The Xanten Bible: A 13th-century Illuminated Hebrew Manuscript

An early and very rare illuminated manuscript in Hebrew, the Xanten Bible is the first Hebrew manuscript to enter the Library's Spencer Collection. This two-volume manuscript on vellum of the entire Hebrew Bible carries the colophon: "I, Joseph of Xanten, son of Kalonymus from Neuss have written and illustrated these twenty-four books for my friend Moses, Son of Jacob." It was completed on Monday, the twenty-first day of the Hebrew month of Sivan "in the year 5054 of the creation of the world [i.e., 1294 of the Common Era]." The Hebrew text is arranged three columns to the page, with scattered historiated initials and charming pen-and-ink miniatures of flora and fauna both realistic and fantastic (the artist seems especially fond of rabbits). Accompanying the text is the Masorah, the body of notes related to the accurate presentation of the text. The Masorah Parva, or Little Masorah, mostly in abbreviated form, is found to the right of each column; the Masorah Magna, or Great Masorah, appears at the top and bottom of the page. Volume II of the manuscript opens with the Book of Jonah; the page is decorated with a miniature showing Jonah being swallowed by a great fish. This was a favorite subject for illustration in both Ashkenazic and Sephardic Bibles. The note in the left margin of that page, added in an Ashkenazic semi-cursive script, is a reminder that this is read at the afternoon service of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).


Xanten Bible. Manuscript on vellum; in Hebrew. Calligraphed by Joseph of Xanten. Germany (Lower Rhine), 1294.
The New York Public Library, Spencer Collection.


More Images from the Xanten Bible

Collection Guide: Illuminated Hebrew Manuscripts

About the Spencer Collection