Bodleian Library's medieval manuscripts come to NY

Reuters, Saturday 7 Jul 2012

Medieval manuscripts in Hebrew, Arabic and Latin will make their way to the US from Oxford's Bodleian Library this autumn

More than 60 Hebrew, Arabic and Latin medieval manuscripts from England's Bodleian Library in Oxford will be displayed, most for the first time in the United States, in a new exhibition at the Jewish Museum this fall.

The show, "Crossing Borders: Manuscripts from the Bodleian Libraries," includes the Kennicott Bible, which was created in Spain in 1476 and is thought to be one of the most extensively illustrated medieval manuscripts in existence.

One of the two earliest Latin Gospel Books from the British Isles, dating to the late 6th or 7th centuries, and the Michael Mahzor, the earliest illuminated Jewish prayer book for festivals, also will be shown in the exhibit, which will run from Sept. 14 through Feb. 3.

"It (the exhibit) highlights the role of the Hebrew book as the meeting place of cultures in the Middle Ages, mostly in Europe. Jews were living amid Christians and Muslims and transmitted culture through translations of work," Claudia Nahson, the curator of the exhibit, told Reuters.

"Hebrew books are a repository of many different influences," she added.

The show covers a huge time span. The earliest work dates from the 3rd century and the latest is from the late 16th.

"It is a very, very wide period," said Nahson. "The book form had a role in the way religions talked to each other."

The show is divided into three sections: early Christianity and Judaism and their links, as well as their disassociation; the late Middle Ages; and the Bodleian's Hebraica collection, which dates from the earliest years of the library.

"We go from very old material to the foundation of the Bodleian Library in 1598," said Nahson.

The highlight is the Kennicott Bible, which in addition to the actual book will also be shown in digital form.

"We are absolutely thrilled to be able to show it. It is an incredible manuscript, so profusely decorated. There are so many illuminated pages it is hard to choose which one to show and that is why we will have a digitized version," Nahson said.

Another stand out is the Michael Mahzor, the Jewish prayer book produced in Germany in 1258 and illuminated by a Christian. It includes one illustration painted upside down.

The Bodleian Library was established by Sir Thomas Bodley after he retired as an ambassador to Queen Elizabeth I with a collection of 2,500 books. Today it is one of nearly 40 libraries within the integrated structure of the Bodleian Libraries.

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