Facsimile Edition of the Kennicott Bible

Bible Review - February 1985

(Facsimile Editions: London, 1984) 922 pp., $4,700

In 1476, during the infamous years of the Spanish Inquisition and just 16 years before the Jews of Spain were expelled from their homeland, a Jew of La Coruna undertook an elaborate and expensive effort to perpetuate his heritage. Isaac di Braga of La Coruna commissioned the scribe Moses Ibn Zabara and the artist Joseph Ibn Hayyim to execute a lavishly illuminated copy of the Bible. The result is one of the world's most sumptuous medieval illuminated Hebrew manuscripts. Kings and prophets, animals and geometric designs, painted in rich colors and often embellished with gold and silver leaf, appear on 238 of the Bible's 922 vellum pages. The manuscript, in an excellent state of preservation, has now been reproduced in a limited edition of 550 copies by Facsimile Editions of London.

All the brilliant colors of the original are captured in the facsimile. Craftsmen added gold and silver leaf by hand to the photographically reproduced illustrations. The paper on which the facsimile is printed is practically indistinguishable from vellum, both in its appearance and in its feel, and the manuscript is handbound in a replica of the original box binding. Craftsmen handcut brass dies to emboss the intricate geometric designs that appear on six sides of the binding's Moroccan goat skin.

Called the Kennicott Bible for the English Hebraist Benjamin Kennicott who acquired it in 1771, Ibn Zabara and Ibn Hayyim's masterpiece is now a treasure of the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England. Until the facsimile edition was published, the only way to study the Kennicott Bible was to visit the Bodleian Library or to examine the reproductions of a fewpages of the manuscript that have appeared in scholarly books.

The text of the Bible and of David Kimchi's famous grammatical treatise Sefer Mikhlol that accompanies it are written in clear Sephardi script (Sephardi refers to the writing style and other traditions of Jews from Spain and Portugal and is distinguished from Ashkenazi traditions of central and eastern European Jews.)

Those who order the facsimile will also receive a separate leather-bound introduction to the Kennicott Bible written by Bezalel Narkiss, founder and director of the Centre for Jewish Art, and by Aliza Cohen-Mushlin, author of The Making of a Manuscript. The introduction explains how the scribe and the artist produced the manuscript, analyzes the content of each illumination, and discusses Joseph Ibn Hayyim's place in the history of Spanish art.