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.

Read more at Ancient Near East Today

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

Strengthening the Abraham Accords at Sea

In an age of jet planes, high-speed trains, electric cars, and instant communication, it’s easy to forget that maritime trade is, according to Yuval Eylon, more important than ever. As a result, maritime security is also more important than ever. Eylon examines the threats, and opportunities, these realities present to Israel:

Freedom of navigation in the Middle East is challenged by Iran and its proxies, which operate in the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the Persian Gulf, and recently in the Mediterranean Sea as well. . . . A bill submitted to the U.S. Congress calls for the formulation of a naval strategy that includes an alliance to combat naval terrorism in the Middle East. This proposal suggests the formation of a regional alliance in the Middle East in which the member states will support the realization of U.S. interests—even while the United States focuses its attention on other regions of the world, mainly the Far East.

Israel could play a significant role in the execution of this strategy. The Abraham Accords, along with the transition of U.S.-Israeli military cooperation from the European Command (EUCOM) to Central Command (CENTCOM), position Israel to be a key player in the establishment of a naval alliance, led by the U.S. Fifth Fleet, headquartered in Bahrain.

Collaborative maritime diplomacy and coalition building will convey a message of unity among the members of the alliance, while strengthening state commitments. The advantage of naval operations is that they enable collaboration without actually threatening the territory of any sovereign state, but rather using international waters, enhancing trust among all members.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Abraham Accords, Iran, Israeli Security, Naval strategy, U.S. Foreign policy