by BCBP admin
Three Faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam

When the Three Faiths Exhibit at The New York Public Library opened in New York, we asked the eight curators and advisers to share their favorite pieces. It’s an exhibit that contains, as one of the sponsors described it, “so many treasures.”

The curators chose a wide range of items from the three Abrahamic Faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Their favorites include a Scroll of Esther from 1686; Qur’an fragments from 9th century Iraq or Iran; and a beautiful illustration of the Sermon on the Mount, from Rome in the 1500s. Click through the gallery to see photos of these and discover more of their favorites from the 200 items on display. Then visit our Three Faiths page to find out more about this fascinating exhibit.

Note: Images and content courtesy of The New York Public Library. Some images have been cropped to fit.

Anwar al-Tanzil (Lights of Revelation)



Istanbul (?), Ottoman Empire, 976 AH (1569 CE)

Manuscripts and Archives Division

Curator Priscilla Soucek’s comments:

Al-Baydawi’s commentaries were popular during the Ottoman period. Religious scholars often prepared copies for their personal use, which are usually modest in appearance. The striking appearance of this volume with its colorful illumination and golden opening pages reflect the taste of the Ottoman court. A note on its fly-leaf suggests that it was intended as a gift for the Sultan Sulayman (reigned 1525–157?).

A Saint’s Illustrated Gospels


Tetro Evangelie (Gospels, in Church Slavic)
Moscow: Radishevskii, 1606
Spencer Collection
Curator Edward Kasinec’s comments:

This printed edition of the four Gospels in Church Slavic is lavishly illuminated by hand in gold and colors. It is all the more remarkable because it was issued during the turbulent political period called “the time of Troubles.” The style reflects the “Orientalism” of 17th-century Muscovite design. Here St. John, inspired by divine revelation in the form of rays of light, dictates his gospel to St. Prochoros.

The elaborate nature of this copy suggests that it was owned originally by the Moscow Patriarch (and later Saint) Germogen.

The First Polyglot Psalter (Genoa Psalter)


Psalterium, Hebraeum, Graecum, Arabicum, Chaldaeum (The Psalter in Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, and Aramaic)
Agostino Giustiniani, O.P. (1470–1536), editor.
Genoa: Petrus Paulus Porrus, August and November 1516.
Rare Book Division

Curator George Fletcher’s comments:

The Genoa Psalter is my favorite for its scholarly and aesthetic accomplishments, and specifically the Library copy that we are displaying, for its illumination. The Psalms appear in Hebrew, the Vulgate Latin, the Septuagint Greek, Arabic, Aramaic (Chaldean), a Latin paraphrase, and the editor’s scholia, or gloss. Known from these eight parallel columns as the Psalterium octaplum, this first multi-lingual psalter is a great scholarly and typographical achievement. Bishop Giustiniani, profound linguist and friend of More and Erasmus, personally financed this psalter as a precursor to a polyglot Bible. His learning was widely noticed, and François I brought him to Paris to teach Hebrew and Arabic from 1517 to 1522.
Giustiniani’s gloss to Psalm 19 reports the voyages of Columbus “to the ends of the earth” as the fulfillment of this biblical prophecy.

“The Sermon on the Mount”

Gospel Lectionary (Farnese Lectionary; Towneley Lectionary), in Latin.
Giulio Clovio and his aetelier illuminators.
Rome, ca. 1550–1560.
Image ID: 1610036

Curator George Fletcher’s comments:

Giulio Clovio (ca. 1498–1578), a native of present-day Croatia on the Dalmatian coast, and resident artist in the Farnese palace in Rome, depicts Jesus preaching to the crowds. Many of the figures are portraits of persons in Clovio’s circle. Alessandro, Cardinal Farnese (1520–1589), for whom this manuscript was created, bequeathed it to the College of Cardinals for use in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.

“The Last Judgment”

Giulio Clovio and his aetelier illuminators.
Curator George Fletcher’s comments:

Clovio’s contemporary, GorgioVasari (1511-1574) in his Lives of the Artists, called Clovio “Michelangelo in little” for his genius in conveying monumentality in physically small works, and in characterizing this very painting, The Last Judgment, as “stupefying” in its brilliant detail. The manuscript came into the possession of the Towneley family, in England, in the early 19th century.

Bibliorum codex Sinaiticus

facs.1862, of 4th-century ms

Curator Frank Peters comments:

Talk about historical books! This Russian print reproduction of the Codex Sinaiticus, though intended to celebrate Tsarist Russia, triggers for me quite other historical and personal associations. It underlines, first of all, the passage into the age of print of what is probably the most important Western book of the long manuscript era. The codex Sinaiticus is in fact a genuine book, a codex, and in fact the best preserved substantial book from the ancient world. And by its very codex form, consecutive leaves bound at one edge, it points back to the Christians’ use of the new book technology in place of the awkwardly bulky scroll, a media revolution that doubtless contributed to the rapid spread of the new faith. The Codex also documents the early completion of the “New Testament,” a collection of Christian documents intended to serve as a brief for Jesus as Messiah, Savior and Son of God.

And by the Christians’ inclusion of a Greek translation of the Jewish Bible bound into its own collection, the Codex illustrates the necessary connection between the two works–and the two faiths. It opens up the world of ancient scholarship—and its complex use for religious ends–by the corrections that various hands have made to the texts over the centuries. And finally, in more modern times, there are the romantic stories of its nineteenth century discovery in a venerable Byzantine monastery in Sinai and its role in the awkward, mismatched dance between European capitalism and Soviet communism the Soviets, strapped for cash, sold their major part of this “priceless” religious manuscript for the then very fancy price of ₤100,000 to the British Museum. Finally, and more personally, this print copy summons up a rare and privileged moment at the British Library when I was allowed a private inspection of the actual manuscript. It is not very often that a historian has the privilege of holding such history in his hands.

Scroll of Esther (Montalto megillah)

Amsterdam, 1686
NYPL Spencer Hebrew 2

Curator David Wachtel’s Comments:

The Montalto Megillah, an illustrated Scroll of Esther created in 1686, represents an exquisite example of the marriage of liturgical functionality and artistic creativity of the Dutch Jewish community of the seventeenth century. The artist, Raphael Montalto was the grandson of Elijah Montalto, the famed physician to Marie de Medici. Nearly ten feet long, the delicate penwork of Montalto surrounds the handwritten biblical text of the book of Esther. The Montalto Megillah will be the centerpiece of the Public Worship section of the exhibition. It has never before been exhibited in its entirety.

The Masoretic Text

Hebrew Bible, vol. 2
Joseph ben Kalonymus, scribe
Xanten, Lower Rhineland, 5054 (1294 CE)
Spencer Collection

Curator David Wachtel’s comments:

The second volume of this monumental calligraphic Hebrew Bible contains the second section of the Tanakh, the books of the Nevi’im (Prophets). These are Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Trei ‘Asar (literally, twelve, named for the twelve shorter works frequently referred to as the Minor Prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi).

The minuscule writing that appears above and below the three columns of the biblical text, as well as the inter-columnar insertions, form the masorah (literally, tradition), a collection of critical and explanatory notes that were compiled between the seventh and tenth centuries CE. Their main purpose was to ensure the accurate transmission of the biblical text, particularly its pronunciation and grammar.

Qur’an fragment and Qur’an leaf

Qur’an Leaf
Iraq/Iran, 9th-10th c.
Manuscripts & Archives Division, NYPL MA Arabic 17

Curator Priscilla Soucek’s Comments:

The Library’s collection contains Qur’ans from various periods and regions. One of the most valuable are some vellum pages from the 9th or early 10th century now in the Manuscripts department in which the arrangement of the script and its message are closely integrated.

Matthew’s Gospel Translated into the Grebo Language

American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.
Cape Palmas, West Africa: Press of the A. B. C. F. M., 1836.
NYPL Schomburg Center, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division

Curator Father Patrick Ryan’s Comments :

African-American abolitionists not only settled in what is now Liberia but also evangelized the indigenous Grebo people of the Cape Palmas area. To do this they undertook not only to learn the Grebo language but also, with the help of Grebo people, to translate the Bible bit by bit into that language. The New Testament, very different from the Hebrew Bible and the Qur’an, was not written in the language of Jesus and his first disciples (Aramaic) but in the international trade vernacular of the eastern Mediterranean, Koine Greek. Christians, especially since the invention of the printing press in the 15th century and the Reformation of the sixteenth century, have devoted extraordinary energy to the process of translating the Bible into hundreds of languages. This Grebo translation of Matthew’s Gospel was also printed in West Africa more than a decade before the formal establishment of Liberia as an independent country in 1847.

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