The Rediscovery of an 11th-Century Volume of the Hebrew Bible in an Egyptian Synagogue

Feb. 25 2020

In 1905, Richard Gottheil—a leading scholar of Semitics and one of the early leaders of American Zionism—discovered a millennium-old manuscript of the Bible in a Karaite synagogue in Cairo. At 616-pages, this extremely rare codex includes only the Writings: the third section of the Hebrew Bible comprising Psalms, Job, Esther, and other books. The volume had not been seen since 1981, raising concerns that it had been lost. But the Israeli historian Yoram Meital recently rediscovered it, finding it on a shelf in the same synagogue. Amanda Borschel-Dan writes:

In a stroke of scholarly luck, the colophon, or book’s imprint, includes the name of the scribe, Zechariah ben Anan, and the person who commissioned it, as well as its date of completion. These are rare and important details . . . and show the provenance of the work as well as the wealth and philanthropy of the family who presumably donated the text to the local synagogue.

Based on notes left by ben Anan, we know it was completed in the Jewish year 4788, which corresponds to the Gregorian year 1028. Ben Anan’s notes [also include] his computations of how many verses he wrote, and that [the volume] was once part of a complete Hebrew Bible—the other two sections, [the Pentateuch and Prophets], are gone without a trace.

The manuscript Meital found not only holds the complete Writings but also twelve pages of Masoretic [scribal] notes on the trope, or the cantillation system according to which it is to be read, and the nikud, or vowel and pronunciation marks. This [latter] system of little dots and lines overlaid on the biblical text indicates how the ancient Hebrew words should sound, since Hebrew is written without vowels. The system was established by a group of Jewish scholars [known as the Masoretes] living in Tiberias near the Sea of Galilee circa 750–950 CE.

“It would be difficult to remain indifferent to the beauty of this manuscript,” wrote Meital.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Egypt, Hebrew Bible, Karaites, Masoretes


In the Aftermath of a Deadly Attack, President Sisi Should Visit Israel

On June 3, an Egyptian policeman crossed the border into Israel and killed three soldiers. Jonathan Schanzer and Natalie Ecanow urge President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to respond by visiting the Jewish state as a show of goodwill:

Such a dramatic gesture is not without precedent: in 1997, a Jordanian soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli schoolgirls visiting the “Isle of Peace,” a parcel of farmland previously under Israeli jurisdiction that Jordan leased back to Israel as part of the Oslo peace process. In a remarkable display of humanity, King Hussein of Jordan, who had only three years earlier signed a peace agreement with Israel, traveled to the Jewish state to mourn with the families of the seven girls who died in the massacre.

That massacre unfolded as a diplomatic cold front descended on Jerusalem and Amman. . . . Yet a week later, Hussein flipped the script. “I feel as if I have lost a child of my own,” Hussein lamented. He told the parents of one of the victims that the tragedy “affects us all as members of one family.”

While security cooperation [between Cairo and Jerusalem] remains strong, the bilateral relationship is still rather frosty outside the military domain. True normalization between the two nations is elusive. A survey in 2021 found that only 8 percent of Egyptians support “business or sports contacts” with Israel. With a visit to Israel, Sisi can move beyond the cold pragmatism that largely defines Egyptian-Israeli relations and recast himself as a world figure ready to embrace his diplomatic partners as human beings. At a personal level, the Egyptian leader can win international acclaim for such a move rather than criticism for his country’s poor human-rights record.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: General Sisi, Israeli Security, Jordan