Corpus Christi College, which will reach its 500th birthday in 2017, is celebrated as Oxford's first Renaissance institution. The bishop-statesman Richard Fox, right-hand man to the Tudor monarchs Henry VII and Henry VIII, founded the college to instruct students in the sciences and the languages of the Bible: Hebrew and Greek. From the first, Corpus took a lead in Jewish learning and built an acclaimed library. Among the scores of manuscripts the college used for teaching its young men were Hebrew texts, several donated by the first president and noted collector, John Claymond. How and when he acquired them we don't know—and this is only a part of their mystery. They are the jewels of a small but spectacular collection of medieval Anglo-Jewish books.
These materials shaped the scholarship that gave Corpus a primary role in the translation of the King James Bible. The 400th anniversary of that publication, in 2011, sparked particular interest in the Hebrew manuscripts at Corpus. These include commentaries by the acclaimed medieval French rabbi, Rashi; other items present passages from the Hebrew Bible with a literal translation in Latin written, from the outset, directly above the Hebrew text. They point to the cooperation between Jewish and Christian scholars, eager to help non-Jews learn Hebrew and understand the primary sources of a shared scriptural tradition. The texts could equally have been used to teach Jews Latin—not impossible, given that most English law, property transactions and accounting were conducted in Latin. Command of the language would have been especially beneficial to Jewish financiers in doing business.