UK: ‘Crossing Borders’ manuscript exhibit opens

“Crossing Borders: Hebrew Manuscripts as a Meeting Place of Cultures,” is a major exhibition at Oxford University’s Bodleian Library. It opened in December and will run through May 3..

It is based on the library’s own Hebrew holdings – one of the largest and best Hebrew manuscript collections in the world.

The Bodleian’s Hebraica curator Dr Piet van Boxel is also librarian of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies Centre.

The exhibit describes how Jews, Christians and Muslims lived together during the Middle Ages, and illuminates the Jewish experience across Europe and the Middle East in the 300 years between the 13th-15th centuries.

On display are manuscripts written in Hebrew, Latin and Arabic which illustrate how Jews and non-Jews interacted socially and culturally in both the Muslim and Christian worlds.

Similar decorative patterns, writing styles, script types and text genres appear in manuscripts in different languages from the same region, showing how communities in the same localities shared taste and technology. While Hebrew manuscripts from Spain, Italy or Northern Europe look different, they resemble non-Hebrew books from the same places.

Hebrew scribes adopted elements of the surrounding culture, sharing co-existence, cultural affinity and cooperation between Jews and their neighbors.

The illustration above left is a carpet page from the Kennicott Bible, an illustrated Spanish Hebrew manuscript of the 14th and 15th centuries.

According to the exhibit site, interactive digital technology allows visitors to “turn the pages” of the manuscript virtually.

One prayer book – the Michael Mahzor – produced in Germany in 1258, was illuminated by a Christian who didn’t know Hebrew; the first illustration is painted upside down.

The exhibit runs through May 3 in the Bodleian’s exhibition hall. It is open Monday-Friday 9am-5pm, Saturday 9am-4.30pm and Sunday 11am-5pm. No admission fee.

For more information, click here.

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