A Fantastic Find…from 1489!

In this post, Professor Javier del Barco tells us of an exciting find he has made in the Library…

“Yesterday was a very good day in work.

The Newly Discovered Book

Titlepage of the book from 1489 discovered in Marsh’s

I discovered a very old book which was not in the Library catalogue.

The book is in Hebrew and was printed in Lisbon in Portugal on 16 July 1489. It is currently 528 years old, and predates by three years Columbus’s voyage to the New World and the expulsion of the Jews from Castile and Aragon.

The text is a Commentary on the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) by a Jewish scholar named Moses ben Nahman. The printer was Eliezer Toledano, who operated a press in Lisbon until at least 1492.

This book is famous for the beautiful decorative border (pictured below) cut in metal on the opening page by the silversmith and master printer Alfonso Fernández de Córdoba. The border is universally acknowledged as a masterpiece.

Detail from decorative border on the titlepage



At least two sixteenth-century owners wrote texts relating to preaching and sermons into the book in a cursive Sephardic script.

The book remained unnoticed in Marsh’s for over 300 years. Who knows what else might be lurking on the shelves? These ‘footprints’ of Jewish culture and intellectual life are exactly the type of material I was hoping to find in my three-month project to describe and catalogue the 180 Jewish books in Marsh’s Library.”



Professor Javier del BarcoJavier del Barco is a professor at the Instituto de Lenguas y Culturas del Mediterráneo y Oriente Próximo del Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales in Madrid.

An expert on Jewish books and manuscripts, he is working for three months in Marsh’s Library on a project to catalogue our Hebrew and Yiddish books. This project is undertaken in conjunction with our colleagues at Footprints: Jewish Books Through Time and Place.

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