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'Shaping of the Bible' exhibit

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  • Bob Schacht
    We had received the exhibitor s (?) announcement for this exhibit; I almost forwarded it to the list myself. But now, perhaps better yet, we have a review
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 10, 2006
      We had received the exhibitor's (?) announcement for this exhibit; I almost
      forwarded it to the list myself. But now, perhaps better yet, we have a
      review article about it from the IHT.

      >International Herald Tribune
      >The shaping of the Bible
      >By Souren Melikian
      >Friday, December 8, 2006
      >Muffled by the arid academic prose of the exhibition book, pure dynamite is
      >laid out at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery until Jan. 7 under the title "In
      >the Beginning." The subtitle meekly states that the show is about "Bibles
      >before the year 1000," but as readers quickly find out, the sensational
      >novelty of the exhibition lies in the earliest material remnants of the books
      >revered by Judaism and Christianity gathered here for the first time ever.
      >The plural, "Bibles," is not innocent. There never was just one "Bible," as
      >Harry Gamble demonstrates in his chapter, "Bible and Book." To Judaism, the
      >Bible consists of the five books of the Torah, the 21 books of the Nevi'im
      >("prophets") and the 13 books of the Ketuvim ("writings") sometimes referred
      >to as the "Tanak," from the three initials T-N-K.
      >Yet, Gamble insists, "The Hebrew Bible was not the only form" of the Jewish
      >Bible in Antiquity. Few in the Jewish communities dispersed around the
      >Mediterranean by the 1st century A.D. knew Hebrew. In Palestine, it had long
      >ceased to be the language of daily life in favor of Aramaic, another Semitic
      >language, spoken across the Near East.
      >The international language of culture that was spread in the wake of
      >Alexander's conquests, in the late 4th century B.C., was Greek. A
      >translation of the Bible into Greek in the 3rd century B.C. gained wide
      >currency and became known as the "Septuagint" (from the Latin
      >septuaginta for 70) because tradition has it that 72 Jewish translators were
      >called to Alexandria by the Egyptian ruler Ptolemy II (285-246 B.C.).
      >However, Gamble rectifies, this is a myth. Variations in style and accuracy
      >prove that different parts "were translated at different times and places
      >around the Eastern Mediterranean." To the translation of the Tanak, the
      >Septuagint added 15 other Jewish texts, of which most were directly composed
      >in Greek. The translations are themselves sometimes longer or shorter than
      >the 39 Hebrew originals.
      >The divergence was maintained in Christianity. Orthodoxy and Roman
      >Catholicism recognize the Septuagint as the authentic version of the Old
      >Testament. Protestant churches retain the Hebrew Bible translated into
      >There is not much agreement about the exact period when the Jewish Bible
      >actually took its textual form. The Genesis may have been written down by
      >the early 1st millennium B.C. but the Hebrew Scriptures were destroyed by
      >the Babylonians and reconstructed around 600 B.C.
      >As for the earliest surviving material specimens, these are later by
      >centuries. The first texts were written on rolls (or "scrolls"), books
      >appearing only in the 4th century A.D., and not much has come down to us
      >from these early times.
      >A fragmentary scroll found in a cave at Khirbet Qumran ("The Qumran Ruins"
      >in Arabic) on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea preserves a few lines
      >from Isaiah copied before 73 B.C. Many similar fragments surfaced at Qumran,
      >making the 1947 find by Arab shepherds a landmark in the history of Hebrew
      >The other huge discovery made half a century earlier was that of manuscripts
      >in the Genizah (store room) of the Ben Ezra Synagogue dating from 882 A.D.
      >at Fustat, the early Islamic city near Cairo. There they lay, because in
      >law, flawed manuscripts must be set aside. These included fragments of vellum
      >scrolls with lines from the Genesis copied in the 5th or 6th century or
      >perhaps later.
      >A series of fascinating revelations came with the pages of a manuscript of
      >which the vellum pages had been washed out to be used again. The earlier
      >text, still legible, retains a literal translation of the Hebrew Bible
      >into Greek
      >made by Aquila around 125 A.D. A fragment in a 6th-century hand, on loan
      >from Cambridge University Library, illustrates the continued prevalence of
      >Greek as a cultural language in some Jewish circles at a time when Syriac
      >(the modern version of Aramaic), had long been the spoken language across
      >the Semitic Near East.
      >Written over Aquila's half-washed translations, the later text reproduces
      >Hebrew poetry by Yannai, a Near Eastern writer who composed one poem for
      >every weekly portion of the Torah read in the synagogue. Few of his poems
      >were known prior to the opening up of the Genizah. Hundreds have now
      >been recorded.
      >The Hebrew specialist Ben Outhwaite remarks that, while the Cambridge
      >fragment "overwrites Aquila on Kings, another piece of the quire overwrites
      >the Gospel of John in the Christian Palestinian Aramaic version. The scribe
      >who wrote Yannai's poetry put his codex together from whatever odd sheets
      >he had to hand." This demonstrates the intermingling of communities from
      >different religious backgrounds.
      >Another Genizah fragment from Cambridge in the show yields a fundamental
      >document. Two pages with the end of Nehemiah (13: 20-21) have a three-line
      >colophon naming the scribe, Joseph ben Nimrod, the place, Gonbad-e Malgan,
      >and the year 1215 in the Seleucid era corresponding to 903-904 A.D. This is
      >"the earliest dated medieval Hebrew manuscript," Outhwaite notes.
      >I would add that the manuscript format is identical to that of small Iranian
      >Korans of the 10th century, pointing to shared aesthetics in the scriptorial
      >tradition. The catalogue does not say that Gonbad-e Malgan is recorded in
      >the 10th century by the geographer Muqaddasi as a town in a palm tree
      >grove in the Iranian province of Fars. The presence of a calligrapher of
      >consummate mastery copying a Hebrew Bible in a small place underlines
      >the extensive presence of Jewish communities in Iran.
      >Not least among its treasures, the earliest near-complete dated manuscript
      >of the Bible copied in 929 A.D. is believed to have also come from the
      >Genizah. A page decorated with a scrolling pattern and an arcade with
      >alternate triangular and round arches symbolizing the Temple Ark bears
      >striking analogies to Koranic illumination in Syria.
      >Another page with the frontispiece of a 10th-century Torah loaned by the
      >National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg, bears out the existence of a
      >10th-century Middle Eastern school of Biblical manuscript illumination on a
      >grand scale closely related to that of Koranic illumination. Time, alas, has
      >been unkind to both.
      >Not much survives of early Christian manuscripts either. One reason may be
      >found in Gamble's observation about the four canonical gospels, and the
      >other gospels written in the first half of the 2nd century - the Gospel of
      >Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, and others, all in Greek. "None of them was
      >written with the idea of producing a document that might be incorporated
      >into or placed alongside the scriptures of Judaism. Early Christianity had a
      >Bible already and it was the Hebrew Bible."
      >Indeed, the four gospels now accepted as canonical were not transcribed as
      >a single volume until about 160- 170 A.D. The second reason for the lack of
      >early Christian manuscripts is the massive destruction ordered in 303 A.D.
      >by the Roman emperor Diocletian.
      >A rare example of pre-Diocletian survival is part of a manuscript of the
      >Four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles on papyrus, which was
      >recovered in the Fayyum area of Egypt. It is copied in elegant Greek
      >The earliest complete Christian Bibles, all in Greek, date from the 4th and
      >5th centuries. A fourth-century volume, possibly copied in Caeserea,
      >Palestine, is on loan from the monastery of Saint Catherine in Mount Sinai.
      >Other fragments from Egypt allow tantalizing glimpses into the metaphysical
      >approach of some early Christians. A page from the Gospel of Thomas datable
      >to the 3rd century A.D. carries words from "The Sayings of Jesus" : "...
      >Raise the stone and there you shall find me, split the wood and there I am."
      >These mystical thoughts were not retained in official Christianity. They
      >have parallels in later Islamic mysticism, particularly in Iran where
      >"The Soul of the World" was the object of much meditation.
      >All may have roots in early Jewish speculations later erased in times of
      >orthodox reaction.
      >Gazing at the manuscripts produced by the time Christianity had become
      >officialized in Armenia, the first nation to adhere to Christianity, Georgia,
      >Ethiopia, the Byzantine Empire, Western Europe and later Eastern
      >Europe, viewers become aware of both the Eastern imprint and the prodigious
      >transformation of what had begun as a Jewish sectarian movement with
      >mystical leanings and strong libertarian ideas. That had made it intolerable
      >to established authority. As Christian churches in turn became the
      >authority, they shed subversive thoughts and stamped out diverging
      >messages branded as heresy.
      >In Western Europe, Christianity became Romanized. The Latin version of the
      >Bible prevailed and the Palestinian prophet Yeshu, under his Latinized name,
      >Jesus, was depicted wearing the imperial Roman toga. On a magnificent ivory
      >plaque carved around 800 in Aachen, Germany, to adorn the binding of a
      >Gospel Lectionary, there is not much to suggest that he ever set foot in
      >International Herald Tribune <http://www.iht.com> Copyright © 2006 The
      >International Herald Tribune | www.iht.com <http://www.iht.com>

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