Ancient Bible fragments reveal a forgotten history
New research has uncovered a forgotten chapter in the history of the Bible, offering a rare glimpse of Byzantine Jewish life and culture.
The study by Cambridge University researchers suggests that, contrary to long-accepted views, Jews continued to use a Greek version of the Bible in synagogues for centuries longer than previously thought. In some places, the practice continued almost until living memory.
The key to the new discovery lay in manuscripts, some of them mere fragments, discovered in an old synagogue in Egypt and brought to Cambridge at the end of the 19th century. The so-called Cairo Genizah manuscripts have been housed ever since in Cambridge University Library.
Now, a fully searchable online corpus (http://www.gbbj.org) has gathered these manuscripts together, making the texts and analysis of them available to other scholars for the first time.
"The translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek between the 3rd and 1st centuries BCE is said to be one of the most lasting achievements of the Jewish civilization - without it, Christianity might not have spread as quickly and as successfully as it did," explained Nicholas de Lange, Professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies in the Faculties of Divinity and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, who led the three-year study to re-evaluate the story of the Greek Bible fragments.
"It was thought that the Jews, for some reason, gave up using Greek translations and chose to use the original Hebrew for public reading in synagogue and for private study, until modern times when pressure to use the vernacular led to its introduction in many synagogues."
Close study of the Cairo Genizah fragments by Professor de Lange led to the discovery that some contained passages from the Bible in Greek written in Hebrew letters. Others contained parts of a lost Greek translation made by a convert to Judaism named Akylas in the 2nd century CE. Remarkably, the fragments date from 1,000 years after the original translation into Greek, showing use of the Greek text was still alive in Greek-speaking synagogues in the Byzantine Empire and elsewhere.
Read the whole story here.
Access the database "Greek Bible in Byzantine Judaism" here.
See also this earlier report on the digitization of the Cairo Genizah fragments by Christian Askeland, one of our men in Cambridge.