Techno (Medieval Jewish Illuminated Manuscripts)

This is one of the iPads mounted at the “Crossing Borders” exhibition of medieval Jewish “illuminated” manuscripts from the Bodleian Library at Oxford University now on view at the Jewish Museum.

A couple of manuscripts have a technological complement, allowing you to “look” into the otherwise closed book displayed under glass. Only the “Kennicott Bible,” a 15th c. Spanish Hebrew Bible gets the full body treatment. It has been photographed by Ardon Bar-Hama. What you see here in the image I’ve posted above is the full index of icons presented on one of the iPads. Each icon represents  and links  you to a single image of a page of the physical text. I have included below in the slideshow more images from Bar-Hama’s digitilization, which alone is worth the price of admission.

My guess is that the use of the digital technology is intended to serve two purposes at the exhibition. At least that’s the way I “see” it.

First, the technology  provides access to content. Usually at these kinds of exhibitions of rare books, you get to see the single two page page-spread under glass that the curators have chosen to display. With the technology, you get to see a simulacrum of the entire book, every single page. It’s very exciting.

Secondly, and I think as important, the technology is part of the exhibition itself, its own contribution to the look of the exhibition space. The icons brightly hang in the ambient, protective dark of the exhibition space.  It gives the entire exhibition of “illuminated” manuscripts a little extra glow, a sense of the back-lit after-life of the physical artifact.

Is this a postmodern-medieval allegory? I’ve never seen such a thing, not the insides of a medieval book like the Kennicott, and not this kind of museum display. At the Jewish Museum, technology and the study of religion, technology and religion go to hand.

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About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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