Vessel with Hebrew inscription

Type: Bowls, Vases
Date: Mid-thirteenth century
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): England
Medium: Copper
Dimensions: 25.5 × 24.5 cm
Description: This two-handled cast-copper pot was found in Norfolk, in southeastern England, at the end of the seventeenth century. Above each of its three hoof-shaped feet is a small incised decoration: a standing bird, a dog or stag, and a rosette. A large fleur-de-lys appears in relief under each handle. This last feature has suggested a possible origin in France, since this was the French royal emblem, but it was widely used elsewhere.

The vessel has a Hebrew inscription around its belly. This text, with raised letters cast at the same time as the pot, is difficult to understand. It states that the vessel was "a gift of Joseph, son of the holy rabbi Yehiel, may his memory be for a blessing; he answered and asked the congregation as he thought fit in order to behold the face of Ariel (i.e., Jerusalem: Isa. 29:1), as it is written in the law of Yekutiel (i.e., Moses; 1 Chron. 4:18), "and righteousness delivers from death" (Prov. 11:4)." The most famous Rabbi Yehiel participated in the Talmudic disputation in Paris in 1240 under King Louis IX, and he did have a son named Joseph, but it is unlikely that these are the men named on the copper pot. A different Rabbi Joseph who was a son of a Rabbi Yehiel is attested in a deed at Colchester in 1258, and given the proximity of Colchester to the vessel's findspot, an English origin seems more likely.

Copper vessels poison food if heated, so the function of the object is uncertain. Its weight (11 pounds) and lack of a lip makes it unlikely that it was regularly used for pouring liquids. It may have been used to collect donations for a Jewish institution or community, perhaps the small one in Colchester. When the Jews were expelled from England in 1290, nine Jewish houses and the synagogue of Colchester reverted to the English Crown.

The vessel was bequeathed to Oxford's Bodleian Library (where it was catalogued as a manuscript!) before entering the collection of the Ashmolean Museum. It is traditionally called the Bodleian Bowl, even though it is clearly not a bowl.
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 9
Image Credits: Linda Safran; Tovey, Anglia Judaica (1738)

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Vessel with Hebrew inscription So-called Bodleian Bowl, 1738 engraving