Rare Jewish texts showcased in British Library online collection

Display includes 10th century Hebrew Bible, a 14th century manuscript of ‘The Guide for the Perplexed,’ and the first complete printed text of the Mishna from 15th century Naples.

The British Library, London (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The British Library, London
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A new project of the British Library, entitled “Discovering Sacred Texts,” has begun uploading images of manuscripts and early printed versions of some of the world’s most sacred religious texts, including dozens of Jewish works.
One of the earliest surviving manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible from the 10th century is among the collection, as well as important printed versions of the Bible from the 16th century; a rare manuscript of the Talmud which survived the book burnings of medieval Europe; the first complete printed text of the Mishna from 15th century Naples, and other texts.
The collection also includes the Johann Gutenberg’s Bible, the earliest full-scale work printed in Europe using movable type.
In addition, the collection displays the earliest known manuscript of the complete Greek New Testament, a Codex Sinaiticus dating back to the 4th century, and rare fragments of first-century Kharosthi scrolls from Afghanistan, which are thought to be the oldest surviving Buddhist texts.
One of the jewels of the collection are fragments of the First Gaster Bible, dating from the 10th century and likely produced in Egypt.
The fragments held by the British Library come from the Ketuvim, or Writings, section of the Hebrew Bible and include portions sections from the Books of Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel and Ruth.
Images available on the British Library’s online exhibition demonstrate the beauty of the original manuscript with its gold embellishments of scrolls, spirals, foliage, interwoven buds, palmettes and golden chains, executed in an Islamic-style typical of the age and location.
Another special item available on the online collection is a manuscript of two tractates from the Babylonian Talmud dating from 1290, including 102 folio pages.
As the collection notes, manuscripts of the Talmud were frequently condemned by Christian leaders, leading to mass burnings of many such manuscripts during the medieval era, such as in Paris in 1242.
Very few Talmudic manuscripts survived this period as a result.
Another remarkable item which is part of the Discovering Sacred Texts’ online collection is a manuscript of Maimonides renowned work of Jewish thought and philosophy The Guide for the Perplexed, written by the revered rabbi in 1190.
The British Library’s Hebrew manuscript, produced in Spain, dates from 1325 and is decorated with around 200 colorful illuminations and decorative embellishments.
The project was supported by Dangoor Education since its inception and by Allchurches Trust, alongside other funders.
“I am delighted to be involved in such an important and innovative project which will bring to the public for the first time some of the world’s oldest and most sacred texts,” said David Dangoor, head of Dangoor Education. “These texts form the bedrock of our human civilization, and when compared and contrasted by their viewers, will demonstrate that our sacred texts all speak a similar language of humanity, compassion and the norms of a fair and equitable society. They all have much to teach us and it is extremely welcome that they are now more accessible.”
A curated selection of the collection items representing these faiths will be on physical display in the British Library’s free, permanent Treasures Gallery to coincide with the launch of Discovering Sacred Texts.
“This site gives free access to an incredible range of texts, videos and curated articles relating to some of the world’s major faiths, which we hope will provide an invaluable tool for students, teachers and lifelong learners all over the world,” Alex Whitfield, head of learning at the British Library, commented.