Important religious manuscripts unveiled digitally by Cambridge University Library

Gwen Jing 14 December 2012

For the first time ever, the Cambridge Digital Library has released digital versions of some of the oldest, most pertinent religious documents in the world, including a 2,000 year old copy of the Ten Commandments.

Images of the Nash Papyrus, ancient fragments of the Commandments and the oldest manuscript containing text from the Hebrew Bible, are among the 25,000 new images to be released by the University’s digital library.

The documents are described as being of “great importance to faith traditions and communities around the world” by University librarian Anne Jarvis, and can found online at the library website. The website has drawn tens of millions of hits since the University’s digitisation project was launched in December 2011.

These fragile texts were previously only available to a select few academics for inspection, until a £1.5 million gift from the Polonski Foundation in June 2010 enabled the implementation of sophisticated technical infrastructure allowing these documents to be digitised. This donation marks one of the largest the foundation has made as part of its International Digitisation Project, which aims to make the world’s intellectual treasures freely accessible globally.

As explained by Mrs Jarvis, while before, “because of their age and delicacy, these manuscripts are seldom able to be viewed”, now, “through the generosity of the Polonsky Foundation, anyone with a connection to the internet can select a work of interest, turn to any page of the manuscript and explore it in extraordinary detail.”

Dr Leonard Polonsky said: “I am delighted to see such important materials being made freely available to the world and I look forward to the many other exciting collections the library is preparing.”

These newly released documents follow last year’s publication of Isaac Newton’s manuscripts and notebooks, and also include images of Codex Bezae, the ancient copy of the New Testament. The latest releases further cover the 13th Century text The Life of Edward the Confessor, and important texts from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, as well as the Book of Deer – the oldest surviving Scottish manuscript dating back to the 10th Century containing the earliest known examples of written Gaelic.

Gwen Jing