Richard Kilbye: Lincoln’s first great collector of Hebrew books

Lincoln Unlocked was officially launched on November 23rd with a lecture on Richard Kilbye, Lincoln’s earliest collector of Hebrew books, by Joanna Weinberg, Oxford Professor of Early Modern Jewish History and Rabbinics.

Richard Kilbye (1560/61-1620) was Rector of Lincoln and Regius Professor of Hebrew from 1610 until his death; he was also one of the leading biblical scholars of his generation and a member of the first Oxford Company commissioned to translate the major and minor prophets for the King James Bible. In a donation recorded in the library Donors’ Book, Kilbye left his books to Lincoln, a donation that forms the basis of the College’s important collection of Hebraica and Judaica.

Professor Weinberg has been working closely with these volumes, as well as with the material in the Bodleian, and in her talk set out to demonstrate how Kilbye’s books show what an exceptional student of the Hebrew language and its literature this early Christian Hebraist was. We learned how Kilbye collected his books and what his annotations tells us about not only his scholarship but his method of learning the language. She also argued that he was one of the most exceptional readers of Jewish texts in early seventeenth-century England. Her discussion of Kilbye’s commentary on Exodus was particularly illuminating.

The lecture was accompanied by a small exhibition of books from Kilbye’s library, including a volume from the celebrated Antwerp Polygot, which Kilbye seems to have bought only a few months after he received Bishop Bancroft’s instructions to translators in July 1604, and an edition of the Sefer Toledot with a list of Talmudic tracts in his hand (pictured above).

A list of Kilbye’s books can be obtained from the website of the Folger Shakespeare Library project Private Libraries in Renaissance England (where the form “Kilby” is used). The Lincoln collection of Judaica and Hebraica, including Kilbye’s library, has been catalogued by Dr Rahel Fronda and can be found on the Oxford online catalogue SOLO.

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