Bart’s Blog

Exciting Discovery of a Hebrew Bible Scroll

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An exciting discovery has been made of the oldest scroll containing the Pentateuch (it is not as old as the Leningrad *codex* from around the year 1000; but it is the oldest *scroll* with the entire text – 12th century or 13th).   My thanks to my colleage Evyatar Marienburg, knowledgeable about all scholarship Jewish, for informing me about this.  For the fuller account, see https://www.facebook.com/groups/375003239611/permalink/10151699916354612/

PRESS RELEASE 

THE MOST ANCIENT EXISTING SCROLL OF THE HEBREW PENTATEUCH, DISCOVERED AT THE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY OF BOLOGNA

The document, located and identified by a professor of the University of Bologna contains the entire text of the Torah, dates back to a period between the second half of the 12th century and the beginning of 13th (1155-1225) and is kept at the Biblioteca Universitaria di Bologna (BUB). 

Bologna, 28 May 2013. The University Library of Bologna has kept from times immemorial, and without knowing, the world’s oldest scroll of the Hebrew Pentateuch. The document, labeled as “Roll 2″, is of soft sheep leather (36 meters long and 64 cm high), comprises the full text of the Torah (i.e. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) and had previously been cataloged a 17th–century scroll. Instead, “Roll 2″, was copied in a period between the second half of the 12th and the early 13th century (1155-1225) and is therefore the most ancient complete Hebrew scroll of the Torah known today: a copy of immense value, the importance of which is evident to scholars and a non-specialist-audience alike.

The discovery was made by Mauro Perani, professor of Hebrew at the Department of Cultural Heritage, of the University of Bologna, Ravenna Campus, during the compilation of a new catalog of the Hebrew manuscripts, held in the BUB. The age, established by the textual, graphic and paleographic examination of the scroll, was confirmed by two carbon-14-tests, carried out at the Center of dating and diagnostics of the Department of Innovation Engineering of the University of Salento and by the Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory (Illinois State Geological Survey) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

The antiquity of “Scroll 2″ had not been recognized by Leonello Modona, a Jew, native of Cento, who worked for years as a librarian at BUB, and who was the first to catalog the BUB-Hebrew-manuscript-collections, in 1889. Modona did in fact date the scroll back to the 17th century and described its Hebrew letters as “an Italian script, rather clumsy-looking, in which certain letters, as well as the usual crowns and strokes show uncommon and strange appendices.” Professor Perani, on the contrary, examining the scroll for the new catalog, noticed that its early square, oriental script of Babylonian tradition was very elegant and finely written and the graphical and textual structure were totally atypical and had to be much older than 17th -century. The text of the scroll does in fact not take into account and respect the rules, fixed by Maimonides (dead in 1204), who established in a definitive way the whole rabbinic regulation about copying the Pentateuch. The BUB-Torah-scroll actually shows many graphical features and scribal devices, absolutely forbidden to copyists after the Maimonidean codification.

Unfortunately, to date, it is not known, how and when “Roll 2″ has joined the acquisitions of the BUB, nor whether, as very likely, it was acquired after Napoleon’s suppression of monastic and religious orders. The interest aroused around its discovery, will, however, encourage further studies, as to the identification of its source.

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Discussion

  1. Adam0685  May 28, 2013

    I’m looking forward to textual critical studies of it

  2. toddfrederick  May 29, 2013

    There is so much to be discovered…love archaeology !!

  3. maxhirez  May 29, 2013

    Is it technically accurate to say that this is the earliest complete Pentateuch given that the same books would be found in Siniaticus and Vaticanus? Or am I mistaken that they are?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 29, 2013

      It’s not the earliest complete Pentateuch. It’s the earliest complete Pentateuch on a *scroll*. (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, of course, are also Greek not Hebrew)

      • Seeker  May 29, 2013

        Very cool. I would be even more happy if we found the original copies of the gospels. Now that would be incredible!

  4. gavm  May 29, 2013

    sounds exciting

  5. Brad Billips
    Brad Billips  May 30, 2013

    You would think the Dead Sea scrolls contained the first five books? I assumed they were the most important. Or are they incomplete?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 30, 2013

      Yes portions of all five books are among the DSS. But this is the first complete scroll with all five books, in toto.

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