London, British Library, MS Add. 11639

North French Hebrew Miscellany Facsimile Edition

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The North French Hebrew Miscellany—formerly known as the British Museum Miscellany—is one of the most extensively illustrated Jewish manuscripts of the high Middle Ages. Created in northern France between 1277 and 1296 with a section of full-page miniatures at the end painted in the first quarter of the fourteenth century, the manuscript is a collection of religious and secular texts in Hebrew signed by its scribe, Benjamin (Binyamin). It boasts thirty-seven full-page miniatures and three three-quarter-page miniatures painted in rich colors with burnished gold or diapered backgrounds. The dozens of embellished word panels with whimsical creatures often extend into the margins.

Selections include the Torah (the first five books of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible), Haftarot (extracts from the biblical prophetic books), the Five Scrolls (the biblical books of Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther), prayers for the year, and a Haggadah (the order of service for the Passover ritual meal), as well as legal texts and secular poetry. The manuscript's diminutive page size belies the scope of its visual and textual wealth.

Gothic Hybrid Creatures

The beginnings of new text sections are marked by the first word written in larger script in ink or paint and framed in painted color. Many of these word panels extend into the margins and feature a range of real, near-real, and fantastic creatures—including monkeys, horses, rabbits, an elephant, fish, peacocks, dragons, and hybrids. This illumination was executed by professional, probably Christian, artists in Paris.

Galleries of Full-Page Miniatures

The miscellany includes three sequences of full-page miniatures on biblical and midrashic subjects (fols. 114r-122r, 516v-527v, and 740v-743r). Some miniatures are circular in format, including the representations of the giant eschatological bird bar yokhnai (fol. 517v), Noah in the Ark (fol. 521r), the Akedah (binding of Isaac, fol. 521v), the ark of the covenant with cherubim (fol. 522r), and—occupying a pair of round miniatures on facing pages—Lot and his family fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah (fols. 740v-741r).

A Priceless Collection of Jewish Texts

Benjamin wrote a series of texts in one or two columns in Hebrew Square Script. That text's painted decoration was added before another series of texts, primarily biblical, was added in one column in the (mostly lower) margins. Twenty-nine of the manuscript's eighty-four distinct texts are written in the margins. The book's collection of texts provides a window into medieval Jewish life, both spiritual and secular.

An Italian Connection

The manuscript likely left northern France within a few generations of its creation and was in Italy by the fifteenth century, where it remained until the nineteenth century. It was purchased for the British Museum in 1839 from one M. Reina of Milan and entered the British Library upon its establishment in 1973.

We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "North French Hebrew Miscellany": The North French Hebrew Miscellany facsimile edition, published by Facsimile Editions Ltd., 2001

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Manuscript book description compiled by Amy R. Miller.
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The North French Hebrew Miscellany

London: Facsimile Editions Ltd., 2001

  • Commentary (English) by Schonfield, Jeremy; Garel, Michel; Rowland-Smith, Diana; Beit-Arié, Malachi; Zirlin, Yael; Tahan, Ilana; Loewe, Raphael
  • Limited Edition: 360 copies
  • Full-size color reproduction of the entire original document, North French Hebrew Miscellany: the facsimile attempts to replicate the look-and-feel and physical features of the original document; pages are trimmed according to the original format; the binding might not be consistent with the current document binding.

The commentary volume to this facsimile edition provides a survey of the historical setting in which the manuscript was conceived and produced, a thorough examination of the illustrations and illuminations, including their iconography, a detailed description of all 84 groups of texts, a study of its provenance and of the ink, parchment, pigments and binding materials used to create this masterpiece. A full index and glossary completes the commentary volume. Eminent scholars in the field of Hebrew manuscripts and French history have contributed to this. Great care has been taken over the choice of typeface, paper, illustrations and binding of the commentary. It is printed on 90 gsm watermarked Fabriano Ingres and bound in white vellum to complement the facsimile. The two volumes are presented in a handmade, leather-edged slip-case.


The facsimile volume is bound in sumptuous, smooth, dark-brown calf skin which has been gold-tooled to match the original. 23-carat gold has been used for all the tooling, including the central medallion depicting Jacob's Dream and the distinctive bee escutcheon of the Barberini family to whom the manuscript at one point belonged.

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