THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

132 posts categorized "Middle East"

14 February 2019

Jewish love potions: a user's guide

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Would you like some help in your pursuit of your beloved? Our Hebrew manuscript collection can offer numerous love potion recipes and incantations, and now is the best time of year to share some of this wisdom with you.

Whether you are a diligent pupil of magic, or just a desperately love sick muggle, you can find a long list of love potions, incantations and amulets by browsing our digitised Jewish manuscripts. Finding the required ingredients and following all of the instructions might prove to be much more difficult. What鈥檚 more, the preparation of many of these potions involves starving animals to death, slaughtering, or mutilating them. Such cruelty would be unacceptable nowadays, even in the name of love. Luckily, we have been able to find some less gruesome prescriptions.

The collection at the British Library holds several manuscripts on folk medicine and kabbalistic-medical miscellanies, mostly from the 16th-18th century. Many contain prescriptions of kabbalistic amulets alongside with medical remedies, which demonstrates the lack of a strict differentiation between what we would now call medicine, magic, and astrology. Superstition and the belief in supernatural powers were an inherent part of folk medicine. So do not be surprised if you find a love potion after a protective incantation against dogs, or after a recipe on how to stop nose bleeding.

Or 12362_30v-31r
士Ets ha-da士at
by Elisha士 ben Gad of Anconah, Italy, 1535/6: love potion and amulet (right), incantation to obtain favour in the eyes of kings and princes (left) (BL Or 12362 , ff. 30v-31r)
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The majority of these magical/medical manuscripts are small in size, and don鈥檛 look anything special at first sight. One exception is a 16th-century Italian copy of 士Ets ha-da士at (Tree of Knowledge) by Elisha ben Gad of Ancona, a treatise containing 125 kabbalistic formulae (keme士ot). Our copy was written in a neat Italian hand and is decorated with initial-word panels and diagrams throughout. Do not trust the pretty looks though. The scribe made a fatal mistake when copying this love potion.

Image 2-Or 12362 f.30r_2000
士Ets ha-da士at by Elisha士 ben Gad of Anconah, Italy, 1535/6: love potion recipe (BL Or 12362 , f. 30r)
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诇讗讛讘讛 鈥 诇讛专讘讜转 讗讛讘讛 讘讬谉 讞转谉 讜讻诇讛 讻砖转讘讗 讛讻诇讛 诪讛讞讜驻讛 诇讗讞专 讙诪专 注砖讬讬转 讛讘专讻讛 讻转讜讘 砖诐 砖谞讬讛诐 注诐 讚讘砖 注诇 讘' 注诇讬 住诇讜讜讬讗讛 讜转谉 诇讗讻讜诇 讛注诇讛 砖讻转讜讘 注诇讬讜 讛讗讬砖 诇讗讬砖 讜砖诐 讛讗砖讛 诇讗砖讛

For love 鈥 to increase love between bridegroom and bride 鈥 when the bride comes from the huppah [canopy under which the Jewish couple is standing during the wedding ceremony] after finishing saying the blessing, write their names in honey onto two sage leaves and give the leaf with the man鈥檚 name on it to the man and the one with the woman鈥檚 name on it to the woman.

A less impressive volume from the 18th-19th century includes the same recipe but this time correctly (Or 10268). Can you spot the difference?

Image 3-Or 10268 f.10r_2000
Collection of medical recipes, Italy?, 18th-19th century: love potion (BL Or 10268 , f. 10r)
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诇讛专讘讜转 讗讛讘讛 讘讬谉 讞转谉 讜讻诇讛 鈥 讻砖讬讘讗讜 诪讛讞讜驻讛 诇讗讞专 注砖讬讬转 讛讘专讻讛 讻转讜讘 砖诐 砖谞讬讛诐 注诐 讚讘砖 注诇 讘' 注诇讬 住诇讜讜讬讗讛 讜转谉 诇讗讻讜诇 讛注诇讛 砖讻转讜讘 注诇讬讜 砖诐 讛讗讬砖 诇讗砖讛 讜砖诐 讛讗砖讛 诇讗讬砖

To increase love between bridegroom and bride 鈥 when they come from the huppah after saying the blessing, write their names in honey onto two sage leaves and give the leaf with the man鈥檚 name on it to the woman and [the one with] the woman鈥檚 name to the man.

This latter manuscript might have been someone鈥檚 personal notebook, who took better care when recording the recipe compared to the scribe of the neat looking Italian volume (Or 12362), perhaps because it was for his personal usage?

The recipe must have been considered a very effective one, since we also found it in an abridged form, in a 17th-century Ashkenazi collection of recipes and kabbalistic charms, probably written in today鈥檚 Belarus or Lithuania. This version written in Hebrew peppered with some Yiddish, recommends to apply the potion before the wedding night:

Image 4-Or 10568 f.10v_2000
Collection of kabbalistic charms and remedies, 17th century: love potion (in the middle) between instructions on how to avoid persecution and how to find favour in the eyes of rulers (BL Or 10568 , f. 10v)
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诇讗讛讘讛 讞转谉 讜讻诇讛 讘诇讬诇讛 专讗砖讜谞讛 讬拽讞 讘' 讝注诇讘谉 讘诇注讟讬专 讜讻转讜讘 注诇讬讜 讘讚讘砖 讜转谉 诇讜 诇讗讻诇 砖诪讜 讜砖诪讛

For love between groom and bridegroom at the first night: take 2 Selben(sic!) bletter (鈥榮age leaves鈥, in Yiddish) and write on them in honey and give him (ie. them) to eat his name and her name.

It seems that it would be quite easy to make this recipe, and it might be delicious. However, if you do not manage to charm your beloved with honey and sage leaves, you can also experiment with some of the more laborious, but also more gruesome prescriptions. A 17th-century Italian folk medicine collection includes a recipe for a creamy substance that, after having applied it on your face and body, allegedly makes you irresistible. We have not tried it, and are rather sceptical about its success鈥 Moreover, on a practical note, the identification of some of the ingredients is challenging.

Image 5-Or 10161 f.34r_2000
Collection of folk remedies, Italy, 17th century: love potion (BL Or 10161 , f. 34r)
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诇讗讛讘讛 拽讞 注讬谉 爪驻专讚注 讛谞拽' 讘讜讟谉 讜注讬谉 注讜专讘 讜转注专讘诐 注诐 砖诪谉 专讜住讟谉 讜诪砖讞 驻谞讬讱 讜讙讜驻讱 讜讬讗讛讘讜讱 讻诇 讛讗讚诐 讜转诪爪讗 讞谉 讘注讬谞讬 讻诇 专讜讗讬讱 讘讗讛专

For love: take an eye of a frog called 'boten' and an eye of crow and mix them with 'rus峁璦n' oil and rub it onto your face and body, and every man will love you and you will find favour in the eyes of all those who see you [鈥

The next recipe found in another 17th-century medical collection is much easier to prepare, though it may be tricky to administer it to the person of your desire.

Image 6-Or 10462 f.11v_2000
Collection of remedies, Orient, 17th century: love potion (Or 10462 , f. 11v)
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注"讗 - 讞转讜讱 爪驻专谞讬讱 讘住讻讬谉 讗讞"讻 专讞爪谉 讘诪讬诐 讜转谉 诇砖转讜转 诇诪讬 砖转专爪讛 讜讗讛讘讱 讗讜 讞转讜讱 讘讜 转驻讜讞 讜谞转谞讛讜 诇讗讻讜诇

One more [for love] 鈥 cut your nails with a knife and then rinse them in water and give it to drink to whoever you want to fall in love with you or slice up some apple with the nails [put the nail into the apple] and give it to eat.

If you prefer not to bend over a cauldron for hours stirring concoctions, uttering the right magical formulae may also help. You only need a good mirror and some proficiency in medieval magical Hebrew, because the instructions are a bit confusing鈥

Image 7-Or 10568 f.12r_2000
Collection of cabbalistic charms and remedies, 17th century: love magic (BL Or 10568 , f. 12r)
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诇讗讛讘讛 拽讞 诪专讗讛 讟讬讛专讗 讜砖驻讬专讗 讜转讗诪专 诇诪专讗讛 转转住讻诇 讘爪讜专转讬 讜讗谞讬 讗住转讻诇 讘爪讜专转讱 讜讗转讛 转住转讻诇 讘爪讜专转' 讜转讗讛讘转讛 讗讜转讛 注诇讬讜 讜讻谉 转注砖讛 讙' 讬诪讬诐 讝讛 讗讞专 讝讛 讜转谞讞 注诇讬讜 讙' 诇讬诇讜转 讜转讗讛讘讜讱

For love 鈥 take a clear and good mirror and say to the mirror: 鈥楲ook at my figure and I will look at your figure and you look at her figure and you will make her fall in love with him.鈥 Do this for three consecutive days and lie on it (the mirror) for three nights and she will love you.

Our collection can offer advice and help also for those who have already found the love of their life, but something or someone has cast a shadow over their marital bliss. This next recipe is especially recommended if you suspect that someone put a curse on your husband. Or if you just want to have a tasty breakfast together.

Image 8-Or 10462 f.11r_2000
Image 8-Or 10462 f.11v_2000
Collection of remedies, Orient, 17th century: love potion preceded by a recipe to stop menstrual bleeding (BL Or 10462, f. 11r-11v)
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诇讗讛讘讛 讘讬谉 讗讬砖 诇讗砖转讜 讜讗驻讬' 诪讻讜砖祝 拽讞 诪讬诐 诪谉 谞讛专讜转 讜讬讬谉 讜诪讜专 讜驻诇驻诇 讜砖谞讬 讘爪讬 讬讜谞讬诐 讜砖谞讬 讘爪讬 转专谞讙讜诇转 讜砖讞拽诐 讜注专讘 讛讻诇 讬讞讚 讜讛砖拽讛 讛讗讬砖 讜讗转 讛讗砖讛 讜讬讗讛讘讜 讝讛 讗转 讝讛

For love between husband and his wife or even he is under a spell [i.e. impotent]: take spring water, wine, and myrrh, and pepper, and two dove eggs and two hen eggs and break them, and mix them together, and give the mixture to drink to the man and the woman, and they will love each other.

Good luck in your amorous endeavours and if you try any of these recipes, please, send us feedback on how they worked.

Zsofi Buda, BL Hebrew Project
 CC-BY-SA

07 February 2019

Classical Central Asia in the Digital Age: Three Newly-Digitised Navoiy Manuscripts at the British Library

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Thanks to a partnership between the British Library and the Tashkent State University of Uzbek Language and Literature named Alisher Navoiy, three manuscripts including the poetical works of Alisher Navoiy are now available online. These three items are the first Chagatai-language texts to be uploaded to the Library鈥檚 digitised manuscript holdings, a sample of the more than 110 Chagatai and Central Asian Turkic manuscripts held by the British Library as part of its Turkish and Turkic collections.

Or_3493_f004v
A leaf from the Muntakhab-i D墨v膩n-i Nav膩'墨 with richly decorated paper appliqu茅s and gold-leaf. Despite the water damage, the manuscript has retained its luxurious beauty. Herat, 15th-16th century (BL Or. 3493, f. 4v)
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All three works contain Divans, or poetical compendia, of the work of Alisher Navoiy, also known as 鈥楢li Sh墨r Nav膩鈥櫮. Navoiy was born in 1441 CE in Herat, Afghanistan, at a time when it was part of the Timurid Empire, and died in the same city in 1501 CE. He is the national poet of Uzbekistan and is regarded as one of the great poets of the mediaeval Turkic world. His broad oeuvre is a testament to the cultural, intellectual and social flowering of Khorasan in the 15th century CE, and to the importance of Herat in the broad mosaic of Turkic cultural production. The works are also an introduction to classical Chagatai, the literary language of Turkic Central Asia and Siberia. Little known or studied today outside of specialist circles, Chagatai was also the language of the Mughals, who established their reign over parts of the Indian Subcontinent in 1526.

Or_3493_f005v
A rare sketch from inside the Muntakhab-i i D墨v膩n-i Nav膩'墨 showing a Central Asian man in traditional dress. Herat, 15th-16th century (BL Or. 3493, f. 5v)
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Or.3493, the most delicate of our digitised Chagatai manuscripts, is a marvel to behold. Only 9 folios in length, this collection of poems from Navoiy鈥檚 divan dazzles with its creator鈥檚 penchant for brightly-coloured paper appliqu茅s, gold illumination, and sweeping, bold nastaliq calligraphy. The presence of blue, yellow, green and pink blocks in between the stanzas gives the entire text an architectonic feel; a 3D illusion that draws in the reader. This pattern is broken only by the use of gold separators on later pages, and the appearance of a portly, kneeling Central Asian man on one of the manuscript鈥檚 middle folios. Despite occasional water damage 鈥 and the fact that the content is itself defective 鈥 this small volume remains a testament to the capacity of Herat鈥檚 manuscripts producers to create items of luxury and beauty as well as those of functional purpose.

Or_11249_f001v
The beginning of the D墨v膩n-i F膩n墨, including its sparsely decorated 'unv膩n. Central Asia, 916 AH (BL Or. 11249, f. 1v)
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Or.11249, produced in 916 AH (1509-10 CE) in Central Asia, is the least studied of the Chagatai items added to our digital collections. Known as both the D墨v膩n-i F膩n墨 and the D墨v膩n-i Nav膩鈥櫮, it is the most comprehensive of the group with respect to Navoiy鈥檚 poetical oeuvre. The use of black ink and red catchwords is far from unusual, and the neatly laid-out nastaliq of the scribe鈥檚 hand leads us to believe that this was likely created within a workshop well-versed in the production of divans and other such works. Occasional marginalia speak to the usage of this volume 鈥 as does the water damage that stains some of its folios. With further in-depth research on its contents, and a comparison with other contemporaneous Central Asian manuscripts, we might come to know the importance of this particular item within the broader scope of Central Asian intellectual traditions.

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The beginning of the text Tukhfat al-sal膩峁玭 at koyuldu, demonstrating the use of different coloured inks to complement the elegant calligraphy. Mecmua. Herat, 914 AH (BL Add MS 7914, f. 25v)
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Add MS 7914, the last of the three manuscripts, is not dedicated to Navoiy exclusively. A mecmua or codex of various works compiled in Herat in 914 AH (1507-08 CE), it contains a variety of different texts created by nine different authors in a myriad of styles. Its breadth of poetic and prose creation and intellectual inspiration speak volumes about the interplay of Turkic and Persian literary traditions across Eurasia. Within these is found Navoiy鈥檚 Tu岣at al-sal膩峁璱n, a collection of poems copied out by the scribe 鈥楢bd al-Jam墨l K膩tib. The remaining poems are varied in content. Some are works in verse about love and longing, such as Am墨r墨鈥檚 Dah n膩mah, which tells a romantic story through ten letters. Others poeticise the Central Asian martial arts, debate the merits of wine and hashish, or adapt circulating Persian forms into Chagatai poetry, as 岣ydar Talba Khorazm墨鈥檚 didactic poem based on a Persian version by Ni岷撃乵i so aptly demonstrates. This diversity of content is reflected in the construction of the volume, where naskh and nastaliq, black and coloured inks, chaos and clarity make appearances depending on the demands of the individual patrons, and the skill of the particular scribes.

The British Library鈥檚 holdings of Ottoman and Chagatai manuscripts contain another 30-odd texts first penned by Alisher Navoiy. It is our hope that, in the coming years, many more of these will find their way onto Digitised Manuscripts, facilitating more intensive and complete study and enjoyment of Turkic Central Asia鈥檚 literary and cultural heritage.

Michael Erdman, Curator of Turkish and Turkic Collections
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23 January 2019

Researching the Asian and African Collections at the British Library

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The Asian and African department at the British Library began 2019 with one of the most important annual events in our calendar: a training day for students beginning their doctoral dissertations. Approximately fifty students from across the UK were introduced to the collections and the best ways to research them.

It was a 鈥榬eally fantastic鈥 experience, according to one participant, who explained that 鈥榯he collections of the BL can be wonderful but overwhelming so it was incredibly helpful being introduced to what there is and how to use them鈥.

Show and tell 1
Items on display at the 鈥楳eet the Curators session鈥

So, what were the top tips from the day? Where should researchers begin when confronted with the enormous collections at the British Library? If you haven鈥檛 used our collections yet 鈥 or if you have, but aren鈥檛 too sure how it all works 鈥 then this blog will get you started.


Where to start

The first place to look is our subject hub pages. (You can also get there from the front page of our website by going to the 鈥楥atalogues and Collections鈥 menu, then selecting 鈥極verview of the Collections鈥.)

These pages give you a quick overview of what鈥檚 in the BL鈥檚 collections, how you can access it, and what you can get elsewhere. It鈥檚 an essential place to start, so that you know the sort of things you can search for in our catalogues and what we鈥檙e likely to have (as well as what we don鈥檛 have).
Subject hub imageRelevant subject hubs for Asian and African Studies via https://www.bl.uk/subjects


Understanding our collections

The British Library鈥檚 collections are huge. They are:

  • from all over the world
  • in all major world languages, and many others
  • in all disciplines, and
  • historical and contemporary.

We hold material in a very wide range of formats. If, so far, you鈥檝e only thought about using books and manuscripts or archives, it could be worth asking how other items (perhaps sound recordings, or maps) could bring new dimensions to your research.

Collection formats
Different collection formats in the British Library


Searching the collections

There are two main catalogues:

Explore the British Library, for (mainly) published material:

  • Books and serials
  • Newspapers
  • Maps
  • Audio-visual material
  • Doctoral theses
  • E-resources
  • Archived websites
  • Printed music

Explore Archives and Manuscripts, for (mainly) unpublished material:

  • Archives
  • Manuscripts
  • Visual collections

Both catalogues indicate hard-copy and digital material.

Additional catalogues are also available via our website, and these may give more detail on particular collections. For example, the Sound and Moving Image catalogue is recommended for audio-visual collections.

Show and tell 2
Hebrew and Christian Orient curator Ilana Tahan showing some BL collection items at the doctoral training day


Using the collections: in the Reading Rooms

For physical/hard-copy items, you鈥檒l need to come into our Reading Rooms (having first obtained a Reader Pass). Our full collections are available for research at our main building in St Pancras, London. You can also see many items (but not everything) in our Reading Room at Boston Spa, Wetherby, Yorkshire.

For licensing reasons, some electronic material is only available on-site in our Reading Rooms. The most important thing to be aware of in this respect is our collection of subscription e-resources. These are electronic packages which the British Library buys and/or subscribes to. They include:

  • bibliographies and other reference tools
  • journals and e-books, and
  • collections of primary sources.

University libraries also offer these packages, but we have many things which individual libraries may not hold, so it鈥檚 always worth checking. The best way to find out what we have is to go to our electronic resources page.

Remote access to a few of these resources is available to Reader Pass holders, and may increase in future. Where this service is offered, it鈥檚 indicated on the electronic resources page.

E-resources Japan sample search
Sample search for electronic resources on Japan

The British Library is given one free copy of every book published or distributed in the UK. This is called legal deposit, and these days about half of this material come to us as e-books. These electronic publications are also only available in the Reading Rooms. These can be identified through Explore the British Library and read on the Reading Room computers.


Using the collections: online

We are digitising more and more of our collections, which means that some of the material you鈥檒l find in our catalogues is available free online.

Manuscripts from our collections are available through the Digitised Manuscripts portal, which includes (but is not limited to) Ethiopic, Hebrew, Malay, Persian and Thai manuscripts. See the Asian and African Studies blog for more on these digitised manuscripts.

  • The Endangered Archives Programme offers large collections of archives and manuscripts from many African and Asian countries online. (The originals remain in the country of origin.)

Doctoral theses (dissertations) from most UK universities can be downloaded or requested via our EThOS service. In many cases, it鈥檚 free.

  • The Qatar Digital Library has digitised many India Office Records and Arabic manuscripts held by the British Library. These are of particular relevance to the history of the Middle East, but also relate to East Africa and the Horn, as well as other regions.

Many older books in our collections have been digitised and are available through Explore the British Library. When you find records for these items, you can click through to the full text, which is also available in Google Books.

E-book picture
Catalogue record and digitised full text of a work by the Rev. Samuel Ajayi Crowther, Bishop on the Niger

For more information on what鈥檚 available online, see our Digital Collections page as well as the subject hub pages for your area.

And finally鈥alk to us!

We know that the BL is complicated and staff in Asian and African Collections are happy to point you in the right direction. You can reach us online, or by talking to the staff on the enquiry desk in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. Enquiries are handled by a specialist reference team, and referred to curators if necessary.

And don鈥檛 forget our blog, a mine of information on our collections.

Show and tell 3
Discussions at the doctoral training day


Marion Wallace, Lead Curator, Africa
https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef022ad37726d4200c-pi

17 January 2019

The Other March of the Penguins: A Flightless Mascot for Dissent in Turkey

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In advance of Penguin Awareness Day on Sunday January 20, we tell this story of how a bumbling and beloved resident of the globe鈥檚 southern shores became a symbol of dissent and defiance for a generation of Turkish citizens.

C抬apulcu Penguen_1500
脟apulcu Penguen, or Looter Penguin, is the cuddly mascot of Penguen magazine dressed as a masked demonstrator from the Gezi Park protests. At the start of the demonstrations, then-Prime Minister Reccep Tayyip Erdo臒an referred to the protestors as 莽apulcular - looters or marauders - as a way to discredit their movement. Cover of a 脟apulcu Penguen notebook, Istanbul: Penguen, [2015?]

On 28 May 2013, a group of environmentalists occupied Gezi Park in Taksim Square, Istanbul. They were protesting the government鈥檚 decision to remove one of central Istanbul鈥檚 last green spaces in order to make way for a new shopping centre and mosque. When armed police were sent in to remove the protestors for a second time on May 31, the demonstrations ballooned, with 100 000 people marching down 陌stiklal Avenue, Istanbul鈥檚 most prominent shopping street. The momentum of anti-government activism gathered quickly, and soon strikes, occupations, and marches occurred across the country. All manner of calls were made, from the demands of anti-capitalist Muslims and religious minorities, to the concerns of Armenians, Kurds and LGBT people about the abrogation of their rights.

Cumhuriyet Aniti_1500
Cumhuriyet An谋t谋 (Republic Memorial) in Taksim Square covered with flags and protest banners during the protests in June 2013. 漏 Michael James Erdman

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A crowd gathers to listen to speakers at the Gezi Park occupation, June 2013. 漏 Michael James Erdman

On June 2, while foreign media were reporting on the extent of the unrest, Turkish media remained remarkably quiet . CNNT眉rk, taking its cue from government media outlets, broadcast a documentary about penguins rather than coverage of the protests crippling the country鈥檚 economic and political centres. Turks, who have a long, vaunted tradition of political satire , did not waste this opportunity, and soon real and virtual spaces were filled with mocking memes referencing penguins and the government鈥檚 refusal to engage with its citizens. Penguins are not native to Turkey; these images were either taken from photographs floating about the Internet or, in the vein of another longstanding Turkish tradition, appeared in cartoon form. Indeed, such 2D animated activists featured prominently in two publications springing from the same spirit of political engagement that fed the Gezi Park Protests which can be found in the British Library鈥檚 Turkish collections.

Penguen Imprint_1500 Penguen Title_1500
The logo of the publishing group Peng!, resposible for publishing Penguen magazine and the title of the Penguen magazine series, featuring the a determined cartoon penguin with his hang glider. Penguen 2014 Karikat眉r Y谋ll谋臒谋, Istanbul: Peng!, 2014 (BL YP.2018.b.538)

Penguen 2014 Karikat眉r Y谋ll谋臒谋, our first example, is a compendium of the caricatures in the satirical magazine Penguen published in the year 2014. The periodical first appeared in 2002, and soon became the most widely sold weekly magazine in Turkey. Its mascot, a chubby penguin notable for his predilection for hang gliders (and flying) was drawn by the cartoonist Sel莽uk Erdem. The magazine quickly made a name for itself as being fearless in its biting satire. It was promptly sued in 2005 by then Prime Minister Reccep Tayyip Erdo臒an because of a cartoon depicting him as a cat. The magazine was acquitted, but continued to face angry responses for its oppositional, pro-secularist stances; its offices were even firebombed in 2012. It was almost serendipitous, then, that penguins should be coopted as a symbol of media acquiescence to and complicity with government repression in June 2013, allowing Penguen to highlight that these cuddly lovers of fish and snowy frolics also have a subversive and revolutionary side.

Penguen Cover_1500
Cover of the Penguen 2014 Karikat眉r Y谋ll谋臒谋 featuring a cartoon criticising official practices of charity and social assistance. Penguen 2014 Karikat眉r Y谋ll谋臒谋, Istanbul: Peng!, 2014 (BL YP.2018.b.538)

In 2017, Penguen鈥檚 owners announced that they would be closing up shop with only a month鈥檚 notice. They cited both a decline in magazine readership in Turkey and increased government repression. In their unsigned farewell letter, the editors of Penguen thanked their readers, caricaturists, authors, journalists, and even politicians, 鈥渨ho were guests on our covers and our Agenda pages.鈥 They also speculated that 鈥減erhaps one day we will encounter once more a freer Press. If anything remains that can be called the Press鈥︹ Over the years, the magazine provided a space for amateur cartoonists to submit their own drawings and rise to prominence. In 2007, six of its cartoonists started up the satirical magazine Uykusuz [Insomniac], which continues Penguen鈥檚 mission, and can also be found in the British Library鈥檚 collections.

Pen Parkta Cover_1500
The cover of Ra艧el Meseri's Pen Parkta (Pen at the Park), showing Pen the Penguin erupting from his televisual prison. Meser, Ra艧el, Pen Parkta, Istanbul: Habitus Min枚r, 2015 (BL YP.2017.a.2606)

The second penguin-themed publication in our discussion is Ra艧el Meseri鈥檚 Pen Parkta [Pen at the Park, a graphic novel in Turkish, Armenian and Kurmanji Kurdish illustrated by Suzanne Karssenberg. The story follows Pen, a penguin like those featured in the documentary aired on CNNT眉rk, as he erupts from a TV screen in Istanbul and tours the city. He heads to Gezi Park, eager to liberate his fellow penguins from their televised prisons, and meets up with other furry and feathered protestors along the way, exploring the causes of the demonstrators鈥 anger, and their hopes for change. The choice of languages is far from random. They represent the communities that came together in Gezi Park to make their voices heard; three tongues that, despite official narratives, have each added their own notes to Istanbul鈥檚 harmony. Pen Park鈥檛a uses a simple narrative with endearing and engaging imagery to tell the story of the object鈥檚 transformation into subject; of the unwitting liar who becomes a warrior of truth.

Pen Liberates the Penguins_1500
A happy ending for Pen's beleaguered fellow penguins, as the crowds at Gezi Park come to assist in their liberation. Meser, Ra艧el, Pen Parkta, Istanbul: Habitus Min枚r, 2015 (BL YP.2017.a.2606)

Your average penguin might not have a fist to raise in defiance, but that doesn鈥檛 mean that they can鈥檛 oppose the powers that be 鈥 at least not in Turkey. Indeed, in 2013, this flightless bird, so often characterised as docile, defenseless, and dedicated, became a symbol of resistance and empowerment. It was, perhaps, an apt metaphor for sections of Turkish society in the age of Erdo臒an: those who shed their cloaks of passivity to engage in their own March of the Penguins.

Michael Erdman, Curator of Turkish and Turkic Collections
https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef022ad37726d4200c-pi

28 December 2018

Download Hebrew Manuscripts for free, in partnership with BL Labs

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We are delighted to announce that five more downloadable datasets containing a total of 139 digitised Hebrew Manuscripts have just been published online here, bringing the total number of Hebrew datasets to 22, and 723 manuscripts. These manuscripts were digitised as part of The Polonsky Foundation Catalogue of Digitised Hebrew Manuscripts (2013-2016), and we are able to provide them to download and reuse as part of the British Library Labs project (BL Labs).

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Festival Prayer Book, Italy, 1427-11499. Harley MS 5686, ff. 28r: miniature on the top shows a congregation praying in a synagogue, and the miniature on the bottom depicts the allegorical 鈥楽habbat Bride鈥 under a wedding canopy. The manuscript can be found in dataset Heb19
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Formed in 2013, BL Labs is an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funded project which supports and inspires the use of the British Library鈥檚 digital collections and data in exciting and innovative ways, through competitions, events and collaborative projects around the world. The team provides a digital research support service (you may apply for up to 5 days鈥 support service using this form) and promotes engagement with the Library鈥檚 digital collections and data through a series of events and workshops around the UK.

Each autumn, the British Library Labs Awards recognises exceptional projects that have used the Library鈥檚 digital collections and data in four awards categories: Research, Artistic, Commercial, and Teaching/Learning (If you know of someone who has done outstanding work using British Library digital collections and data, please encourage them to apply).


What鈥檚 in the datasets?
The digitised manuscripts are provided as 300ppi JPEGs, divided into small datasets of around 50GB each, sorted alphabetically by shelfmark (20 to 30 manuscripts per dataset). They contain a huge variety of Hebrew manuscripts, including Kabbalistic works, linguistic works, prayer books, biblical texts and commentaries, marriage certificates, charters and scrolls. The manuscripts also contain texts in many different languages, including Latin, Greek, Yiddish, Persian, Italian, Arabic and Syriac. The catalogue records for all of these manuscripts can be found in dataset Heb1 (TEI XML files).

All of the manuscripts are Public Domain, but we would appreciate it if users could read our Ethical terms of use guide before reusing the Hebrew manuscripts datasets.

Below is an overview of each of the new datasets, and a full list of all of the manuscripts included in the datasets can be seen here. We'd love to hear what you've done or made with the manuscript images and/or metadata, so please email us at digitalresearch@bl.uk.

Heb18. This dataset includes 22 manuscripts ranging from Add MS 27141 to Arundel Or 50. It includes commentaries on the Talmud and Midrash, Kabbalistic works, two German prayer books (Add MS 27208 and Add MS 27556) and a collection of medical prescriptions 鈥楽efer Refu鈥檕t鈥 from the 15th century, Germany (Add MS 27170). The miscellany Arundel OR 50 (1400-1799) includes a Hebrew Grammar in Latin, with a translation of the Lord's Prayer and the Christian confession of faith.

This dataset also includes 鈥楾he Polyglot Bible鈥 (Add MS 5242), created in England in 1665. As well as having beautifully detailed illustrations, this manuscript, will be of great interest to linguists. It contains excerpts from the Old and New Testament and liturgical pieces translated into many different languages: Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, Aramaic, Ethiopic, Arabic, Persian, Coptic, Spanish, Italian, French and German.

3_add_ms_5242_f007v3_add_ms_5242_f007v
The Polyglot Bible, England, 1665 Add MS 5242, ff. 7v-8r: the commandment of keeping the Sabbath
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5_add_ms_5242_f014v5_add_ms_5242_f014v
The Polyglot Bible, England, 16, Add MS 5242, ff. 14v-15r: Canticum B Virginis
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Heb19. This dataset includes 20 manuscripts from Harley MS 1743 to Or 12983. It contains many manuscripts looking at language and translation, including several Hebrew-Latin dictionaries and grammars, a 17 鈥 18th-century copy of the Psalms with Greek and Latin translations (Harley MS 2427), and Harley MS 7637, an 18th-century gospel of St Matthew in Hebrew translation. It also contains the 18 鈥 19th-century German manuscript 鈥楶erek Shirah鈥 (Or 12983), a midrashic commentary with a Yiddish translation.

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Perek Shirah, Germany, 1750 鈥 1899, Or 12983, f. 1r: a depiction of the world God created at the beginning of Chapter 1 of 鈥楶erek Shirah鈥: 鈥淭he Heavens are saying: 鈥楾he Heavens speak of God鈥檚 glory, and the skies tell of His handiwork.鈥 (Ps. 19:2)鈥
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The dataset also includes two early copies of parts of the Talmud 鈥 one of the central texts in Judaism. Harley MS 5794* (this manuscript has since been renamed in the British Library catalogue as Harley MS 5794A) contains sections of the Mishnah of Tractates Avot and Zeva鈥檌m, and was written in Spain in the 12th century. The manuscript Harley MS 5508 contains eight tractates of Seder Mo鈥檈d from the Babylonian Talmud, and it was written in Spain in the 12th or 13th-century.

Heb20. This dataset includes 32 manuscripts from Or 2486 to Or 2508. It includes many different biblical commentaries and Midrashim (biblical exegesis) in Persian, Arabic, and Judeo-Arabic. Some of these range from as early as the 13th century (such as Or 2494 鈥 Or 2497).

The dataset also includes the Torah scroll Or 13027. This 30 metre, 18-19th century scroll was digitised alongside its silk mantle, which was extensively restored by the British Library鈥檚 textile conservator Liz Rose. An article discussing her work can be seen here. As part of the Hebrew Manuscript Digitisation Project鈥檚 digital scholarship activities, this Torah mantle was 3D modelled by Dr Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert. You can read more about 3D imaging within the British Library here, and the 3D image of the Torah Mantle can be viewed, annotated and downloaded from Sketchfab.

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Pentateuch Scroll, Or 13027, unknown, 1750鈥1899. Silk brocade mantle after conservation
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Heb21. This dataset includes 33 manuscripts from Or 2518 to Or 5834. It includes many Arabic and Judeo-Arabic commentaries ranging in age from the 10th to the 16th centuries, such as on the Psalms and other biblical books from the Prophets and the Hagiographa. The earliest of these (Or 2552) is a collection of commentaries on Ecclesiastes and Lamentations, and Japheth ben Ali's Arabic commentary on Job. Japheth ben Ali is considered to be the foremost Karaite commentator on the bible, and he lived during the 鈥楪olden Age of Karaism鈥 in the 10th century. He died sometime in the second half of the 10th century, and so this manuscript, dated between the 10th and 11th century, could feasibly have been copied during his lifetime, or by someone who knew him directly.

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Sefer ha-Peli鈥檃h, unknown, 1562. Or 2672, ff. 31r and 67r: two folios from 鈥楽efer ha-Peli鈥檃h鈥 (The Book of Wonder), a Kabbalistic biblical commentary
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Heb22. This dataset contains 32 manuscripts from Or 6236 to Stowe Ch 297. As well as several commentaries, a magic spell, and the Revelation of St John in Hebrew translation (Sloane MS 237), this dataset includes six different Jewish marriage certificates (Ketubot) dating from between 1711 and 1835, and a discussion on marriage law from the 15th century (Or 6358).

Stowe Ch 297 is part of the British Library鈥檚 fascinating collection of English charters dating to before the expulsion of the Jews in 1290. It is a French quitclaim with a Hebrew docket dating from 1266, in which Beatriz of Rattlesden, the prioress and the convent of Flixton is released from any obligation on the lands she and her convent acquired from Oliver Buscel.

Or 6360 is a 17-18th-century collection of astrological, kabbalistic and magical fragments. It includes 鈥楽efer ha-Levanah鈥, an astrological book about the stages of the moon鈥檚 orbit, and 鈥楳afteah Shelomoh鈥, a Hebrew translation of part one of the 14th or 15th-century grimoire 鈥楰ey of Solomon鈥, one of only two versions that exist in Hebrew (part two, in Or 14759, is in the process of being digitised as part of Phase 2 of the Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project). The text is attributed to King Solomon, and it would have been written originally in Latin or Italian. It includes invocations to summon the dead or demons, and compel them to do the reader鈥檚 will. It also includes curses and spells such as for finding stolen items, invisibility, and love.

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Collection of Astrological, Kabbalistic and Magical Fragments, unknown, 1600鈥1700. Or 6360, f. 1r: the first page of 鈥楽efer ha-Levanah鈥, with an Astrologer
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Miriam Lewis, Project Manager Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project
https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef022ad37726d4200c-pi

23 December 2018

Christmas at Lahore, 1597

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Based at the Portuguese settlement at Goa, the Jesuits would be the earliest Europeans to visit the Mughal court at Fatehpur Sikri in the late sixteenth century. Receiving an invitation from the Mughal Emperor Akbar (r. 1556-1608), they made three visits to the court from 1580-95. The agenda of the three missions was to indoctrinate the Mughals to Christianity. During the third mission to the court at Lahore, Father Jerome Xavier (1549鈥1617) collaborated with the Mughal court writer Abd al- Sattar ibn Qasim Lahori (fl. 1590鈥1615) to prepare a Persian text based on the Old and New Testaments known as the Mir始膩t al-Quds (鈥楳irror of Holiness鈥). This text was made at the request of the Emperor Akbar and was completed at Agra in 1602. Father Xavier presented a copy of the text to both Emperor Akbar and his son Prince Salim (the future Emperor Jahangir). Although the proselytization was not very successful, there was a clear impact on local artists. With both Akbar and Salim establishing rivaling artistic studios at Agra and Allahabad respectively, they would commission their artists to produce illustrations to accompany their individual copies of the Mir始膩t al-Quds.

In terms of the illustrated version of the Mir始膩t al-Quds, J茅ronimo Nadal鈥檚 Evangelicae Historiae Imagines (1593) has been identified as the primary source of Biblical imagery that was either directly copied or adapted for their scenes on the life of Christ (Carvalho 2012, pp. 49-62). What remains of Akbar鈥檚 copy, as confirmed by the presence of his seal that signifies imperial ownership and patronage, is in the Lahore Museum (Stronge 2002, p. 105). (Carvalho debates and does not corroborate this information.) The remnants includes only ten rather damaged folios with illustrations. According to the art historian Susan Stronge, Prince Salim desired a far superior illustrated version and ordered his artists to execute double the number of pictures for his volume (Stronge 2002, p. 105). The surviving part of Salim鈥檚 commission consists of 160 pages of text and 24 illustrations; this manuscript is held in the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Cleveland Mirat al quds
The Adoration of the Magi from Mir始膩t al-Quds, Allahabad, India, c. 1602-04. Cleveland Museum of Art, CCO.

The British Library鈥檚 collection includes an un-illustrated manuscript of the Mir始膩t al-Quds, that was copied and dated 8 Ramazan 1027 (29 August 1618) which falls into Jahangir鈥檚 reign (r. 1605-27).

Mirat
Jerome Xavier鈥檚 Mir始膩t al-Quds, copied on 8 Ramazan 1027 (29 Aug 1618). Xavier鈥檚 translation was made at the request of the Emperor Akbar and was completed at Agra in 1602 with assistance from Mawlavi 驶Abd al-Satt膩r ibn Q膩sim of Lahore, British Library, Harley 5455  noc

As Father Jerome Xavier arrived in Lahore in 1595 and remained at court until 1615, his letters document his perceptions of life at the Mughal court and in particular, how the Mughals celebrated Christmas at Lahore in 1597. Father Xavier, reporting from Lahore to the Provincial in Goa in 1598, Xavier wrote (Maclagan, pp. 72-3):

At Christmas [1597] our brother Bendict de Goes prepared a manger and cradle as exquisite as those of Goa itself, which heathens and Muhammadans, as well as Christians, thronged to see. In the evening masses were said with great ceremony, and a pastoral dialogue on the subject of the Nativity was enacted by some youths in the Persian tongue, with some Hind奴st膩n墨 proverbs interspersed (adjunctis aliquot Industani sententiis).鈥 At the conclusion of the sacred office, the gates were opened to all鈥. Such was the crowd of spectators in those days that the cradle was kept open till the 8th day after Epiphany the fame of the spectacle spread through the town and brought even outsiders to see the sight.

In another letter, Xavier describes some of the decorations they used at the Christmas crib (Bailey, p. 32, quoting from British Library Add. 9854, f. 164b):

鈥 [mechanical] ape which squirted water from its eyes and mouth, and above it a bird which sang mysteriously...and a globe of the world supported on the backs of two elephants...and above this a large portrait of the King [Jahangir] which he sent us when he was a prince. . .and next to this figure was placed a large mirror at the front of the crib. . .[At the gates] were the Angel, i.e. Gabriel, with many angels, who were accompanied by placards proclaiming 鈥楪loria in Excelsis Deo鈥 or 鈥楴olite Timere鈥 in Persian. Around the Holy Infant in the crib were some sayings of the Prophets who pretold the coming of God into the World.

Although there are no paintings of the Christmas celebrations at the Mughal court that have been documented, nor are there any individual illustrations or detached folios to the Mir始膩t al-Quds in the British Library's collection, there are a number of drawings that document the experimentation with Christian iconography by Mughal artists. This genre of painting would become popular by the early seventeenth century during Jahangir鈥檚 reign. Artists were appropriating imagery from European engravings as well as received information from the Jesuit priests on how to convert the cross-hatching of engravings into wash in preparing their nim-qalam drawings (Losty and Roy 2012, 119). Below is an example of an engraving of the Virgin and Child that was pasted into a Mughal album page and compiled into an album for Prince Dara Shikoh and another showing a nim-qalam drawing of the Virgin and Child with Anna the prophetess.

Add Or 3129
Engraving of the Virgin and Child by a Dutch or Italian artist, 16th or 17th century in a Mughal album page, c. 1630. British Library, Add Or 3129, f.42v  noc

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Virgin and Child with Anna the prophetess, Mughal school, c. 1605-10. British Library, Johnson Album 14,4.  noc

Further reading:

Gauvin Alexander Bailey, 鈥淭he Lahore Mir始膩t al-Quds and the Impact of Jesuit Theater on Mughal Painting,鈥 South Asian Studies 13 (1997), pp. 95-108

Pedro de Moura Carvalho and Wheeler M. Thackston, Mir始膩t al-quds (Mirror of Holiness): a Life of Christ for Emperor Akbar: a Commentary on Father Jerome Xavier's Text and the Miniatures of Cleveland Museum of Art, Acc. no. 2005.145; edited and translated by W. M. Thackston. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2012

J.P. Losty., 'Further Deccani and Mughal drawings of Christian subjects', Asian and African Studies Blog, 16 November 2015.

J.P. Losty and M. Roy, Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire 鈥 Manuscripts and Paintings in the British Library, London, 2012

E. D. Maclagan,  鈥淭he Jesuit Missions to the Emperor Akbar鈥, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 65, part 1 (1896), pp. 38-113

S. Stronge, Paintings for the Mughal Emperor, Victoria and Albert Museum Publications, London, 2002.

 

By Malini Roy and Ursula Sims-Williams

05 November 2018

The Judeo-Persian manuscript collection in the British Library

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The newly launched Judeo-Persian collection guide is an important and valuable addition to the British Library鈥檚 repertoire of Middle Eastern on-line resources, that have been made accessible to increasing numbers of researchers and users worldwide. Additionally, as part of our on-going Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project, we have already digitised 34 Judeo-Persian manuscripts and will continue to do more in the months ahead.

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Judeo-Persian introduction to the commentary on Proverbs, 11th-2th century (BL Or 2459, f.64v)
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Introduction and brief historical note
Although quantitatively modest, the diversity and richness of its content, and the indisputable rarity and significance of some the items found in it, make the Judeo-Persian manuscript collection stand out. It moreover attests to the close, centuries-old cultural and historical ties that have existed between local Jewish and Persian communities.

These links can be traced back to pre-antiquity, more precisely to the period of the Babylonian captivity when, in 597 and 586 BCE, the entire Jewish population in the Kingdom of Judea was exiled by King Nabuchadnezzar II. In 539 BCE Babylon fell to the Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great whose famous declaration, recounted in the Bible, and alluded to in the famous Cyrus Cylinder, allowed the Jewish exiles to return to their homeland, rebuild their national life, and most importantly, the Jerusalem Temple which Nabuchadnezzar had sacked and raised to the ground.

Those exiles who decided to remain on Babylonian-Persian territory, formed the core of the permanent Jewish settlements, which little by little spread from the Babylonian centres, to the inner cities and regions of Persia. The tolerance showed by Persian rulers towards their Jewish subjects, especially during the early medieval period, enabled them to prosper and thrive. Biblical luminaries such as Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah for instance, emerged from the newly established colonies, and managed to play leading roles at the royal Persian court.

The history of Persian Jewry is an extensive and fascinating topic, which is far beyond the scope of this short blog. For a clear and concise historical account of the Jewish communities that lived in Persia, from antiquity to the modern era, I recommend Elias J. Bickerman and Walter Joseph Fischel's article "Persia" in Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd ed., 2007, vol.15, pp.782-792.

The Manuscripts
The star item in our Judeo-Persian manuscript collection is undoubtedly the eighth-century trade letter found in 1901 in a Buddhist monastery at Dandan-Uiliq, present-day Xinjiang, China (Or 8212/166). Information recently received from a reliable researcher, who has studied in-depth a number of our Judeo-Persian manuscripts, has revealed that the biblical commentaries in Or 2459 and Or 2460, are in fact datable to the 11th to 12th century, i.e. some 400 years earlier than George Margoliouth let us believe (G. Margoliouth鈥檚 Catalogue of the Hebrew and Samaritan manuscripts in the British Museum, 1965, vol.1, pp.184-185). This discovery makes them the second earliest Judeo-Persian manuscripts in our keep.

The blog Important Judeo-Persian bibles in the British Library posted in 2014, provided descriptions of the rarest handwritten and printed Judeo-Persian biblical works the Library holds. These included the Pentateuch dated 6th March 1319 CE (Or 5446), regarded as the earliest dated Torah text in Judeo-Persian, and the beautifully crafted copy of Torat Adonai (God鈥檚 Law) issued in 1546 at Constantinople, by Eliezer ben Gershom Soncino. In this edition, the Judeo-Persian tafsir (translation) was printed alongside the original Hebrew text, the Aramaic translation, and the Judeo-Arabic rendition of the eminent rabbinic authority and scholar Sa鈥檃dia Gaon (882-942 CE). The Torat Adonai, moreover, was the first printed Persian text of any kind, and the first Judeo-Persian translation of the Pentateuch to become known in the Western world.

The number and quality of our illustrated Judeo-Persian manuscripts are comparatively few and unrefined, yet pleasing nevertheless. Apart from the better-known Or 13704, which was the subject of a special blog posted last year, A Judeo-Persian epic, the Fath Nama (Book of Conquest), there are two other specimens which exhibit stylistic traits common to both Persian and Judeo-Persian manuscript painting. Lack of a colophon (the inscription at the end of a manuscript providing details about its production), is an additional common characteristic defining the manuscripts discussed here. Consequently, data about the original commission, and most importantly the identities of the artists responsible for the illustrations, remain shrouded in mystery.

Or 4730 is an incomplete 18th-century paper manuscript of Nizami鈥檚 Persian medieval epic Haft Paykar (The Seven Beauties). The text has been copied in a neat Persian Hebrew semi-cursive script as can be seen here:

Or_4730_f049v Or_4730_f049v
Left (f.49v): a royal feast showing Bahram Gur in the upper register, offering a cup to the lady seated on his right. Below, musicians are seen playing on a lyre, flute and tambourine, while a female performer executes a balancing act with bottles; right (f.44v): an example of the neat Persian Hebrew script used throughout (BL Or 4730)
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Nizami Ganjavi (1141-1209) is acknowledged as the greatest romantic epic poet in Persian literature, with the Haft Paykar perhaps regarded as his masterpiece. A polymath with a phenomenal intellect, Nizami was not only versed in Arabic and Persian literature, but was also intimately familiar with diverse fields of knowledge, ranging from astronomy, astrology, botany, mathematics, to medicine, Islamic law, history, philosophy and many other. In the Haft Paykar Nizami succeeded in illustrating masterfully the harmony of the universe, and the affinity between the sacred and the temporal. Nizami鈥檚 erudition and scholarship are perfectly reflected in his intensely lyrical and sensory poetical output, earning him the well-deserved appellation of Hakim (Sage).

Or_4730_f073r Or_4730_f128r
Left (f.73r): squatting on a decorated bench alongside one of the Seven Beauties, is Bahram Gur feasting in the Golden Pavilion; right (f.128r): Bahram Gur feasting in the White Pavilion. Two female musicians are seen playing the lyre and the tambourine (BL Or 4730)
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Completed in 1197, Haft Paykar was a romanticized biography of Bahram Gur (the Sassanian ruler Bahram V, ruled 420-438 CE). The Seven Beauties were princesses who became Bahram鈥檚 wives, and who received their own distinctly colored and themed pavilions in his palace. The princesses would entertain the king with compelling and captivating stories, whenever he visited them. In the story, Bahram鈥檚 royal prowess was tested, and he had to learn lessons on fairness, justice and responsibility. The 13 illustrations in our manuscript depict scenes closely related to the central narrative. Though crudely drafted, they are nonetheless likeable, owing chiefly to their colors, as attested by the examples included above.

Or_10194_f028v Or_10194_f028v Or_10194_f028v
Left (f.8v): a girl holding a bouquet of flowers; centre (f.28v): a warrior in Qajar attire carrying a sword and a bludgeon(?); right (f.46v): an old, bearded dervish carrying an axe and begging bowl (BL Or 10194)
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Written on thick paper between 1785 and 1825, the album Or 10194 is a poetical anthology by various poets. The poor calligraphy is mitigated by the five full-page vividly coloured paintings executed in opaque watercolors. These are effectively portraits of various characters, executed in traditional Qajar style.

The largest portion of our Judeo-Persian holdings, however, are unadorned textual manuscripts. Among them the following are worthy of attention:

  • Or 8659, contains a theological-apologetic section of Sefer ha-mitsvot (Book of Commandments). It largely consists of a religious discussion of various aspects of the commandment of circumcision. Despite its brevity (ten leaves only), the manuscript is significant as a very early specimen of Karaite apologetic literature written in Judeo-Persian.
  • Or 10576, is an important fragmentary example of a Sidur (Daily Prayer book) according to the Persian rite.
  • Or 4743, the only known complete manuscript of Daniyal Nameh (the story of biblical Daniel).
  • Or 2451, a Pentateuch copied at Qum, 1483-1484, that includes Josiah ben Mevorakh al-士Aq奴l墨's calendar of the cycles with rules for fixing the Jewish festivals (ff. 363v-375v).
  • Or 10482, a miscellaneous compilation comprising 鈥Amukot Shemu鈥檈l (Samuel鈥檚 depths), definitions of difficult words in the Book of Samuel, arranged in order of the biblical verses (ff.99r-114v). An early work of great lexical importance.

In this blog I have endeavored to discuss significant collection items written in Judeo-Persian, pinpointing at the same time some commonalities and differences between them and Persian manuscripts. Place of production, artistic and thematic elements, along with language and history, constitute principal areas of intersection, that offer ample scope for discovery, interpretation and research.

Watch out for my follow-up blog, when I will be focussing on the Judeo-Persian printed book collection the Library owns.

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.


Ilana Tahan, Lead Curator Hebrew & Christian Orient Studies
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21 October 2018

A Photographic Tour of the Persian Gulf and Iraq, 1906

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1_2000
House of the dragoman [translator] of British Consulate Basra鈥, 1906 (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 27)
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In November 1906, Wilfrid Malleson, a British military intelligence officer, departed from Simla in British India on an intelligence-gathering tour of the Persian Gulf and what British officials then termed 鈥楾urkish Arabia鈥 (the south of modern Iraq, then part of the Ottoman Empire). Britain was already the dominant imperial power in the Gulf and was keen to ascertain the situation in those territories to its north that remained under the sway of the Ottomans. Malleson鈥檚 report of his journey 鈥 that included stops in Muscat, Kuwait, Basra, Baghdad and Mohammerah 鈥 provides a fascinating snapshot of the region at this time.

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鈥楳osque and minaret of coloured tiles at Basra鈥. Malleson described it as: 鈥渁 brick building with a minaret ornamented with some pretty blue tiles, but, on the whole, a squalid and sorry structure which in India one would hardly turn aside to look at鈥 (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 25)
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In addition to Malleson鈥檚 narrative, the report also contains a series of photographs of the places that he visited, foremost amongst them, Basra and Baghdad. Although Malleson apologised for their poor quality in the preface to his official report, over a hundred years later they provide an evocative glimpse of locations that have changed dramatically since and in some cases, came under British military occupation less than a decade after his visit. Indeed, Malleson made notes regarding the military defences (or lack thereof) of the places that he visited including Basra, of which he remarked, 鈥淸t]here are no defences and a landing could easily be covered from ships in the river鈥. Malleson also speculated that 鈥渏udicious treatment [by Britain] could easily succeed in turning the local Arab against the much-hated Turk鈥. Eight years later 鈥 perhaps using intelligence supplied by Malleson 鈥 the British army invaded and conquered Basra as a part of the Mesopotamian Campaign of the First World War, events that eventually led to the establishment of the modern nation state of Iraq. In 2003, almost a hundred years after Malleson鈥檚 visit, the British Army invaded and occupied Basra again.

3_2000
鈥楾he British Consulate and Messrs Lynch鈥檚 offices Basra; Showing 4,000 tons of merchandise awaiting shipment to Bagdad鈥. Malleson noted that Basra鈥檚 shops were 鈥渇ull of Manchester goods of a florid and ornate pattern suited to the local taste鈥. The workmen or 鈥渃oolies鈥 on Basra鈥檚 wharfs were said by Malleson to be 鈥淎rabs and Chaldeans鈥 that 鈥渁re of fine physique and can lift great weights. They work from sunrise to sunset, but refuse to work when it is wet and knock off when they feel inclined鈥 (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 25)
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In addition to military matters, the report discusses a wide range of other topics including trade, agriculture, history, transport infrastructure and religious communities, as well as the activities of rival powers, notably the German and Ottoman Empires. As Malleson noted apologetically in its preface, the report contains much 鈥渘ot of immediate military interest鈥.

Image 4
鈥楤ahreini pilgrims on board the Khalifa鈥. Malleson took the Khalifa upriver to Baghdad and commented 鈥淸m]ore interesting than the country passed through were the pilgrims we took along with us. They were of every type, coming from all parts of the Muhammadan world in order to make the pilgrimage to the sacred cities of Kerbela and Nejef鈥 (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 33)
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Malleson also recorded the various characters that he met during the course of his journey including a German trader on the boat to Muscat and a pair of hospitable 鈥淐osmopolitan Jews鈥 in Basra鈥檚 quarantine station. The two men, father and son, were merchants and the latter was re-locating his business to Manchester in the north of England. Malleson commented that the dominance of Manchester in Baghdad鈥檚 trade 鈥渂ecame apparent to us later鈥. He also encountered an explorer who was willing to share his findings with British intelligence and believed that 鈥渁 strong British policy in the Gulf would mean progress and the spread of civilisation, and would, therefore, further the interests of the world in general鈥.

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鈥楥afe and mosque near the North Gate, Bagdad鈥. Malleson remarked that 鈥淸t]he cafes are largely frequented by the Turkish soldiery who, for the most part slouching and out-at-elbows, seem to have little enough to do鈥 (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 38)
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6_2000
鈥榁iew in Baghdad鈥. Malleson was struck by Baghdad鈥檚 diversity stating that 鈥淸i]n addition to a large population of Arabs鈥nd representatives of most of the peoples of Asia there are some 35,000 Jews, and a great number of queer Christian sects, such as Armenians, Nestorians, and Neo-Nestorians, Chaldeans, Sabaeans, Arians, Jacbobites and Manichaeans. Most of them wear some distinguishing garments and the varied hues and shapes of these make a very striking effect鈥 (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 35)
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The report, though engagingly written, is replete with the lamentable orientalist and misogynistic attitudes that characterised the stance of many British imperial officials in this period. In perhaps the most unpleasant instance of racist language in the report 鈥 and as testament to the ongoing existence of slavery in the region during this period 鈥 when discussing the women that he saw in Baghdad, Malleson wrote that they 鈥渙f course go veiled when abroad, even those of the numerous Christian sects and the Jewesses. The latter wear extraordinarily gorgeous silken garments, and the really smart thing is to possess a white donkey tended by the blackest and ugliest of negro slaves鈥.

7_2000
鈥楴ear the big mosque, Bagdad鈥 Medieval Baghdad, Malleson noted, had flourished while 鈥渢he greater part of Europe had hardly emerged from the primitive barbarism it had sunk with the fall of the Roman Empire, or from which it had never emerged鈥 (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 37)
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8_2000
鈥楢 Street in Bagdad鈥. The reality of modern Baghdad was underwhelming however, Malleson believed 鈥淸t]he traveller who, attracted merely by the glamour of a name, expects to find in Bagdad the wondrous city of his dreams is doomed to disappointment鈥(IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 38)
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As well as visiting modern settlements while in Iraq, Malleson also visited historical ruins including the remains of ancient Babylon and Ctesiphon, the former capital of the Sassanian Empire.

9_2000
鈥楾he arch of Ctesiphon鈥. Although Malleson reported that 鈥淸l]ocal experts are of opinion that this majestic ruin cannot much longer stand鈥, over a hundred years later, in spite of repeated invasions and wars, the arch still stands (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 48)
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10_2000
鈥極ur conveyance across the desert to Babylon鈥. In Malleson鈥檚 words, 鈥淸i]t was a queer looking shandridan, half bathing-machine and half grocer鈥檚 cart, with very narrow and uncomfortable seats, and drawn by a team of four, and sometimes five, mules harnessed abreast and driven by a wild-looking son of the desert鈥 (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 43)
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11_2000
鈥楾he only arch so far discovered in Babylon鈥. Discussing his visit to Babylon, Malleson wrote 鈥淗ere, too 鈥榤idst the ashes of dead empires and the havoc wrought by man, the philosopher may muse on the mutability of mundane things, the fleeting character of fame, the mockery of riches and the vanity of power鈥(IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 47)
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Concluding his report, Malleson wrote: 鈥淸a]nd so, with a heightened interest in the problems of the Middle East, and with, perhaps, some increase of knowledge; with friendships made with useful people, and numerous promises of help and correspondence, we turn our backs on Turkish Arabia and shape a course for Bushire and Karachi鈥. Just eight years later, Britain would return to Basra as an invading force and when the its flag was raised over the town, the Daily Mail proudly proclaimed 鈥Another Red Patch on the Map鈥.


Further reading:
For details on the connection between Manchester and Middle Eastern trade see: Fred Halliday, 鈥淭he millet of Manchester: Arab merchants and cotton trade鈥, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies   19:2 (1992), pp. 159-176.

An illustrated account of a tour of the same region in 1886-87: Turkish Arabia: Being an Account of an Official Tour in Babylonia, Assyria, and Mesopotamia, 1886-87 (India Office Records and Private Papers, Mss Eur F112/384).

A photographic album of a tour of the same region in 1916-18: Album of tour of the Persian Gulf. Photographer: Rev. Edwin Aubrey Storrs-Fox (India Office Records and Private Papers, Photo 496/6).

An official account of Britain鈥檚 Mesopotamian Campaign during the First World War: 鈥楬ISTORY OF THE GREAT WAR BASED ON OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS. THE CAMPAIGN IN MESOPOTAMIA 1914-1918. VOLUME I鈥 (IOR/L/MIL/17/15/66/1).

For more on Britain鈥檚 invasion and occupation of Basra in the First World War see: Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, 鈥1914: The Battle of Basra鈥, Hurst publishers Blog, 21 November 2014.

Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Language Specialist
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