Hebrew Manuscripts: Journeys of the Written Word

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A series of calendrical and astronomical tables, 15th century, credit British Library Board.

A new exhibition exploring the history, culture and traditions of Jewish people through the ages and from all corners of the world will open at the British Library this week. Hebrew Manuscripts: Journeys of the Written Word (20 March – 2 August 2020), will showcase rarely-seen treasures from as far back as the 10th century, spanning a diverse geography from Europe and North Africa, through to the Middle East and China to explore the interactions, exchanges of knowledge and influences between Jewish people and their neighbours in the communities they lived in.

The exhibition showcases around 40 significant manuscripts, featuring beautifully illuminated texts, intricately detailed illustrations, scientific diagrams and fascinating personal stories revealed through the writing people have left behind.


Spanning science, religion, law, music, philosophy, magic, alchemy and Kabbalah, highlights include one of the first Jewish scientific works written in the Hebrew language, a manuscript containing instructions for mystical meditation, a spell book containing 120 magical and medical recipes, one of the few extant copies of the Babylonian Talmud – a guide to Jewish religious law – and the First Gaster Bible, the earliest object in the exhibition dating from the 10th century.

The exhibition provides a snapshot of the range and richness of Hebrew Manuscripts in the British Library’s collection, and reveals the power of the written word to bring people together.

Ilana Tahan, lead curator of Hebrew Manuscripts, said:

“Written culture is one of the most important bonds connecting Jewish communities all around the world. Jewish writings reflect the diasporic communities of the Jewish people, taking inspiration from and interacting with local cultures and shaping local stories and ideas in return. We are thrilled to be able to display many of these incredible items for the first time, and hope visitors enjoy these journeys of the written word.”

Hebrew Manuscripts: Journeys of the Written Word is open at the British Library from 20 March – 2 August 2020. The exhibition will be accompanied by a full programme of events including Joanna Newman telling the story of Jewish refugees of the Caribbean, a panel discussion exploring digital humanities practices in Jewish and Hebrew studies, a lecture by cultural commentator, broadcaster and award-winning novelist Norman Lebrecht discussing visionary Jewish writers, historian Dominic Selwood and a panel of experts providing an insight into England and the Jews in the medieval period and a lecture from Professor Ada Rapoport-Albert on the role of mysticism.


For more information and to book, visit the website of the British Library.

All the items on display and many more digitised manuscripts of the Hebrew Collection are available online on the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site.

Explore key themes in the collection, and read expert articles to learn more about Jewish wisdom, culture, history and religion here.