Oct 5, 2010

A New (or Old) Convert!

Ouch. I definitely managed to screw up that little nook between my shoulder and my neck attempting to hit the "dismiss" button on my phone alarm this morning. Ouch. I schlepped around a super-full backpack all day, a well as a bag (a la SXSW 2010) full of other stuff. Oh the pain.

I added a book to the pile of growing books that I tug around nearly every day of the week. This book, inspired by a professor's suggestion, is "Other Middle Ages: Witnesses at the Margins of Medieval Society" by Michael Goodich. I have to do a sort of semester project on a document or primary source that has to do with Jewish community. My fascination with conversion, specifically medieval conversion, is strong, and after mentioning this to the professor he told me to look up Ovadiah the Convert, whose writings were found in the Cairo Genizah (that's like a storage space for old documents). Shock and amazement came to me. After all the research I did on Herman the Jew, the Jewish apostate to Christianity in the early middle ages, I thought ... surely ... I had heard of every Jewishly connected medieval convert, right?

Ovadiah's music notes!
Not Ovadiah (or Obadiah if that floats your boat). Yes, Ovadiah, the Norman fella' that was compelled to convert to Judaism, which led to him running all over kingdom come in order to hide from the Christians out to get his apostate tush. Color me excited. I read Ovadiah's text this evening (it's pretty short) and it seems like a very interesting tale ... which has led me to a variety of other questions (including one about a supposed medieval messiah that I'd never heard of before).

So stay tuned for more interesting tidbits on Ovadiah and what he means for medieval conversion. I will mention that there is a biblical Ovadiah, who is said (in the Talmud) to have been a convert from Edom. Thus, it supposedly was a thing in the middle ages to convert and call yourself Ovadiah in order to honor the convert Ovadiah in the Bible/Talmud.

The question is: Did all woman converts call themselves Ruth? Maybe Rahab? Again, stay tuned!

Related sidenote: Ovadiah (the convert) is the writer or copyist of the earliest surviving manuscript notations of Jewish music, including a eulogy to the biblical Moses ("Mi al har Horev?"), and the tunes are very ... well ... Gregorian. Fascinatin'! (Oh, and I mean the convert in the middle ages, in case you were thinking there were surviving musical tunes from the early days.)


Neil Harris said...

Excellent post.

Drew said...

Very interesting!

Daniel Saunders said...

Is Ovadiah the convert who wrote to Rambam asking if he could say the prayers that refer to the Patriarchs as "our fathers" on the grounds that they weren't his biological ancestors? (Rambam said he could, as they were his spiritual ancestors.)

Amanda said...

(first of all, let me preface this by saying that I have a Master of Music in Music History and that I'm turning on my geek mode)

So, I'm SHOCKED that I've never heard of this guy in all of my studies of Jewish music, especially studying Salomone Rossi (who wrote this fasciniting Shir Hashirim with a word play on his name Shir Hashirim diShlomo... of Solomon or Salomone Rossi... or both ha!). Anyway, I just looked him up in Grove Music Online which is like the Encyclopedia Brittanica of music.

Unfortunately, Chaviva, there's sooo little :(

Obadiah the Proselyte
(fl Oppido, Apulia, early 12th century). Norman-Italian baronet. A convert to Judaism, he was responsible for the earliest surviving manuscript source of Jewish music; see Jewish music, §I, 3.

Anyway, the reason I'm posting is because "Gregorian" is a term that really applies more to the pre 10th century C.E. By the 12th century, there was a lot of polyphony floating around (music with multiple parts, not single-line ie. monophonic chant). Jewish music always seems kind of behind the times.

Anyway, from that picture, it seems like Ovadiah is doing something sort of blending early music writing styles. It's graphic notation - the height of the notes indicate where you should sing - but its not a a musical staff which they were definitely doing in "church music" (which is really the only written down music of the middle ages).

Anyway, I'm rambling. I think you've found something fascinating. Let us know if you find out more! If you start reading more about him in relation to music, make sure to check out Grove Music Online (which I'm sure the NYU library has).

Amanda said...

I just realized I started three paragraphs in a row with "anyway." Woops :) I guess I really was rambling.

Lars Shalom said...

oh, swell

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

Excellent comments. Thanks for the excitement, folks :) I'm stoked!

@Daniel Nope! It's a different convert. It's confusing, however, simply because Ovadiah was a name converts frequently took.

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