the shrine of the book

The Shrine of the Book
The Shrine of the Book

One of the greatest spiritual revolutions in human history was launched towards the end of the First Temple period, when the Jewish people began the long process of canonizing the ancient traditions. The process gathered momentum particularly after the destruction of the Temple and the Babylonian exile in the 6-Th century BCE and culminated in the first centuries CE with the corpus of the sacred books we know today as Hebrew Bible, which paved the way for both New Testament and Quran.

By the virtue of this contribution to the human culture, the Jewish people came to be known as "the people of the Book".

In time, the Bible became the cornerstone of Jewish national identity. It is thus, not surprising that, when the oldest Bible manuscripts (The Dead sea scrolls) were discovered in the Judean desert in the late 1940-s, the idea was conceived to build a "Shrine of the Book" in Jerusalem - the capital of the state of Israel, to house the ancient writings, as well as other rare Biblical manuscripts.

One of the expositions in the museum is devoted to the remarkable story of one of the manuscripts known as "Aleppo codex", while the main exposition is devoted to the renown "Dead Sea Scrolls".

The Bible tells us that during the reign of Josiah, 639-609 BC, the Scroll of the Law was found. Later, during the Persian period, the first corpus of sacred books came into being known as Torah. Another landmark was the book of Wisdom of Joshua the son of Sirah which was composed by the author in Jerusalem, in 180 BC. The grandson of Ben Sirah translated the book into Greek in 132 BC. This book is very similar to the book of Proverbs and the author encourages the reader to learn the law and to fulfil it. The text was known and often quoted by the Jewish sages later but the original Hebrew version was lost. That was one of the reasons it did not become part of the Hebrew Masoretic canon. Until the end of the 19-th century it was known through the Greek text and a Syriac translation. The text became part of the canon of the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Bible).

In 1896, Solomon Schechter from Cambridge University traveled to Cairo  and purchased thousands of pages from the writings of Ben-Sirah in Hebrew. They were kept in Cairo Synagogue archival depository for worn or defective sacred documents. Such a depository is called Genizah in Hebrew. There were found six copies of Ben Sirah's book. In 1964, the excavation team under the direction of Yigael Yadin found other scroll fragments from the book of Wisdom.This version was definitely copied before the fall of Masada and the comparison of both finds shows that the Cairo version maintains the original Hebrew text. 

In the book of Wisdom the expression "the law, the prophets and other writings" occurs three times. This expression is known in the modern Hebrew as a general name for the corpus of the Holy Scripture books, the Bible - TaNaKh.

And the most famous discovery of modern times was made in Qumran, when between 1947 to 1956 fragments of about 900 different scrolls from the Second Temple period were found in 11 caves of the nearest mountains. Though only 20 scrolls were in a fairly good condition and the vast majority of material is fragmentary, almost all the copies of the Bible except the books of Nehemiah and Esther were identified. The book of Psalms was copied out 36 times (!), Deuteronomy - 27 times,  the book of Isaiah - 21 times...

The Book of books
The Book of books

(To be continued...)

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