EAJS Conference Grant Programme 2016/17
‘Jewish books and their Christian collectors in Europe, the New World and Czarist Russia’
Christ Church, University of Oxford, 22-23 May 2017
Convener: Dr Rahel Fronda, Deputy Curator of Hebraica and Judaica, Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
The two day international conference, ‘Jewish books and their Christian collectors in Europe, the New World and Czarist Russia’ took place between 22 and 23 May at Christ Church College, University of Oxford and brought together 50 scholars from the UK, Europe, Israel, North America and Russia. The programme was organised in collaboration with the Bodleian Libraries and Christ Church College (Dr Rahel Fronda), and the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies (Professor Joanna Weinberg) and staff from Christ Church Library. A related exhibition, ‘Jewish Books and their Christian Readers: Christ Church Connections’ was launched on 22 May and remains open until 20 October 2017 in the Upper Library at Christ Church, and has attracted attention from scholars as well as the general public.
In his pioneering study, The Order of Books, Roger Chartier described the formation of ‘readers’ communities’ and the multivalent nature of libraries. In the last decades the effort to describe and analyse these ‘readers’ communities’ has become a central preoccupation of scholars. Intrinsically related to these various studies have been the many attempts to understand how book 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. Necessarily, the process of gathering books under one roof meant that choices were being made that expressed the collectors’ own agendas. Though there have been a proliferation of studies and books 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 non-Jewish (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, therefore, is to begin to explore the conspicuous presence of the Hebrew book (and manuscript) in a wide range of libraries in the non-Jewish (Christian) domain in England and Continental Europe as well as in Czarist Russia. It will examine how and why prominent individuals (not all known for their Hebraic scholarship) 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, which Chartier has described as ‘libraries without walls’, 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 from an expert on one of the greatest Jewish collections of Hebrew books, that of David Oppenheim, chief rabbi of Prague, whose library was bought by the Bodleian library in the 19th century and became one of its greatest assets.
The role of the library as a crucial element for ‘readers’ communities’ has become a central issue of scholarly debate. How were book collections acquired and assembled, and in what way they could be said to represent the cultural universe of their owners? The purpose of this conference is to consider this crucial question in relation to the widespread phenomenon of Hebrew books read, collected, deposited, and sometimes catalogued, in the libraries of Christian scholars and merchants, as well as in universities and theological seminaries. We will explore the diverse reasons for collecting Hebrew books, how were they collected, and whether confessional difference affected the criteria for building libraries? The discussions will range from Europe to the New World.
The conference was hosted by Christ Church, the college which was re-founded by Henry VIII in 1546 and is one of the largest colleges in Oxford. In 1630, through the influence of Archbishop William Laud, a canonry of Christ Church was perpetually annexed to the Regius Professorship of Hebrew. Teaching Hebrew and collecting Hebraica books have been integral part of academic life at Christ Church since its establishment. Today, it holds one of the most significant collection of Hebrew manuscripts and printed books: in Oxford, it is second only to the Bodleian Library. Among its approximately 3000 early Hebraica and Judaica prints, there are works in Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish and Ladino, but also books in Syriac, Arabic, Persian, Coptic and Ethiopic. Its magnificent collection of twenty Hebrew manuscripts are mostly of early modern origin and range from biblical commentaries and rabbinic texts to works of kabbalah, science and philosophy.
The conference convened a group of senior and junior academics from around the world to discuss various aspects of the topic ‘Jewish books and their Collectors’. Geographically it extended from Oxford and Cambridge to Germany, the Netherlands and Italy as well as to Czarist Russia and the New World. The participants were able to attend the launch of the related exhibition ‘Jewish Books and their Christian Readers: Christ Church Connections’ and the presentation of the accompanying volume. Lunch and formal dinner in the historical Great Hall of the college gave the participants and visitors not only an opportunity to continue the discussion but also to get a glimpse of college life in Oxford. The conference concluded with a special tour of Merton College and its Old Library. An impressive display of Hebraica was organized by Merton’s Fellow Librarian Dr Julia Walworth.
The conference was opened by The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church College and Jan Joosten, Regius Professor of Hebrew in the University of Oxford.
Professor Saverio Campanini (University of Bologna) spoke about the Hebrew library of the Christian Kabbalist Francesco Zorzi (1466-1550) as manifested in his De harmonia mundi (1525). Campanini raised the problem of identifying Hebrew books as listed in such works and the issue of possibly fictitious titles which once having been included in the bibliography had a posthumous existence and were in subsequent years referred to by other authors.
Dr Ilona Steimann (University of Münster) discussed the notion of a ‘canon’ of Jewish literature in relation to Christian owners of Jewish books in the 1500’s. She examined the intellectual network of German scholars of Jewish literature including Johann Reuchlin, Johann Böschenstein, and Kaspar Amman.
Dr Piet van Boxel (University of Oxford) analysed a manuscript presently held in Ferrara’s Biblioteca Ariostea which had been categorised as an Index expurgatorius. Van Boxel argued that an original index had been transformed into an anthology of Hebrew books for the purpose of Jewish-Christian polemic.
Professor Joanna Weinberg (University of Oxford) discussed the extensive library of Johann Buxtorf the Elder which for the most part is still in Basel where he was Professor of Hebrew for the greater part of his life. Weinberg demonstrated the various ways Buxtorf acquired and used his collection, in particular, as bibliographer and censor.
Dr Kasper van Ommen (University of Leiden) discussed the reconstruction of the Oriental legacy of Joseph Scaliger (1540-1609), identifying the copies of the books that were originally part of his library. Hebrew books and manuscripts formed a significant part of Scaliger’s library.
Dr Benjamin Williams (King’s College London) presented a focussed paper on Edward Pococke’s monumental edition of Maimonides’s Commentary on the Mishnah, the Porta Mosis. He demonstrated Pococke’s work in progress, outlining the various phases in the production of the text, which was based on the compilation and collation of several manuscripts.
Dr Rahel Fronda (University of Oxford) presented the exhibition Jewish Books and their Christian Readers: Christ Church Connections which she had organized in collaboration with the Bodleian Library, Oxford Conservation Consortium, Lincoln college, Merton college, Queens’s college in Cambridge, as well as Westminster Abbey The purpose of the exhibition was to address the themes of reading, acquiring and assembling collections of Hebrew books. The four cases on display present the wealth of Hebraica and Judaica at Christ Church College and in Oxford more generally, telling the story of Hebrew studies in Oxford from the late 16th century until the beginning of 19th century.
Dr César Merchan-Hamann (University of Oxford) gave an overview of Hebraica in Oxford, focussing on college libraries which contain important but less well known collections of Hebrew books and manuscripts. He emphasised the importance of collaboration and spoke about the current state of cataloguing antiquarian Hebraica material in Oxford.
Emeritus Regius Professor Hugh Williamson (University of Oxford) spoke about his predecessors at Christ Church in his address marking the new publication which serves as a guide to the exhibition Jewish Books and their Christian Readers: Christ Church Connections.
Mr Scott Mandelbrote (University of Cambridge) and Dr Theodor Dunkelgrün (University of Cambridge) talked about Hebrew books that were acquired by Christian scholars in sixteenth and seventeenth-century Cambridge. The presentation focussed on the private collections of Matthew Parker, Andrew Perne, Edmund Castell, Ralph Cudworth, and Isaac Newton.
Professor Shimon Iakerson (University of St. Petersburg) discussed the Russian collections of Hebrew manuscripts and early printed books. Apart from Jewish collectors of Hebraica in Czarist Russia (such as Abaraham Firkovich and Moses Friedland), Christians scholars had also systematically accumulated collections of Hebrew manuscripts and prints. Notable are the Protestant theologian and Bible scholar Konstantin von Tiscendorf and Russian Orthodox Church archimandrite Antonin. Iakerson showed how the collections were shaped by the historical circumstances in which the librarians worked.
Dr Arthur Kiron (University of Pennsylvania) spoke about sources of knowledge found in colonial American libraries about post-Biblical Judaism and Jews. He focussed on the books collected by James Logan which are now part of the Library Company in Philadelphia.
In his response to the papers, Joshua Teplitsky (Stony Brook University, NY) used the library of a Jewish collector—David Oppenheim of Prague (1664-1736)—to reflect on the proceedings by considering five themes that emerged as points of contact between different papers: book lists and bibliographies as a mean of acquiring and imagining a Jewish library; Jewish books in the practice of scholarship and inter-religious contact (and conflict); political power, patronage, and collecting; considerations of physical space and geographical place; ephemera and print outside of the codex and beyond the Hebrew language. He invited further inquiry into points of divergence between Jews and Christians in terms of prioritization of certain fields of knowledge and approaches to the uses of such knowledge, as well as to the political and social circumstances under which their libraries and collections were constituted.
- Network of scholars, including both early career researchers and established scholars, as well as librarians and archivists
- Promotion of Hebrew and Judaica collections in various libraries in Oxford, Cambridge, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Philadelphia and Russia
- Exhibition including important early printed Hebrew books and manuscripts, with loans from the Bodleian Library, Lincoln College, Merton College, Westminster Abbey and Queens’ college, Cambridge. The exhibition at Christ Church Library is open between 22 May and 20 October 2017, free of charge
- Rahel Fronda’s volume that accompanies the exhibition, Jewish Books and their Christian Readers: Christ Church Connections is available from Christ Church Library
Printed conference proceedings (a reputed press has already approached Dr Fronda about publishing the Proceedings). Additional contributions will be solicited including an article on John Morris’s collection of Hebrew books in Christ Church College, Oxford. Christ Church Library’s web page will include, in due course, an account of the conference with some photos. Later in the year a virtual exhibition will be mounted on the Christ Church web site.
1) Christ Church website:
2) BAJS website:
3) EAJS website
4) The mailing lists of the following:
- Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies
- Centre for Early Modern Studies
- Centre for the Study of the Book
- UCL, Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies
- Manchester, Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies
- Cambridge, Hebrew and Jewish Studies Unit
- Christ Church alumni, fellows, graduate and undergraduate students
- Bodleian Library
- Oxford colleges
7) Posters around the libraries and colleges in Oxford
Dr Rahel Fronda
Professor Joanna Weinberg
Professor Jan Joosten