Saturday, December 23, 2006

Karaite Book of Exodus (Sackler Exhibit, Post 4)

For the immediately preceding post in this series, click here.

The next early Bible that caught my eye in the "Bibles Before the Year 1000" exhibit at the Sackler was the Karaite Book of Exodus (click image to enlarge):

Do take a moment to click and enlarge the image. The beauty of the book will hit you immediately: the soft aged-paper background, the dark swirl of the writing, the shining gilded-chains of gold, and the shadowy bleeding through of letters from reverse sides of the pages.

The book comes from tenth-century Egypt or Palestine and was produced by the Karaite sect of Judaism. Its language is Hebrew, but Hebrew written in Arabic characters (with Masoretic "Hebrew" vowel points!).

The gold chain on the right-hand page marks the end of Exodus 6. The gold filler on the left page marks Exodus 7:8, where a new paragraph begins. If you look closely, you can see that it appear to be made up of little overlapping hearts laid on their sides.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad somebody whose blog I read posted on this, as I had been thinking about this very book recently. I have a friend who recently visited DC for a few days and saw the exhibit. He's an Old Testament student and a bit of a Semitic language enthusiast (he's currently working as a translator in Iraq)--anyway, he saw this book and mentioned it to me.

How is it that Hebrew came to be written in Arabic characters in this community? Neither of us could posit an explanation that made much sense.

Sat Dec 23, 02:11:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Hi Thuloid. Thanks so much for being a reader of my blog! My expertise is in a much earlier period, so I'd love to here from experts in tenth-century ce Judaism, but I understand that living under Islamic rule, this community had a vibrant Arabic tradition of translation and interpretation. I can only conjecture that transcribing the Hebrew into Arabic may have been a way for them to crystalize and propogate their community's reading tradition of the Hebrew Bible, which they considered superior to the standard rabbinic tradition. If anyone reading this can add further clarification, I would love to learn more. Thanks! ---S.

Sat Dec 23, 06:09:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, thanks for any kind of an answer. I do enjoy the blog.

Merry Christmas to you and yours from a fellow Northern Virginia resident.

Sat Dec 23, 11:47:00 PM GMT-5  

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