St. Michael Weighing Souls
On the Day of JudgmentView
The National Library of Israel 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 contain many items from the Christian world, including a number of unique treasures. A large part of these are of European origin.The Library also holds unique manuscripts from various communities in the East. These items were donated over the years by generous benefactors. Each item has its own unique background, and it is only in special cases that we have been fortunate enough to know the complete story. In some cases, the history of the manuscript remains shrouded in mystery.
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), with the tie often made of silk, and on some occasions, from 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.
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, while approaching science with a fervor that could also be described as religious, 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 Library in 1969.
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, containing the festivals and saints days observed by Christian believers.
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 of Israel 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.
The Peshitta, i.e. the "simple" translation, was likely composed 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 Minor Prophets, 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.
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.
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 of Israel by Sir Lionel Penrose in 1935.