DC museum unveils rare 1,000-year-old Hebrew Bible

Manuscript dating from 10th or 11th century is one of the most ‘well-preserved texts’ from that era, says Museum of the Bible

A 1,000-year-old Hebrew Bible, called the Washington Pentateuch, November 7, 2019. (Courtesy Museum of the Bible)
A 1,000-year-old Hebrew Bible, called the Washington Pentateuch, November 7, 2019. (Courtesy Museum of the Bible)

WASHINGTON — A museum in the US capital unveiled a thousand-year old Hebrew Bible Thursday — one of the oldest intact Torah manuscripts in the world.

The book is currently on display at the Museum of the Bible, where it’s being shown to the public for the first time in years.

“This artifact is a window into an era, a millennium ago, that serves as a basis for how we understand and still talk about the Bible today,” Dr. Jeff Kloha, chief curatorial officer at the museum, opened in 2017 by Hobby Lobby’s Evangelical president Steve Green.

The book — dubbed the Washington Pentateuch by the museum — was created sometime during the 10th or 11th century, around the same time as the seminal manuscripts today’s Hebrew Bible is based on, such as the St. Petersburg Codex and the Aleppo Codex.

The book is made up of two manuscripts, one written around the year 1,000 and another smaller part written in Alexandria, Egypt about 140 years later. At some point, the 20-page second section was added to the original manuscript, the Religion News Service reported.

According to the museum, at one point, the book was held in the Karaite Jewish community in Yevpatoriya, a city in Western Crimea. In 1835, the community gave the manuscript to a Ukrainian archbishop and it eventually made its way to private Israeli collectors via the Moscow Theological Academy, RNS reported.

The Green family collection acquired it from David Sofer, an Israeli businessman who lives in London and collects ancient manuscripts, some two years ago.

At Thursday evening’s unveiling at the downtown DC facility, the museum said the book will inform future translations and editions of the Hebrew Bible, as it closely matches the text of the Bible used universally today.

“The Washington Pentateuch survives as one of the rarest and most well-preserved texts that serves as the basis for many modern Bibles, ” said Herschel Hepler, the Museum of the Bible’s curator. “This remarkable book features the Masoretic Text: the authoritative text of the Hebrew Bible in Jewish and Western Christian tradition.”

The Pentateuch consists of the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. There are only roughly 12 intact Hebrew Bible manuscripts that have survived from the 10th and 11th centuries. Most are held in either the National Library of Russia or the National Library of Israel.

The Washington Pentateuch is one of only two in the United States, and the only one completely intact, the museum said.

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