Detail of title page of David Kimhi, 'Sefer Mikhlol' (Constantinople: Gershom Soncino, 1532-1534). MER 70.B.18 (1)

Hebrew Books at Merton

An exhibition held in Merton College’s Upper Library, March to September 2017

The early books containing Hebrew text or printed entirely in Hebrew now in the Merton library can be divided roughly into two groups. In the 16th century, Hebrew dictionaries, grammars, and Biblical texts were acquired as aids to studying the Bible. Most of these books were produced in European centres for use by Christian scholars.

By the second half of the 17th century however, gifted Oxford linguists were eager to learn more about the historic cultures of the eastern Mediterranean. Mertonians like Robert Huntington studied Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Coptic, and Syriac. He wished to collect important texts in the most authoritative or early editions in manuscript and print. Many of the Hebrew books acquired by Huntington in the Middle East were originally intended for Jewish readership, and some still have marginal comments from their early owners, as well as deletions imposed by Christian censors.

In 2016-2017 specialist cataloguer Dr Rahel Fronda added full descriptions of Merton’s Hebrew books to the University’s online library catalogue. We wish to celebrate this milestone and thank Dr Fronda. Merton’s Hebrew books are now ready for further research.