"CROSSING BORDERS: Hebrew Manuscripts as a Meeting-place of Cultures"
Oxford, 8 December 2009
The Bodleian Library's winter exhibition tells the story of how Jews, Christians and Muslims have together contributed to the development of the book as an object of great cultural importance. The exhibition draws on the Bodleian's Hebrew holdings, one of the largest and most important collections of Hebrew manuscripts in the world.
Covering a time span of 300 years between the thirteenth century and fifteenth century, the exhibition brings to light different aspects of Jewish life across medieval Europe and the Middle East, in cultures that were non-Jewish.
The social and cultural interaction between Jews and non-Jews in both the Muslim and Christian world can be seen in the decorative patterns, writing styles, script types and text genres of the manuscripts themselves. As a result, Hebrew manuscripts produced in different regions look quite different, showing greater similarities to the non-Hebrew books produced in the same region than to other Hebrew books.
As this exhibition shows, by importing elements of the host culture, Hebrew manuscripts are proof of coexistence and cultural affinity, as well as practical cooperation between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbours, challenging received ideas about the treatment of Jews in the Middle Ages.
Highlights of the exhibition include:
The Kennicott Bible, undoubtedly the most beautiful and extensively illustrated manuscript among Spanish Bibles of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The illuminations reveal cross-cultural influences from Spanish Bible illustrations and popular European art to Islamic non-figurative carpet and vegetal decorations. The most striking illuminations will be shown through interactive digital technology, where visitors to the exhibition can "Turn the pages" of this extraordinary treasure;
A manuscript in the hand of the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides (1135-1204) a draft of his legal code Mishneh Torah.
The Michael Mahzor: the earliest illuminated Jewish prayer book for the Festivals, produced in Germany in 1258. The prayer book was illuminated by a Christian, who - not familiar with the Hebrew script- painted the first illustration upside down.
The largest fragment of uninterrupted text of the book of Ben Sira (Ecclesiastics) in Hebrew, found at the Genizah of the synagogue in Fustat (Old Cairo). Dated 10th century it is one of the earliest examples of a Hebrew codex.
Piet van Boxel, Curator of Hebrew and Jewish Collections, Bodleian Library said: "As the exhibition title suggests, Crossing Borders recounts the history of medieval culture at the intersection between Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities. It is a largely unfamiliar story which needs to be told and can help us to understand better the relationship between these communities even in our contemporary times."
For more information please contact:
Oana Romocea, Communications Office, Bodleian Library
Tel: 01865 277627 E-mail: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
8 December 2009 to 3 May 2010
Exhibition Room, Bodleian Library
Opening Hours: 9.00 am - 5.00 pm (Mon - Fri); 9.00 am - 4.30 pm (Sat);
11.00am - 5.00pm (Sun)
* Founded in 1602, the Bodleian Library is home to over 9 million volumes and a large number of manuscripts and rare printed books. It is the largest university library in Britain and the second largest library in the UK. The Old Bodleian is also a major visitor attraction, drawing over 300,000 visitors a year. More information about the Bodleian Library and its activities can be found at http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk
* The Bodleian's Hebraica collection dates from the earliest years of the Library's history and the accession of several key collections in the 19th century, such as the Oppenheimer Library and fragments from the Cairo Genizah, has rendered it one of the most important collections of Hebrew manuscripts in the world, alongside an extraordinarily rich collection of early Hebrew and Yiddish printed books. All fields of traditional Hebrew scholarship are represented in the collection. The Library continues to select and acquire the latest books in the various fields that support the University's programmes in Hebrew and Jewish Studies, and Eastern Christianity.
* The exhibition catalogue with the same title is also available. Crossing Borders: Hebrew Manuscripts as a Meeting-place of Cultures, edited by Piet van Boxel and Sabine Arndt, paperback, 128 pp, 70 colour images, £24.99, ISBN: 978 1 85124 313 6