On May 22, 2007, the Israel Museum announced the upcoming display of a rare manuscript from the book of Exodus. The scroll will be put on display for the first time ever at the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem. Carbon analysis indicates that the manuscript dates to the 7th-8th, and is one of the few manuscripts existing from this period of Jewish history. This Bible scroll fragment is believed to be from the Cairo Genizah, a vast collection of medieval Jewish manuscripts discovered in a Cairo Synagogue in the late 19th century.
The time period from the 3rd-8th century CE is called the “silent era,” because only a handful of Hebrew manuscripts have survived from that period. This phenomenon is commonly attributed to the continuous persecution of the Jews during that era. Biblical manuscripts exist from this period in Greek, Latin and other languages, but it is only from the 9th century onward that Hebrew manuscripts have been found in greater abundance.
The manuscript at hand contains segments of the book of Exodus (13:19-16:1), including the Song of the Sea, a well-known piece of biblical poetry that 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 demonstrates the tremendous fidelity with which the Masoretic version of the Bible was transmitted over the centuries,” said Dr. Adolfo Roitman, head of the Shrine of the Book and curator of the Dead Sea Scrolls. “It is incredible how the distinctive prosody of the Song of Sea is the same today as it was in the 7th-8th centuries.”
The manuscript found its way to the Shrine of the Book thanks to Professor James Charlesworth who was at Duke University, and now is a Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at the Princeton Theological Seminary. Until the late 1970s, the manuscript was part of the Hebrew manuscript collection of Lebanese-born American physician Fuad Ashkar. Dr. Ashkar was not aware of the historical significance of the manuscript until he contacted Professor Charlesworth. The fragment was subsequently housed in the Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Special Collections Library at Duke University. In 2004, Prof. Charlesworth contacted Dr. Adolfo Roitman, and it is now on extended loan to the Museum. Since its arrival in Jerusalem, the manuscript has undergone extensive conservation treatment. The scroll will be on display from June 15th 2007.