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A Hoard of Hebrew Manuscripts 1 II

The examination of the contents of the Genizah is not yet concluded. "The day is short and the work is great," and the workman, if not actually "lazy," as the Fathers of the Synagogue put it, is subject to all sorts of diversions and advocations, such as lectur- ing, manuscript-copying, proof-correcting, and ---- novel reading. The numberless volumes of "fresh divinity" which an indefatigable press throws on the market daily take up also a good deal of one's time, if one would be "up to date," though many of them, I am sorry to say, prove, at best, very bad novels. As stated in the previous article 2 on the same sub- ject, there is not a single department of Jewish lit- erature ---- Bible, Liturgy, Talmud, Midrashim, Philoso- phy, Apologetics, or History ---- which is not illustrated by the Genizah discoveries. Naturally, not all the discoveries are of equal importance, but there are very few that will not yield essential contributions to the department to which they belong. How a Weiss or a Friedmann would rejoice in his heart at the sight of these Talmudical fragments! And what raptures of delight are there in store for the student when sifting and reducing to order the historical documents which the Genizah has furnished in abundance, including even
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the remains of the sacred writings of strange Jewish sects that have long since vanished. Considerations of space, however, forbid me to enter into detailed de- scriptions; these would require a whole series of essays. I shall confine myself in this place to general remarks upon the fragments in their various branches, the trials and surprises awating one in the course of their examination, and some of the results they have yielded up to the present. The process of examining such a collection is necessarily a very slow one. In the ordinary course of cataloguing manuscripts, you have to deal with entire volumes, where the study of a single leaf tells you at once the tale of hundreds and hundreds of its neighbours and kindred. The collections from the Genizah, however, consist, not of volumes, but of separate loose sheets, each of them with a history of its own, which you can learn only by subjecting it to examination by itself. The identification of Biblical fragments gives the least trouble, as they are mostly written in large, square characters, whilst their matter is so familiar that you can take in their contents at a glance. Still, a glance will not always suffice, for these fragments are not only written in different hands, testifying to various palæographic ages, but many of them are also provided with Massoretic notes, or with an unfamiliar system of punctuation. Others are interspersed with portions of the Chaldaic or Arabic versions. They all have to be arranged "after their kind," whilst as specimens of writing they
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have to be sorted into some kind of chronological order. To judge by the writing ---- which is, I admit, not a very trustworthy test ---- the Genizah furnishes us with the oldest known manuscripts of any pary of the Bible, older even than the Pentateuch manuscript of the British Museum (Oriental 4445), described as dating "probably" from the ninth century. On one Biblical fragment I found some gilt letters. Gold ink was well known to the Jews of antiquity. Some scholars even claim it as an invention of the People of the Book. But its use in the writing of the Scrip- tures was early forbidden by the Rabbis. The pro- hibition was meant to apply only to copies intended for public reading in the synagogue. But, as a fact, all manuscripts of the Bible are singularly free from an age when simplicity and uniformity in the materials used for writing the Bible had not yet become the rule. Of great rarity, again, are the fragments in which all of the words (except those at the beginning of the verses) are represented by a peculiar system of initials only, as, for instance, "In the beginning G. c. the h. a. the e." (Gen. I:I). That such ab- breviations should be employed even in copies of Holy Writ was only natural in an age when the chisel and the pen were the only means of making thought visible. On the strength of the few ab- breviations they met with in Bible manuscripts, Ken-
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nicott and other scholars tried to account for cer- tain misreadings of the Septuagint. Take your Web- ster's Dictionary, and look up how many hundreds of words begin, for instance, with the letter B, and think, on the other hand, that in the sentence before you there was room for one B-headed word only, and you will form some idea what a dangerous pitfall lay in every initial for the Greek translator, or even for the Jewish scribe. The Genizah has for the first time supplied us with samples providing that the abbrevia- tion system was not limited to certain isolated words, but extended to the whole contents of the Bible. The particular system represented in the Genizah seems to have been known to the old Rabbis under the name of Trellis-writing. Dr. Felix Perles, from his acquaintance with the few specimens acquired by the Bodleian Library, at once recognized their signi- ficance for the verbal criticism of the Bible, and made them the subject of some apt remarks in a recent essay (Analecten zur Textkritik, etc., Munich, 1895). The Cambridge collections include such examples in far greater number, and many more may still be found. They will probably be edited in a volume by them- selves, and will, I have no doubt, after careful study throw fresh light on many an obscure passage in the different versions. While the Trellis-written Bible was undoubtedly intended for the use of the grown-up scholar, in whose case a fair acquaintance with the sacred volume could be assumed, we have another species of Bibli-
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cal fragments, representing the "Reader without Tears" of the Old World. They are written in large, distinct letters, and contain, as a rule, the first verses of the Book of Leviticus, accompanied or preceded by various combinations of the letters of the alphabet, which the child had to practise upon. The modern educationalist, with his low notions of the "priestly legislation," ---- harsh, unsympathetic words, indeed ---- would probably regard this part of the Scriptures as the last thing in the world fit to be put into the hands of children. We must not forget, however, that the Jew of ancient times was not given to analysis. Seiz- ing upon its bold features, he saw in the Book of Leviticus only the good message of God's reconcilia- tion with man, by means of sacrifice and of purity in soul and body. Perceiving, on the other hand, in every babe the budding minister "without taint of sin and falsehood," the Rabbi could certainly render no higher homage to chilhood than when he said, "Let the pure come and busy themselves with purity." Every school thus assumed in his eyes the aspect of a holy temple, in which the child by his reading per- formed the service of an officiating priest. Sometimes it is the fragments forming the conclu- sions of books, or, more correctly, of whole groups of books, such as the end of the Pentateuch, the end of the Prophets, and the end of the Hagiographa, that yield us important information; for in some cases they possess appendixes or colophons that give the date of the manuscript, as well as the name of the
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owner and of the scribe. Occasionally we come upon a good scolding, as when the colophon runs: "This Pentateuch [or Psalter] was dedicated by N. N., in the year ----, to the synagagogue -----. It shall not be sold, it shall not be removed, it shall not be pawned; cursed be he who selles it, cursed be he who removes it," etc. So far "the pious founder." It is rather disconcerting to read these curses when you happen to know something about the person who removed the manuscript, but you have to make the best of such kind wishes if you want to get at its history. Perhaps my researches may, after all, prove helpful to the feeble efforts made by the pious donor to achieve immortality, inasmuch as his name will again be given to the world in the catalogue which will one day be prepared. His chances in the dust- heap of the Genizah were certainly much poorer. The foregoing remarks will suffice to show that even the Biblical fragments, though naturally adding to our knowledge little that is fresh in matter, are not without their points of interest, and must by no means be lightly esteemed. But this is not all. Ancient manuscripts are not to be judged by mere outword appearances; they have depths and under-currents of their own. And, after you have taken in the text, marginal notes, versions, curses, and all, there flashes upon you, from between the lines or the words, a faint yellow mark differently shaped from those in the rest of the fragment, and you discover that it is a palimpsest you have in hand. Your purely Hebrew
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studies are then at an end, and you find yourself drift- ing suddenly into Greek, Palestinian Syriac, Coptic, or Georgian, as the case may be. Only in two cases have the palimpsests turned out to be Hebrew upon Hebrew. A new examination then begins, and to this you have to apply yourself the most strenuously as the under writing is usually of more importance than the later surface writing. This has proved to be especially the case with the liturgical fragments, among which the earliest, and perhaps the most important, palimpsests have been found. Personally, I am quite satisfied with their appearance. If they restore to us the older forms of the "original prayers," as some of them indeed do, they need, of course, no further raison d'être for the Jewish student, this being the only means of supply- ing us with that history of our ancient liturgy which is still a desideratum. But even if they represent only some hymn of the later Psalmists of the synagogue (Paitanim), I am not, on closer acquaintance, particu- larly anxious to see them improved upon. One likes to think of the old days when devotion was not yet procurable ready-made from hymn-books run by theo- logical syndicates; and many a fragment in the Genizah headed "In thy name, Merciful One," and followed by some artless religious lyric or simple prayer, is full of suggestion regarding by-gone times. You can see by their abruptness and their unfinished state that they were not the product of elaborate literary art, but were penned down in the excitement of the
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moment, in a "fit of love," so to speak, to express the religious aspirations of the writer. Their metre may be faulty, their diction crude, and their grammar ques- tionable, but love letters are not, as a rule, distinguished by perfection of style. They are sublime stammering at best, though they are intelligible enough to two souls absorbed in each other. I am particularly fond of looking at the remnants of a Piyutim collection, writ- ten on papyrus leaves, with their rough edges and very ancient writing. In turning those leaves, with which time has dealt so harshly, one almost imagines one sees again the "gods ascending out of the earth," transporting us, as they do, to the Kaliric period, and perhaps even earlier, when synagogues were set on fire by the angels who came to listen to the service of the holy singers, and mortals stormed Heaven with their prayers. How one would like to catch a glimpse of that early hymnologist to whom we owe the well- known Piyut, ... , which, in its iconoclastic victory of monotheism over all kinds of idolatries, ancient as well as modern, might be best described as the Marseillaise of the people of the Lord of the Hosts- a Marseillaise which is not followed by a Reign of Terror, but by the Kingdom of God on earth, when the upright shall exult, and the saints trium- phantly rejoice. These are, however, merely my personal senti- ments. The majority of students would look rather askance upon the contents of the Sabbatical hymn under which the remains of Aquila were buried for
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nearly nine centuries. The story of Aquila, or Akylas, the name under which he passes in Rabbinic literature, is not a very familiar one to the public, and it offers so many points of interest that it is worth dwelling upon for a while. He flourished in the first decades of the second century of the Christian Era, was a Græco- Roman by birth, and was brought up in the pagan religion of his native place, Sinope, a town in the Pontos, in Asia Minor, which acquired fresh fame as the opening scene of the Crimean War. Both Jewish and Christian legends report him to have been a kins- man of the Emperor Hadrian, but there is no histori- cal evidence for it. It is, however, not unlikely that he had some relation with the court, as we know that Hadrian entrusted him with the restoration of Jeru- salem, which he was planning at that time. Of his father we know only that he was well-off and a good orthodox heathen; for it is recorded that Aquila, who was already professing Judaism when his father died, had great difficulties with his share in the inheritance, which included idols. In accordance with his inter- pretation of the Jewish law (Deut. 13:17), he refused to derive any profit from them, even indirectly, and threw their equivalent in money into the Dead Sea. His early training must have been that of the regular Greek gentleman, sufficiently known from Plutarch's Lives. According to one report he began life as priest in the pagan temple of his native place, in which, considering his high connexions, he probably held some rich benefice.

CONTINUE to pages 21 - 30

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