Earlier this week, I made it to the Sacred exhibition at the British Library. I was very enthusiastic about this exhibition as Jewish religious texts are an integral part of my academic life — and that is quite an understatement! Slightly concerningly, I hadn’t ever been into the British Library, but it might be just as well, as it has a book shop to rival that at the British Museum.
The things that I was most excited about were a Dead Sea Scroll (a fragment of a Psalms scroll, if you’re interested) and a Walton Polyglot. I’d never seen a Dead Sea Scroll before, and was very pleased to remedy that…a fact that, I suspect, the entire population of London, and a large proportion of its tourists, were aware of by the time I left! As far as Dead Sea Scrolls go, there are some I’d rather see (the Genesis Apocryphon is top of that list…), but getting to see one at all was pretty exciting! As for the Walton Polyglot, this is a thing of joy. This is a Bible which includes a variety of versions in different languages, each with a Latin translation. The languages vary between the biblical books, but (according to the catalogue, page 87) nine occur overall: Hebrew, Greek, Samaritan, Aramaic, Latin, Syriac, Ethiopic, Arabic and Persian. It’s truly spectacular. I was having lots of fun trying to read the various languages — having studied most of the ones that occured on the page they displayed, I was missing Latin, which is sadly critical, and Arabic.
Other than that, there was both Codex Sinaiticus (the earliest surviving copy of the New Testament) and Codex Alexandrinus (an early copy of the entire Bible in Greek), which are exciting! There were, of course, a wide variety of Christian and Islamic texts to look at, including a very impressive copy of ‘Uthman’s Qur’an and the ever lovely Lindisfarne Gospels. The displays on the different sorts of illumination and illustration were very fascinating too. There are also some displays of artefacts relating to each religion, which are probably very interesting, if you’re not there solely for the manuscripts.
It is definitely worth seeing, and is aimed at everyone, not just academic types. The website is well worth a look too, if you can’t make it to London!