The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Papal library; originally housed, with its archives, in the Lateran Palace, where it was enriched, in the course of time, by many rare manuscripts. Transferred to the Torre Chartularia on the Palatine, it was taken to Avignon; but on the return of the Apostolic See to Rome it became known as the Biblioteca Avignonese. According to a catalogue published by P. Ehrle, this library contained 116 Hebrew manucripts ("Hístoria Bibliothecæ Romanorum Pontificum," pp. 398, 754), and was probably the most ancient collection of its kind in any European library. The subsequent history of these manuscripts is uncertain, and they have been either wholly or partly lost. Such vicissitudes of fortune at length reduced the Vatican Library to a state of insignificance, until Martin V. (1417-31) and Nicholas V. (1447-55) endeavored to repair these losses, and founded the Biblioteca Apostolica in the Palace of the Vatican. This task was at length completed through the efforts of Sixtus IV., and from that time the Vatican Library has contained a large number of Hebrew codices. During the librarianship of Girolamo Aleandro (1519-38), who understood Hebrew, and of Marcello Cervini, afterward Marcellus II., the growth of this department was probably rapid; and it is clear that about 1550 the library must have contained a large number of Hebrew manuscripts, since after that date a special "scrittore" or copyist was employed for works in the Hebrew language. The actual number of manuscripts, however, is unknown, for the first catalogue, which was compiled by Carlo Federigo Borromeo, and which lists 173 books, is very imperfect, and is but little anterior to the middle of the seventeenth century.
Shortly afterward (1650) another catalogue was prepared by Bartolocci, with the assistance of Giovanni Battista Jonah, which contains a list of 584 Hebrew manuscripts and printed books. The manuscripts then in the Vatican had been acquired from two sources, the ancient Vatican collection, and the more modern Palatine foundation, which had formerly been in the library at Heidelberg, but which was presented by Duke Maximilian I. to Gregory XV., and placed in the Vatican by Urban VIII. in 1624. This Palatine collection contained 287 Hebrew manuscripts, which had originally belonged to Jews near the Rhine and the Neckar, fromwhom they had been taken during the persecution of 1391.
In 1658 the Vatican Library was enriched by the Urbino collection, which contained a number of valuable Hebrew manuscripts, including two ancient codices of the entire Bible. The second of these (not mentioned by Ginsburg in his "Introduction to the Massoretico-Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible") was written, according to the colophon, in 976; this date is questionable; but the manuscript is undoubtedly very old. After these acquisitions, Bartolocci, assisted by Giulio Morosini, compiled a new catalogue of manuscripts; but all three lists are still unpublished.
The first printed catalogue is that of Stefano Evodio and Giuseppe Simone Assemani, issued in 1756, and in use at the present day. It contains numerous errors and discrepancies, however, some of them corrected by Berliner, Steinschneider (comp. "Die Hebräischen Uebersetzungen," p. ), and others. Thus, codex 133, which contains, according to the catalogue, a work by Isaac b. Jacob Alfasi, actually comprises a collection of treatises of Yerushalmi, and affords valuable material for the textual criticism of this Talmud. In his "Appendix ad Catalogum Codicum Hebraicorum Bibliothecæ Vaticanæ," Cardinal Mai gave a list of seventy-eight other manuscripts which were added to the library after the publication of the Assemani catalogue, thus raising the number of Hebrew manuscripts in the entire collection to 590.
In recent years three small libraries of Hebrew manuscripts have been added to the Vatican, these accretions comprising thirty-nine manuscripts from the Pia Casa dei Neofiti at Rome, deposited in the Vatican in 1892 and catalogued by Gustavo Sacerdote; eighteen manuscripts from the Museo Borgiano "De Propaganda Fide," added in 1902, together with the other Borgian codices; twelve manuscripts from the Barberini collection, placed in the Vatican in 1903, with the rest of the Barberini library. Neither the Borgian nor the Barberini manuscripts have as yet been accurately described and catalogued; and therefore the above estimate of their number is provisional. The Borgian collection contains a Bible of considerable antiquity; but the other manuscripts seem to be of little value. Among the Barberini codices is the famous tricolumnar Samaritan Pentateuch in Hebrew (Samaritan version), Arabic, and Samaritan (Targum), as well as the Pentaglot Psalter in Armenian, Arabic, Coptic, Aramaic, and Ethiopic.
The Vatican Library was formerly governed by a cardinal librarian and a first and a second custodian; but in 1879 a sublibrarian was added to this staff, and in 1895 the position of second custodian was abolished. "Scrittori," or copyists, are employed in the library to copy and catalogue the manuscripts; but the statement that Sixtus IV. appointed a "scrittore" for Hebrew rests solely on a passage from Panvinio, and seems to be incorrect (comp. Müntz and Fabre, "La Bibliothèque du Vatican au Quinzième Siècle," p. 137, note 2), although it is certain that the library contained a Hebrew copyist about 1550, and that a second "scrittore" was added by Paul V. (1605-21). The celebrated Bartolocci was a Hebrew copyist, as were many converted Jews, including Carlo Federigo Borromeo, Agostino Grimani, and Giovanni Battista Jonah, the last of whom went to Rome in 1638, and was a copyist at the Vatican until his death in 1668, when he was succeeded by Giulio Morosmi, who held this office for the remainder of his life.
The Vatican Library includes also the Numismatic Cabinet and the "Pagan" and "Christian" museums. The last-named contains a glass vessel probably taken from a Jewish catacomb under the Via Labicana (see illustration, Jew. Encyc. 2:140b). This glass is especially valuable on account of its representation of the Temple of Jerusalem; it has been published by De Rossi ("Bollettino di Archeologia Cristiana," 1882, p. 137).
- S. E. and G. S. Assemani, Bibliothecœ Apostolicœ Vaticanœ Codicum Manuscriptorum Catalogus, Rome, 1756;
- Mai, Scriptorum Veterum Nova Collectio, 6:83;
- Sacerdote, I Manoscritti della Pia Casa dei Neofiti in Roma, in Atti della Regia Accademia dei Lincei, 1893;
- De Rossi, De Origine, Historia, Indicibus Scrinii et Bibliothecœ Sedis Apostolicœ, Rome, 1886;
- Ehrle, Historia Bibliothecœ Romanorum Pontificum, Rome, 1890.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Vatican Library'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/v/vatican-library.html. 1901.