Sunday, September 15, 2013

Not So Buried Treasure

Posted by: Ruth A Casie
University of Bologna/AFP
There is a romance about archaeological digs and finding treasurers. Some treasures we easily understand, hordes of gold and jewels, statues and art, tombs and mummies. Others are more difficult.

This past May, in the library of the University of Bologna in Italy, Professor Mauro Perani found ‘gold’ in among the shelves and of the 925 year old university. It was a book, a scroll actually. Upon analysis he would confirm that it is the world’s oldest complete Torah, Jewish Bible.

Professor Perani was cataloging a 30 Jewish manuscripts in the library when he noticed that a particular scroll, Scroll Number Two, had been classified as originating in the 17th century. When he took a closer look he saw that the scroll included letters and symbols that had been banned by the 12th century Jewish philosopher, Moses ben Maimon. Perani suspected the scroll was much older.

Carbon dating in Italy and the United States confirmed that the scroll was made between 1155 and 1225 C.E. While fragments of scrolls dating as far back at the 7th and 8th centuries have been found, this is the oldest complete Torah. The oldest previously known scroll dates back to the 13th century. However, St. Petersburg does have a bible in a book form, not the traditional scroll that dates back to 1088.

The lamb skin scroll is perfectly preserved and measures 118 feet long and just over 2 feet wide. It is surmised that the University received the scroll from a Dominican monastery in the city following Napoleon’s orders to disband religious orders in the country. As for why the Dominican friars had the ancient Torah, there was close collaboration between Christians and Jewish scholars in the early Middle Ages. Bologna also has had a large Jewish community for quite some time and the university added Hebrew studies to their curriculum in the 15th century.

Telling you about this wonderful treasure at this time is appropriate as our Jewish friends, colleagues and family celebrate their New Year, 5774. L’Shana Tova, for a good year, and may we all be written in the book of life for another year. 

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