Madrid, Fundación Casa de Alba

Alba Bible Facsimile Edition

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The Perils of translating a Bible

A prominent Churchman, Don Luis de Guzmán, commands the renowned scholar Rabbi Moses Arragel de Guadalajara to undertake a task of major significance: he is to translate the Hebrew Bible into Castilian and compile an extensive commentary, to be accompanied by a wealth of illustrations and illuminations in a monumental manuscript.

The rabbi, loyal to his ancestors and his people, was most reluctant to agree to prepare a text which he felt might conflict with Christian doctrine and thus expose Spanish Jewry to attack. Pressure exerted by the ecclesiastical authorities eventually forced him to relent.

The attack of the Inquisition

The manuscript known today as the Alba Bible was completed in 1430. It might well have become a symbol of hope for those Jews and Christians who, prior to the tragic end of the Jewish presence in medieval Spain, sought to improve Jewish-Christian relations. Instead, their attempts failed, and the hostility fanned by the Inquisition culminated in the Expulsion of 1492.

The Highest Purpose of the Bible

From now on the manuscript, at that time abandoned and probably even left unbound, will be able to play the role intended for it. The Alba Bible is not merely a superb example of Spanish manuscript illumination. It is all that remains of one of the last attempts by intellectual Jews and Christians to heal the rifts that finally led to the calamity of expulsion.

The first twenty-five folios of the Alba Bible contain transcriptions of the detailed exchanges between Don Luis and Rabbi Moses, documenting their negotiations up to the moment when the Rabbi finally agreed to take on the task, perhaps against his better judgement. A full-page miniature depicting its completion shows Don Luis de Guzmán enthroned like King Solomon, with the Rabbi on his knees before him handing over the codex. Two monks, a Franciscan and a Dominican, were assigned to help the Rabbi in his work, doubtless in a supervisory role. A number of Christian artists were employed to illustrate the text. What emerged is no less than a masterpiece.

The importance of the Commentary

Known as the Alba Bible, after its eventual owner, it is the most important manuscript to have survived from the reign of King John II.

The Alba Bible, with its 513 folios and 334 miniatures, is a powerful work of visual art. But still more significant is the vast commentary it contains.

Rabbi Moses showed great independence and courage, and his translation and commentary make few concessions to Christian thinking, although he must have been aware of the dangers awaiting both him and the Jewish community. It is rich in extracts not only from rabbinical writings such as the Targumim, Midrashim and Talmud, but also from later works such as the Zohar - the source book of Jewish mysticism.

Rabbi Moses may well have given the artists detailed instructions on the illustrations, furnishing them with specifically Jewish interpretations of biblical scenes. The resulting images are also very important as cultural records, since contemporary weapons, musical instruments, furniture and costumes are all depicted. The cooperation between the Christian patron and the Jewish author-translator makes the Alba Bible a vital element in the ancient and troubled Christian-Hebraic tradition.

We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Alba Bible": The Alba Bible facsimile edition, published by Facsimile Editions Ltd., 1992

The Alba Bible

London: Facsimile Editions Ltd., 1992

  • Commentary (English) by Schonfield, J.; Ben-Ami, S.; Fellous-Rozenblat, S.; Keller, A.; Lazar, M.; McKay, A.
  • Limited Edition: 500 copies
  • This facsimile is complete (full-size color reproduction of the whole original document).

In 1992, His Majesty King Juan Carlos of Spain publicly retracted the 500 year old order that signalled the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. It had never formally been repealed. At last, Jews are officially welcomed back to the country from which their ancestors were driven, and old communities re-established, in a sincere bid to undo the evil committed by the Inquisition centuries ago. This extraordinary and unprecedented turn of fate was commemorated by the publication of a magnificent facsimile edition of this unique manuscript. After the Duke of Alba generously offered to allow a facsimile to be made of his masterpiece, the publishers of the Alba Bible facsimile received the following commission from its new patron Señor Mauricio Hatchwell Toledano: "I want the most beautiful facsimile ever produced, no more, no less..." Just as the manuscript itself was ordered by a powerful leader, so the facsimile is the brainchild of Mauricio Hatchwell Toledano the moving force behind the International Jewish Committee Sepharad '92, and the founder of the Fundación Amigos de Sefarad of Spain. He decided that the Alba Bible would be a living testament to the spirit of 1992, reviving and fulfilling the long-forgotten hopes of those who had laboured over it five centuries before. Unrelenting in his quest for the finest quality, he commissioned Facsimile Editions, to produce the facsimile to hitherto unsurpassed standards, combining the finest materials and the very best craftsmanship. Its paper, formulated to reproduce the exact feel and opacity of the original parchment, was milled in Italy for the facsimile. The pages of the manuscript were disbound at the Palacio de Liria in Madrid by James Brockman, the Master Bookbinder from Oxford, enabling each folio to be laid flat for photography. Israeli photographer David Harris brought equipment from London and Jerusalem to Madrid in order to photograph the manuscript, using large-format film, especially manufactured in a single batch, and processed at the same laboratory in order to ensure a constant colour balance. Over the following year, colour separators from Milan joined Linda Falter and the printer for regular meetings at the Palace in Madrid, where proofs of each page were compared in every detail with the original, until the finest possible colour-match was achieved. Every brush-stroke and gold dot was examined and all are reproduced in the facsimile. Michael and Linda Falter stayed in Milan for the entire period of the production, where their team of craftsmen worked under their constant supervision. Echoing the atmosphere surrounding the original making of the manuscript in Maqueda, specialists from all over Europe were brought to Milan, to ensure that the facsimile would match the original as closely as possible. The facsimile should not be regarded as a mere object of beauty, for those who made the manuscript were primarily mindful of the words and message it contains. Aware of this, Mauricio Hatchwell Toledano set in motion the commissioning of leading scholars to provide detailed explanations and analyses of the manuscript. The results of their work appear in an elegant, heavily illustrated commentary volume designed by the eminent typographer Gerald Cinamon (with assistance from Anthony Kitzinger), with chapter openings designed and hand drawn by master calligrapher Satwinder Sehmi. The commentary volume sets the manuscript in its historical background, in the period leading up to the Expulsion.


The original binding of the manuscript no longer exists, so a blind-tooled Mudéjar binding, now in Toledo Cathedral and produced in the same time and geographical area as the manuscript, was used as a model for both the facsimile and for a new binding of the original manuscript. Finding morocco goatskins large enough to cover the boards was a daunting task for the binder, Angelo Recalcati, working from his atelier outside Milan.

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