Saturday, December 09, 2006

THE BIBLES BEFORE THE YEAR 1000 EXHIBITION is reviewed again, this time in the Washington Times.

UPDATE: The International Herald Tribune has a much longer and more detailed review. Excerpt:
A fragmentary scroll found in a cave at Khirbet Qumran ("The Qumran Ruins" in Arabic) on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea preserves a few lines from Isaiah copied before 73 B.C. Many similar fragments surfaced at Qumran, making the 1947 find by Arab shepherds a landmark in the history of Hebrew manuscripts.

The other huge discovery made half a century earlier was that of manuscripts in the Genizah (store room) of the Ben Ezra Synagogue dating from 882 A.D. at Fustat, the early Islamic city near Cairo. There they lay, because in Jewish law, flawed manuscripts must be set aside. These included fragments of vellum scrolls with lines from the Genesis copied in the 5th or 6th century or perhaps later.

A series of fascinating revelations came with the pages of a manuscript of which the vellum pages had been washed out to be used again. The earlier text, still legible, retains a literal translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek made by Aquila around 125 A.D. A fragment in a 6th-century hand, on loan from Cambridge University Library, illustrates the continued prevalence of Greek as a cultural language in some Jewish circles at a time when Syriac (the modern version of Aramaic), had long been the spoken language across the Semitic Near East.

Written over Aquila's half-washed translations, the later text reproduces Hebrew poetry by Yannai, a Near Eastern writer who composed one poem for every weekly portion of the Torah read in the synagogue. Few of his poems were known prior to the opening up of the Genizah. Hundreds have now been recorded.
As usual, there seems to be a glitch or two:
The earliest complete Christian Bibles, all in Greek, date from the 4th and 5th centuries. A fourth-century volume, possibly copied in Caeserea, Palestine, is on loan from the monastery of Saint Catherine in Mount Sinai.
Actually only part of this manuscript (the Codex Sinaiticus) is in the exhibition.

And I'm not sure about the following:
Not least among its treasures, the earliest near-complete dated manuscript of the Bible copied in 929 A.D. is believed to have also come from the Genizah. A page decorated with a scrolling pattern and an arcade with alternate triangular and round arches symbolizing the Temple Ark bears striking analogies to Koranic illumination in Syria.
This makes it sound as though there's a "near complete" copy of the Hebrew Bible dated to 929 on exhibit. I've not heard of such a manuscript coming from the Cairo Geniza and I doubt very much that this is correct; the Cairo Geniza produced fragments of codices and scrolls, not complete or even near-complete manuscripts. Can someone give us the story on this manuscript?

Also, I just noticed the following symposium, which is being co-chaired by one of my History-Department St. Andrews colleagues:
The Old Testament in Byzantium

Symposiarchs: Professors Paul Magdalino (University of St. Andrews and KoƧ University, Istanbul) and Robert Nelson (Yale University).
Venue: The Meyer Auditorium, the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Dates: December 1–3, 2006

This symposium, designed to complement an exhibition of early Bible manuscripts at the Sackler Gallery of Art, examines the use of the Greek Old Testament as text, social practice and cultural experience in the Byzantine Empire. Not only are reminiscences of the Old Testament ubiquitous in Byzantine literature and art, but Byzantines revered and identified with Old Testament role models. The phenomenon has never received systematic investigation, despite the fact that this was the part of its tradition that Byzantium shared most widely with other cultures – not only its Christian neighbors, but Judaism and Islam.
The program and abstracts are also available via the link.

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