British Library reopens with new exhibition on Hebrew Manuscripts

The British Library has reopened its galleries and other areas to the public, and has a launched a new exhibition for those interested in medieval manuscripts.

Hebrew Manuscripts: Journeys of the Written Word showcases rarely-seen treasures from as far back as the 10th century, covering a diverse geography from Europe and North Africa, through to the Middle East and China to explore the interactions, exchanges of knowledge and influences between Jewish people and their neighbours in the communities they lived in.


Spanning science, religion, law, music, philosophy, magic, alchemy and Kabbalah, the exhibition provides a snapshot of the range and richness of Hebrew Manuscripts in the British Library’s collection, and reveals the power of the written word to bring people together.

With many items going on public display for the first time, exhibition highlights include:

  • The earliest dated copy of Moses Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed, considered to be Maimonides’ most significant philosophical work, completed in Tawila, Yemen (dated 1380)
  • A 15th-century illustrated copy of Abraham bar Hiyya’s Shape of the Earth, one of the first Jewish scientific works written in the Hebrew language, which describes the creation of the earth, heavens, moon, and stars
  • First Gaster Bible, a 10th-century Hebrew fragmentary manuscript with Islamic style gilded decorations, which is the earliest manuscript on display in the exhibition

“Written culture is one of the most important bonds connecting Jewish communities all around the world,” explains Ilana Tahan, lead curator of the exhibition. “Jewish writings reflect the diasporic communities of the Jewish people, taking inspiration from and interacting with local cultures and shaping local stories and ideas in return. We are thrilled to be able to display many of these incredible items for the first time, and hope visitors enjoy these journeys of the written word.”

Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed, c 1325-1374, Spain, Or 14061, credit British Library Board
An illustrated copy of Abraham bar Hiyya’s shape of the Earth, 15th century, Or 10721, credit British Library Board
12.5 x 9.5 inches

The exhibition began on September 1st, and will run until April 11, 2021. The British Library is also offering a virtual tour of the manuscripts, and a range of other digital events – click here to learn more.

See also: The Polonsky Foundation Catalogue of Digitised Hebrew Manuscripts

Top Image: Hebrew Manuscripts: Journeys of the Written Word at the British Library. Photo credit: David Jensen