Corpus’ strategic objective of advancing education, learning and research for the public benefit is inextricably entwined with the care for its Special Collections. The Hebraica and Judaica Collection is our utmost priority due to Corpus’ strong linkage with Hebrew and Jewish studies, and to the Collection’s urgent conservation needs.
The Collection among our other all-important collections will be relocated to the Special Collections Centre located in The Spencer Building, a new environmentally sustainable home.
Written in 12th century England these manuscripts constitute an unprecedented evidence of the intellectual contacts between Jews and Christians, and illustrate the history of the Jews in England before their expulsion in 1290, providing the best reflection of the early history of Jews in these isles.
At its core are 7 Biblical manuscripts, given in 1536 to the College by the first President of Corpus, John Claymund. One manuscript, a bilingual psalter (M10), contains an epistle most probably composed by theologian and Hebraist, Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln, in which he sets out the rationale for providing Latin-Hebrew manuscripts with a superscript translation (known in modern scholarship as ‘Lincoln superscript’). Another manuscript with parts of Rashi’s commentary to the Prophets and Hagiographa (MS 6) has an idiosyncratic vocalisation of the Hebrew which allows users to look into the 13th century classroom and hear how Christian students pronounced the Hebrew.
In addition to these, the collection also contains a one-of-its-kind Ashkanazic prayer book. Since it can be dated before 1200, this is the earliest preserved siddur from Northern Europe. The book contains virtually the only evidence of Judaeo-Arabic being used in the British Isles during the entire Middle Ages.
Material of special significance
Corpus Christi was the first in Oxford to make official provision for the study of Hebrew since its foundation. The College’s Fellow John Shepreve (1530s), is considered the first Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford. In the early 17th century, Corpus’ Fellows contributed to the translation of the King James Bible. During the WWII Corpus showed a great solidarity with the plight of the Jews suffering from persecution and became home to prominent Jewish scholars of the 20th century.
The physical condition of the material is stable, but in much need of conservation assessment and treatment. Although all the Hebrew manuscripts are in bespoke, acid free card boxes, these require updating and replacing with cloth phase boxes for longer-term protection.
Joanna Snelling, Librarian at Corpus Christi College
Corpus’ strategic objective of advancing education, learning and research for the public benefit is inextricably entwined with the care for its Special Collections.
The College is committed to protecting and widening access to the Collection through its relocation to The Spencer Building and further conservation. The Collection is currently housed, among other holdings, in the basement of an 18th century building, originally intended for storage of coal and grain. The rooms are susceptible to flooding and offers limited protection against fire. An environmentally-controlled place would ensure its safety. More reading spaces (currently there are only two) will enable already advanced education in Hebrew and Jewish studies to evolve.
Located within The Spencer Building, the Special Collections Centre will make the Hebraica and Judaica Collection more accessible to students, researchers, and visitors, and in doing so, double the number of readers that the Archives and Library staff will be able to supervise.
This new infrastructure will become a place of exploration and learning, bringing subject matter to life through shared interpretative experience. The planned relocation of, widening access to, and active preservation of the College’s Collection ultimately aims to inspire new learning and enrich existing research and interpretation of the Collection, allowing visitors to contextualise the holdings in historical and cultural ways for the personal and academic benefit of future generations.