Alba Bible

Alba Bible

Maqueda (Spain) — 1422–1430

An ambitious Spanish work seeking to reconcile Christians and Jews in a time of increasing intolerance

  1. A Castilian translation of the Hebrew Bible intended to increase interfaith understanding

  2. A commission of Luis de Guzmán, Grand Master of the Order of Calatrava from 1407 to 1443

  3. Christian illuminators worked under the direction of Rabbi Arragela

Alba Bible

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Alba Bible

The famous Spanish Alba Bible is a grandiose icon of tolerance! In 1422, at a time of increasing hostility by Spanish Christians against the Jews, Don Luis de Guzmán commissioned a Castilian translation of the Hebrew Bible along with a commentary. The idea was to strengthen tolerance towards Judaism through this translation. After an uphill struggle, Guzmán recruited Rabbi Moses Arragel from Maqueda as the translator, a highly educated and influential authority on the Hebrew Bible. The result of his work – completed on June 2nd, 1430 – is also an impressive work of illumination, which is richly adorned with 334 miniatures. A manuscript that seeks its match in quality and historicity!

Alba Bible

The famous Spanish Alba Bible is a grandiose icon of tolerance! In 1422, at a time of increasing hostility by Spanish Christians against the Jews, Don Luis de Guzmán commissioned a Castilian translation of the Hebrew Bible along with a commentary. The idea was to strengthen tolerance towards Judaism through this translation. After an uphill struggle, Guzmán recruited Rabbi Moses Arragel from Maqueda as the translator, a highly educated and influential authority on the Hebrew Bible. The result of his work – completed on June 2nd, 1430 – is also an impressive work of illumination, which is richly adorned with 334 miniatures. A manuscript that seeks its match in quality and historicity!

A Symbol of Tolerance

Don Luis de Guzmán, Grandmaster of the Order of Calatrava, was a high-ranking Spanish cleric who had great influence in Castile. His idea was to mediate the conflict between Spaniards and the Spanish Jewry with the help of a Castilian translation of the Hebrew Bible. The particular features of the Jewish faith were also to be made comprehensible for Christians through this translation and a detailed commentary, promoting tolerance and understanding between them. An impressive symbol of Judeo-Christian coexistence!

The Translator Refuses

Rabbi Moses Arragel from Marqueda, located in the province of Toledo, was commissioned with the historically significant translation. He feared resentment from the side of the Jews and vehemently resisted the commission at first. Rabbi Moses Arragel worried that the translation would rather incite hostility against the Jews. This lead to a lively correspondence between de Guzmán and Rabbi Arragel, which is recorded on the first 50 pages of the manuscript. This unique idiosyncrasy gives background information about the manuscript in the codex itself! After extended negotiations, Rabbi Arragel conceded. Supported and supervised by Christian monks, he was able to complete the translation on June 2nd, 1430.

A Hebrew Bible with Illustrations from a Christian Hand

The wonderful translation of the Hebrew bible in Castilian is adorned with 334 miniatures on a total of 1026 pages. This marvelous evidence of 15th century Spanish illumination and the considerable attention attributed to the biblical translation was the work of Christian illuminators. Jewish influences are also clearly discernable in the miniatures, they are probably attributable to Rabbi Arragel’s instructions to the artists. The Alba Bible is also an impressive attestation of Spanish-Jewish culture and interfaith collaboration. Along with the commentary, the manuscript also contains numerous excerpts from significant rabbinical texts as well as the so-called “Glossary of the Confused” with explanations of certain foreign words.

The Further Course of the Story

The gorgeous Alba Bible was thoroughly scrutinized by Christian censors after its completion both in Toledo as well as at the University of Salamanca. Uncertainty reigns over the further whereabouts of Rabbi Arragel and the question of whether he ever received the rich payment that was promised to him by Don Luis de Guzmán. The precious manuscript has resided in the library of the Palacio de Liria, seat of the Archduke of Alba and Berwick, since 1622 and also gained its name therefrom. This evidence of a Christian patron and a Jewish author is regarded as an icon of religious tolerance!

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Alba-Bibel
Size / Format
1,046 pages / 40.5 × 29.5 cm
Origin
Spain
Date
1422–1430
Style
Illustrations
334 miniatures

Available facsimile editions:
Alba Bible – Palacio de Liria (Madrid, Spain)
Facsimile Editions Ltd. – London, 1992
Limited Edition: 500 copies
Detail Picture

Alba Bible

Moses and the Ten Commandments

Having just descended from Mount Sinai, Moses is pictured barefooted, bearded, dressed in a stripped red robe, and holding two impossibly large stone tablets with the Ten Commandments on either side of his head, which emits golden rays. Moses stands among green grass and bushes instead of the dusty and rocky landscape that we associate with Mount Sinai today. The leader of the Israelites looks directly at the beholder with the intensity of one who has just conversed with Jehovah.

The Alba Bible
Single Page

Alba Bible

Belshazzar's Feast

In the Book of Daniel, Crown Prince Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus (r. 556–539 BC), the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. During a great feast, he drinks from vessels looted from the First Temple during its destruction. A hand then appears and begins to write on a wall, but his wisemen cannot read it, so the terrified prince calls upon Daniel.

Daniel interprets the message and tells Belshazzar that God has found him wanting, his days are numbered, and that his kingdom will fall to the Medes and Persians. Belshazzar rejects Daniel’s indictment of his pride and blasphemy and is struck dead that very night. This is the origin story of the idiom “the writing on the wall” as a byword for any sign of inevitable doom or failure.

The Alba Bible
Facsimile Editions

#1 The Alba Bible

Facsimile Editions Ltd. – London, 1992
Alba Bible – Palacio de Liria (Madrid, Spain)
Alba Bible – Palacio de Liria (Madrid, Spain) Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Publisher: Facsimile Editions Ltd. – London, 1992
Limited Edition: 500 copies
Binding: As the manuscript's original binding no longer exists, a morocco goatskin Mudéjar-style binding of the period on wooden boards, blind-tooled with interlacing geometric designs and finished with solid brass clasps on leather thongs, was faithfully copied by Satwinder Sehmi.
Commentary: 1 volume by Jeremy Schonfield, Shlomo Ben-Ami, Sonia Fellous-Rozenblat, Adriaan Keller, Moshe Lazar and Angus McKay

In order to set the facsimile in its historical context, the commentary volume has been artfully designed by Gerald Cinamon, Anthony Kitzinger, and Satwinder Sehmi, who designed the opening page of each chapter.
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding. Paper milled in Italy was used to precisely recreate the look and feel of the original parchment.
Price Category: €€€€€ (over 10,000€)
Edition available
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