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Since the Second Temple Period, the story of Esther is publicly read in synagogue each Purim, the Jewish holiday celebrating the liberation of the Jews of Persia under the reign of King Xerses (485-465 BCE). The Book of Esther narrates that Haman, royal counselor to King Xerxes I of Persia, planned to kill the Jews in the empire. Mordecai, his cousin, and the adopted daughter Esther, who had to become the Queen of Persia, foiled Haman's cruel plans. The day of deliverance became a day of feasting and jubilation.

The biblical Book of Esther is read loudly from a parchment scroll called megillat. This scroll, treasured in the private collection of the Gross family, is an unusual exemplar of megillat. As such, this parchment scroll was used to celebrate the feast of Purim, a day of friendship and joy.

Megillat Esther: An Abundance of Illuminations

Esther scrolls have become representatives of the celebration of the Jewish tradition. Scrolls containing the Book of Esther are common in major collections. However, it is less common to find instances of illuminated scrolls. This megillat Esther represents a rare exemplar because the story of Esther is illuminated in detail.

The story of the book of Esther is entirely illustrated throughout the scroll. The miniatures are places in the frames of varying shapes that enclose the eighteen text panels. Baroque buildings and figures dressed in the eighteenth-century fashion bring the story of Esther and the salvation of the Jewish people to a time contemporary to the scroll.

The Misteriours Orgin of the Megillat Scroll

The architectures and the garments of the figures suggest to locate the origin of the Megillat Scroll in Germany around 1700. There is no clear indication of the person who commissioned the scroll. There is a rare inscription at the beginning of the scroll. It writes the words “Statt Shusonn” in Latin alphabet. This inscription reinforces the German origin of the Megillat Scroll.

Another Esther scroll, now kept in the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, bears the same inscription and was probably written by the same scribe. The Megillat Scroll was in Vienna in the 1920s, and around 1950, the scroll entered the collection of the Israeli ambassador to Austria, Eliahu Sachar. He brought the scroll to Israel. An American collector bought the lavishly decorated scroll and it eventually returned to Israel, where it is kept in the collection of the Gross family.

We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Megillat Esther": Megillat Esther facsimile edition, published by Facsimile Editions Ltd., 2007

Megillat Esther

London: Facsimile Editions Ltd., 2007

  • Commentary (English) by Schrijver, E.; Wiesemann, F.; Schonfield, J.; Foenander, R.; Wertheim, M.
  • Limited Edition: 295 copies
  • This facsimile is complete (full-size color reproduction of the whole original document).

Craftsmen from England, Israel and Italy worked to combine the latest digital technologies with the age-old processes of parchment-making and lost-wax casting. The result is a facsimile which, according to Bill Gross, the owner of the manuscript, is virtually indistinguishable from the original. And because the materials used are parchment and sterling silver, the facsimiles look and feel exactly the same as the originals, and should last just as long. Excellent photography is the key to accurate reproduction. David Harris in Jerusalem has worked with Facsimile Editions for nearly twenty years - he photographed the Rothschild Miscellany and Alba Bible manuscripts - and photographed the manuscript with digital equipment as the technology is now mature enough to deliver the level of accuracy required to capture the detail of the original. Great attention was paid to the delicate colours, including the stains which give the facsimile the character of the original and contribute to the unique quality for which the publishers have gained world renown. Proofs on parchment were prepared by the team of colour separators in Milan who have worked on our facsimiles since 1980. These proofs were then compared to the original manuscript in Israel, corrected where necessary and re-proofed in Italy and Israel until the colours exactly matched the original. The Falters personally chose each skin for the facsimile. The parchment is hand-made in England, as it has been for generations, by one of the world’s finest parchment makers. It takes roughly two months to prepare each skin which, when ready, equals the quality of those selected by the original scribe. The long manufacturing process is highly labour intensive. Hair is first removed from the sheepskin which is then scraped before being washed and softened in vats of lime. The soft clean skins are then fixed to frames and repeatedly wetted, scraped and stretched until a smooth, even finish has been achieved. When dry, the skins are cut from the frames into sheets and sanded. The skins are then graded and the publishers personally select only the very best. Emile Schrijver, Curator of the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana (Amsterdam University Library, Netherlands) and a specialist in eighteenth-century Hebrew manuscripts and printed books and Falk Wiesemann, Professor of Modern History at the Heinrich Heine University (Düsseldorf, Germany) and a specialist in German Jewish history and folk art, will take the reader on an illustrated guided tour through the megillah. Careful reading of the text of the biblical book of Esther is used as the basis for a discussion of the scroll’s illustration cycle which closely follows the Biblical text and can only be really understood and appreciated when simultaneously compared with the text. The authors will intersperse their introduction with discussions of the materials used for the creation of the scroll, the nature of the Hebrew script used, the localization and the dating of the scroll, the delicacy of the silver case and the question of what came first, the text or the images. They will also provide, both through historical elaboration and additional black and white images, additional background information on the iconography of the scroll, parallel themes and motives in other scrolls, the printed sources behind the illustrations, customs pertaining to the Purim festival, and the cultural background of the scroll’s assumed patrons. The commentary volume will highlight the literary quality of the Biblical Book of Esther, its importance to the festival of Purim and its significance in Jewish art leaving the reader with an understanding and appreciation of the artistic quality and cultural background of the megillah and its delicate silver case. The commentary volume is introduced by Muzi Wertheim. William Gross describes the significance of the manuscript to the Gross Family Collection. The commentary volume is edited by Jeremy Schonfield, Mason Lecturer, Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies.

Binding

In the Gross collection there is a fine silver megillah case which was made by Lorenz Pfalzer in 1824 in Vienna, Austria. This particularly delicate and elaborate style of case was favoured by Viennese silver workshops for nearly 80 years until the end of the 19th century. A Russian silversmith living in Israel copied the original case by hand. Renowned for his fine craftsmanship, he was commissioned to make all 295 cases. Working in sterling silver he cast, finished and polished each one by hand. Each case is hallmarked and individually numbered, and the edition is accompanied by a signed and numbered certificate. The result is a lavish work of art which will be treasured for generations to come.

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