Friday, December 01, 2006

The Sackler: "Bibles Before the Year 1000" (post 1)

Catherine and I (see arrow in photo above) really enjoyed our visit this week to the Sackler Gallery and its current exhibit, "In the Beginning: Bibles Before the Year 1000." We had the luxury of going after the SBL is over and on a Wednesday morning, so no lines and plenty of time to enjoy the splendor without being rushed. And splendid it was---just overwhelming to have all in one place over 70 of the earliest biblical artifacts in existence, including pages and fragments written in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, Armenian, Ethiopian and Coptic—many on display for the first time in the United States, and many of breathtaking beauty and inspiration. In the coming days, off and on, I'd like to do some posts on some of the things that struck me most as a Hebrew Bible scholar visiting the exhibit.

One of the first things you see upon entering the exhibit (after your eyes adjust to the darkness) is a life size representation of the room at Cambridge University where the early biblical manuscripts from the Cairo Genizah were first studied along with a display of some of the "unconserved fragments" among these texts.

The black and white photo, taken in 1898, shows Solomon Schechter, who located these amazing texts in the repository of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, at work on them in the Cambridge University library.

In the case in the foreground (in color) are actual texts from the Genizah, but ones not catalogued or preserved due to their lack of surviving visible text. As you view them, you get a sense of what faced Schechter as he began to examine and describe his genizah fragments. These fragments probably date from the 11th through the 16th centuries c.e.

You can visit the Taylor-Schechter research unit on the Cairo Genizah here.


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