Bodleian Libraries use 21st-century digital technology to fulfil 12th-century Hebrew mandate

The Bodleian Libraries have digitized and made available online part of the first comprehensive code of Jewish Law, Mishneh Torah ( ). Written between 1170 and 1180 by the rabbinic scholar Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, known as Maimonides or by his Hebrew acronym Rambam, the Mishneh Torah is one of the most important manuscripts of the Bodleian’s world-class Hebrew collection.

For the first time, the manuscript can now be consulted, browsed and read online. Using revolutionary technology, all the one hundred eighty-eight openings of the manuscripts are captured in high-resolution digital images allowing readers to zoom in and examine the manuscript in detail. The electronic resource offers free worldwide access.

The manuscript, which has been kept in the Bodleian Libraries since the 17th century, consists of the first two books of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah: the Sefer Madda (Book of Knowledge) and the Sefer Ahavah (Book of Love). It has unique significance in that the copy is signed by Maimonides himself, who declares in his own handwriting that this copy is the authorized version: ‘It has been corrected from my own book. I am Moses son of Rabbi Maimon of blessed memory’. The Bodleian Libraries hold the most significant collection of Maimonides’ autograph texts in the world.

The launch of the digital version of the Mishneh Torah carries a symbolic connotation as it fulfils the will of one of the manuscript’s later owners, Eleazar, son of Perahya. He stated in his will that his copy of the Mishneh Torah should always be freely available for public consultation: ‘[The manuscript should] not be sold or redeemed, nor should any single person ever take possession of it. It should rather be kept available so that all scholars can correct their own version against it, but not read from it regularly or copy from it.’ By making the manuscript available online, the Bodleian is keeping Eleazar’s legacy.

Autor: Klaus Graf

Historiker und Archivar, Blogger

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