Page 68 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 36

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The Hebraic Collection in the
Library of Congress
r o m
t h e
e a r l i e s t
days of this country, Hebrew has had
a place in American studies. T he exact place accorded to
Hebrew studies varied from generation to generation. But
beginning with our early history, the study of Hebrew was
closely associated with American intellectual life.
In the beginning, religious motives, and religious motives
only, played the dom inant role in promoting the study of
Hebrew and of the Bible, as an inspirational source of our
literature and influence on our society. In modern times the
study of the Hebrew language attracted atten tion also from
a scientific standpoint. T he study of allied or related languages
soon followed and formed part of the curriculum for students
of the Bible. Not to be overlooked in this connection were the
intensive surface explorations of Bible lands and sites in which
Americans played an important part. Surface explorations, as
was bu t natural, led to archaeological finds, inscriptions, build-
ings, and civilizations which required indentification and inter-
pretation. As a result of all this activity, it was not long before
—in addition to Egyptology—all Semitic languages, and even
non-Semitic languages, such as Sumerian, H ittite and Hurrian ,
spoken by peoples inhabiting Bible lands, claimed the attention
of an expanding scholarly community and of an ever-growing
public. Perhaps the finest example of the response which
Biblical matters still evoke occurred here about thirty years
ago, when the Library of Congress exhibited the Ancient He-
brew Scrolls then newly discovered in the Judean desert.
Although the Library of Congress had been assembling books
in Hebrew and other Semitic languages since its founding, it
was not un til July 1914 that the Semitic Division was estab-
lished by an act of Congress. I t was set up as a separate ad-
ministrative un it to supervise the systematic acquisition and
organization of books. Renamed the Division of Semitic Litera-
ture in June 1940, it became the Hebraic Section in March 1944.
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