The Hebrew collection of manuscripts is a project in collaboration with the Bodleian Library and was made possible due to the generous support of Christ Church Governing Body, alumni, Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe and Polonsky Foundation.
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). Asian and Middle Eastern 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.
Research done so far has revealed that this is a very important collection. Work on it is in full swing at present. Studies on several works, both printed and in manuscript form, continue to appear in various publications. The first of the recent studies of the collection is The John Fell Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts, Christ Church Library, by Jeremy I. Pfeffer. Before Jeremy’s arrival a few years ago, the volumes had been sitting on the shelves, undisturbed for, perhaps, centuries. They were just listed in a general catalogue of manuscripts published in 1867: G.W. Kitchin’s Catalogus codicum mss qui in bibliotheca Ædis Christi apud Oxonienses adservantur. 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 1,000 Christ Church early printed Hebrew books have been catalogued on SOLO by Dr Rahel Fronda. As regards the manuscripts, the Library is preparing a detailed descriptive catalogue. For this we are deeply grateful to Professor Malachi Beit-Arie and Dr Rahel Fronda. In order to make descriptions immediately accessible to a large public, we have also started processing them in TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) format, suitable for online publication. 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 their work in TEI, thanks are due to Dr Rahel Fronda and Dr Sabine Arndt. To access the digitised version of the manuscripts, as they are being finalised, please click on the titles in the list below. Metadata for the Hebrew records in Digital Bodleian by Dr Rahel Fronda.
Online Hebrew and Judaica Catalogue (provisional entry)
The John Fell Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts by Jeremy I. Pfeffer
Nicholas Fuller’s Latin translation of Rabbi Mordechai Nathan’s (i.e. Isaac Nathan ben Kalonymus) Hebrew Concordance (Me’ir nativ), with multiple notes and annotations by the translator. This concordance to the Bible, written by a 15th-century French physician, was the first such Hebrew compilation, intended to make it easier for Jews to respond to Christian polemic. MS 185 is volume 1 of an 18th-century copy of the 17th-century original translation by Nicholas Fuller that the translator gave to Thomas Bodley, and is still kept at the Bodleian Library (MS. Bodl. Or. 476). The full title of the manuscripts is: R.Mardochaei Nathanis Radicum sive Thematum Hebraeorum expositionos Latiné à Nicolas Fullero redditae, ac multis in locis emendatae notisq[ue] variis locupletatae et illustratae.
Nicholas Fuller’s Latin translation of Rabbi Mordechai Nathan’s (i.e. Isaac Nathan ben Kalonymus) Hebrew Concordance (Me’ir nativ), with multiple notes and annotations by the translator. This concordance to the Bible, written by a 15th-century French physician, was the first such Hebrew compilation, intended to make it easier for Jews to respond to Christian polemic. MS 186 is volume 2 of an 18th-century copy of the 17th-century original translation by Nicholas Fuller that the translator gave to Thomas Bodley, and is still kept at the Bodleian Library (MS. Bodl. Or. 476). The full title of the manuscripts is: R.Mardochaei Nathanis Radicum sive Thematum Hebraeorum expositionos Latiné à Nicolas Fullero redditae, ac multis in locis emendatae notisq[ue] variis locupletatae et illustratae.
The codex (dated 1490-1510) contains commentaries to texts by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. Some of these survived only in this manuscript. Translations were made between 1472 - 1473 in Monzón, Spain.
Online Hebrew and Judaica Catalogue entry by Dr Rahel Fronda
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 orange coloured 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.
An introductory guide to MS 188 by Jeremy I. Pfeffer
A 15th century copy of the Hebrew translation prepared by Moses ibn Tibbon in 1271 of Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad ibn Ayyash al-Hassar's seminal 12th century Arabic treatise on arithmetic, Kitāb al Bayān wa-l-tadhkār.
Online Hebrew and Judaica Catalogue entry by Dr Sabine Arndt and Dr Rahel Fronda
An introductory exposition by Jeremy I. Pfeffer
"Moses ibn Tibbon’s Hebrew Translation of al-Hassar's Kitab al Bayan - Surviving Manuscripts", by Jeremy I. Pfeffer, published in the journal Convergence (2017) of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA).
Three different philosophical works that have been later bound together. Ca. 1400 (first work); 1447/8 (second work); late 16th century (third work)
Levi ben Gershom’s commentary on Averroës’ paraphrase of De Anima (ff. 1r-34v)
Hebrew translation of Thomas Aquinas’s commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima (ff. 36r-116v)
Levi ben Gershom’s commentary on Averroës’ paraphrase of Meterologica (ff. 123r-175r).
Edward Griffith's (fl. 1753) Concordance, with some translation of Hebrew root words into Latin, according to Robertson, Buxtorf, Mario de Calasio and Noldius, an 18th-century manuscript, the full title of which is: Loca Concordantia, cum uniuscujusque Radicis Latina Interpretatione, secundum Robertsonum, Buxtorfium, Marium de Calassio et Noldium.
Edward Griffith's (fl. 1753) Compilation of Hebrew words and expressions from the Hebrew Bible, with Greek translation, according to Robertson, Buxtorf, Mario de Calasio and Noldius, an 18th-century manuscript, the full title of which is: Collectio Verborum et sententiarum quae in Hebraeo Codice extant et in LXX virali desiderantur; necnon Lectiones variae et phrases: et vice versa quae in LXX virali (Grabiana Editione) interpolantur et varie leguntur.
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.
Translation and notes on MS 193 by Brian Deutsch
MS 193: Two Unrelated Texts by Jeremy I. Pfeffer - to be published in Christ Church Library Newsletter, Vol. 10/2, 2017-18.
An early 16th-century manuscript comprising Notes on the Canon Avicenna, with a lot of glosses and corrections (probably added by the user, who must have copied the medical book for his own use).
The codex comprises a kabbalistic treatise on commandments. Contents: Affirmative commandment, beginning with no. 62 in the middle and ending in the middle of commandment no. 94 (ff. 1a-80b). Colophon (f. 123b). חילוק קריאת המזמורים לדעת הזוהר (ff. 124r-127b). A short passage that terminates כתיבת ידי אינון די קואירפי החותם למטה מהשורות (f. 124a). Formulas of legal deeds (ff. 124a-127b).
An early 15th century copy on parchment of the Mordekhai HaKatan (The Little Mordekhai), the abridgement composed c.1376 by R. Samuel ben Aaron Schlettstadt (ר' שמואל שליצסט), of the monumental compendium of Halakhah, Sefer HaMordekhai, compiled c.1280 by R. Mordekhai ben Hillel (c1240-1298).
A short introductory note by Jeremy I. Pfeffer
An early 16th century codex containing homilies on the Pentateuch parashot with glosses and some additions.
A short introductory note by Jeremy I. Pfeffer
The codex contains a collection of esoteric Hebrew texts transcribed by R. Jacob Lagarto in 1635 on the eve of his departure from Holland for the newly acquired Dutch settlement in Recife, Brazil.
An introductory note by Jeremy I. Pfeffer
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 and a pupil of Delmedigo.
Three studies on Manuscript 199 by Jeremy I.Pfeffer: Christ Church Library Newsletter, Vol.6/3, 2010 and Vol. 9/1-3, 2012-13 and in Hakirah, Vol.19 (Summer 2015).
A 15th century copy of a supercommentary attributed to Eli Hạbillo (עלי בן יוסף חביליו) on Averroes’ Middle Commentary on Porphyry’s Isagoge and Aristotle’s Categories, De Interpretatione and Prior Analytics.
A short introductory note by Jeremy I. Pfeffer
This item (a 35.5 m scroll of the first five Books of the Old Testament) has been first recorded in a handwritten entry of G.W. Kitchin's Catalogus Codicum Manuscriptorum qui in Bibliotheca Aedis Christi apud Oxonienses Adservantur, published in 1867. Added on page 59, this entry reads: “CCIa Pentateuch – Roll of the Law (with Phylacteris)". In terms of provenance, it appears that the manuscript arrived at Christ Church sometime between the 1930s and 1950s. This coincides with the period when the college was taking on German-Jewish professors who had been removed from their posts by the Nazis. For details, see 'The Case of the Lost Torah', published in Christ Church Library Newsletter (Vol.4, Issue 3: 2008, pp.4-5).
The manuscript, by David Durell (1728-1775) and Benjamin Blayney (1727/8-1801), comprises a Hebrew and Aramaic dictionary, followed by a glossary that presents further etymological parallels with related Asian and Middle Eastern languages. Its method of helping students to identify the root letters of Hebrew words, was first developed by German Orientalist, and Professor of Hebrew, at the University of Leipzig, Elias Hutter (ca. 1553-1609).
Early Printed Hebrew Books
Commentary on the book of Ruth, with the biblical text. The book of Ruth is read during the holiday of Shavuot (Feast of Weeks or Pentecost). This particular edition includes an introduction by Solomon ben Moses and an index by his son Moses. With eulogies in prose and in poetry by Abraham ben Ephraim Sancho and by Samuel Shullam. Some marginal manuscript annotations in Hebrew in a 17th-century hand. Solomon ben Moses was a rabbi, kabbalist and poet who was active in the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth century.
The text of the biblical books of Latter Prophets - Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, as well as the Twelve Minor Prophets - with David Kimhi’s commentary. With copious marginal manuscript annotations in Latin, Hebrew and English by Thomas Wakefield. David Kimhi (1160–1235), also known by his Hebrew acronym as the RaDaK, was a medieval rabbi, biblical commentator, philosopher, and grammarian, who was born in Narbonne in Provence.
The text of the biblical books of Former Prophets, that is the books of Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings, with David Kimhi’s commentary. David Kimhi (1160–1235), also known by his Hebrew acronym as the RaDaK, was a medieval rabbi, biblical commentator, philosopher, and grammarian, who was born in Narbonne in Provence. Kimhi’s commentaries on the biblical books of the Prophets are well-known, and his strength as a grammarian of the Hebrew language can be seen in his writings. He explains words following their grammatical construction and etymological development, while his commentaries contain also rabbinical, philosophical and homiletical sources.
Incunabula edition of complete Hebrew Bible (Pentateuch, Prophets, Hagiographa). Incomplete volume: includes only Prophets and Writings; some text in manuscript. The book was printed in 1494 in Brescia, Italy, but later owners added marginal annotations and personal notes in Hebrew, in 16th and 17th century hands (probably in Italy). Additional Information: Rahel Fronda, ‘Collection of Hebrew Incunabula at Christ Church', in Christ Church Library Newsletter, Volume 11 (2019-20).
Babylonian Talmud, printed in Constantinople between 1583-1593 by brothers Solomon and Isaac Jabez. Descendants of Spanish origin scholars, the 16th-century family of printers first established a Hebrew press in Salonika in 1546 and from 1559 onwards they were also active in Constantinople. Since the burning and banning of the Talmud in Italy, starting in 1553, there was a high demand for a new printed edition of the Talmud. The Jabez brothers realised how important it was to embark on such a project and started to print the Talmud, tractate by tractate, following the layout of the first edition by Bomberg. Includes masekhet (tractate) Berakhot and mishnah from seder Zeraʿim. With occasional manuscript additions: some notes in Hebrew, including Hebrew alphabet practice exercises. Annotations in pencil were perhaps written by Edward Pococke.
Babylonian Talmud, printed in Constantinople between 1583-1593 by brothers Solomon and Isaac Jabez. Includes tractates Sanhedrin and Megillah. The layout of this edition mirrors that of the first edition of the Talmud printed by Daniel Bomberg between 1519/1520-1523 in Venice. Some marginal notes in Hebrew.
Babylonian Talmud, printed in Constantinople between 1583-1593 by brothers Solomon and Isaac Jabez.Includes tractates ʿEruvin and Megillah. Some marginal notes in Hebrew.
Babylonian Talmud, printed in Constantinople between 1583-1593 by brothers Solomon and Isaac Jabez. Includes tractates Yoma and Taʿanit. Some marginal notes in Hebrew.
Kabbalistic commentary on Jewish liturgy. Some text has been underlined and there are several marginal annotations in Hebrew, perhaps written by Edward Pococke, in pencil.
The first printed edition of the Book of Beliefs and Opinions. This seminal work that was compiled in 933 is probably the first systematic attempt to synthesise the Jewish tradition with philosophical teachings.
Incunable edition of the Hagiographa (Writings of the Hebrew Bible) in Hebrew containing commentaries by Levi ben Gershom, Solomon ben Isaac, Joseph ben Simeon Kara and Pseudo- Solomon ben Isaac.Coloured and decorated woodcut initial word panels at the beginning of books of Job (folio 2r) and Song of Songs (folio 49v). Includes only the books of Job, Canticles and Ecclesiastes. The book was printed in 1487 but later owners have added marginal annotations and corrections in Hebrew, in 16th and 17th century hands (probably in Italy). Additional Information: Rahel Fronda, ‘Collection of Hebrew Incunabula at Christ Church', in Christ Church Library Newsletter, Volume 11 (2019-20).
This work by Judah Poki deals with forbidden marriages according to the Karaite law.
This volume contains Moses Alsekh's homiletical commentaries on the Torah and Prophets, deeply influential since his lifetime and popular until this day.
Incunable edition published in Soncino containing commentaries by David Kimhi of the Former Prophets in Hebrew. The volume was printed in 1485 but later owners have added marginal annotations and corrections. Additional Information: Rahel Fronda, ‘Collection of Hebrew Incunabula at Christ Church', in Christ Church Library Newsletter, Volume 11 (2019-20).
Incunabula edition of the Latter Prophets in Hebrew. Commentary by David Kimhi (c. 1160-1235). Incomple volume: includes the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Hezekiel. The book was printed between 1485 and 1486 in Soncino, Italy but a later owner has added incipit to the book of Isaiah, vocalisation, marginal annotations and corrections in Hebrew, in his 16th century hand (probably in Italy). Additional Information: Rahel Fronda, 'Collection of Hebrew Incunabula at Christ Church', in Christ Church Library Newsletter, Volume 11 (2019-20). Related items: Christ Church MF.2.3.
Incunabula edition of the Latter Prophets in Hebrew. Commentary by David Kimhi (c. 1160-1235). Incomplete volume: includes the books of Hosea, Joel and parts of Amos. The book was printed between 1485 and 1486 in Italy but a later owner has added a marginal annotations in Hebrew, in his 16th or 17th century hand (probably in Italy). Additional Information: Rahel Fronda, 'Collection of Hebrew Incunabula at Christ Church', in Christ Church Library Newsletter, Volume 11 (2019-20). Related items: Christ Church MF.2.2.
This volume, also known as The Hands of Moses, is the first edition of Moses Almosnino's lengthy commentary on the biblical Five scrolls (i.e. the books of Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther).
The editio princeps of Tanḥumot ’El includes Arollia’s thirty philosophical and ethical sermons on the Pentateuch and was printed in Salonica between 1578-1579 as the first work published by David ben Avraham Azubib. Isaac ben Moses Arollia (or, Arroyo) was a scholar and a rabbi of the Portuguese community in Salonica in the 16th century.
Otherwise known as The House of Aaron, this work was written by Aaron Sorogon, a Jewish scholar who was active in the Ottoman Empire, in the seventeenth century. The book includes sixty homilies that follow the order of the sections of the Pentateuch, but there are also Sorogon’s comments on the ‘En Ya’aḳov’ .