The British Library Buys St Cuthbert Gospel

For 9 million pounds. CBS News:

London — The British Library has paid 9 million pounds (US$14.3 million) to acquire the St. Cuthbert Gospel, a remarkably well-preserved survivor of seventh-century Britain described by the library as the oldest European book to survive fully intact.

The palm-sized book, a manuscript copy of the Gospel of John in Latin, was bought from the British branch of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), the library said Tuesday.

The book measures 96 mm (3.8 inches) by 136 mm (5.4 inches) and has an elaborately tooled red leather cover. It comes from the time of St. Cuthbert, who died in 687, and it was discovered inside his coffin when it was opened in 1104 at Durham Cathedral.

The British Library said the artifact is one of the world’s most important books.

“To look at this small and intensely beautiful treasure from the Anglo-Saxon period is to see it exactly as those who created it in the seventh century would have seen it,” said the library’s chief executive, Lynne Brindley.

“The exquisite binding, the pages, even the sewing structure survive intact, offering us a direct connection with our forebears 1300 years ago,” she added.

Cuthbert’s coffin arrived in Durham after monks had removed it from the island of Lindisfarne, 330 miles (530 kilometers) north of London, to protect the remains from Viking raiders in the ninth and 10th centuries.

The book will be displayed at the British Library in London and then in Durham, northeast England, next year.

Wikipedia has more on the St Cuthbert Gospel here.

 

Oxford University, Vatican Libraries to Digitize Works

1.5 million pages of ancient texts will become available online.

Awesome. MSNBC:

London — The Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (BAV) say they intended to digitize 1.5 million pages of ancient texts and make them freely available online.

The libraries said the digitized collections will center on three subject areas: Greek manuscripts, 15th-century printed books and Hebrew manuscripts and early printed books.

The areas have been chosen for the strength of the collections in both libraries and their importance for scholarship in their respective fields.

With approximately two-thirds of the material coming from the BAV and the remainder from the Bodleian, the digitization effort will also benefit scholars by uniting virtually materials that have been dispersed between the collections for centuries.

“Transforming these ancient texts and images into digital form helps transcend the limitations of time and space which have in the past restricted access to knowledge,” Bodley’s librarian Sarah Thomas said.

“Scholars will be able to interrogate these documents in fresh approaches as a result of their online availability.”

The initiative has been made possible by a $3.17 million award from the Polonsky Foundation.

“The service to humanity which the Vatican Library has accomplished over almost six centuries, by preserving its cultural treasures and making them available to readers, finds here a new avenue which confirms and amplifies its universal vocation through the use of new tools, thanks to the generosity of the Polonsky Foundation and to the sharing of expertise with the Bodleian Libraries,” Holy See Librarian Cardinal Raffaele Farina said

 

Rare Documents Burned in Egypt Clash

Pretoria News:

Cairo – Volunteers in white laboratory coats, surgical gloves and masks stood on the back of a pickup truck on Monday along the banks of the Nile River in Cairo, rummaging through stacks of rare 200-year-old manuscripts that were little more than charcoal debris.

The volunteers, ranging from academic experts to appalled citizens, have spent the past two days trying to salvage what’s left of some 192 000 books, journals and writings, casualties of Egypt’s latest bout of violence.

Institute d’Egypte, a research centre set up by Napoleon Bonaparte during France’s invasion in the late 18th century, caught fire during clashes between protesters and Egypt’s military over the weekend. It was home to a treasure trove of writings, most notably the handwritten 24-volume Description de l’Egypte, compiled during the 1798-1801 French occupation.

The Description of Egypt, which French scientists began writing in 1798, is likely burned beyond repair. Its home, the two-story historic institute near Tahrir Square, is now in danger of collapsing after the roof caved in.

“The burning of such a rich building means a large part of Egyptian history has ended,” the director of the institute, Mohammed al-Sharbouni, told state television over the weekend.

He said most of the contents were destroyed in the fire that raged for over 12 hours on Saturday. Firefighters flooded the building with water, adding to the damage.

Burnt pages from books from the Scientific Institute lie in a pile near cabinet offices near Tahrir Square in Cairo.

The violence erupted in Cairo Friday, when military forces guarding the Cabinet building, near the institute, cracked down on a 3-week-old sit-in to demand the country’s ruling generals hand power to a civilian authority. At least 14 people have been killed…

… there is no way of knowing what has been lost for good at this stage, but the material was worth tens of millions of dollars – and in many ways simply priceless.

“I haven’t slept for two days, and I cried a lot yesterday. I do not like to see a book burned,” he said. “The whole of Egypt is crying.”

More here.

 

Damascus Crown Bible Manuscripts Go On Rare Display

But only for a few hours last night at the Israel National Library:

Jerusalem – Precious Bible manuscripts originating in the Jewish community of Damascus, Syria, went on display for several hours Wednesday, offering a rare glimpse at a collection that includes books spirited to Israel in clandestine operations before the ancient community disappeared at the end of the 20th century.

The books are held at Israel’s national library. Because of security and conservation concerns, most of the collection has been on display just once before, also for just a few hours, more than a decade ago.

The collection includes 11 volumes. Three, including the oldest and most important book in the collection, were brought out of the library’s vaults and displayed during a symposium Wednesday evening.

Ranging from 700 to 1,000 years old and written in the Middle East and Europe, the parchment manuscripts include meticulous Hebrew penmanship and illustrations in ink and gold leaf. Some boast intricate micrography – decorations made up of thousands of tiny Hebrew letters.

None were written in Damascus, but rather came to be held in synagogues in the city over the centuries. They are known collectively as the Damascus Crowns, “crown” being a Hebrew term sometimes used to describe particularly important and venerable biblical manuscripts.

The Jewish community in Syria’s capital had been there for more than 2,000 years before its members were driven out by government persecution and mob violence linked to the rise of Arab nationalism and the establishment of Israel in 1948. A second ancient community in the country’s business center, Aleppo, met the same fate, as did others across the Arab world.

A trickle of Jewish emigrees managed to escape beginning at the time of Israel’s creation, with the help of Israeli agents running smuggling routes through Lebanon and Turkey.

Most of the rest of the community left in the 1990s after Syria’s late dictator, Hafez Assad, bowed to international pressure and allowed them out. Most settled in Israel and the U.S. A handful, no more than several dozen, remain in Damascus.

The oldest of the Damascus Crowns was written in the late 10th century A.D. in what is now Israel. Because it shows the influence of two rival schools of textual scholars, it has provided modern researchers with important information on how the Biblical text evolved. It was purchased by a famed British collector of manuscripts, David Solomon Sassoon, in 1914 and taken to Britain. The library purchased it in 1975.

Another of the books displayed Wednesday, a 700-year-old Bible that scholars believe was written in Italy, had a riskier journey to Jerusalem.

Beginning in the late 1970s, a Canadian Jewish woman, Judy Feld Carr, undertook an effort to smuggle Jews out of Syria, raising money from North American synagogues, bribing Syrian officials, dispatching envoys and running an independent immigration operation for more than 20 years from her living room in Toronto. All told, Feld Carr’s endeavor facilitated the emigration of more than 3,000 Syrian Jews.

Feld Carr learned of the manuscript, she said, from Jews who had already fled, and dispatched a contact to Damascus in 1993. She would identify the man only as a Western Christian who died last year.

Feld Carr orchestrated a meeting in Damascus between her envoy and the community’s rabbi, she recounted. The rabbi slipped him the book, and the man then smuggled it out of the country hidden under his raincoat in a black shopping bag. The book reached Feld Carr in Canada and came to Israel the next year.

While the book was in her possession, Feld Carr saw there were two records of purchase appended to the manuscript. One showed it had changed hands in Spain before Jews were expelled from the country in 1492, and the second recounted another sale in the Ottoman Empire, where many Jews found refuge.

“It went from Italy to Castille, to Constantinople, to Damascus, and then to Toronto – this book was the story of the Jewish people,” she said.

The eight books that were not put on display at the library Wednesday arrived in Israel in the 1990s in murkier circumstances, smuggled out of Syria via the West in an operation conducted by Israel’s intelligence services. Few details of that smuggling operation have been disclosed. Aviad Stollman, the library curator in charge of the collection, said the eight books were not displayed to avoid putting a spotlight on a story that remains largely classified.

In Damascus, the manuscripts were guarded in some of the 24 synagogues that existed before the community’s emigration. They were taken out only on special occasions or with permission from community leaders, said Shlomo Baso, a Damascus-born rabbi.

Baso escaped to Israel in 1985, at age 33, by hiking across Syria’s mountainous border with Turkey with his wife and five young children.

In the early 1990s, when the Jews fled en masse, they brought the Torah scrolls they had used for centuries. Some were dismantled into parchment segments that were then distributed among the emigrees and concealed in their luggage. When the pieces reached Israel, Baso sewed them back together and reconstituted the scrolls. Today, his synagogue in a Tel Aviv suburb houses four scrolls from Damascus, each about 300 years old.

“Every community has riches of some kind. We were rich in books,” he said.

Awesome.

 

Calixtinus Codex Stolen

A priceless 12-century manuscript, which contains Europe’s first travel guide, has been stolen from a safe in Spanish cathedral:

A priceless 12th-century illustrated manuscript containing what has been described as Europe’s first travel guide has been stolen from the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain.

The Codex Calixtinus, which was kept in a safe at the cathedral’s archives, is thought to have been stolen by professional thieves on Sunday afternoon.

Archivists did not notice its disappearance, however, until Tuesday, when the cathedral’s dean was told it was missing.

The local Correo Gallego newspaper reported that distraught cathedral staff spent hours searching for the manuscript before contacting police late that night.

“Although security systems have been improved considerably it is true to say that they are not of the kind one might find in a bank or a well-protected jewellers,” the newspaper reported.

Only five security cameras were used to watch the archive area, according to the newspaper, and none were pointing directly at the safe where the priceless manuscript was stored.

Police reportedly believe that a black market dealer in antique manuscripts may have commissioned the robbery.

The codex was rarely removed from its safe, with researchers wishing to study it generally being handed a copy kept at the same archive.

The 225 parchment pages include a guide to the pilgrimage routes to Santiago, apparently written by a French friar, Aimeric Picaud.

They also tell the story of how St James the Apostle’s body was supposedly transported from Judea on a raft without oars or sails, which swiftly crossed the Mediterranean and travelled north through the Atlantic before grounding in north-western Spain. From there it was supposedly dragged inland by two oxen, and the body was buried in a forest.

It was only eight centuries later, however, that locals began to claim the tomb of St James could be found there. Pilgrims eventually began to travel to the site, and an 11th-century pope declared that on certain years pilgrims could obtain plenary indulgence for their sins and so avoid purgatory.

The manuscript, apparently commissioned by Pope Calixtus II, helped popularise a pilgrimage that still attracts tens of thousands of people every year…

For more on the Codex self, Wikipedia has a page here.

Metal Codices to be Examined by Multiple Labs

Bible Places.com via the ever vigilant Joseph Lauer:

This article in the Jordan Times has some new information about the metal codices, particularly with regard to the seven books recently recovered by Jordanian police. 

Authorities are set to send the recently recovered books to three separate labs for further analysis – in Britain, the US and at the Royal Scientific Society in Amman – in order to determine if the texts are indeed “the greatest discovery since the Dead Sea scrolls” or little more than sophisticated forgeries.

According to Saad, it will take experts three weeks to complete the tests on the recently recovered texts.

“Our position is quite clear; we need to make sure these pieces are authentic before moving forward with our case,” Saad added.

Hassan Saida, the Israeli bedouin farmer who is currently holding the cache at an undisclosed location near his home in the village of Um Al Ghanem, insists that the lead-sealed texts were passed down from his grandfather, who stumbled upon the cache while tending to his flock in northern Jordan in the early 1920s.

Saida has dismissed the department’s claims that the books were illegally excavated from Jordan some four years ago as a “publicity stunt”.

“They [the Jordanian Department of Antiquities] are going about making all these claims about these codices and they don’t even know what they are,” Saida told The Jordan Times recently.

Rather than the records of the earliest Christians, Saida claims he has proof that the books date back even earlier – predating the time of Christ – and are strictly “ancient Hebrew texts” which he intends to place in an Israeli museum.

The Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) has previously cast doubt over the books’ authenticity and denied any interest in the texts.

The full article has more details. 

For a background on the Codices on this blog, go here, here, here, here, here, or here.