Section of the Torah

Selections from the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

Section of the Torah. Manuscript fragment on gevil. 26 inches x 18 inches.  Circa 600-800 C.E.

Very few Hebrew manuscripts survive from the period between the Dead Sea Scrolls of the first and second century C.E. and the Aleppo Codex of the tenth century. Duke is fortunate to hold twenty-three Hebrew Torah fragments from this so-called “silent period.”

Lebanese-born American physician Fuad Ashkar donated the collection of fragments in the 1970s. They were likely once held by the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo in the genizah, or storeroom for damaged and unusable texts. They were dispersed with other materials from the collection in the nineteenth century.

The texts are datable to the eighth century and are close to the Masoretic textual tradition, which is the most traditionally accepted form of the Jewish Bible. The individual fragments record passages from Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The manuscripts are written on gevil, a form of tanned animal hide that was used for Torah scrolls.

One of the fragments in the collection contains a passage from Exodus (13:19-16:1), including the Song of the Sea, one of the most distinctive passages in the Bible. The poem celebrates the Israelites’ safe crossing of the Red Sea, praises God for vanquishing their enemies, and anticipates their arrival in the Promised Land. This fragment has recently been conserved by the Israel Museum’s Paper Conservation Laboratory and has been on exhibit at the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library holds significant collections of early manuscripts in a variety of languages, including more than 100 early Greek manuscripts, almost 200 Latin manuscripts, more than thirty Hebrew manuscripts, and a variety of manuscripts in other languages.

—Andrew Armacost, head of collection development and curator of collections at the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

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