The World’s Oldest Torah Scrolls

March 22 2018

The Library of Congress recently acquired a fragment of a Torah scroll dating to around the year 1000 CE. While it is not the single oldest such object extant, it is among the oldest, as Gary Rendsburg writes:

Readers . . . are likely aware of the approximately 220 biblical manuscripts from among the Dead Sea Scrolls, dating from the 3rd century BCE to the 1st century CE, along with the related documents from Masada, Naḥal Ḥever, Wadi Murabba‘at, and other sites, which date to the 1st and 2nd centuries CE. But what about the ensuing centuries, until we reach the date of the Library of Congress portion at approximately 1000 CE? What scrolls, or portions of scrolls, do we possess?

The oldest document is the Ein Gedi scroll, which was recently digitally “unrolled” through remarkable micro-CT scanning, revealing the text of Leviticus 1-2. Archaeological evidence suggests the date of the Ein Gedi synagogue [where it was found] is approximately 500 CE, but carbon-14 testing reveals that the scroll itself is much older, dating to ca. 300 CE. The scroll was found in the Torah niche of the Ein Gedi synagogue during excavations in 1970, so we may conclude that it was used for the liturgical reading of the Torah. Then, as now, Torah scrolls were sometimes used for centuries.

But the Ein Gedi scroll commences with a blank sheet, so we can be certain that this was not a complete Torah scroll but rather contained one, two, or three books only (that is, Leviticus only, or Leviticus and Numbers, or at most Leviticus-Numbers-Deuteronomy). I mention this because it relates to a parallel question: at what point did Torah scrolls come to contain all five books of the Pentateuch? There is no definitive answer to this question, but the blank sheet offers a clue. . . . The Ein Gedi scroll shows that by the 4th century CE there was not yet a requirement or custom that all five books of the Pentateuch be united into a single scroll. . . .

Next in age come the London and Ashkar-Gilson sheets, which derive from the same scroll, dated ca. 700 CE, [followed by] the fascinating Florence manuscript, a palimpsest [or book written on reused parchment]. The overtext is a Greek manuscript, dated to the 13th century CE, but much of the undertext in the second half of the manuscript is made up of sections of six old Torah-scroll sheets, dated to the 10th century CE, cut up and reused for the production of the overtext.

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Read more at Ancient Near East Today

More about: ancient Judaism, Dead Sea Scrolls, History & Ideas, Torah

The Palestinian Authority Is Part of the Problem, Not the Solution

Jan. 31 2023

On Thursday, Palestinian Authority (PA) officials announced that they had ceased all security cooperation with Israel; the next two days saw two deadly terrorist attacks in Jerusalem. But the PA has in the past made numerous threats that it will sever its ties with the Israeli government, and has so far never made good on them. Efraim Inbar poses a different set of questions: does cooperation with Palestinian leaders who actively encourage—and provide financial incentives for—the murder of Jews really help Israel protect its citizens? And might there be a better alternative?

The PA leader Mahmoud Abbas seems unable to rule effectively, i.e., to maintain a modicum of law and order in the territories under his control. He lost Gaza to Hamas in 2007, and we now see the “Lebanonization” of the PA taking place in the West Bank: the emergence of myriad armed groups, with some displaying only limited loyalty to the PA, and others, especially the Islamists, trying to undermine the current regime.

[The PA’s] education system and media continue propagating tremendous hostility toward Jews while blaming Israel for all Palestinian problems. Security cooperation with Israel primarily concerns apprehending armed activists of the Islamist opposition, as the PA often turns a blind eye to terrorist activities against Israel. In short, Abbas and his coterie are part of the problem, not of the solution. Jerusalem should thus think twice about promoting efforts to preserve PA rule and prevent a descent into chaos while rejecting the reoccupation of the West Bank.

Chaos is indeed not a pleasant prospect. Chaos in the territories poses a security problem to Israel, but one that will be mitigated if the various Palestinian militias vying for influence compete with each other. A succession struggle following the death of Abbas could divert attention from fighting hated Israel and prevent coordination in the low-intensity conflict against it. In addition, anarchy in the territories may give Israel a freer hand in dealing with the terrorists.

Furthermore, chaos might ultimately yield positive results. The collapse of the PA will weaken the Palestinian national movement, which heretofore has been a source of endemic violence and is a recipe for regional instability in the future.

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Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror