The Hebrew library at Christ Church is an impressive and unique collection of over 3,000 early printed books and medieval and early modern Hebrew manuscripts. The printed books collection started as a bequest of John Morris (Regius Professor of Hebrew from 1626 to his death in 1648). Oriental books have been kept together, so the collection is valuable as a whole, offering a precious insight into Hebrew scholarship and preferences. The books cover a wide range of subjects: biblical and rabbinic literature, commentaries and super-commentaries, dictionaries, Jewish law, history, poetry, philosophy, science, Kabbalah, polemical literature and liturgy. The collection of manuscripts was started by a gift from John Fell (1625-1686), Bishop of Oxford and founder of the Oxford University Press. Its codices comprise mainly Sephardi manuscripts on topics ranging from Kabbalah to science and mathematics, by way of Biblical commentary, legal literature, rabbinic responsa and philosophy. Both the manuscripts and the early printed Hebrew books are currently being catalogued and the library has started digitizing the collection. So far, more than 600 Christ Church early printed Hebrew books have been catalogued on SOLO by Dr Rahel Fronda. As regards the manuscripts, in order to make descriptions immediately accessible to a large public, we have started processing them in TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) format, both suitable for online and printed publication and compatible with other online catalogues. As the Bodleian Library is currently developing a Hebrew and Judaica online manuscript catalogue, Christ Church has taken the opportunity to join in. For this and her work in TEI, thanks are due to Dr Sabine Arndt. Research done so far has revealed that this is a very important collection. Work on it is in full swing at present. Antiquarian records for the early printed books are added to every day on SOLO. Studies on several works, both printed and in manuscript form, continue to appear in various publications. And apart from the online manuscript catalogue, there are also plans to produce a full, codicological, textual and historical catalogue to be published in book format. To access the digitized version of the manuscripts, as they are being finalised, please click on the titles in the list below.
Online Hebrew and Judaica Catalogue (provisional entry)
The John Fell Collection of Hebrew Manusripts by Jeremy I. Pfefffer
The codex comprises a compilation of 16th century Kabbalistic and Maimonidean texts, the whole interspersed by a miscellany of arcane annotations and entries: Kabbalistic sketches, diagrams and tables of Hebrew letter permutations, astrological doodles, schemas and phonetically spelled Hebrew jottings, some possibly the work of a Christian Kabbalist. Strangest of all, are the orangecoloured markings and letterings that deface every page in the codex. The inclusion of manuscripts from the contrasting Kabbalistic and Maimonidean schools of Jewish thought in the same volume is another of the intriguing features of this bewildering codex. There is also the question of who arranged to have this mélange bound in such an ornate, heavy and presumably expensive binding.
MS 193 - Joshua di Viana, Fragment of an ethical treatise; Letters of Chasdai and the King of the Khazars
This codex comprises two small manuscripts: a fragment from an ethical treatise by Joshua di Viana and a copy of the letters exchanged by Chasdai ibn Shaprut, the head of the Jewish community in Cordova, Spain, and Joseph, the King of the Khazars. These letters were first published by Isaac Akrish in 1570 and were subsequently included by Buxtorf the Younger in the Latin translation of the Kuzari, the 12th century philosophical work by Yehuda Halevi, that he published in 1660.
A study on manuscript 193 by Jeremy I. Pfeffer to be published in Christ Church Library Newsletter, Vol. 10/1-3, 2015-16.
The codex comprises three distinct works, relating to a specific legal matter that arose in the Amsterdam Community in 1650, namely, the eligibility of a Ger (proselyte) who was the son of an Anuss (Cristiano Nuevo, Converso or Marrano) and a gentile woman, to a position of coercive authority. Each is apparently the opus of a different author, however, the names given for the authors of the first two pieces, supposedly a father and his son, have recently been shown to have been fictitious. The actual author of both pieces was the polymath Joseph Solomon Delmedigo (1591-1655) writing under a pseudonym. MS.199 contains two of Delmedigo’s last and hitherto lost works. By contrast, the named author of the third work, Rabbi [Issachar] Ber Jeiteless (d.1685), was an actual person; he was also a pupil of Delmedigo.