The Bodleian Library

Bodleian Library.jpgHebrew books have been in the Bodleian Library since its opening in 1602. Unusually, the interest in Hebrew stems directly from the Library's founder, Sir Thomas Bodley, who was deeply learned in both biblical and post-biblical Hebrew. He shared the view of most scholars of his time that Hebrew was the parent of all languages, and consequently viewed the collecting of Hebrew books as the most important aspect of his library's work.

His enthusiasm provided the momentum for the active collecting of Hebrew books in later centuries, particularly in 1693, 1829, 1848 and 1890. Even today, the Library selects and acquires hundreds of the latest Hebrew books from Israel every year, so that there is an unbroken tradition of collecting Hebrew books from Bodley's time to the present.

The Bodleian Library in Oxford is a major repository of outstanding illuminated Hebrew manuscripts. A key portion of the Hebrew collection at the Bodleian Library consists of the library of David ben Abraham Oppenheim (or Oppenheimer) (1664-1736), acquired in 1829.

Oppenheim was a leading rabbi, liturgist and bibliophile who had inherited a sizable fortune. When he became Chief Rabbi of Prague in 1702, he left his extensive library with his father-in-law in Protestant Hanover, since he feared that the Holy Office might confiscate his books. After his death the library passed from member to member of the Oppenheim family, eventually being pawned with a senator in Hamburg and stored away in twenty-eight cases.

To facilitate its sale, special catalogs were printed, but the various attempts to sell the library were unsuccessful. Although the Oppenheim collection was valued at £22,000 by the noted savant Moses Mendelssohn, this library of some 780 Hebrew manuscripts was finally obtained by the Bodleian Library for the trifling sum of £2,000.

Another major acquisition, in 1853, was the library of Rabbi Isaac Samuel Reggio (1784-1855), a prominent Italian scholar. A prolific writer, he was also the founder of the rabbinical college at Padua.

A significant collection of some 860 Hebrew manuscripts was purchased in 1848 from the Hamburg bibliophile Heimann Joseph Michael (1792-1846).

In 1869 the Bodleian Library acquired manuscripts from the collection of Samuel David Luzzatto (1800-65), a brilliant Italian philologist, poet, and biblical exegete.

Other Hebrew manuscripts in the Bodleian Library came from the collections of William Laud, archbishop of Canterbury; John Selden, legal historian and Orientalist; Dr. Edward Pococke, chaplain at Aleppo; Robert Huntington, a seventeenth-century bishop of Raphoe in Ireland; and Matteo Luigi Canonici, an eighteenth-century Italian collector.

The magnificent Kennicott Bible in the Bodleian Library, reproduced in facsimile in 1985, came from Dr. Benjamin Kennicott (1718-83), an English divine and keeper of the Radcliffe Library, who spent a lifetime researching biblical manuscripts. The manuscript, written and illustrated in 1476 in La Coruña in northwest Spain, contains 77 full-page miniatures.

The majority of the Hebrew manuscripts are described in A. Neubauer's "Catalogue of the Hebrew Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library" (Oxford 1886, reprinted 1994). A subsequent volume of this, by Neubauer and A. E. Cowley, appeared in 1906 and Cowley went on to produce a typescript "Additional Geniza Fragments", only available in the Oriental Reading Room. More recently, a "Supplement of Addenda and Corrigenda", which has to be used in conjunction with Neubauer's Catalogue, was published (Oxford 1994).

Other collections of Hebraica and Judaica in Oxford include the Oriental Institute Library and the Leopold Muller Memorial Library of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studiesat Yarnton Manor, five miles north of Oxford, which has a strong collection of modern Hebrew and an archive, mostly unpublished, about modern Hebrew writers.

Ashmolean Museum

A 2000-year-old coin, believed to be the most important single Roman coin ever found in Oxfordshire, is at the Ashmolean Museum.

The gold 'aureus', dating from AD 70, the year when the Holy Jerusalem Temple was destroyed, bears a strong portrait of the emperor Vespasian. The coin is unique, and shows the earliest depiction of a standing figure of Justitia on any Roman coin.

It is remarkable in that it was struck not in Rome but in the East, in Judaea, quite possibly from gold from the Roman sack of Jerusalem.

jtrails logo© Copyright Marcus Roberts (2005)