Ramban's Updates to his Torah Commentary1


The "open book" phenomenon, in which an author continuously updated the text of his work even after its initial dissemination, is well attested in medieval times.2 However, the case of Ramban's Torah commentary is singular in that we possess five manuscripts which contain lists of the passages which Ramban updated.3 These lists also tell us that Ramban made these changes to his commentary after his arrival in Israel, and three of the manuscripts4 tell us that Ramban himself sent out their updates.5

Moreover, we are fortunate to have an abundance of manuscripts of Ramban's commentary through which one can see evidence for the various stages of the incorporation of his additions and changes.6 Taken together, the explicit lists and the various textual witnesses of the commentary itself provide us with a unique window through which one can glimpse the workings of Ramban's thought processes and modus operandi in the final years of his life.7

It is clear from several factors that the five explicit lists, which together total almost 140 additions, are not a complete catalogue of Ramban's later changes to his commentary. First, in Bereshit 35:16 Ramban records his change of opinion as a result of his travels in Israel ("ועכשיו שזכיתי ובאתי אני לירושלים"), and this case is not included in any of the lists.8 Second, there are significant discrepancies between the lists as far as which updates are included.9 Finally, there are additional passages in the commentary which are either related to some of the updates on the lists or contain some of the distinctive features of these updates.10

Indeed, a painstaking comparison of the various extant manuscripts of Ramban conducted in 200111 revealed over 130 more updates which Ramban made to his commentary which are not found on any of the lists. Most of these changes are smaller than the ones recorded in the lists, and it is likely that this was a major factor in their not being included on the lists. Generally, the same manuscripts12 which lack the changes which are on the explicit lists are also missing these additional updates.13 These updates share many of the features of the changes on the explicit lists such as newly gained geographical knowledge of Israel and sources to which Ramban gained access only upon his arrival in Israel.14

Ramban invested a great deal of time and energy to make sure that people would possess updated versions of his commentary,15 and to a great extent he was successful. While there are numerous manuscripts which are missing some of the updates, most if not all manuscripts incorporated some of them,16 and many included almost all.17 Most citations of Ramban's commentary by later medieval commentators also reflect the updated text.18 And, finally, most of the printed editions19 generally reflect the fuller and updated version of the commentary.20

The side navigation menu provides links to tables for each Chumash containing Ramban's updates, both listed and unlisted. The apparatus details some of the manuscripts in which the updates are missing, appear in the margins, or included on the explicit lists. One can also click the colored toggle to switch between how the commentary looked in its original and final forms. Note: Much additional manuscript data has not yet been uploaded to the site; please check back for updates.

In the images below, one can compare various manuscripts of Ramban's commentary on a particular verse and see examples of texts where Ramban's update is completely missing, added in the margin, or integrated into the commentary.

Bereshit 35:16 and 48:7

Ramban Bereshit 35:16 (MS Paris 223)
MS Paris 223 – Ramban Bereshit 35:16 – Ramban's original version (Rachel is buried in the Ramah) with his later update in the margin.

Ramban Bereshit 35:16 (MS Paris 224)
MS Paris 224 – Ramban Bereshit 35:16 – Ramban's update (Rachel is buried near Beit Lechem) is incorporated into the text.

Ramban Bereshit 48:7 (MS Paris 219)
MS Paris 219 – Ramban Bereshit 48:7 – Ramban's original version (Rachel is buried in the Ramah) before his double correction.

Ramban Bereshit 48:7 (MS Paris 221)
MS Paris 221 – Ramban Bereshit 48:7 – The text reflects Ramban's double correction of his original interpretation (consistent with his update of 35:16), while the gloss between the lines mistakenly reinserts the original rejected version (see notes to Table).

Ramban Peirush HaKatzar Bereshit 48:7 (MS Paris 225)
MS Paris 225 – Ramban Peirush HaKatzar Bereshit 48:7 – Ramban's update is in the text, but in Bereshit 48:7, rather than Bereshit 35:16 (like in his regular commentary).

Shemot 10:14

Ramban Shemot 10:14 (MS Paris 224)
MS Paris 224 – Ramban Shemot 10:14 – Original version of the commentary before Ramban's update.

Ramban Shemot 10:14 (MS Paris 223)
MS Paris 223 – Ramban Shemot 10:14 – Ramban's update (regarding climate in Egypt and citation of R. Chananel) is in the margin.

Ramban Shemot 10:14 (MS Paris 221)
MS Paris 221 – Ramban Shemot 10:14 – Ramban's update is incorporated in the text.

Ramban's List of Updates (MS Oxford 2253/17)
A list of Ramban's updates (MS Oxford 2253/17) – Ramban's update to Shemot 10:14 is recorded in the list of changes.

*With thanks to the Bibliothèque nationale de France.