Jewish Books and their Christian Collectors in Europe, the New World and Czarist Russia

22 - 23
Monday, May 22, 2017 - 09:00 to Tuesday, May 23, 2017 - 14:00
Contact person
Dr Cristina Neagu
01865 276265

A two day international EAJS conference that will deal with Christian collectors of Hebraica in order to understand how these collections, whether private or public, were acquired and assembled, and in what way they could be said to represent the cultural universe of their owners. While there have been a proliferation of studies on the manifold ways that Latin and vernacular books were read and collected, there have been as yet few attempts to interpret the widespread phenomenon of Hebrew books read, collected and deposited (and sometimes catalogued) in the libraries of Christian scholars and merchants, as well as in universities and theological seminaries. For over the centuries Christians and Jews were constantly in search of Jewish texts of all types, in both manuscript and print. This quest was carried out over a remarkable range of locations, from libraries in the heartlands of the various Christian confessions, to the studies of Jewish scholars and readers in both Europe and the Near East.

The purpose of this conference is to begin to explore the conspicuous presence of the Hebrew book and manuscript in a wide range of libraries in the Christian domain in England and Continental Europe as well as in Czarist Russia. It will examine how and why prominent individuals such as Matthew Parker, Ralph Cudworth, Edward Pococke, and Isaac Newton accumulated their collections of books. Many of these private collections were donated to or bought by public institutions, and became central in establishing a basic curriculum for the study of Hebrew and Judaica. The topic necessarily raises the question of the availability of Hebrew books. German humanists in the sixteenth-century circle of Johann Reuchlin and later in the ever wider republic of letters surrounding the great Hebraist Johann Buxtorf and Joseph Scaliger shared information about their latest acquisitions of Hebrew books and their dealings with booksellers and printers. Other collectors such as the Christian Kabbalist Francesco Zorzi left detailed information about their library of Hebrew books in catalogues, revealing precious data about prices of books and numbers of copies of individual works in circulation.

Although the main focus of the conference will be on Hebrew collections in England and Continental Europe, some attention will also be given to collections in Czarist Russia and in the New World. James Logan’s library which became absorbed into the Library Company in Philadelphia attests to the importance of biblical and rabbinic literature in the New World.  As the foremost learned collection of its kind in colonial America Logan’s library demonstrates how the European Republic of Letters had not only reached the western shores of the Atlantic by the early eighteenth century but was also an important part of it. No less significant were the outstandingly important Russian public and private libraries that were created and moulded by prominent Hebraists of distinctively different backgrounds - the Protestant theologian and Bible scholar Konstantin von Tischendorf and the Russian Orthodox Church archimandrite, Antonin, head of the Russian Orthodox mission in Jerusalem. The Russian case highlights the main questions that this conference seeks to address. What was the motivation for collecting Hebrew books, how were they collected, and did confessional difference affect the criteria for building libraries? To bring these questions into even greater relief the conference will end with a response that comes from the realm of one of the greatest Jewish collections of Hebrew books, that of David Oppenheim, whose library was bought by the Bodleian library in the 19th century and became one of its greatest assets.

The conference will launch a major exhibition, Jewish Books and their Christian Readers: Christ Church Connections, curated by Dr Rahel Fronda.

Conference programme

Monday, 22 May

9.00 Registration

9.30 Welcome

The Very Revd., Professor Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church

9.35 Introduction

Regius Professor of Hebrew Jan Joosten, University of Oxford

Professor Saverio Campanini, University of Bologna
New Evidence on the Formation of Francesco Zorzi’s Library in Renaissance Venice

Dr Ilona Steimann, University of Munich
Forming a Hebraist “Canon” of Jewish Literature: German Hebraica Collections around 1500


Dr Piet van Boxel, University of Oxford
A Sixteenth-Century Censor and his Collection of Hebrew Books

LUNCH (by invitation only)

Professor Joanna Weinberg, University of Oxford
The Library of  Johann Buxtorf the Elder

Mr Kasper van Ommen, University of Leiden
‘Je suis pauvre en tout, mesmement en livres’. Joseph Scaliger as a Book Collector of Hebraica

Dr Benjamin Williams, King's College London
Connections at Christ Church: Edward Pococke and his Copies of Maimonides’ Commentary on the Mishnah


Dr César Merchán-Hamann, University of Oxford

Short Presentation of Hebraica Collections in Oxford


Dr Rahel Fronda, University of Oxford
Jewish Books and their Christian Collectors: Christ Church Connections (Exhibition)

18.30 Reception and Book Launch

Regius Professor Emeritus of Hebrew Hugh Williamson, University of Oxford

19.20 DINNER (by invitation only)

Tuesday, 23 May

Dr Theodor Dunkelgrün, University of Cambridge and Mr Scott Mandelbrote, University of Cambridge
Some Hebrew Collections and Collectors in the Colleges of Cambridge

Professor Shimon Iakerson, University of St Petersburg
Who Collected Hebrew Books in Czarist Russia and Why


Dr Arthur Kiron, University of Pennsylvania
An Atlantic Hebrew Republic of Letters

Dr Joshua Teplitsky, University of Stony Brook
Encounters Beyond the Text: Christian Readers and Jewish Libraries

LUNCH (by invitation only)
End of the academic programme