Jewish, Near Eastern and Oriental studies

Manuscript collections

The Library's Near Eastern and Oriental manuscript collections come in large measure from the famous libraries formed by Baron Pierre Léopold van Alstein, Hendrik Christiaan Millies, Nathaniel Bland, Colonel George William Hamilton and others, which had been assimilated in whole or in part into the Bibliotheca Lindesiana of Lord Crawford.

The 20,000 items are in some forty different languages and range in date from the third millennium BC to the present day. They are written on most of the materials ever used by men and women for their records, including clay tablets, papyrus, linen, parchment, paper, wood, palm leaf, bone, bamboo and bark.

Near Eastern manuscript collections

The Library has one of the most important Near Eastern manuscript collections in Britain.

By far the earliest items are the Sumerian and Akkadian cuneiform clay tablets from the third and second millennia BC, while Arabic, Persian, Coptic, Hebrew, Samaritan and Turkish manuscripts are especially well represented.

The Arabic manuscripts, which cover a period of roughly 1,000 years, comprise almost 900 codices, some 800 papyri and approximately 1,500 paper fragments.

The Persian manuscripts collection comprises almost 950 codices of the early 13th to 19th centuries AD, many superbly illuminated.

There are well over a thousand Coptic items from the fourth century onwards.

The Hebrew manuscripts comprise 10,600 fragments from the Genizah of the Synagogue of Elijah in Old Cairo, together with 400 codices.

The Samaritan manuscripts consist of 377 codices, including some notable texts of the Pentateuch.

Many of the Samaritan, Hebrew and Arabic manuscripts derive from the collection of Dr Moses Gaster, the noted Hebrew scholar, and in addition the Library holds over 500 letters exchanged between Gaster and the Samaritan community in Nablus.

There are also 195 Turkish manuscripts from the 15th century through to the 19th, chiefly written in Ottoman Turkish.

There are smaller collections of Armenian manuscripts, including:

  • early Gospel books
  • Egyptian papyri, in hieroglyphic, hieratic and demotic
  • Ethiopian manuscripts, among them rare Christian texts
  • Syriac manuscripts

Oriental manuscript collections

The South and East Asian manuscript collections are extraordinarily rich in their diversity.

Eleven modern Indian languages are represented, including Hindustani, Punjabi, Pashto (Afghan), Sinhalese and Tamil. Punjabi MS 5 is a copy of the Adi Granth, the sacred text of Sikhism, while the Hindustani grouping contains the Laur-Chanda, an almost complete text of a work known elsewhere only from a few leaves preserved in various Indian libraries.

An important collection of approximately five hundred Indian ‘drawings’ still awaits scholarly investigation.

There are East Asian manuscripts in ten languages: Burmese, Siamese, Malay, Batak, Buginese, Balinese, Madurese, Javanese, Kawi and Makasarese.

There are eighty-three Pali manuscripts, written on paper and palm-leaf in Sinhalese, Burmese and Cambodian.

The Library holds the second largest Mo‑So collection in Europe, while smaller collections comprise Chinese manuscripts and watercolour drawings, and manuscripts in Japanese, Parsi, Sanskrit and Tibetan.

In addition to ‘native’ manuscripts, the Library holds several collections of papers which provide a European perspective on the Orient, and reveal the colonial, trading and missionary activities of Europeans in the East.

The Bowring Papers contain correspondence of Sir John Bowring (1792–1872), mainly concerning political and commercial affairs in the Far East at the time when Sir John was Consul at Canton, Plenipotentiary to China and, from 1854, Governor of Hong Kong. These are an important source for studies of Anglo-Chinese relations and the opening of Japan.

Within the Methodist Archives, the Lewis Court Bible Christian Collection contains material relating to missionary activities in China during the nineteenth century.

The papers of the Methodist missionary Harold Burgoyne Rattenbury, who worked in China from 1902 to 1934, contain a great deal of information on Chinese life and affairs during a momentous period in the country’s history.

The Carrington Papers include a small quantity of letters and papers relating to Sir Codrington Edmund Carrington’s term as Chief Justice of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), 1800–06.

Jewish and Middle Eastern collections

In addition to the Hebrew manuscripts, modern Jewish history and the foundation of Israel are represented in several archive collections.

The massive Guardian Archive includes correspondence with the Zionist pioneer Chaim Weizmann, and it documents through despatches and published articles the history of the Second World War, the founding of Israel and the later Middle East conflicts.

Correspondence with Weizmann is also to be found among the papers of Samuel Alexander (1859-1938), a supporter of the campaign for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, while the W.P. Crozier Papers incorporate interviews with Weizmann and other statesmen over the issue of the Jewish National Home.

The Military Papers of Major-General Eric Edward Dorman O'Gowan include material relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

It should also be noted that the Library holds the papers of the Egyptologist Dr Eve Reymond, and the archive of the Manchester Egyptian and Oriental Society.

Printed resources

The Chinese and Japanese collections comprise substantial numbers of printed books, and smaller quantities of manuscript material. Both were acquired in 1901 with Mrs Rylands's purchase of the Crawford Collection.

The Chinese Collection contains books reflecting almost every aspect of Chinese life and culture, including histories, biographies, ceremonials, dictionaries, grammar books, and works on calligraphy.

The smaller Japanese Collection contains a number of manuscripts and printed books of great interest and rarity, among them works of history, biography, poetry, drama, anthropology and topography.

The Library has some twenty Hebrew incunabula, approximately one fifth of the total number of extant titles.

The collection includes examples of the work of six different Italian printers. Attention can be drawn to a vellum copy of the Yosippon or Historia Judaica of Joseph ben Gorion, printed in Mantua by Abraham Conat in 1476.

The Library also holds 36 of the 40 Hebrew editions of the Bible printed before 1600 as listed in Darlow and Moule. The collection includes a copy of the Psalter, the first portion of the Hebrew Bible to be printed, probably in Bologna, in 1477, and a handsome copy of the second Hebrew Bible printed in 1491 or 1492.

The Haskalah Collection relates to the Jewish Enlightenment, and contains 19th-century works of Hebrew literature and general literary texts in Hebrew translation. The Marmorstein and Teltscher collections of Judaic literature are especially rich in classical rabbinic texts and in East European responsa printed in Hebrew, English, Hungarian and other languages.

The Dame Mabel Tylecote Printed Collection contains printed material relating to the Anglo-Israel Association, the foundation of Israel and the Middle East conflict.

The Teltscher Archive deals with Judaism, Jewish history and the practice of Judaism.

See also the section Military, Colonial and Diplomatic History and Travel.