When: Wednesday 24 May 2017, 6 – 8pm
Who: Institute of English Studies
Where: The Chancellor’s Hall, First Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Crossing palaeographical borders: bi-alphabetical Hebrew scribes and manuscripts in Egypt, Spain and Northern France (11th to 15th centuries)

Professor Olszowy-Schlanger’s lecture will centre on an aspect of Hebrew paleography in Latin manuscripts. Her subject is relevant to current studies in a variety of areas: it is about the interaction of minority and dominant cultures, inter-faith relations and the multilingualism and polyglot nature of urban communities in medieval Europe, as well as medieval literacy and the practices of reading, writing and the creation of libraries and archives.

Medieval Jewish scribal culture reflects long-standing post-biblical traditions elaborated by Jewish communities in Palestine, Egypt and Mesopotamia. Moreover, despite major linguistic and scribal differences, Jewish medieval scribes in both East and West were well aware of the palaeographical specificities of the non-Jewish cultures among which they resided. This awareness is apparent in the manuscripts themselves: some contain texts written in different languages and alphabets, others are written in Hebrew script with features echoing the scripts of the majority cultures.  Taking as examples manuscripts written in Egypt, Spain and Northern France between the eleventh and the fifteenth centuries, I attempt to uncover some of the mechanisms, technical, aesthetic and social, underlying such scribal cross-cultural encounters.

Professor Judith Olszowy-Schlanger is the Director of Studies, École Pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE), Section des Sciences Historiques et Philogogiques, Sorbonne University, Paris and is a corresponding fellow of the British Academy. She is a highly distinguished scholar, funded by the Rothschild Foundation to research uncatalogued material, and her subject is fundamental to current work on medieval Europe. She heads a pan-European project entitled ‘Books within Books’ (http://hebrewmanuscript.com), that seeks to locate, photograph and describe every Hebrew manuscript to be found in the bindings of books (these are mostly books written in Latin) now in libraries across Europe. She is a leading specialist in the study of Hebrew manuscripts, paleography and diplomatic, the history of medieval linguistic thought and Christian Hebrew scholars in the Middle Ages.

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