SOLD FOR THE BENEFIT OF WESTMINSTER COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE
325 leaves, 387mm. by 275mm., 6 modern paper leaves of text added at beginning to correct loss from manuscript, and 8 at end, a few other leaves at each end with some minor loss (now also corrected with modern paper additions), else complete, collation: i-xxvii10, xxviii11 (v is a singleton), xxix10, xxx8 (this gathering has 4 bound leaves and 4 loose but in their correct position), xxxi-xxxii10, xxxiii6, written space 277mm. by 203mm., double column (right-hand Samaritan-Hebrew, left-hand Arabic), 35-7 lines, in dark brown ink in a Samaritan square bookhand without vowel signs, overall in outstanding condition with wide and clean margins, in eighteenth- or nineteenth-century flap binding in red leather with Arabic tooling bearing inscription "let none touch it but the pure" (some scratching to underside of binding), modern pencil inscription in English of contents list on flyleaf and relevant book and chapter of bible throughout Genesis in hand of Agnes Smith Lewis (see below), muddy cat paw prints on some flyleaves
A textual ancestor of the Old Testament composed at a time when most of that text was not yet written, and the unique complete manuscript of the parallel Samaritan-Hebrew and Samaritan-Arabic Pentateuch
(1) The Samaritan community in Damascus; fols.293-305 contain a hidden acrostic, in the form of a thin vertical space left in the middle of each column into which the scribe added the letters of the acrostic in the space, one at a time, only when they fell on the line adjacent to the space. This states that the text was written in the last month of the Mohammedan year 909 (1504 AD) in Damascus. A Samaritan colony thrived there until the sixteenth century, and the migration of the High Priest Phinehas b. Eleazar from there to Nablus in 1538 has been taken to indicate that the settlement was reduced almost to extinction by that date, or persisted only in a hybrid form.
(2) The Samaritan owner is described in an inscription on the last paper leaf as "son of Yitzkak, of the sons of Merhib", who gave it into the care of Shlomoh the priest, son of Amram, son of Shlomoh, son of Tobiah, son of Yitzkak the Levitical priest, who also held office as Shammash of the Sacred school, for restoration of the defective leaves at the front and back. The inscription is dated to the evening of the twenty-eighth day of the month Shawwâl of 1306 of the Hegira (1888-9 AD). Amram, the father of Shlomoh the priest, was High Priest at Nablus during Petermann’s visit in 1853 (Petermann, Reisen im Orient, 1861, I, pp.260-92), and during those of Mills in 1855 and 1860 (Mills, Three Months' Residence at Nablus, 1864).
(3) Dr. Selah Merrill, United States Consul in Jerusalem (held office 1882-1907); receipt in Arabic pasted to backboard records that the manuscript was obtained from him 6 March 1900 for the sum of 50 French gold coins, by one Nasser Ishaq al-Halaq, with witnesses, whose names appear to be Antoine Jallad and Abdul-Rahman al-Qassas.
(4) Margaret Dunlop Gibson (1843-1920) and Agnes Smith Lewis (1843-1926), and given to Westminster College, Cambridge, 29 December 1900.
The Samaritan Pentateuch is the Neanderthal of biblical fossils. The historical writings of the Samaritans claim that they are descended from the Northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who after the twelve tribes of Israel conquered the land of Canaan, split from this group to follow a priest named Eli who established a tabernacle on Mount Gerizim separate from that erected by Moses in the desert. Archaeological excavations at Mount Gerizim indicate that a Samaritan temple was built there c. 330 BC as a rival to that in Jerusalem, and the schism was certainly complete by the end of that century. The Dead Sea Scrolls bear witness to the existence of at least three textual Pentateuch-traditions in these centuries, and that now in evidence in the Samaritan Pentateuch broke away from the other traditions in the Hasmonean period (second century BC). This recension differs on numerous occasions from the Masoretic text, and interestingly, in approximately two thousand of these instances the Septuagint agrees with the Samaritan text not the Masoretic one. The principal differences between the Samaritan and Masoretic texts centre on the sanctity of Mount Gezarim; most dramatically in the addition to the Ten Commandments God’s order to build an altar there and offer sacrifices on that mountain (Exodus 20:17), and the reading of Mount Gezarim for Mount Ebal as the place where God commanded an altar to be made and on which the law was to be written (Deut. 27:4; note scholarly consensus now agrees with the Samaritan not the Masoretic text here, see Peake's commentary on the Bible).
As is suggested by the lowliness of the Good Samaritan in Christ's parable, the subsequent history of the Samaritans is principally one of persecution. They suffered hardships under Roman rule as Samaria fell under Judean domain, massacres and mass enslavements under the Byzantines, and infringement on some of their sacred lands under the Mamluks, and by 1300 the numbers of the Samaritan community appear to have dwindled to about a thousand people in the city of Nablus at the foot of Mount Gezarim. Paradoxically, it was this period when they faced near-extinction that saw intense religious and literary activity, and of the handful of surviving complete codices in Samaritan the majority are from the fourteenth, fifteenth or early sixteenth centuries. A few thirteenth-century Samaritan Pentateuchs survive, such as the Manchester, John Rylands manuscript, which is dated 1211 AD, and the Rome, Barberini Library manuscript which dates from 1227, but none are known to date from the mid-thirteenth century to the mid-fourteenth. A small number exist for the late fourteenth-century, such as British Library, Cotton Claudius B viii, (dated 1362), and those of the fifteenth-century and early sixteenth-century are also extremely rare. J.P. Rothschild ("Samaritan Manuscripts: A guide to the Collections and Catalogues" in The Samaritans, 1989, p.775) lists the present codex first among the 14 "ancient complete manuscripts" brought to the West in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries (the others are: Dublin, Chester Beatty Library MSS 751 & 752,; 3 MSS in the Chamberlain-Warren collection in East Lansing, Michigan State University; a single manuscript in New York, Jewish Theological Seminary, Adler Collection; British Library, Additional 19,011, fifteenth-century; and seven manuscripts in Manchester, John Rylands Library). Complete medieval Samaritan codices are almost exclusively in institutional ownership, and only 6 of these are in America (East Lansing, Michigan State University, Chamberlain Warren collection; Haverford College, Philadelphia, MS 22; New York Public Library, MS 11010 & Sam. MS. 1). The single exception is a small medieval Samaritan Pentateuch apparently made to be worn as a talisman, formerly Sassoon MS.30 (sold in our New York rooms, 4 December 1984, lot 95; now Valmadonna Trust MS 6a).
The text comprises Genesis (fol.1v), Exodus (fol.80r), Leviticus (fol.149r), Numbers (fol.189v), and Deuteronomy (fol.258v).
However, the manuscript is much more than a simple Samaritan Pentateuch, and combines this with a parallel translation in Arabic, also written in Samaritan script. Rothschild's list contains no other complete extant manuscript of a parallel Samaritan-Hebrew and Arabic Pentateuch, whether medieval or modern. The only other related examples are a fragment sold in our rooms, 11 July 1960, lot 36, for £750, of the same parallel texts and of similar antiquity (although mis-catalogued there as thirteenth- or fourteenth-century), which was perhaps closely related to the present manuscript; one sixteenth-century Arabic Pentateuch in Uppsala University Library, Ar. vii h.3; five Arabic Pentateuchs of uncertain date in Paris, Bib. Nat. de France, Ar. MSS 3, 5-8; another similar of uncertain date owned by the scholar M. Baillet; and a fragment of an Arabic Pentateuch in Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, Preussischer Kulturbesitz. Thus, the present copy is of great historical importance for the circumstances under which the Samaritan colony in Damascus survived in Syria, and perhaps how they adapted in their last years as their numbers dwindled. Around 1300, Dimashi, a Muslim chronicler and apparently an inhabitant of Damascus, recorded that "it is said that when a Muslim, a Jew, a Samaritan and a Christian come together on the road, the Samaritan will take company in preference with the Muslim". Such pragmatic cross-cultural ties as described there may well be behind the creation of the present manuscript.
Scholarly interest in the Samaritan Pentateuch has a long lineage, including use by Origen (Hexapla, ad Num. 13:1), Eusebius of Caesarea (Chronicon), and by St. Jerome in his translation of the Vulgate. Modern European scholars began to look to the text as a potential witness to a pre-Masoretic text of the Bible in the late-sixteenth century, when the French Semitist, Joseph Justus Scalinger, made enquiries about obtaining a manuscript from the Holy Land. He died before any serious research could be begun, but his work was taken up by another French scholar, Jean Morin. He obtained a manuscript of the text in 1623, and this was published in the Paris polyglot of 1645 and again in the Walton polyglot in England in 1657, along with Morin's observation that the Septuagint often favoured the Samaritan Pentateuch over the Masoretic text. From this observation sprang decades of public debate between Catholics and Protestants on the relative merits of the text; and centuries of scholarly fascination with it as an ancestor of the Old Testament fossilised in a written form long before much of the accepted body of that text was written, and thus a potential witness to an earlier version of the first books of the Bible. In the seventeenth century a few codices are known to have been brought back by clergy who had worked in the Holy Land, or were obtained through trade-routes (Archbishop Usher acquired 6 manuscripts this way, initially through a merchant in Aleppo). Interest in the text continued sporadically in the eighteenth century, and blossomed in the nineteenth as an increasing number of Europeans travelled to the Holy Land and brought back artefacts and manuscripts. It was at the height of these 400 years of interest that the present manuscript was acquired in the summer of 1900 by the pioneering early Biblical scholars and twins, Margaret Dunlop Gibson and Agnes Smith Lewis. They were both staunch Scottish Presbyterians with a consuming interest in the early versions of the Bible. In an age when women practically did not exist in higher education, these two remarkable scholars and passionate female-education campaigners were instructed by private tutors in Greek, Latin and Hebrew, and later Syriac in Cambridge through the tutoring of the Revd. R. Kennet of Queen’s College, Cambridge (as women were not permitted to attend the regular university lectures on this language). Margaret subsequently married the linguist and translator, James Young Gibson, who died suddenly three years into their marriage, and her sister Agnes married the antiquary and Fellow Librarian of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, Samuel Savage (or 'Satan') Lewis, who also died approximately three years into their marriage. To raise her sister's spirits out of grief, Margaret proposed that they mount a 'manuscript-hunting' expedition to the monastery of St. Catherine's on Mount Sinai, and in 1892 they crossed the desert from Cairo to Mount Sinai on camelback, and having won over the difficult patriarch, were given leave to examine the library at their leisure. In a subsequent expedition in 1896 they purchased a bundle of leaves from a dealer in the plain of Sharon and another similar bundle in Cairo, and on their return to Cambridge sought the aid of the Hebrew scholar, Dr Solomon Schechter, and this lead to the discovery and acquisition of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah in the synagogue of Ben Ezra (now the subject of a dedicated research unit within Cambridge University Library). The fact that a few leaves in the present manuscript have been cut out (and lie loose in the binding) may suggest that this text was also discovered through the acquisition of individual leaves from dealers in Jerusalem, and that enquiries there lead the sisters back to Nasser Ishaq al-Halaq, who presumably parted with it for considerably more than the 50 French gold coins he had paid Dr. Selah Merrill for it earlier that same year (clearly he did not make its true provenance known to the sisters; in an article which notes its discovery (J. Skinner, "Notes on a Newly Acquired Samaritan Manuscript", Jewish Quarterly Review 14, 1902, 26-36) the author, who had his information directly from the sisters, states that it was the vendor's claim that the volume had been in his family for generations). Both sisters received a number of academic accolades in later life; Agnes was awarded an honorary Ph.D. in 1899 by the University of Halle (the second time ever this distinction was awarded to a woman), both twins were awarded the title Doctor of Literature in 1904 by the University of St. Andrew’s, and Doctor of Divinity in 1911 by the University of Heidelberg (the first time this was awarded to women), and a Litt.D. from Trinity College, Dublin.
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