Hebraica veritas. Did God speak Hebrew? le 16 mai - 17 aout 2008 ą Anvers, Muséee Plantin

The starting point for this exhibition is the Hebrew Bible: what was its role in Jewish circles? Numerous other writings were involved too, including the Targum, Mishna and Talmud, as well as mediaeval commentaries. The latter were often written by hand in the margins of the earlier sources. After the invention of book printing, these Hebrew writings soon found their way into print. As did the Bible, which was an exceptionally complex undertaking.

Christian scholars’ interest in Jewish writings increased in the 16th century. The Hebrew language and the many Hebrew writings on or connected to the Bible, which until then had been unexplored territory, became the subject of a separate discipline. In Western Europe, the Hebrew Bible – or what we call the Old Testament – was only to be found in Latin translations.

There was an increasing awareness that by neglecting the Hebrew a major source of knowledge was being lost; Hebrew was after all the primary language of the Bible, on which later translations were based. A move was made to catch up and this suited the humanist philosophy that propagated a return to the true sources (ad fontes). Certain other Jewish mystical traditions such as the kabbala also fascinated people.

This led to the publication of many new books, and printers with a business instinct such as Plantin took advantage of the fact. The superb results include a number of impressive multilingual Bibles. Plantin’s renowned Biblia Polyglotta, the product of scholarly teamwork, is literally a ‘masterpiece’.

The exhibition also shows a marvellous collection of Hebrew Bibles and Bible commentaries. A great many of these works are still part of the daily lives of Jewish people. And you will discover that the museum possesses the oldest Hebrew lead type in the world. Lastly, dictionaries and grammars show the approach Christian scholars took to learning Hebrew, with the aid of their Jewish colleagues. They later wrote instructional books themselves.