Captives among us
Harley 2253 and the Jews of medieval Hereford
in Harley manuscript geographies
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Shortly before Edward I’s 1290 expulsion of England’s Jews, Bishop of Hereford Richard Swinfield rebuked his flock for accepting invitations to a Jewish wedding. Chapter 2 seeks to discover, within texts preserved by Harley 2253, such trace as Hereford’s expelled minority may have left in the cultural imaginary of this borderlands region. Recent scholarship has established that Jews constitute an ‘absent presence’ central to both Christian devotion and conceptions of Englishness. Hereford has a unique profile as a frontier Jewish community, while the Harley manuscript straddles the historical watershed of 1290. This codex has not yet received Jewish studies-based inquiry. But understudied texts near its centre provide material: Anglo-Norman biblical paraphrases that feature the Levites (or priestly class of the Hebrews), and devotional travelogues attuned to the location of biblical and post-biblical Jews. Exploration of these Old Testament stories and Holy Land itineraries, wherein ancient ‘Hebreus’ and latter-day ‘Gyiws’ figure, suggests that Harley departs from period norms. Its texts (and additions) reveal a provincial copyist who is stuck in the distant past, yet perspicacious about Jews’ historical present. Jews have long been absent, but Harley 2253’s fellow clerkly traveller proves disarmingly cognizant of the challenges facing Levitican ‘captives among us’.


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