Thought to be one of the earliest surviving Hebrew biblical codices.
Why is the manuscript important?
This is one of the earliest surviving Hebrew biblical codices. Like most of the extant oriental Hebrew Bibles dating from the 9th–11th centuries, with very few exceptions, it is incomplete. Although there is no colophon (a statement at the end of a manuscript supplying facts about its production) the manuscript is thought to have been created in Egypt around the 10th century CE. This has been established through comparison with extant dated Hebrew Bibles produced in Egypt and/or the Middle East between the 9th and 10th century CE.
The First Gaster Bible is also a very good example of manuscript illumination from the Islamic East. It contains an abundance of gold embellishments executed in Islamic style. These include undulating scrolls and spirals, foliage, interwoven buds, palmettes and golden chains.
The parchment pages of the First Gaster Bible show clear signs of wear and tear. Nonetheless, the codex boasts fine calligraphy, masoretic notes and gilded decorative motifs, which testify to its former glory. What would have originally been a complete codex of Ketuvim (Writings, the third main division of the Hebrew Bible), has survived in a fragmentary state comprising just sections from the Books of Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel and Ruth. In all, just forty folios of the entire manuscript are extant. It is named after its last owner Dr Moses Gaster (1856–1939 CE), the spiritual leader of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation in London.
- Article by:
- Ilana Tahan
- Illuminated texts, Judaism
Using a varied collection of Hebrew manuscripts, Dr Ilana Tahan explores the illumination of Jewish biblical manuscripts, looking at the religious grounds for artistic expression in the Bible, and the differences in styles between manuscripts produced in the Near East and those in Europe.