St John’s College Library has twenty-seven manuscripts that have historically been described as the Oriental collection, covering Arabic, Persian, Syriac, Hebrew, Turkish, Ethiopic, and Gujarati items. These were described in full in Emile Savage-Smith’s A Descriptive Catalogue of Oriental Manuscripts at St John’s College Oxford (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).
In recent years, the problematic nature of the term ‘Oriental’ has come to the fore, especially in terms of its colonialist connotations and lack of cultural nuance. From now on, the former Oriental manuscripts collection in St John’s College Library will be known instead as the Middle Eastern and North African manuscripts collection.
This renamed collection includes everything covered in Savage-Smith’s catalogue except for our Gujarati manuscript, which is the 37th item in MS 254. Readers can find a full description and an image of this Gujarati manuscript here. A broader description of MS 254 will be available via ArchivesHub in the near future.
Below, we provide an overview of all of the Middle Eastern and North African Manuscripts in our collection, using both the shelfmark and the Savage-Smith catalogue entry number for ease of reference.
Learn more about our manuscripts…
MS 33 (Savage-Smith no. 24)
MS 33 is a Persian encyclopaedia of the sciences. The manuscript, which was probably completed c.1550-1580, contains numerous diagrams.
MS 70 (Savage-Smith no. 38)
MS 70, the college’s only Syriac manuscript, is an incomplete copy of the Causa causarum. It was likely produced in the sixteenth century, and includes a diagram of the four elements.
MS 72 (Savage-Smith no. 30)
MS 72 is a copy of the Qur’ān made in 1626-7 (1036 H). The manuscript was possibly made in Egypt or Syria.
MS 83 (Savage-Smith no. 22)
MS 83 is an illustrated copy of Kitāb al-Ḥiyal fī al-ḥurūb wa-fatḥ al-madā’in wa-ḥifẓ al-durūb (The Book of Devices for Wars, Conquest of Cities, and Protecting Mountain Passes). The manuscript was completed in 757 H (= 1356).
MS 103 (Savage-Smith no. 2)
MS 103 is the earliest recorded copy of al-A‘raj al Nīsābūrī’s commentary on Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī’s al-Tadhkirah fī ‘ilm al-hay’ah (‘Memoir on the Science of Astronomy’).
MS 107 (Savage-Smith no. 32)
MS 107 is an illuminated copy of the Qur’ān probably made in the late 16th or early 17th century.
MS 122 (Savage-Smith no. 23)
MS 122 is a heavily annotated copy of a compendium on the linguistic sciences written by al-Sakkākī. This manuscript was completed on 23 Rajab 732 [= 20 April 1332].
MS 133 (Savage-Smith no. 34)
MS 133 is a Persian translation of the Book of Psalms by an unnamed translator. This manuscript was probably produced in the 16th or 17th century.
MS 155 (Savage-Smith nos. 4, 10)
MS 155 contains an anonymous and incomplete set of Arabric astronomical tables in addition to an anonymous set of Arabic calendric conversion tables. This manuscript was probably made in the 17th century.
MS 186 (Savage-Smith no. 8)
MS 186 contains texts on quadrants and timekeeping composed by the Mamluk astronomer Sibṭ al-Māridīnī. The last item in the manuscript is dated 993/1584.
MS 201 (Savage-Smith no. 28)
MS 201 is an illuminated copy of the Qur’ān, probably made in Iran in the first half of the 16th century.
MS 215 (Savage-Smith no. 31)
MS 215 is an illuminated copy of the Qur’ān, probably made in Iran or India in the 17th century.
MS 228 (Savage-Smith no. 39)
MS 228 predominantly comprises a collection of Ethiopic miracles. The manuscript, which is kept in a leather pouch, was produced in the nineteenth century.
MS 253 item 30 (Savage-Smith no. 36)
Item 30 in MS 253 is a transcription and translation of two Hebrew deeds of conveyance. The original documents, dated 1268, are in Merton College Oxford.
MS 304 (Savage-Smith no. 29)
MS 304 is an illuminated copy of the Qur’ān, probably made in Iran in the mid-16th century.
MS 367 (Savage-Smith no. 27)
MS 367 is a treatise on Isalmic law (fiqh) written by the Ḥanafite scholar al-Ghaznawī. This copy was made in 1186 [= 1773].
MS 369 (Savage-Smith no. 26)
MS 369 is a collection of ḥadīth. This illuminated manuscript was completed in 901 [= 1496].
MS 370 (Savage-Smith no. 25)
MS 370 is a complete copy of all 50 maqāmāt by al-Ḥarīrī. This copy was collated and vocalized by Jarmānūs Farḥāt (1670-1732), a Syrian grammarian.