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Hebrew manuscript published online by Bodleian Library

image captionOne of the pages is signed by the author and scholar Maimonides

An ancient Hebrew manuscript which has been stored in an Oxford library for more than 300 years has been made available online.

Part of the first comprehensive code of Jewish law, Mishneh Torah, written in the 12th Century, has been digitised by Oxford University's Bodleian Library.

More than 350 pages of handwritten text, signed by the Hebrew scholar Maimonides, have been captured.

The project was paid for by businessman and actor George Blumenthal.

The manuscript, widely regarded as one of the most important in Bodleian's Hebrew collection, has been stored there since 1692.

The library said the last owner - scholar Eleazar, son of Perahya - stipulated in his will that the Mishneh Torah should always be made freely available for people to consult.

Eleazar's wish was that the manuscript should "not be sold or redeemed, nor should any single person ever take possession of it. It should rather be kept available so that all scholars can correct their own version against it, but not read from it regularly or copy from it".

But concerns about conserving the 800-year-old volume and the practicalities of making it available meant access had, until now, been limited.

Dr Piet van Boxel, curator of the Hebrew holdings at the library, said: "The digital revolution, once and for all, has overcome these limitations and enables the Bodleian in an unexpected way to fulfil Eleazar's request by giving worldwide access to Maimonides' Mishneh Torah."

The manuscript was written between 1170 and 1180 by Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, known as Maimonides or by his Hebrew acronym, Rambam.

image captionThe book took 10 years to write and remains the clearest guide to Jewish law

The digitised volume, the Sefer Madda, which means Book of Knowledge, is the first of two which make up the Mishneh Torah. The second is the Sefer Ahavah or Book of Love.

The volume includes a handwritten note by Maimonides, which reads: "It has been corrected from my own book. I am Moses son of Rabbi Maimon of blessed memory."

Maimonides, who lived in Spain and Egypt between 1137/8 and 1204, is regarded as the greatest Jewish scholar of the Middle Ages and was a royal physician and philosopher of renown.

The Mishneh Torah, which translated means Repetition of the Law, took him 10 years to write and remains the clearest guide to Jewish law.

The high definition images were created by photographer Ardon Bar-Hama, who also digitised the Codex Vaticanos in the Vatican, the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Israel Museum and the archives of the New York Philharmonic.

Philanthropist Mr Blumenthal, the founder of a number of health and communications companies and an actor in films such as Wall Street 2 and A Perfect Murder, said he was grateful to the library for helping him pursue his dream of "democratising knowledge" through the internet.

Librarian Dr Sarah Thomas said: "Thanks to the generosity of our donor, George Blumenthal, we are adding the Mishneh Torah to the list of literary and sacred treasures that we have made available in cyberspace for all to share."

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