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The Luckiest Book In History Has Somehow Managed To Survive Three Genocides

Updated March 13, 2019 10 items

What do the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust, and the Bosnian Serbs' siege of Sarajevo have in common? It's not just the disgusting attempt to cleanse a nation-state of an entire people; it's also the fact that a 14th-century book of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt, the Sarajevo Haggadah, survived each event, from the 1492 Alhambra decree to the Bosnian genocide.

The Sarajevo Haggadah is an illuminated manuscript version of the Passover Haggadah that transcends its status as a religious artifact. Its centuries of survival came not only at the hands of Jewish believers but also at the hands of non-Jewish people who saw the value of the Sarajevo Haggadah beyond its being a 14th-century Passover Haggadah.

The survival of the Sarajevo Haggadah is an incredible true story that speaks more to the selflessness of some during times that epitomized humanity's deepest depravity than it speaks just to the interesting story of a historical text that lingers today.

  • The Haggadah Is A Religious Text Used In The Jewish Faith During Passover

    Photo: BiHVolim / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    The Haggadah is a sacred text that faithful Jewish believers use at their Passover Seder. It's read at the Seder table where celebrants review God's commandments. The Passover celebration is a recognition of the story of the Exodus in the Torah, when God sent Moses to free the Israelites from bondage; it was at this time that God provided Moses with the Ten Commandments. Strict adherents to the Jewish faith do not conduct any business, go to work, or go to school during the first two and last two days of Passover, which lasts for a total of seven days.

    It's no wonder that the Sarajevo Haggadah, with its incredibly detailed illuminations, is a deeply revered text.

  • A Haggadah Provides The Ritual Steps In The Seder Meal

    The contents of the Haggadah outline the custom of the Passover Seder meal. Traditionally, celebrants begin with a blessing and by filling each other's cups with wine. This act represents the Jewish liberation from Egyptian rule. The Haggadah then guides celebrants through the remainder of their Seder meal, which includes washing their hands, partaking in the consumption of an appetizer, and breaking and sharing of the matzot, unleavened bread.

    The inclusion of unleavened bread represents the hurried nature with which the Israleites fled the Egyptians who enslaved them. After, and before the participants partake in their actual meal, the celebrants read the story of Passover from the Haggadah and discuss the tradition. The Haggadah text guides the contents of their discussion and analysis of the Jewish Exodus.

  • The Sarajevo Haggadah, Handwritten On Bleached Calfskin And Stained With Wine, Has Seen Many Seder Tables

    Photo: Gamliel / Wikimedia Commons / Jonund

    The Sarajevo Haggadah is an illuminated version of the sacred Haggadah text. It was handwritten on bleached calfskin and decorated in copper and gold. The first 34 pages of the Sarajevo Haggadah have beautiful illustrations with stories from the Torah, beginning with the creation story and ending with Moses's liberation of the Jewish people from Egyptian enslavement.

    The pages of the Sarajevo Haggadah have stains of wine, proof that Jewish adherents utilized the ancient book at Passover Seder meals throughout history.

  • The Sarajevo Haggadah Is Special, Not Only In Its Age But Also In Its Uniqueness From Contemporary Haggadah Books

    Photo: Lkitrossky / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Sarajevo Haggadah is a 14th-century book that inspires curiosity among art historians. Historians believe that the Sarajevo Haggadah originally came to be in Spain, at a time when Jewish people, Muslims, and Christians lived in a sort of harmony. However, the book, which is revered by believers and analyzed by historians, survived many centuries when the religious persecution of its faithful was rampant.

    The Sarajevo Haggadah, filled with religious-historical images, speaks to the traditions of the Jewish faith and its belief in eventual redemption through God. The Haggadah demonstrates how interpretations of scripture can change over time. For example, an art historian, Dr. Marc Michael Epstein, pointed out that the Sarajevo Haggadah has some interesting iconographic images, which do not comport with contemporary Haggadah books.