth and lightly glossy. Hebrew text written in the Italian type of writing has been preserved in the worse condition than the ornaments. In the collections of JHI there is no wooden stick, tin or the scroll cover.

Very little is known about the history of the scroll as it contains no colophon or any other inscription. It is also difficult to determine how it became a part of Polish collections. We know, however, that it was handed over to JHI in 1951 together with other objects of synagogal cult from the Central Storage of the Ministry of Culture and Art which was situated in Narożno castle in Bożków.

Author: Dagmara Budzioch, Ph.d., assistant professor at the Department of Jewish Culture and History of the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University (UMCS) in Lublin.

We are also inviting you to visiting our on-line collection on Purim. 

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