Special Collections: Philosophy + Religion


The collection of religious and philosophical texts embrace the entire scope of human history, in manuscripts and printed books produced from the early eleventh century to the modern era.  On the subject of religious studies, our collection begins with some of the earliest published studies of the religious cults of ancient Egypt, such as Lorenzo Pignoria’s Vetustissimae Tabulae Aeneae Sacris Aegyptiorum (1605), and Heinrich Schwalenberg’s  philosophical history based on the speculative analysis of ancient hieroglyphs, the Aphorismi Hieroglyphici, qvibvs Vetervm Philosophorvm Mysteria (1592).  That subject is much extended by the subsequent Egyptological scholarship of the seventeenth-century Jesuit polymath, Athanasius Kircher, many of whose most important treatises on ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and ancient obelisks are represented.  The archaeological collections in Near Eastern studies at Johns Hopkins are among the strongest in the nation.

Secular Philosophy

Ancient secular philosophy is also amply exemplified.  While the Milesian and archaic Greek pre-Socratics appear only in nineteenth- and twentieth-century editions, the Greek triumvirate of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are widely reflected, in true as well as fictitious forms such as with the 1637 edition of the pseudo-Socratic Epistles.  The earliest Platonic text is the 1533 Badius and Petit edition of Marsilio Ficino’s edition of the Dialogues, of which there are multiple copies (1567, 1602, etc.), as well as alternatives such as Henri Estienne’s 1578 three-volume edition of the Omnia Opera with the commentary of Jean de Serres. 

The most extensive holdings of golden age Athenian philosophy are the works of Aristotle, owing to his medieval preeminence, starting with four separate incunabula of the Ethics (1469), the De Animalibus (1476), the complete works accompanied by the commentary of Averroës (1489), and the crowning jewel of the collection, a complete set of the five-volume Aldine Opera Graece (1489).  Subsequent editions, translations and commentaries from the sixteenth century are also present in over a dozen volumes, including two separate early editions of Alessandro Piccolomini’s commentaries on individual Aristotelian texts.  Early works by other of the ancient Greek and Hellenistic philosophers, include editions and commentaries on Antisthenes (1637), Theophrastus (1644), Archimedes (1675), and Philo of Alexandria (1640).

The libraries’ holdings in ancient Roman and late antique philosophy are far greater than the Greek, including a 1471 humanist manuscript copy of Cicero’s ubiquitous De Officiis, as well as a 1493 incunabulum, constituting two of ten pre-1501 editions of his works.  Important Renaissance editions include Philippus Beroaldus’s commentary on the Tusculan Disputations (1510), an early edition of Paolo Manutius’s Aldine commentary (1544), and Charles Estienne’s important four-volume Opera (1555).  Later Roman philosophy is further demonstrated in dozens of further sixteenth- and seventeenth-century editions of the philosophical treatises of Lucretius; Seneca, including the 1615 Opera and the 1652 Plantin Opera of Justus Lipsius; Epictetus; the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius; Sextus Empiricus; Plotinus, most notably in the 1492 edition of Marsilio Ficino, as well as later Renaissance editions of the same; and Simplicius of Cilicia.  Boethius’s De Consolatione Philisophiae appears, as well, in no fewer than four incunabula, including Peter von Kastel’s German translation of 1500.


The Koran imaged here is written in the earliest Arabic script known as kufic, after the Iraqi town of Kufa, a major center of Islamic culture during the 8th-9th century. The text of the Koran was written entirely in gold leaf around the year 800. The volume on this site is only part of a complete Koran and consists of the first 18 suras (chapters) bound in a modern (possibly 18th-century) binding. It is not known when these 18 suras were separated from the remaining ones which complete the text and are housed in the Nuruosmaniye Library in Istanbul. In 1999, the Johns Hopkins University returned this volume of the Koran to the Republic of Turkey to be reunited with the second volume.

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