National Library of Israel Adds 1,600 Ancient Christian Manuscripts to Online Archives | JNS

Ancient documents, photos and manuscripts from a monastery on the Sinai Peninsula are now available for free on the website of the National Library of Israel.

The collection of Saint Catherine’s Monastery includes objects from the 12e century. The monastery library is considerably older as it was founded in the 6th century by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian the first and is considered the oldest working library.

It contains works in a variety of languages, including Greek, Arabic, Syriac, Georgian, Armenian, and more, which library officials say are a “treasure trove” of texts related to early Christianity.

In addition, the archives contain photos of the monastery and the surrounding land in the aftermath of the Six Day War in 1967, as well as rare colored images filmed by Jacques Soussana, director of photography, photographer and former employee of the National Library, including the woman recently donated the film to the library. The film was digitized with the assistance of the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive and the Jerusalem Cinematheque.

“The digital images of these manuscripts are truly invaluable, especially for scholars of Greek Orthodox Christianity,” said Dr. Stefan Litt, curator of the Humanities Collection at the National Library of Israel, who oversaw the project. “They show us what the manuscripts in the collection looked like over 50 years ago and are now safe and long-term.”

Israel initially created microfilms of some 1,600 manuscripts in the 1960s after reaching an agreement with the Greek Orthodox Archbishop and following a similar archival project carried out by the United States Library of Congress. The microfilms created by what was then called the Jewish National and University Library were rapidly deteriorating, prompting the National Library, as it is now called, to undertake this new digital enterprise.

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