A digitized copy of the Mishneh Torah

The Bodleian Library has digitized a manuscript of Moses Maimonides‘s authorised work Mishneh Torah which had been written 1168 C.E. to 1178 C.E.

Containing 14 books with almost 1,000 chapters, Maimonides drew on the Mishnah, Tosefta, Midrash and Talmud. Considered one of the greatest works on Jewish theological studies meaning the Mishneh Torah is still studied today.

The manuscript can be seen here.

Another digitized manuscript from the British Library can be read here.

Maimonides other great work is the Guide for the Perplexed, a treatise using Jewish tradition (based on the Talmud etc) and rational philosophy.

This image is a 14th century illumination of the work, while the original was written around 1186 C.E to 1190 C.E. A popular translation done in 1903 is available for download here.

Recommended reading
Maimonides: The Life and World of One of Civilization’s Greatest Minds Joel L. Kraemer. Via Google Books.

Hebrew Scholarship and the Medieval World edited by Nicholas de Lange. Via Google Books.

Hebrew Manuscripts of the Middle Ages by Colette Sirat. Via Google Books.

Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewry: From the Golden Age of Spain to Modern Times edited by Zion Zohar. Via Google Books.

The Roman Synagogue of Hammam-Lif

In 1883 French soldiers uncovered the ruins of a 1st-6th century synagogue in Tunisia, in a town called Hammam-Lif. Originally thought to have been a church due to the structure, it became obvious what the original site was once the floor mosaics were uncovered.
hammamlifmenorah This mosaic is of a menorah, made of stone and mortar. The size is 4.4cm by 89.5cm by 57 cm and dates to the 6th century C.E.
hammamlifetroglulav This mosaic is a menorah with an etrog and lulav. The size is 4.4 cm by 88.7cm by 57.5cm and also dates to the 6th century C.E.

The synagogue was built over the Roman and Byzantine time period. Rome was also personified in a mosaic.
hammamlifroma This particular mosaic dates from the 1st-2nd century C.E. and the size is 3.2cm thick with a 53.9cm diametre. Many of the mosaics can be seen on the Brooklyn Museum website.

Recommended reading
The Mosaics of Hammam Lif by Franklin M. Biebel. JStor article.

Ancient Jewish Art and Archaeology in the Diaspora by Rāḥēl Ḥa̱klîlî. Via Google Books.

The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years by Lee I. Levine. Via Google Books.

Inscribing Devotion and Death: Archaeological Evidence for Jewish Populations by Karen B. Stern. Via Google Books.

Synagogue at Hammam-Lif by Yitzchak Schwartz. Exhibition blog entry for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Jewish Pilgrimage glass

jewbyzoctbottle This is a moulded glass bottle, made between 500-650 C.E. It is octagonal in shape, 9.2 cm by 9.4 cm by 9.4 cm. It is decorated with the Jewish symbols of the menorah, the shofar, an incense shovel and the lulav. The bottle was made in Byzantine ruled Syria and was thought to have been made for Jewish pilgrims going to the Holy Land. The bottle is currently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

blackoctbottle This bottle also is octagonally shaped but the dimensions are 8.1 cm by 7 cm by 7.7 cm. The bottle also has been decorated with the Jewish symbols of the lulav, menorah, incense shovel and shofar. It was mold-blown glass, made between 578–636 C.E. The bottle is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

jewbyzhexjug This molded glass jug is hexagonal in shape and also decorated with the Jewish symbols mentioned above. The dimensions are 15.7 cm by 7.4 cm by 6.8 cm. The jug is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. All three items were thought to have been made in the one workshop.

Recommended reading
Population, Settlement and Economy in Late Roman and Byzantine Palestine (70-641 AD) by Doron Bar. JStor article.
A Court Jew’s Silver Cup by Vivian B. Mann. Metropolitan Museum Journal.
An Empire’s New Holy Land: The Byzantine Period by S. Thomas Parker. JStor article.
Judaism During the Byzantine Period by Yitzchak Schwartz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Blog.
Religious Contacts in Byzantine Palestine by Gedaliahu G. Stroumsa. JStor article.

Some carpet pages

This carpet page is from the Qur’an of Ibn al-Bawwāb, from 11th century Baghdad. It is currently in the Chester Beatty Library, where it has great zoom.

Made in 1153, this Arabic Qur’an has two carpet pages opening the book. Currently in the Harry Ransom Centre in the Books Before Gutenburg section.

A carpet page done by Arghûn Shâh, a well known painter in 1375. Possibly in Cairo (please let me know if you find an exact location).

This is a Jewish carpet page from 15th century Yemen (the date given in the binding is 1469). The first half of the book is a Grammatical introduction or Makhberet ha-Tigan and the second half is Pentateuch (the five books of Moses) with masorah magna and masora parva. It also has other carpet pages in Arabic-

This means that not only Jewish scholars worked on the book, but also Muslim scholars. It is currently in the British Library.
The Qur’anic Manuscripts In Museums, Institutes, Libraries & Collections.
An Introduction to Hebrew Manuscripts by Joseph Gutmann , Evelyn M. Cohen , Menahem Schmelzer , Malachi Beit-Arié. A lecture available to read from the NY Public Library. Via Fathom.
Arabic Art Forms in Spanish Book Production by the Bodleian Library.
Online Gallery: Sacred Texts by the British Library.
Observations on Illustrated Byzantine Psalters by John Lowden. JStor article.
Hebrew Manuscript Painting in Late Medieval Spain: Signs of a Culture in Transition by Katrin Kogman-Appel. JStor article.
Jewish Art and Non-Jewish Culture: The Dynamics of Artistic Borrowing in Medieval Hebrew Manuscript Illumination by Katrin Kogman-Appel. JStor article.

Esther and Esperanza

Esther Handali was a widow to a Jewish merchant in Constantinople in the late 16th century. After her husband died, she maintained the family business and started a close friendship with Her Majesty Afife Nûr-Banû Sultâna the Valide Sultan of Murad III.

Nûr-Banû was one of the women in the Sultanate of Women, which covers a period of 130 years. It is known as that as the women of the Harem had much power and effectively ruled the Ottoman Empire from within the Harem. They relied heavily on their female intermediaries, or kiras for information, diplomatic writings, political power plays as well as shopping for anything the Harem needed or wanted. Esther became very powerful, with direct access to the Valide Sultan. Her son became the chief Customs officer, and she earned her family and her descendants tax-free status within the Ottoman Empire. However, she was murdered when she was in her seventies by a group of Janissary soldiers who feared the influence she had and the possible rise in power of the Jews in the Empire. The number of Jews in the Ottoman Empire increased after the Alhambra Decree, which was about the Sephardi Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492. They were officially invited by Bayezid II to settle in his Empire, the second generation into the Ottoman Empire.

Esperanza Malchi was another Jewish kira, for the Safiye Valide Sultan. Safiye was thought to have been a relative of Nûr-Banû, and was chief consort to Nûr-Banû’s son Murad III. She became the Valide Sultan to her son Mehmed III. Esperanza had great influence with Safiye, and it was thought that this was mainly due to them being lovers. Esperanza was attacked and killed by a mob in the year 1600 when there was unrest between the Sultanate and the Military.

The History of the Jews in Turkey.
Turkish Jews.
Hebrew History Foundation– Jewish Women Through The Ages by Samuel Kurinsky.
Jews in the Realms of the Sultans by Yaron Ben-Naeh.
Venice and the Islamic World 828-1797 by Stephano Carboni.
The Ottoman Lady by Fanny Davis.


You may think this is an arabic word, but it is not. It is a hebrew word for “resting place”. This is a room attached to a synagogue where documents bearing the name of god are placed, as they cannot be destroyed. It is usually a room or a basement but the Cairo Geniza, founded in the 9th century, had quite a few rooms, containing 280,000 Jewish, Muslim and Christian manuscript fragments.

The documents cover a large period of time and many topics. They cover marriage contracts, community minutes, debts, leases, title-deeds, rabbinical court records, wills, private letters as well as 200 unknown poems from Judah Halevi, personal papers from Moses Maimonides and religious tracts from the Old Testament, New Testament and Qur’an.

Most of the records are written in Aramaic, in hebrew script. By Jewish law, it was written in God’s language and can’t be destroyed once the purpose of the document is served.

More recent documents have poems in yiddish from the 13th-15th centuries. There is also documentation of the large-scale conversion of the Kingdom of Khazaria in the pages.

If interested Papyyri Pages has many links to follow to Universities and Libraries which are studying the documents. A book by Paul Kahle titled “The Cairo Geniza” is available for download here.

Cairo Geniza- Wikipedia
Jewish Virtual Library
Papyri Pages