Museum of Portuguese Jewish History

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The sumptuous decorations were created by a team of skilled artists. Completed in 1482, the Lisbon Bible is a testimony to the rich cultural life the Portuguese Jews experienced prior to the expulsion and forced conversions of 1496.


What is the Hebrew Bible?

The first part of the Hebrew Bible is the Torah, or the Five Books of Moses, also known as the Pentateuch. The Torah is the most sacred part of the Hebrew Bible because, according to tradition, Moses wrote it at divine dictation. The five books making up the Torah are Be-reshit, Shemot, Va-Yikra, Be-Midbar and Devarim, which in the Christian Bible correspond to Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The Hebrew titles derive from the first characteristic word appearing in each book, while the name used in the English Bible (usually of Greek origin) describe the central theme dealt with in each book.

The second and third parts contain the Prophets and the Hagiographa (Writings or Holy Writings) respectively.

Added to this manuscript are lists of the Commandments in the Torah, as well as masoretic material (commentaries and marginal notes written by rabbis) which give information on the correct spelling, reading and pronunciation of the biblical text.




The original Lisbon Bible manuscript has been housed at the British Library collection since 1882

  1. This three volume Hebrew Bible is one of the most accomplished creations of the Lisbon school of Hebrew illumination. Its exquisite frontispieces and finely wrought miniatures, executed in brilliant colors and enhanced in gold leaf. The manuscript was copied by Samuel, son of Samuel Ibn Musa, for Joseph son of Judah surnamed al-Hakim, and was completed in 1482. This image represents volume 1., Kedoshim (Leviticus', chapter 19), which deals with laws prohibiting the mixing of species, seeds and trees.

Size: 30.1 ;  45.3 ;  cm

Medium:  Ink and pigments on vellum

Rights: Original British Library

Date: 1482 CE

  1. Click on the book above and you can flip through the pages of the Lisbon Bible at the British Library.

  2.   Pages turn right to left. Requires a standard broadband connection of 125 kbps or above.

The 15th century was the Golden Age of Iberian Jewry, and the Lisbon Bible is considered one of the finest examples of Jewish illumination and calligraphy produced during this flourishing period. This is the first manuscript to display the elaborate ornamental technique used in the Lisbon studios. The bible is decorated in a rich array of colors and burnished gold. The intricate filigree of the drawings and border decorations includes a number of motifs: plants, trees, flowers, peacocks, owls, dragons.

The highly legible and vocalized script displays the scribe's distinct, individual style, in the fines Sephardi tradition. The text is masorated in both detailed and abbreviated form, and the chapter headings for the 51 weekly portions of the Law are exquisitely decorated. One of the most beautiful features of this bible is the special section that lists the 613 commandments in their order of appearance in the Pentateuch.

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