Rebecca Abrams' new book, The Jewish Journey, examines the history of the Jewish people, spanning 4,000 years in 22 objects from the Ashmolean Museum. She tells ANDY FFRENCH what inspired her research.

WRITER Rebecca Abrams is thrilled when she sees the Dead Sea Scroll jar on show for the very first time.

It is one of 22 little-known treasures at Oxford's Ashmolean Museum that reveal the 4,000-year history of the Jewish people.

Award-winning author Ms Abrams has focused on the 22 artefacts for her new book The Jewish Journey, which explains the significance of the artefacts and provides an insight into the lives of the people who owned and used them.

The 2000-year-old Dead Sea Scroll jar has gone on show for the first time since its purchase in 1952.

It is one of several found near the Dead Sea in the Middle East in 1946 and 1947 which contained ancient manuscripts, including the second-oldest known surviving manuscripts of works later included in the Hebrew Bible canon.

The discovery came about entirely by chance one day in 1947 when three Bedouin shepherds were searching for a lost goat and one of them noticed a cave sealed with boulders.

While the scroll jar is perhaps the most striking artefact highlighted by Ms Abrams they all have fascinating back stories.

The mother-of-two, a writer-in-residence at Brasenose College, began her quest to highlight the museum's Jewish treasures when she realised they were on display but often 'hidden' in plain sight.

She said: "I became a member of the Oxford Jewish Heritage Group about nine years ago because I was interested in Jewish history and worked closely with the chairperson Dr Evie Kemp.

"We became aware that the Ashmolean had some really striking objects in its collections but they were hard to find.

"We decided it would be a good idea to draw up a list and I was asked to lead on the project.

"Even when you were standing in front of something that had a connection with Jewish history it was difficult to understand what, why and how – Jewish history was hidden in plain view.

"It's certainly not a criticism of the Ashmolean – it has so many treasures and curators have to make certain decisions."

Ms Abrams added that as she toured the galleries to conduct her research it became clear that a list would not 'do the trick' and that what was really needed was a book.

The number 22 was chosen as there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet and staff at the Ashmolean were delighted to help when she approached them with the idea of the book.

The author's upbringing was a 'non-Jewish' secular one but she is proud of her own Jewish heritage.

Her great-grandparents came to England as Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Romania.

The Jewish Journey has uncovered fascinating stories behind each artefact.

A recent X-ray of Mark Gertler's painting Gilbert Cannan and his Mill, has revealed an unfinished work, a painting of a Jewish couple.

A £5 banknote from 1943, forged in a Nazi concentration camp, is also likely to draw in visitors.

The German plan, to destabilise the British economy by flooding it with forged notes, never went ahead.

Other highlights include a Roman coin made of gold looted from the Second Temple during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE, a Hebrew magic amulet used by Christian Kabbalists, and a viola da gamba with links to crypto-Jews in Renaissance Italy and Tudor England.

The Roman Gold Glass in chapter 10 will also feature in the section of Judaism in the museum’s forthcoming exhibition Imagining the Divine: Art and the Rise of World Religions, which runs from tomorrow.

Ms Abrams added that the book was timely when there were so many immigrants in the world.

She said: "Jewish history is full of immigrants.

"It's important at this moment in time when immigrants are being vilified we remember that people have always moved about and that the loss of their home is always a serious loss.

"I'm delighted this book is now out and I'm really thrilled that the Ashmolean has backed this project."

The Jewish Journey: 4,000 Years in 22 Objects is being published by the Ashmolean Museum on Tuesday, October 17, priced £15.