Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

National library of France, founded in 1354. The Hebrew manuscripts in this library have always stood at the head of the Oriental collections, their number now amounting to 1,390. In importance and number of volumes, this library is second only to the Bodleian at Oxford.

The foundation of the Bibliothèque Nationale dates from the time of Charles V. of France, about the middle of the fourteenth century; though it is not known whether any Hebrew manuscripts were contained in the libraries of Charles V. and Charles VI. It is not even certain that manuscript No. 715, said to be "written in the letters of the Jews," was really a Hebrew book (Delisle, "Le Cabinet des Manuscrits," 1:48, note 1). A number of Hebrew books might have been expected to be found in these twocollections. Charles V. ordered a selection to be made among the Hebrew manuscripts at the Trésor des Chartes, and in 1372 these manuscripts were brought to the Louvre. A second collection of Hebrew books was delivered to Gilles Mallet about 1397. It comprised 44 volumes, 4 rolls, and portions of the Bible and the Talmud which had been found in the house of a Jew living in the Faubourg St. Denis after the Jews were expelled from Paris (V. H. Sauval, "Histoire et Récherche des Antiquités de la Ville de Paris," 2:520). From this source have probably come the two French rituals confiscated during the reign of Philippe-le-Bel, and formerly preserved in the treasury (now Hebrew MSS. 634, 637). The Renaissance largely enriched the Hebrew stores of the library. Guillaume Pellicier, bishop of Montpellier and ambassador of France to Venice, says in a letter addressed to King Francis I., Aug. 29, 1540, "Sire, it will please you to learn that since I have been in this city by your command, I have, up to the present time, kept a force of copyists at work, and now I still have eight of them, including the Hebrew, who write for me the rarest works I am able to find in this language" (Delisle, ib. 1:155). These are, without doubt, the books in the library the bindings of which bear the arms of Henry II.

In an inventory of the library of Blois, which in 1544 was united with that of Fontainebleau, there are only 3 Hebrew volumes. Henry II. had in all only 30 Hebrew manuscripts, to which 20 volumes were added in 1599 from the library of Catherine de Médici. These volumes came originally from the collection of Gilles de Viterbe (see the report of M. Taschereau, published at the head of the catalogue of this collection). On Jan. 12, 1668, Louis XIV. ordered an exchange of printed books and manuscripts between the library of the College Mazarin and that of the king. In this way 200 manuscripts were added to the king's collection.

On May 18, 1673, Dupont, consul of France at Aleppo, announced to Minister Colbert that Father Besson had procured about 50 volumes from private libraries in the country, and from some of the synagogues. Under the librarianship of Baluze no less than 60 Hebrew manuscripts were added (Delisle, ib. p. 446). One hundred and twenty-seven Hebrew manuscripts were in the collection of Gilbert Gaulmin, 14 in that of the archbishop of Reims (1700), and 12 in that of Thevenot. The Colbert collection enriched the library by 171, so that in 1739 the total number of manuscripts was 516.

It is worthy of note that the general centralization of books by the French republic has brought to the library a considerable number of Hebrew manuscripts: 207 from the Paris churches of the Oratory, 34 from the churches of St. Germain. At the same period as many as 258 came to the library from the Sorbonne, Hebrew books having been a part of the library there as early as 1414 (Delisle, ib. 3:41, note), and the collection of Oriental manuscripts having been enriched by those of the Marquis de Brières, which came into the Sorbonne collection with the library of Cardinal Richelieu. These can be recognized by the cardinal's arms on their covers. In modern times important gifts have enriched the collection. In 1862, 8 Hebrew manuscripts were added from the Trésor des Chartes, and in 1867 the Empress Eugénie presented to the library a Bible, for which, because of its illustrations and supposed antiquity, she had paid 25,000 francs ("Rev. Et. Juives," 36:112). About 1872 two further additions were made by Baron James Edouard de Rothschild (Nos. 1322, 1323). All departments of Jewish literature are represented in this collection, besides works in Aramaic, in Arabic (Hebrew characters), and in Judæo-Spanish.


The most ancient Bible is dated 1286; others are of the fourteenth century ("Archives Israélites," 1894, 55:397). A number of these volumes coming from Italy and the Orient are of the fifteenth or sixteenth century. Others are of more recent date. A few volumes contain miniatures: e.g., No. 584, Sefer ha-Miẓwot, in Arabic; No. 586, Minhagim in Judæo-German; Nos. 592, 593, 617, Catalan and Italian rituals; Nos. 643, 644, 646, and especially No. 1,333, containing a curious Passover Haggadah according to the Oriental rite, and dating from the beginning of the fifteenth century ("Jour. Asiatique," 1892, 1:172-185).

In addition to the manuscripts already mentioned, fragments of others have been found bound within printed volumes, among these being an elegy on Joseph Caro ("Rev. Et. Juives," 9:304); and Hebrew manuscripts found in non-Hebrew books, such as the three autograph letters of David Cohen de Lara, incorporated in the French manuscript 19,213 (ib. 11:95); or some business memoranda in semi-cursive Hebrew of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, found in Latin manuscript No. 5097.

Cataloguing of the Collection.

As regards the cataloguing of this collection, the beginnings were made by a converted Jew, Louis de Compiègne, in 1689, by order of Louis XIV. (Franklin, "Les Anciennes Bibliothèques de Paris," 2:190). This work, revised by the Abbé Renaudot, served as a basis for the Hebrew part of the catalogue of Oriental manuscripts, printed in 1739. The deficiencies of this latter work were soon noticed; and a Jew of the Comtat Venaissin, Bernard de Valabrègue, examined the manuscripts, while Richard Simon gave an account of the Hebrew manuscripts of the Oratory (at this period this latter collection was not yet incorporated with the Bibliothèque Nationale). It was, however, found necessary to have the catalogue completely revised. From 1838 to 1850 this work was done by S. Munk. When in 1850 his eyesight failed, he was superseded by Joseph Derenbourg. The catalogue published in 1865 contained 1,313 manuscripts and 16 Samaritan works. Since that time the collection has been increased by about 75 manuscripts ("Rev. Et. Juives," 37:249). The work of cataloguing the collection was completed by M. Zotenberg, who added a description of the Samaritan manuscripts.

In regard to the printed books a different system of grouping has been followed. In the Bibliothèque Nationale printed books are distributed according to subject-matter. The number of books in the Bibliothèque Nationale in 1897 was 2,048,893; and as the Hebrew works are distributed among these, it is noeasy task to ascertain their existence in the library. Thus almost all the incunabula enumerated by De Rossi may, it is true, be found there, but in order to discover them, they must be laboriously sought in the numerous subject-divisions.

Cabinet des Médailles et Antiques.

From a collection of valuable objects of ancient, medieval, and modern times, Louis XIV. constituted the Cabinet de France, or, as it is called, the "Cabinet des Médailles et Antiques." The Hebraica in this collection are to be found in the three main sections denominated: (a) ancient medals; (b) early Middle Ages; (c) modern specimens. The series of ancient Jewish coins includes 28 from Galilee, 204 from Samaria, and 417 from Judea. The last number, the greater part of which are Greek or Roman coins, includes also the coins of Simon Maccabee (9 in silver and 11 in bronze), as well as the coins minted during the insurrection of Bar Kokba. S. Munk, in his "Palestine," has reproduced, on plate 21, 6 of these Maccabean coins (Reinach, in "Rev. Et. Juives," 15:56, 17:42, 18:304).

After the medals come in chronological order the cups with magic inscriptions in Judæo-Aramean. Of these the Cabinet contains several specimens (see Bowls, Magic).

In addition to these, there are specimens with texts in square characters of comparatively modern date. Some are in the shape of coins, upon which are Hebrew inscriptions. These date from the sixteenth or seventeenth century ("Rev. Et. Juives," 25:132, 27:317). There are about forty specimens in this class. They comprise: (a) inscriptions with historic names recalling the rabbinical traditions of coins referring to Abraham and Sarah, to Isaac and Rebekah (B. Ḳ. 97b); some of these referring to Moses, others to Aaron, David, and Solomon; (b) amulets and talismans; (c) magic squares and astrological symbols; (d) Christian documents with Hebrew and Latin words taken from the Bible. There is also a medal said to have come from Lyons (J. Derenbourg, in "Revue Israélite," 1:4-8), a cameo with the name of Gracia Nassi ("L'Officiel," Nov. 7, 1877), and a Jewish seat of the fourteenth century (A. Blanchet, in "Revue Numismatique," 1889, p. 483). Finally, there are a number of talismans called Abraxas ("Rev. Et. Juives," 31:149; Catalogue by E. Babelon, No. 27).

Department of Engravings.

The department of engravings in the Bibliothèque Nationale comprises 2,300,000 pieces, preserved in 145,000 volumes and 4,000 portfolios (Delaborde, "Le Departement des Estampes à la Bibliotèque Nationale," p. 6). This collection was originally made by the Abbé de Marolles in 1667. The Jewish subjects can be found by means of the catalogues and alphabetical lists of engravings. Among these may be mentioned the engraving of a medieval anti-Jewish statue, called the "Truie de Wittenberg" (Kaufmann, in "Rev. Et. Juives," 20:269, 23:313), and an engraving of the so-called martyrdom of St. Simon of Trent in 1472, a xylograph of some interest and one frequently described.

M. S.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

Search for…
Enter query in the box below:
Choose a letter to browse: