Judeo-Persian

The death of the King of Makkedah (Or 13704, f. 85r)
The death of the King of Makkedah, from the Fatḥ nāmah by the poet ʻImrānī (Or 13704, f. 85r)

The Library’s Judeo-Persian collection comprises close to 60 manuscripts and a small collection of printed books composed in a dialect or dialects of the Persian language written in Hebrew script.

About the collection

We hold close to 60 Judeo-Persian manuscripts spanning over a thousand years, and covering a wide range of subjects, such as, for example, Bible and biblical translations, Mishnah, liturgy, grammar, lexicography, calendrics, medicine and poetry. A small number of manuscripts are illustrated or decorated. Additionally the Hebrew manuscript collection also includes items copied in Hebrew that were created in Iran.

The earliest collection item, dating from the 8th century CE, is one of the earliest documents in New Persian in existence, a Judeo-Persian trader's letter (BL Or. 8212/166), acquired by British explorer Sir Aurel Stein in 1901 at Dandan-Uiliq, an important Buddhist trading centre on the Silk Road in present-day Xinjiang, China.

Other significant items are:

  • Or 5446, dated 1319 CE, which is regarded as the earliest dated Judeo-Persian text of the Torah (Pentateuch)
  • Or 2459 and Or 2460, fragments of biblical commentaries datable to the 11th to 12th centuries
  • Or 8659, a 12th-13th century fragment, possibly of a Karaite Sefer ha-Mitsvot (Book of Commandments), containing a polemical tract on the prophethood of Moses and the Jewish religion
  • Or 5557Z, Genizah fragments of devotional poems and prayers, 14th-15th century
  • Or 13704, Fatḥ nāmah (The Book of Conquest), an epic poem by ʻImrānī, copied between 1675 and 1724 CE, with colourful miniatures

The Library's Judeo-Persian printed holdings are equally modest, but their rarity more than makes up for their small numbers. Highlights include Torat Adonai, (God's Law), a polyglot Pentateuch containing Jacob Tavusi's Judeo-Persian translation printed at Constantinople in 1546; and also Bishop Brian Walton's Polyglot, issued in London 1655-1657, which includes the same text transcribed into Arabic script by Thomas Hyde.

What is available online?

Details of our Judeo-Persian manuscripts are available in our online catalogue Explore Archives and Manuscripts, and about 30 printed books can be found in our main catalogue, with the remainder being transferred from our card catalogue.

As part of our on-going Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project, we have digitised cover to cover 34 Judeo-Persian manuscripts. The digital surrogates can be viewed on Digitised Manuscripts. We will be digitising more Judeo-Persian manuscripts in the months ahead. For a complete list of our Judeo-Persian manuscripts with brief metadata, and hyperlinks to those that are already online see our list of Digitised Judeo-Persian manuscripts.

Collection items are sometimes described in our Asian and African Studies blog to which you can subscribe if you want to receive regular updates. We also tweet information on news, discoveries, bibliographical resources and collection items on Twitter

Some blog posts on Judeo-Persian are:

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

The Asian & African Studies reading room is where you can consult reference works and printed materials, manuscripts and archives. Some especially valuable or fragile material is restricted and available only in exceptional circumstances. Self-service photography is allowed for certain categories of material, provided that its condition allows this.

What is available in other organisations?

Other important collections include:

UK and Ireland

Overseas

Further information

Records of our Judeo-Persian manuscripts are also found in a number of printed catalogues. These include:

How to guides

Find Arabic manuscripts

Details of Arabic manuscripts are to be found in a number of catalogues

Find Persian manuscripts

Details of Persian manuscripts are to be found in a number of catalogues

Find Hebrew manuscripts

Guide to finding Hebrew manuscripts in our online catalogues

How to get a Reader Pass if you are under 18

How to apply for an under 18 Reader Pass

How to order images

Instructions on how to order images of the British Library's collections from our Imaging Services

Get a Reader Pass

Access over 200 million collection items for free with a Reader Pass. Carry out research in our Reading Rooms and access our online collections.