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Christian Treasures

The National Library is the world's leading library in the areas related to the cultural and spiritual heritage of the Jewish People and Israeli society. In addition, the library's collection include many items from the Christian world, including unique treasures. A large part of these are of European origin. In addition, the library also holds unique manuscripts from various communities in the East. These items were not purchased by the library but were donated to it over the years by generous benefactors whose collections included these items. Each item has its own unique story, and it is only in special cases that we have been fortunate to know the detailed story. Sometime the manuscript's history remains shrouded in mystery. Marking Pope Francis' visit in late May 2014, we chose to present a number of select Christian manuscripts from the library's treasures.

Papal Bull of Pope Pius IV, Issued by the Vatican on May 6, 1565

A papal bull is an official document that is issued by a pope. The term "bull" derives from the seal (bulla) that was appended to the document with a tie. The bull itself was a seal usually made of lead (or gold, in exceptional cases), and the tie was sometimes made of silk, and on some occasions, from a simple rope.

In the bull displayed here, the pope is granting land privileges to the Bishop of Narni in the Umbria Region of Italy.

Appearing on one side of the bull is the name of Pope Pius IV, while the other side depicts two messengers who operated in Rome, SPE (Sanctus Petrus) and SPA (Sanctus Paulus). Between them is the Cross of Golgotha. This pattern was used in the Middle Ages and replaced in the Renaissance.

בולה של האפיפיור פיוס הרביעי שניתנה בותיקן ב-6.5.1565​


​The Theological Writings of Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton (1642-1727), considered the greatest physicist of all times, engaged in many topics besides physics, including interpretations of the holy writs, the structure of the tabernacle and the Temple, theology, calculations regarding the end of the world, alchemy, and ancient history. Newton believed that the holy scriptures contained encoded information on ancient cultures; he researched them with the same diligence that is reflected in his scientific work, and related to science with the same religious fervor, even seeing himself as a kind of prophet.

While no copies of Newton's writings on his work in physics remain, many documents survived in his other areas of interest, which offer us a fascinating view of his spiritual laboratory. These writings are particularly interesting since they invite a fresh look on realms ordinarily considered as opposites: religion and science, innovation and tradition, rationalism and irrationalism.

Newton's non-scientific writings were sold at a 1936 Sotheby's auction in London. Immediately after the sale, two scholars purchased the documents from dealers: British economist John Maynard Keynes, and orientalist Avraham Shalom Yehezkel Yehudah (1877-1951). Yehudah willed all of Newton's manuscripts (as well as other manuscripts in his possession) to the State of Israel. The collection arrived at the National and University Library in 1969, and was displayed in an exhibit at the National Library in 2007.

כתביו התיאולוגיים של אייזק ניוטון



Map of the Middle East (c. 1670-1680)

This map of the Middle East charted by Newton is part of his early composition on revelation (Observations upon the Apocalypse of St. John, Ch. 9). Newton added the map in order to illustrate the geography of the area referred to in the fifth and sixth shofar events (Apocalypse, Ch. 9). Newton believed that this period predicts the rise of Islam (fifth shofar) and the Ottoman Empire (sixth shofar), forces sent by God as a punishment for apostasy. In a caption appearing on the maps' perimeter, Newton also discusses Saladin (1138-1193) and the appearance of the Mongol leader Genghis Khan (d. 1227), who sowed destruction on Arab-Turkish Islamic civilization. Newton believed that these events were expressions of Divine Providence.

Newton identifies the districts of Asia Minor (Konia), Syria (Damascus), Mosul and Miyapharekin (Martyropolis) with the four angels who are set free (“loosed”) over the Euphrates River during the events of the sixth trumpet (Vision of John 9:14), and clearly labels the main cities of these districts on the map. Also sketched on the map are the Mediterranean Sea, the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers, and the cities of al-Hama, Aleppo, Tikrit, Baghdad and Babylon. Newton also numbered the lines of latitude and longitude in the upper left-hand margins. His marking of latitude corresponds to the modern method, but his longitudinal markings are different from the method used today.

מפת המזרח התיכון (1680-1670 לערך)


​Books of Hours

A book of hours is a personal prayer book, a genre very popular in the Middle Ages. The term "book of hours" originates in the Latin "liturgia horarum" (liturgy of hours), and relates to prayers held during set times, like the prayers in the Temple (see reference in Acts 3:1). Books of hours include for the most part excerpts from the Gospels, Psalms and prayers adapted for the holidays and various events. In addition, at the beginning of the book a calendar appears including the festivals and saints days observed by those for whom the book was composed.

The books of hours were very common in the late Middle Ages, and were often given to women as wedding gifts. Some books of hours were quite plain, while others, particularly those made for women of the upper class, were illuminated with elaborate decorations and drawings, and were very valuable.

The National Library possesses a number of books of hours from the 15th century, acquired by Avraham Shalom Yehudah, which he later donated to the library.

Two examples of books of hours are "Horae canonica" and "Horae". A particularly breathtaking example is the 15th-century book of hours from the city of Bruges (c. 1420-1450), a few illustrations from which are displayed here:


ספרי שעות
המלאך מיכאל שוקל את הנשמות ביום הדין​גיאורגיוס הקדוש נלחם בדרקוןשני מלאכים מעלים מקברן השמימה שתי נשמות שקמו לתחייההיירונימוס הקדוש, מתרגם הוולגטה בשולחן עבודה ולצדו האריה
​St. Michael weighing souls on the Day of JudgmentSt. George fighting the dragon​Angels ascending to heaven with two souls that have been resurrected from the graveSt. Jerome, translator of the Vulgate, at a desk, with the lion seated beside him


​Peshitta – Aramaic-Syriac Translation of the Bible

The Peshitta, i.e. the "simple" translation, was composed apparently at the beginning of the second century, for the needs of the Jewish community in northeastern Syria and Mesopotamia. With the ascendancy of Christianity in Mesopotamia from the 3rd century onward, the translation was adopted by the Christian-Syrian communities and serves them to this day. The Syriac language spoken by these communities was an eastern dialect of Aramaic, while Syriac script was a branch of the common Aramaic script ("Assyrian script" in the sources, square Hebrew script in our day) that according to legend was adopted by Ezra the Scribe in place of the ancient Hebrew script, used by Samaritans to this day.

The manuscript presented here, which includes the books of the latter prophets (Isaiah, the thirteen, Jeremiah, Lamentations and Ezekiel) is one of the earliest copies of the Peshitta in the world. It was written in classic Syriac script (Estrangelo) on parchment, in the 9th century, apparently in the city of Edessa in southeast Turkey, known as Urfa. The manuscript was given as a gift to the library by Ms. Erica Jesselson in 1995.

פשיטתא - תרגום ארמי-סורי של המקרא


​The Vulgate

The Vulgate is the translation of the Bible and New Testament into Latin, written by the Church father Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus (St. Jerome, 347-420 CE). The translation was commissioned by Pope Damasus I, who asked Hieronymus to improve the existing Latin translation, which was called, after it was replaced by the Vulgate, Vetus Latina ("Old Latin").

The name Vulgate is a shortened form of version vulgata, i.e. "the common version." This name was given to the translation only in the 13th century when, indeed, it became the most accepted translation in Western Europe.

The manuscript displayed here, written on parchment in 13th-century France, is a complete version of the Vulgate. The semi-Gothic writing is full of flourishes, the opening capital letters are large and ornamented, and it features many delicate calligraphic embellishments in red and blue. The leather binding with gold rings was added at a later date.

The manuscript was bequeathed to the library by Charles Rosenbloom of Pittsburgh (USA) and was donated in 1974.

וולגאטה (Vulgata)


Description of Christian Holy Sites in Eretz Israel in a Serbian Orthodox Manuscript, 1662

 The description that follows belongs to the category of proskynetaria books (sing. proskynetarion, a word that means pilgrimage in Greek). In the Greek-Orthodox world, there is a large variety of manuscripts and printed editions all based, with variations of one kind or other, on a single version of the text and series of fixed illustrations. The text and the illustrations describe the holy sites of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Holy Land, visited by pilgrims from this sect. It appears that the source of the present version is the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, and that many of the manuscripts were even copied there. Even though most of the items in this genre are written in Greek, the text was also translated into other languages for the use of various groups of believers.

The manuscript here was actually written in Cyrillic letters, in the ancient Slavic language of the Church, with clear Serbian influences.

The manuscript begins: "Pilgrimage to the grave of the honorable God and to holy places in the Holy City Jerusalem." The manuscript states that it was copied and illustrated by Gabriel Paditch in Jerusalem, 1662. It includes 34 drawings of sites depicted in black, red, dark blue and yellow.

תיאור המקומות הקדושים לנצרות בארץ ישראל בכתב יד סרבי אורתודוכסי, 1662


​Book of Psalms in Geez

Over the generations, Geez ceased to be a spoken tongue, and became the holy language of the Ethiopian Church.

Geez script developed under the influence of southern-Arabic writing, while letters were added and their forms altered in keeping with vowels that exist in the language and a change in the direction of writing, which under the influence of Greek is from left to right.

With the transition to Christianity at the beginning of the 4th century in the holy city of Axum, a translation of the Bible into Geez was commenced, apparently based on the Septuagint and other Greek-Jewish translations (Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion). This was apparently a result of the relationship with Alexandria, the origin of Ethiopian Christianity. The Geez Bible, used in the Ethiopian Church, was also used by the Ethiopian Jews (Beta Israel).

The manuscript displayed here is of the Book of Psalms. Appearing at the end of this book are also ten poems, gathered from the Bible and the New Testament, in keeping with the tradition of the Septuagint among Eastern Christians. The manuscript is written on parchment and dates to the 14th-15th centuries; it is bound in wooden plates.

ספר תהילים בגעז



Armenian History of the World

This unique, embellished Armenian manuscript is entitled "Brief Sacred History from the Creation of the World until the End of the New Testament." The manuscript was copied in 1693 CE at the church in Tigrankurt, the ancient Armenian capital of the Kingdom of Armenia.

The manuscript has many illustrations, outstanding among them the opening illustration displayed here, depicting the Garden of Eden with its trees and four rivers. Floating above the garden is an image of the Holy Trinity on the Sacred Throne, carried by the Four Evangelists, and around it the Seraphim uttering "Holy, holy, holy…" (Is. 6:3).

On the lower portion of the page, beneath the gold-plated illustration, appears a decorated first letter in zoomorphic writing, and following it, a line written in "bird letters."

The manuscript was donated to the National Library by Sir Lionel Penrose in 1935.

היסטוריה ארמנית של העולם