Relaymedia

Rare Old Testament Text Displayed at Israel Museum

( [email protected] ) Jun 06, 2007 06:17 AM EDT

1,300 years old rare manuscript from the Old Testament is finally on display for the first time, after making its way from a secret room in a Cairo synagogue to the hands of an American collector.


Displayed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the manuscript contains the "Song of the Sea" section of the Old Testament's Book of Exodus and dates to around the 7th century A.D..

According to scholars, it comes from the "silent era" — a span of 600 years between the third and eighth centuries from which almost no Hebrew manuscripts survive.

"It comes from a period of almost darkness in terms of Hebrew manuscripts," said Stephen Pfann, a textual scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem.

Scholars have long noted the lack of original biblical manuscripts written between the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the latest of which come from the third century, to texts written in the ninth and 10th centuries, Pfann said.

Scholars can only piece together scraps of information on the period using translations into Greek and other languages, he said, "so to have a piece of the original text from this period is quite remarkable."

The parchment is believed to have been left in the Cairo Genizah, a vast depository of medieval Jewish manuscripts discovered in the late 1800s in a previously unknown room at Cairo's ancient Ben Ezra Synagogue. It was in private hands until the late 1970s, when its Lebanese-born American owner turned it over to the Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Special Collections Library at Duke University.

The manuscript is now on extended loan to the Israel Museum and is on display in the museum's Shrine of the Book, which also houses the Dead Sea Scrolls.