William Robertson Smith (Professor of New Testament Exegesis, Free Church College, Aberdeen), whilst on a visit to the University of Göttingen in 1872, made arrangements necessary for the Collection of Dr Biesenthal to come to Aberdeen. Writing around this time, Professor Roberston Smith said of the Collection: ‘Among other matters transacted in Leipzig [,] I paid a visit to Dr. Biesenthal, a noted Rabbinist who is anxious to sell his Collection of Hebrew books. If we could get hold of them for Aberdeen we should have one of the finest Rabbinical Collection in Great Britain…” The Collection was duly bought and became a part of the library of the Free Church College. In 1968 the Biesenthal Collection was deposited at King’s College Library, on permanent loan to the University of Aberdeen. While books written in Hebrew cover around a third of the Collection, there are also many other volumes written in many European and Near Eastern languages.

Keywords: Judaica; Hebraica.

Strengths: Almost one third of the 2140 volumes are in Hebrew and 'represent a comprehensive selection of all that was published in Hebrew practically from the time of the invention of printing to the time of the sale of Dr Biesenthal's library'. The Collection is a source of much Biblical, Church history and linguistics material in many European and Near Eastern languages: Dutch, English, Portuguese, Spanish, Yiddish; Arabic, Chaldee, Ethiopic and Syriac. The oldest volume is an edition of Moses ben Nahman's commentary on the Pentateuch, published at Pesaro in 1513, while four books, all dated 1871, must jointly be considered the youngest.

Languages:Hebrew, Dutch, English, Portuguese, Spanish, Yiddish; Arabic, Chaldee, Ethiopic and Syriac.

Identifier: Bies

Physical characteristics: c. 2140 volumes

Accumulation date range: 1820s-1872

Contents date range: 1513-1871

Associated Publications: Beattie, D. R. G., 'Dr Biesenthal and the Biesenthal Collection', Aberdeen University Review 45 (1973-74), 275-80. Beattie, D. R. G, A Catalogue of the Hebrew Books in the Biesenthal Collection (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Library, 1979). Available on Library OPAC or WebPAC

Accrual Status: Closed

Custodial history/provenance: The Collection was acquired for the Free Church College (now Christ's College) in Aberdeen, but its highly specialised nature meant that it would not normally be used by divinity students in the course of their studies. Therefore in 1968 the Collection was deposited in Aberdeen University Library on permanent loan. Biesenthal (1804-1886) was by birth a Jew named Raphael Hirsch and was born in Poznan in 1804. It was intended that he become a Rabbi, but he subsequently adopted the Christian faith and changed his name at the same time.

Access Control: Closed access - please request. Non-borrowable.