Rare Books and Religious Texts: a reading list

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Our Assistant Librarian Gary Butler gave a talk Monday night all about rare books and religious texts. In this post, he shares a reading list of books for anyone who wants to explore the themes in his talk further… 

Firstly, thank you to all who managed to make it to my talk on Monday night – it is always pleasing to see so many people who want to learn more about the wonderful collections we have here. No talk from a librarian would be complete without a reading list of titles that I highly recommend if you want to delve deeper into some of the areas I talked about. Everything I know about the book is based on the significant scholarly labours of many others. These are just some of the titles that I have found useful and interesting.

The library has an entire section on book history, libraries, printing, and reading at class-mark U 80 (typing 'U 80' into the search box on MainCAT via the link below will bring up all the titles we have in this class-mark).

An excellent set of essays on all aspects of the book, from sacred books, printing technologies, the transmission of Jewish knowledge, and histories of the book across the globe (and more besides) can be found in Suarez and Woudhuysen’s Oxford Companion to the Book (Oxford University Press, 2010; U 80/SUA REF). The library copy is the large, and very heavy, two-volume edition (gifted to the library through a generous donation). A single-volume copy containing the excellent essays within is available from Oxford University Press as The Book: A Global History (2013), which is on my own bookshelf and is well worth the investment.

When it comes understanding how printed books were made, in both the hand-press era (from c. 1450-1800s) and the modern machine press era (1800s onwards), the classic text remains Philip Gaskell, An Introduction to Bibliography (Oxford University Press, 1972; U 80.3 GAS).

For the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament I would recommend the most recent book on this list: John Barton, A History of the Bible (London: Allen Lane, 2019). This is on my current reading list, and is a lucid, fascinating account of the development of the book we know today as the Bible, and its relationship with Judaism and Christianity. It also has an excellent bibliography for even further reading. (A copy is on order to be added to the collections here in the next few weeks – look out for it on the ‘What’s New’ section of MainCAT via the link below, or check the ‘new additions’ in the Theology Room).

In the meantime, Christopher de Hamel’s The Book: A History of the Bible (London: Phaidon Press, 2001; B 11.1/30) remains a key text, especially on illuminated manuscripts.

If you want to know more about papyrology and early Christian religious texts, I highly recommend Bruce Nongbri’s God’s Library: The Archaeology of the Earliest Christian Manuscripts (Yale University Press, 2018; A 30/89).

Geoffrey Roper’s essay on the history of the book in the Muslim world in the Oxford Companion to the Book is information-rich and very easy to read – it would be my first place to start on this subject. For more on the role of European, and Anglican, collecting of Arabic manuscripts between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, Alexander Bevilacqua’s The Republic of Arabic Letters (Belknapp/Harvard, 2018; 909.09767 BEV) is a learned, readable account.

Here’s a link to our catalogue, MainCAT, where you can search for most of the titles mentioned here and more: gladmaincat.cirqahosting.com

Find out all the information you need about using the Reading Rooms via the link here

Look out for the resumption of my intermittent series of Collection Spotlights later this month as well, which will give me a chance to share more remarkable items from our collections with you.

By Gary Butler, Assistant Librarian