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The Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit

Genizah Fragments

The Newsletter of Cambridge University's
Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit
at Cambridge University Library

No. 6 October 1983

Let us have a good look

I recently had the pleasure of accepting an invitation to attend the Eleventh Congress of the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament in Salamanca, Spain, and to deliver a lecture at one of its sessions. Although my paper set out to prove that the Hebrew expression [Hebrew text] means "he had a good look" or "he had a vision" rather than "he raised his eyes" or "he looked up", I could neither resist the reference to a Genizah text in my linguistic analysis nor avoid discussing the Genizah with so many colleagues from such a variety of countries.

Gratifyingly, the Unit's activities seemed familiar to many and various questions were raised by individuals about how the Hebrew Bible fragments could be used for their own particular project. Indeed, some of the lectures touched upon the Genizah material, a number of participants pursued points they had raised with me in correspondence, and a few delegates were anxious to hear about the latest discoveries and plans for the future.

One of the main points I made in the course of these personal discussions was that the Genizah often had something to offer in the most unexpected of fields and that it was by no means exclusively the domain of the Jewish scholar or the student of Rabbinic literature. Material included in the current issue demonstrates that the Genizah fragments are also of relevance to the history of Christianity in the mediaeval Mediterranean area and a recent enquiry addressed to me by a Muslim scholar in Egypt about some pieces on which he is working further confirms the inter-denominational and multi-national nature of the subject.

Stefan C. Reif
Director, T-S Genizah Research Unit

[Lord Coggan on the right, Dr Reif on the left]

Lord Coggan examining Genizah fragments with Dr Stefan Reif

Lord Coggan's visit

Distinguished personalities were among those who visited the Unit in recent weeks.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Coggan, spent an afternoon with the director, signed the Library's visitors' book, and was entertained to tea by the Deputy Librarian.

Professor Kalman J. Mann, who recently retired as director-general of the Hadassah Medical Complex in Jerusalem, came with his wife Sylvia, author of several books on Israel.

Cambridge University Press also arranged for their guests, Mr and Mrs Refael Levy, to view the Hebrew treasures at the Library. Mr Levy edits the journal of the Standards Institution of Israel and is a member of its editing and publishing division.


With so many demands currently being made of foundations and individual philanthropists, it is pleasing to be able to report the continuing support of old friends and the gifts of those newly associated with the Genizah project.

The Wellcome Trust has again funded the work being done on the medical fragments in the Collection with an award of over £5,000, and generous contributions of £1,000 each have been received from Sir Michael Sobell, Mr John B. Rubens and Mr Cyril Stein, who provides invaluable help in the fund-raising campaign.

Mr and Mrs Michael Phillips and Mr Trevor Chinn have each again contributed £500, and renewals have also been made of their gifts by Mr and Mrs Conrad Abrahams-Curiel, Mr Joe Dwek, Mr and Mrs David Lauffer, Mr R. A. Noskwith, Mr C. Morris and St John's College (£200-£250). The Barclay Charitable Fund has this year assisted with a contribution of £100.

The Unit is grateful to Professor Jacob Neusner for arranging another award - of $250 on this occasion - from the Max Richter Foundation, part of it in honour of William S. Taubman. Also in the USA, Mr and Mrs Ira Hertzberg of Goshen, New York, kindly supported the Unit's work by donating the sum of $250 in memory of Mrs Hertzberg's mother, Jeanne Schechter, a niece of Solomon Schechter, who passed away earlier this year.

The newly attracted support of Mrs Denise Cattan (£140), Withington Congregation of Spanish and Portuguese Jews (£150), and Mr Michael Rose (£100) is especially welcome, as is the total of over £220 received in the form of smaller donations.

A full and busy year

The activities of the Unit over the past twelve months, until the end of July, 1983, have just been detailed in the Director's annual report to the University Librarian, Dr F. W. Ratcliffe, and the Library Syndicate, and some of the facts and figures neatly summarize what has been achieved.

In the preparation of the computerized bibliography, 39,557 lines are now fully ready for the final "sort-and-merge" operation. Over 400 medical, para-medical and quasi-medical fragments have been described and 35 unpublished autographs of Maimonides' Commentary on the Mishnah have been edited for publication by Dr E. J. Wiesenberg in collaboration with Professor Simon Hopkins of Cape Town and Dr Paul Fenton of Lyon.

Another volume, Professor Shelomo Morag's description of the pointed Talmudic texts in the Collection, has been sub-edited at the Unit and delivered to Cambridge University Press for publication.

The most important T-S photography order filled during the year was one from Tel Aviv University for a complete set of 525 microfilms of the Cambridge Genizah fragments.

There were 351 visitors to the Unit, 248 responses to inquiries, and over £26,000 was raised outside the University in support of the Unit's work.

New find

Another six fragments of a Syriac Christian hymn-book have just been discovered in the Collection (T-S AS 204.351-6). Mr Menahem Ben-Sasson, Visiting Research Associate in the Unit for 1983-84, came across them in the course of his own research and they have been identified by Dr Sebastian Brock who will publish them as an addendum to his previous publication

A surprise in Syriac script

[image of a manuscript]

T-S AS 213.20, containing a Christian hymnary for a Feast of Mary

That the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection contains a smattering of Christian texts has long been known. Written mainly in Christian Palestinian Aramaic but also in Coptic, Georgian, Greek, Latin and Syriac, these are all to be found in manuscripts technically known as palimpsests.

Such manuscripts consist of parchment leaves whose original writing (in this case containing the Christian texts) was at some stage erased so that the writing material could be re-cycled and used for copying out new texts.

What came as something of a surprise was the discovery of some small paper fragments in Syriac script where the original writing had been left untouched (T-S NS 306.224,227,228-229 and AS 213.18-20). These had evidently been subjected to a different form of re-cycling, having perhaps been used for packing inside the bindings of later volumes.

Belonging to the Aramaic branch of the Semitic languages, Syriac was the language of three oriental Churches, including the Church of the East, in the Middle Ages, while the dominant language of the Christian community in Egypt was Coptic.

Credit for the discovery of these new Syriac fragments goes to Professors Israel Yeivin and Ezra Fleischer and to the Director of the Genizah Research Unit, who came across them in 1974 while sorting out the Additional Series fragments. Some years later, Professor Simon Hopkins, then Research Assistant in the Genizah Research Unit (now Professor of Hebrew at the University of Cape Town) drew my attention to their existence.

Once I had examined the manuscripts, it did not take me long to identify them as fragments from a liturgical book, or hymnary, of the Church of the East (the so-called "Nestorian" Church), most of them belonging to a feast of the Virgin Mary.

With some help from modern printed editions and more extensive guidance from manuscripts of the East Syrian hymnaries, it proved possible to fill out and reconstruct the text of a number of these very fragmentary pieces.

The fact that I have been unable, after long searches, to find parallels for some of the contents is in itself interesting, for it indicates that the surviving liturgical manuscripts (usually sixteenth century or later) and, above all, the printed editions have preserved only part of the much larger repertory that must once have been current. Full details of my work will shortly appear in Oriens Christianus (Munich).

In all probability, the Taylor-Schechter fragments belong to the thirteenth or fourteenth century, and they represent some of the earliest extant fragments of this type of liturgical book. It so happens that the Freer Gallery in Washington has a diminutive fragment in an almost identical hand; it is possible that this may once have formed part of the Freer Gallery's Genizah collection, but, unfortunately, no documentary evidence for this now survives.

If the Freer Gallery's fragment does indeed belong to their Genizah collection, then it is conceivable that it actually once formed part of the same manuscript in which the Cambridge fragments originate.

Very little is known of the dwindling "Nestorian" community in Cairo after the end of the twelfth century, and so these small fragments provide tangible evidence for its continuing existence into the thirteenth or even fourteenth century; perhaps the manuscript was sold as scrap when the community finally faded out of existence.

It is a remarkable coincidence that one of the fragments contains a text which overlaps with one that occurs in an even earlier Syriac liturgical fragment - found in Chinese Turkestan! These two identical liturgical fragments thus provide unexpected testimony to the far-flung geographical extension of the Church of the East in the Middle Ages.

Sebastian Brock
Fellow of Wolfson College and Lecturer in Aramaic and Syriac in the University of Oxford

Place of the Decalogue

A new style of presentation for the Genizah material was successfully attempted after a buffet supper held in London at the home of Mr and Mrs Ronald Stekel at which £200 was raised for the Genizah Project.

Since the guests consisted almost entirely of those who had previously heard at least one lecture on the Genizah, Dr Reif was able to conduct a seminar in which specific items were examined and discussed in depth, with the aid of slides.

The major topic covered was the changing place given to the Ten Commandments in the history of Jewish traditions in a period of over 2,000 years, beginning with the Nash Papyrus.

Hebrew scholars meet

Those responsible for famous collections of Hebrew books around the country held a conference at the British Library on 22 March.

Meeting for the second time under the chairmanship of its convener, Dr Stefan Reif, the Hebraica Libraries' Group devoted the morning to the practical problems of conserving and cataloguing their treasures, making the best use of computerization, and circulating information about their holdings and activities.

In the afternoon, Professor Chimen Abramsky, of University College London, lectured on the early efforts of non-Jews, and then later also of Jews, to compile systematic lists of published Hebrew books. He brought with him examples of rare items in the history of Hebrew bibliography and used these to illustrate particular points in his lecture.

Dr David Goldstein, of the British Library, described his project to locate and describe all the Hebrew incunables (books printed before 1500) in existence in this country. He estimated that, of about 180 Hebrew incunables known to have been published, more than 100 different editions or 450 actual copies could be found in the United Kingdom.

Participants at the conference represented national, academic and public libraries in London, Oxford, Cambridge and Leeds and included private collectors, bibliophiles and Hebraists.

Is it time to confer?

It was recently suggested to us that the time has come to think of arranging an international conference to be held here in Cambridge at which scholars from different countries and various disciplines could summarize what the Genizah has contributed to their researches. A similar meeting was held in Tel Aviv over seven years ago and maybe the time is right for that experience to be repeated and broadened. If, as has often been said, Cambridge is the "Mecca of Genizah scholarship", an organized pilgrimage by the leading adherents of the "faith" might be a memorable event. Readers are invited to let us have their views.

[image of a manuscript]

T-S 16.364, containing part of the 'Book of Precepts' of Anan ben David, eighth century opponent of Talmudic Judaism, regarded by the Karaites as their founder

The Genizah and Karaite origins

One of the most remarkable developments of the Geonic period (sixth to eleventh centuries) was the successful emergence of the Karaite movement. This sect rejected the rabbinic law of the Mishnah and Talmud in favour of a form of Judaism exclusively based on the Hebrew Bible. It also refused to acknowledge the role of the rabbinical academies as the leaders of contemporary Jewry, setting up its own alternative religious establishment.

The aim of my doctoral dissertation, being supervised by Professor Moshe Gil at Tel Aviv University, is to try to locate the early origins of Karaism.

To this end, I have spent the last year in England as a Rothschild Fellow, examining the rich collection of Karaite manuscripts housed in its famous academic libraries. My research programme included three months' study of such manuscripts at Cambridge University Library.

As is well known, the Genizah was amassed at the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat and since this synagogue once belonged to Palestinian Rabbanites, most of the material in the collection is related to Rabbanite rather than Karaite Judaism. At the same time, the Genizah has preserved a number of Rabbanite works that deal with Karaism, as well as some Karaite documents that illuminate the earliest history of the Karaite movement.

The object of this brief article is to say something about these Genizah texts, particularly those at Cambridge University Library, and to point out their relevance for the study of Karaite origins.

When describing the Rabbanite texts from the Genizah that are concerned with Karaism, we should remember that the Rabbanites did not deal with Karaism and its origins in the context of the traditional study of the Torah and the history of its interpretation.

In their view, the Karaite movement represented a malignant growth that threatened the foundations of a Judaism devoted to the observance of the mitzvoth (religious precepts).

For their part, the Karaites believed that the "End of Days" was imminent and they mounted an intensive campaign to encourage defection to their camp and thereby to hasten its arrival. It is no surprise, then, that much of what the Rabbanites wrote about the Karaites is in polemical form.

Among the most enthusiastic contenders in this theological struggle, perhaps the most enthusiastic, was the Gaon Saadya, principal of the Sura academy in the first half of the tenth century. The literary treasures from the Cairo Genizah contain many of the polemical works which he directed against the various sects of his day that he regarded as heretical.

His collective title for these works was Kitab al-Radd (Book of Refutation) and his attacks on Anan, Ben Asher and Ibn Saqawayh are among the best known of them.

During my stay in Cambridge I also found fragments of his Kitab al-Tamyiz (Book of Distinction). These fragments deal with the controversial matter of the fixing of the Jewish calendar and shed interesting light on the early history of Jewish sectarianism in Muslim countries.

Although Saadya's Rabbanite polemics were written in the first part of the tenth century, it is clear that the critical struggle between Rabbanites and Karaites began in the latter part of the eighth century in Baghdad, when Anan ben David, from the family of the Exilarch of Babylonian Jewry, defected from the Rabbanite community.

It is a strange fact, however, that the Rabbanites devoted hardly any of their writings to the emergent movement in the first two centuries of its existence. Saadya may thus justifiably be regarded not only as the greatest Rabbanite opponent of Karaism, but also as one of the founding fathers of the opposition.

The Karaite sources, too, are singularly uninformative about the history of Anan and his philosophy. One of the reasons for this paucity of information is that, by the tenth century, there were few remaining followers of Anan. [TO BE CONCLUDED]

Yoram Erder
Assistant in the Department of Jewish History, Tel Aviv University

'Toledoth Yeshu' updated through new discovery

In the Middle Ages, a rather uncomplimentary and folkloristic account of the life of Jesus and the origins of Christianity, known as the Toledoth Yeshu, circulated among the Jews.

In this polemical account, the New Testament versions of a virgin birth, the working of miracles, the refutation of the Pharisees and the crucifixion were presented as illegitimacy, sorcery, heresy and shameful death.

Various parts of this work have been discovered in Genizah texts over the years and some new fragments have just been identified in the Unit.

A similar Jewish narrative was already reported by the Church Fathers in the second century, and Genizah discoveries have shown that it was later expanded and made its appearance in a variety of languages, including Hebrew, Aramaic, Judaeo-Arabic and Judaeo-Persian. Ashkenazi Jews, of course, translated it into Yiddish.

A Cambridge don, Dr William Horbury, now Dean of Corpus Christi College, took the Toledoth Yeshu as the topic of his doctoral dissertation in 1971 and detailed all the scholarly work done and the manuscripts located up to that date.

Dr Horbury and Dr Riccardo Di Segni, of Rome, who are each preparing books on the subject, will now have to take account not only of the work done over the past decade by Ernst Bammel in Cambridge, Ze'ev Falk in Jerusalem and Daniel Boyarin in Beersheba, but also of some discoveries made a few weeks ago in the Unit.

While working on the medical manuscripts in the Collection, Dr Haskell Isaacs, newly appointed Research Associate, funded by the Wellcome Trust, noticed some fragments that mentioned Jesus. With a little help from Dr Stefan Reif, he identified these as additional fragments of Toledoth Yeshu, as well as a leaf of a polemical work quoting the New Testament, all of them in Judaeo-Arabic.

The texts are important for the history of Jewish-Christian relations, the type of literature they represent, and the reconstruction of the early forms of the narrative that they make possible. Dr Isaacs and Dr Horbury are now working together on them and are planning a joint publication in the near future.

[image of a manuscript]

One of the newly discovered fragments, T-S NS 164.26, describes how Queen Helen, prompted by the Sages, sent horsemen to arrest Jesus in Galilee. With the people's support, he resisted them and demonstrated miraculous powers by reviving the dead through the illicit pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton (Divine Name of four letters). The Queen was convinced and rejected the charge of witchcraft being made by the Sages.

On the tenth line of the side reproduced above appears Jesus' alleged statement, "I am the Messiah and revive the dead".

It you would like to receive "Genizah Fragments" regularly, to enquire about the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection or to know how you may assist with its preservation and study, please write to: Dr Stefan Reif, Director, Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit, Cambridge University Library, West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DR, England.

All contributions to the Unit are made to the "University of Cambridge", which enjoys charitable status for tax and similar purposes. In the USA, contributions may be made to "The American Friends of Cambridge University" at 1611 35th Street, NW, Washington DC 20007, USA. The AFCU is recognized by the IRS as a charitable organization and contributions are legally deductible for United States income tax purposes. They are similarly deductible in Canada even if made directly to Cambridge.

Jewish time-machine

The Cairo Genizah as a Jewish Time-Machine was the title of a series of three lectures given by Dr Stefan Reif to the Glasgow branch of the Young Jewish Leadership Institute. The discovery, restoration and study of the Genizah Collection were covered in a total of some seven hours' lectures and discussions.

It was shown how the Genizah fragments provided the means of reconstructing a picture of mediaeval Mediterranean life, particularly as it was in the Jewish community.

By distributing to all the participants in the series copies of the texts to be found in some of the Genizah manuscripts, Dr Reif was able to deal in some detail with items of special interest. In addition, he showed over 100 slides, many of them not usually discussed in a one-hour lecture for lack of time.

Dr Reif was also the guest speaker at the World WIZO Bible Day, delivered the Leo Baeck Memorial Lecture (jointly sponsored by the B'nai B'rith and the Society for Jewish Study), and addressed the Jewish History Study Group in Hendon.

In the spring, he travelled north to speak at well-attended meetings in Manchester and Leeds. An audience of about 300 heard his lecture to the Withington Congregation of Spanish and Portuguese Jews; and the Leeds branch of the Jewish Historical Society of England attracted over 100 to the evening devoted to the Cairo Genizah.

The Genizah returned to Cairo, in a manner of speaking, a few months ago, when Dr Mark R. Cohen, of Princeton University (at that time a Lady Davis Fellow at the Hebrew University), delivered a lecture on "The Cairo Genizah as a Source for Egyptian and Jewish History" before an audience of Egyptians, Israelis and Americans at the Israeli Academic Center in El-Nil Street, Cairo.

Dr Cohen has done important research in Cambridge and remains in regular contact with the Unit, working mainly on mediaeval Jewish autonomy.

Syndics pay tribute

The Cambridge University Reporter of 14 April, 1983, carried the annual report of the Cambridge University Library Syndicate. The Syndics referred to the work of the Unit in the following terms:

"In one area of the Special Collections Division, benefaction has been all-important, namely in the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Unit.

"Early in 1982 the massive conservation programme of the 140,000 fragments was completed and a reception for benefactors to celebrate this achievement was held in London.

"The whole collection, which attracts many visiting scholars, can now be conveniently consulted whether in the original, without any fear of damage to the materials, or on microfilm.

"In passing, the Unit pioneered new techniques in conservation, some of which are now widely used.

"That apart, research on the medical fragments, sponsored by the Wellcome Foundation, was commenced and Mr M. C. Davis, a former member of the staff, completed the third volume of his catalogue of Biblical fragments.

"In addition the bibliography of published work on the collection has now been computerized.

The driving force behind all this was the Director, Dr Reif, whose personal contribution to the achievements of the Unit continues at a very high level.

"Professor J. A. Emerton [Regius Professor of Hebrew] was reappointed Honorary Keeper during the year."

[picture of Geoffrey Khan]

Researcher Geoffrey Khan

New recruit

The latest scholar to be recruited to the Genizah Research Unit is 25-year-old Geoffrey Khan.

Born in Cheltenham, he went to school in Middlesbrough, where he obtained "A" levels in Latin, French, Italian and General Studies.

His university training was at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, where he won the Ousley Memorial Prize in Arabic in 1978 and obtained a BA in Semitic languages, with first-class honours, in 1980.

He is currently completing a doctoral dissertation for the University of London on an important aspect of Semitic grammar, and his first scholarly article has been accepted for publication in 1984.

Geoffrey Khan has bought a home in Cambridge and he and his fiancée are planning to marry at the end of the year.

Goitein begs to differ

In the last issue of Genizah Fragments it was reported that Dr Paul Fenton had dated a block-print to the fourteenth century. Professor S. D. Goitein prefers a slightly later date and has provided some further comments:

"The mediaeval print, CUL Or. 1080 J50, mentioned in the newsletter of April, 1983, is described in detail in my book, A Mediterranean Society, volume iv, p. 123 (which is just coming out and could not have been seen, of course, by my learned pen-friend, Dr Fenton).

"The late eminent historian of Islamic art, Richard Ettinghausen, ascribed the print to the fifteenth century (orally, when I showed it to him). As a matter of precaution, I noted (ibid., p. 382, n.100) that he ascribed it to the late Mamluk period.

"A reduced photograph of the fragment is printed in the Encyclopaedia Judaica, volume vii, p. 912, with the comment: 'a fragment from a Bible, Egypt (?), 13th century (?), which is misleading. This is a placard, not part of a book".

[image of manuscript]

Edited by Stefan C. Reif and printed by the University Printing Services of Cambridge University Press

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