Megilat Ester, Or 4224


The Book of Esther forms part of Ketuvim (Writings) which is the third section of the Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible. A short book consisting of 10 chapters and 167 verses, it is one of only two biblical books in which God does not get a mention. The divine presence and intervention are nevertheless felt throughout the narrative, whose central figure, a Jewish maiden called Esther saves the Jews of Persia from an annihilation plot, and is crowned Queen of Persia.

The book’s Hebrew name – Megilat Ester (Scroll of Esther) – clearly indicates that it has been traditionally copied on and read from a scroll. Megilat Ester is read yearly at Purim (Festival of Lots), a Jewish spring festival with a carnival-like atmosphere that celebrates the deliverance of the Persian Jews from the death sentence. Purim is Hebrew for ‘lots’, a reference to the lots cast to determine the day when the Jews of Persia would be killed. 

During the festival, Megilat Ester is read publicly in the synagogue from a plain parchment scroll wound on a single rod affixed to its left extremity.  Private scrolls used by worshippers to follow the synagogue service, or for home reading, are either handwritten or printed, and some contain decorations and illustrations.  The earliest decorated Scrolls of Esther appeared in Italy in the 16th century CE. The tradition of decorating and illustrating the Scroll of Esther flourished in the 17th century, and continued in the following centuries, with handsome specimens being produced in Europe, particularly in Germany and Holland, as well as the Middle East and North Africa. 

Probably dating to the 16th century CE, this Esther scroll was copied in a square Sephardi hand on a dark-coloured leather. The ink is occasionally blotted making the text difficult to read. The exact origin of the scroll is unknown.

Browse through the entire manuscript on the Digitised Manuscripts website.

Full title:
Megilat Ester (The Book of Esther)
15th-16th century CE, Spain?
Manuscript / Scroll
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Or 4224

Related articles

The Digital Life of a Hebrew Manuscript

Article by:
Kristin Phelps, Dr Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert
New technologies and digital research

Kristin Phelps and Dr Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert look at 3D imaging at the British Library.

Women and gender in the Hebrew Bible

Article by:
Debbie Young-Somers
Judaism, Women, texts and faith

Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers takes a look at women within the Hebrew Bible, traditional and modern Jewish interpretation of the scripture and womens’ relationship with biblical education.

Digitising Hebraic scrolls

Article by:
Ann Tomalak
Jewish Liturgy, The Hebrew Bible

As part of the Hebrew Manuscript Digitisation Project, the British Library imaged 74 scrolls. Former project conservator Ann Tomalak describes some of the challenges of conserving these unique items.

Related collection items