Rare scroll fragment to be unveiled

Israel Museum to display "Silent era" manuscript,which includes Song of Seas.

torah scroll 88 248 (photo credit: courtesy)
torah scroll 88 248
(photo credit: courtesy)
A rare Torah scroll fragment from the Book of Exodus dating back to the 7th century that includes the famous Song of the Sea will be unveiled Tuesday at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the museum announced Monday. The manuscript, which is a fragment of a Torah scroll from the Book of Exodus (13:19-16:1), comes from the six-hundred year period from the 3rd through 8th centuries known as the "silent era," from which almost no Hebrew manuscripts have survived. The scroll, which is on loan to the museum, is believed to have originally been part of a vast depository of medieval Jewish manuscripts discovered in Cairo's Ben-Ezra Synagogue in the late 19th century. The Song of the Sea, widely recognized as one of the most beautiful examples of biblical poetry, celebrates the Israelites' safe crossing of the Red Sea, praises the Almighty for vanquishing their enemies, and anticipates their arrival in the Promised Land. "The Song of the Sea manuscript is one of a kind in terms of its historical and literary significance," said Israel Museum Director James S. Snyder. "It bridges the gap in the period of history between the Dead Sea Scrolls [1st-2nd century CE] and the Aleppo Codex [10th century], both of which are permanently housed in the Shrine of the Book." "The opportunity to display this manuscript fragment alongside the museum's own remarkable holdings of ancient biblical texts provides a unique example of textual continuity," he added. Until the late 1970s, the scroll was part of the Hebrew manuscript collection of Lebanese-born American physician Fuad Ashkar, who was not aware of the historical significance of the Song manuscript until he contacted Prof. James Charlesworth at Duke University. Carbon analysis proved that the manuscript dated from "the silent era" and was therefore one of a few of its kind ever to have surfaced worldwide. While biblical manuscripts do exist from this period in Greek, Latin and other languages, it is only from the 9th century onward that Hebrew manuscripts have been found in greater abundance, the museum said. Persecution of the Jews and the destruction of Jewish manuscripts are the most prevalent explanation as to why very few Hebrew manuscripts survive from this period. The scroll is on extended loan to the museum through the generosity of Dr. Fuad and Mrs. Terry Ashkar of Miami and Charlesworth. The scroll will go on exhibit at the museum on Tuesday, the eve of Shavout, which marks the giving of the Torah to the Israelites at Mount Sinai.