Lot 11
  • 11

Bible, Exodus, in Hebrew, manuscript on vellum [Oriental (perhaps Persia), ninth or tenth century]

20,000 - 30,000 GBP
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  • Vellum
a single leaf, 335mm. by 377mm., remains of three columns, 17 lines in each, in large and fine square script with nikkud, small Masorah inserted between the columns, stains, scuffs and folds, with damage to all outer edges, else good and sound condition, early twentieth-century conservation including infilling with paper and setting within silk


A relic of a monumental early medieval manuscript of the Hebrew Bible; and, with the exception of the Dead Sea Scrolls, one of the oldest extant witnesses to the text


(1) From the famous Cairo Genizah, the repository of the Jewish community located in the Ben Ezra Synagogue of Fustat, established in 882 AD. and in the twelfth century the place of worship of Moses Maimonides. This storehouse of obsolete texts fell into disuse and was forgotten until renovations to the building in 1891 opened the hoard and released some leaves onto the antiquities market. The linguist Archibald Sayce was in Cairo in 1892, and wrote to Neubauer describing how the Genizah was being dispersed leaf-by-leaf to collectors. Sayce repeatedly attempted to acquire the entire collection for the Bodleian for the asking price of '£50 and 5 bakshish' (usually translated as 'tip'), but negotiations remained fruitless, and he left Cairo blaming the inebriation of the officials for his failure. In 1896 the collector E.N. Adler (see also lot 2) visited the community and acquired some fragments. In the meantime a leaf from the long-lost Hebrew version of Ecclesiasticus had found its way via the redoubtable twins and early Bible hunters, Agnes Lewis and Margaret Gibson, to the Cambridge scholar Solomon Schechter. He mounted a rescue mission later in the same year and obtained the remaining 140,000 fragments for Cambridge University. The discovery captivated public imagination in Europe in a way comparable only to the opening of Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922, partly fuelled by Schechter's letters to The Times. That of  3 August 1897 described the genizah as "a battlefield of books, [in which] ... the literary production of many centuries had their share in the battle, and their 'disjecta membra' are now strewn over its area". For half a century these were the oldest Hebrew manuscripts known.

(2) David Solomon Sassoon (1915-85); bought in December 1922, doubtless in the markets of Cairo; his sale in our rooms, 21 June 1994, lot 1, part c, illustrated at front of catalogue; Schøyen MS 1858/3.

Catalogue Note


The leaf comprises Exodus 22:4-29. It rivals in date, or even predates, the earliest Hebrew biblical codices of the ninth or tenth century, such as the surviving parts of the Aleppo Codex (c.920, now Jerusalem, Shrine of the Book), the Damascus Pentateuch (c.1000; also Jerusalem, Hebrew University), the St. Petersberg Codex (dated 1008/09, now National Library of Russia, MS.B19a), British Library, Or.4445 (Pentateuch only, tenth-century), and the near complete ninth- or tenth-century codex, also ex Sassoon, sold in our rooms, 5 December 1989, lot 69, for £2,035,000. These are the earliest witnesses to the format of the text as selected by Aaron Ben-Asher (d. c.960) in Tiberias, modern Palestine. The resulting text was accepted by Maimonides as the most accurate, and remains in use today.


D.S. Sassoon: Ohel Dawid, Descriptive Catalogue of the Hebrew and Samaritan Manuscripts in the Sassoon Library, 1932, I, pp.27-28