Significant Recent Manuscript Finds

We are known as the People of the Book, and it would be no exaggeration to call us the People of the Books, in the plural, for our stewardship of the Torah has only been possible because we also preserved the teachings of the Sages, who taught and elucidated the Torah. And so, the manuscripts linking us to the transmitters of Tradition in the distant past are of great value. Sometimes, they help us correct texts that had been corrupted by a copyist’s error, while at other times, the manuscripts confirm our holy heritage. Two recent articles report on modest, yet spectacular manuscript finds, which are now being made available to the public, whether through museum display or through publication:

  • A sound in silence (Jerusalem Post Magazine; hat tip: R’BH)

    A new exhibit at the Israel Museum reunites two fragments from the Song of the Sea, whose separate journeys have spanned the Atlantic.

    Comparison of the three versions of the biblical passage now on display shows the fidelity with which the Hebrew text was transmitted over the course of 12 centuries in antiquity, said Roitman. One striking discrepancy, however, is the use by the Dead Sea scribe of contemporary words to replace archaic terms in older texts that Prof. Frank Cross of Harvard and some other scholars believe may date back to the 10th century BCE, the time of Solomon and David. Instead of aimata – “dread” – for example, they used the more supple aima. There were many other such innovations.

    However, the Masoretic scribes putting together the final version [sic – they were merely maintaining it, as canonization happened centuries before Qumran –AF] of the Bible centuries later remained faithful to the archaic version, leaving the Dead Sea version an anomaly with its “modern” anachronisms. The Qumran version nevertheless reveals its antiquity by lacking the brick-like layout adopted by the sages from the third century for the Song of the Sea.

  • And with the following quote leads us to our next item:

    In an essay on Hebrew manuscripts by several scholars published by the New York Public Library, the authors point to the “utmost scarcity” of ancient Talmud manuscripts. “The medieval church regarded the Talmud as the source and symbol of what it considered to be the perfidy of the Jews. As a result the Talmud became a victim of censorship, confiscation and book burning.”

    Indeed, YNET brings us the following report from Switzerland:

  • Lost segment of Jerusalem Talmud unearthed in Geneva

    Among the scriptures was a whole sentence off the Jerusalem Talmud’s Tractate Bikkurim which had been missing until now. The incorporation of the phrase in the Gemara renders the tractate chapter intelligible.

    The manuscripts, which include 350 pages from the Cairo Genizah were stored for some 100 years in a tin can in the Geneva University, that no one knew existed. Greek papyrus experts recently discovered the tin can and employed the services of Hebrew University’s Prof. David Rosenthal of the Talmud Department.

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