A Renaissance library of Hebraica and Judaica

Among the treasures of Lincoln’s Senior Library is its collection of Hebraica and Judaica. Although this is not the largest collection of Hebrew books in Oxford college libraries, as a fine result of the systematic collecting of books in the field of Hebrew and Jewish studies it is one the most remarkable collections of printed Hebraica and Judaica in Oxford.

The Hebrew books at Lincoln College have been selected, acquired and preserved in such a way that this collection forms a sound Hebraica and Judaica library in its own right. This library includes books from the private collections of such prominent Lincoln College fellows and rectors as Richard Kilby (1560-1620) and Thomas Marshall (1621-1685). Indeed, the 16th and 17th century bequests that form the core of the collection provide excellent examples of scholarly libraries of the period, libraries in which Hebrew and Jewish studies would typically have been one of the many disciplines that belonged to the broad academic curriculum.

An index of Talmudic references on the pastedown of Kilby’s copy of Aron of Pesaro, Sefer Toledot (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1586).
An index of Talmudic references on the pastedown of Kilby’s copy of Aron of Pesaro, Sefer Toledot (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1586).

One of the two most important previous owners of Lincoln Hebraica, Richard Kilby was an English Christian-Hebraist par excellence who played an important role in the King James Revised Bible translation in 1604. As a true Renaissance scholar, Kilby had a private library that reflects his wide interests and knowledge. About half of his books are in Hebrew and those that are not are largely works related to Old Testament studies, for example theological tractates or theological-philosophical works by the Church Fathers. The majority of Kilby’s books were produced during the prime time of Hebrew printing in Venice, between 1524-1590, at the workshops of Daniel Bomberg, Alviso Bragadin, Antonio Giustiniani, Juan Bragadin and Giovanni di Gara. For instance, Venetian editions with Kilby’s provenance include the second Bomberg rabbinic Bible of 1524/1525 in 4 volumes; 4 volumes of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, (1573/1574-1576); commentaries on the Torah by Levi ben Gershom (1547) and Nahmanides (1545); the first edition of Midrash ha-Mekhilta (1545); Sefer Yafe Mareh by Samuel Jaffe Ashkenazi (1590); and Responsa by Levi ben Ḥabib (1565). Kilby’s library also contained editions from other important centres of Hebrew printing such as the biblical concordance Sefer Meʼir Nativ by Mordecai Nathan (Basel, 1581); the Book of Psalms with David Kimhi’s commentary, printed in Isny in 1542; and the Talmudic index of Aron of Pesaro, printed in Freiburg im Breisgau in 1586.

The second major donor of Hebrew books to the College library was Thomas Marshall, a prominent English Orientalist and another local Christian-Hebraist. On his death he bequeathed his manuscripts, of which over half are Oriental, to the Bodleian while his printed books are now divided between the Bodleian and Lincoln College. Again, his books served as a rich source for his manifold scholarly interests and wide knowledge. Although not all his books are currently at Lincoln College, those that are show that Marshall’s private library was much larger than Kilby’s. While there are differences between the two collections, and their owners’ foci of study, it is still possible to identify similarities.

Marshall's copy of the Midrash Tehillim (Venice, 1546-1547)
Marshall’s copy of Daniel Bomberg, Midrash Tehilim (Venice, 1546)

Marshall’s books can be largely classified as Hebrew grammars and linguistic studies; the Mishnah, Talmud and other rabbinic works; halakhic works; the Bible, Bible translations, biblical commentaries and super-commentaries; history; Jewish mysticism and kabbalah; Jewish philosophy and ethics; reference works; Jewish liturgy; polemical works; sciences; and other Oriental languages. For example Marshall’s collection contains various editions of Joannes Drusius’ and Joannes Buxtorf’s grammars printed in the Low Countries and in Basel in the early 17th century; grammars and linguistic studies by Elijah Levita, David Kimhi and Sebastian Münster; fine 16th century editions of the Mishnah printed in Venice and the Talmud of Cracow, a midrash edition of Verona; works by Moses of Coucy and Maimonides, both printed in Venice, early 16th century; mid 16th century Bible editions and translations printed in Paris, Strassbourg and Basel; Abraham Portaleone’s exegesis printed in Mantua, 1612; Isaac Arama’s commentary on the Pentateuch that was published in Venice in 1573; the Hebrew Bible with commentaries published in Cracow in 1587; David Kimhi’s commentary on the Prophetical Readings (Cracow, 1587); a Yiddish translation of the Bible with commentary (Mantua, 1562); a commentary on the book of Ruth by Samuel Uzeda (Constantinople, 1593); a commentary on the book of Ruth by Joel Sirkis (Lublin, 1617); a super-commentary by Manoah Hendel published in Prague in 1612; Josippon printed in Basel in 1541; the first edition of Azariah de Rossi’s Light of the Eyes (Mantua, 1574); Sefer Yuhasin by Abraham Zakuto (Cracow, 1581); the Zohar printed in Cremona in 1558; an ethical treatise by Bachya ben Asher, printed in Lublin in 1596; Judah ibn Tibbon’s philosophical dictionary (Cologne, 1555); Sebastian Münster’s Kalendarium Hebraicum (Basel, 1527); Abraham bar Chiya’s The Book of the Form of the Earth (Basel, 1546); Elijah Mizrachi’s Compendium Arithmeticum, printed in Basel in 1546; and Maimonides’ De Astrologia Epistola (Cologne, 1555).

The many fields of study represented by these books demonstrate that Marshall had a truly extensive Renaissance library with Christian-Hebraist interests. His acquisition of books must have been a lifelong project and the books inform us about his wide scholarly connections. It is important to note that his acquisition of books formerly owned by Joseph Scaliger, Daniel Heinsius and Jacobus Golius further proves the existence of academic links between Oxford and the major centres of Renaissance scholarship in continental Europe, such as Leiden. We know that Marshall perused his books as he habitually annotated them in the margins. The fluency with which he switches in his marginal notes from Latin to Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic and Ethiopic would impress any student of Oriental languages in modern times. Naturally, his notes are important per se and should be studied and preserved: from them one can learn about his methods of study, his scholarly foci and knowledge. Some of his books have such extensive handwritten notes that they have become half manuscript, half print.

Polyglot Psalms (Genoa, 1516)
Polyglot Psalms (Genoa, 1516)

All in all, the Lincoln College collection of Hebraica and Judaica is a rich source for the study of the history of Hebrew books. Apart from the precious provenance data that Lincoln Hebrew books contain, the strength of this collection lies in the fact that all important fields of 16th and 17th century study are represented. Hebrew books in Lincoln College library reflect the peak time of Hebrew printing in many important Jewish centres in Europe: the Netherlands (Antwerp, Leiden, Franeker, Utrecht, Amsterdam, Grönigen, Breda, Leeuwarden); Germany (Leipzig, Jena, Frankfurt, Erfurt, Heidelberg, Halle, Dresden, Nürnberg, Hamburg, Freiburg im Breisgau, Hanau, Isny im Allgäu, Kiel, Köln, Wittemberg); Italy (Rome, Venice, Sabbioneta, Mantua, Cremona, Parma, Genoa, Verona, Revo Trento, Milano, Pavia); Switzerland (Basel, Zürich, Geneva); France (Paris, Strasbourg, Lyons); England (London, Oxford, Cambridge); Poland (Cracow, Lublin, Breslau); the Czech Republic (Prague); Turkey (Constantinople); and the US (New York, Philadelphia). The earliest book in the collection dates from 1516 with the latest addition being a book printed in 1945.

It is to be hoped that with the entire collection of Lincoln’s Hebraica and Judaica books now available on SOLO we will see a new renaissance of this library.

Rahel Fronda is Deputy Curator of Hebraica and Judaica at the Bodleian. She has recently finished cataloguing the Hebraica collection at Lincoln, a project made possible by a generous donation from the John S. Cohen Foundation.

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