Discarded History

Cambridge University Library OR. 1102, Courtesy of the Syndics of Cul

Cambridge University Library OR. 1102, Courtesy of the Syndics of CUL

Through October 28, 2017
Cambridge University Library
Cambridge, United Kingdom
www.lib.cam.ac.uk

For more than a thousand years, the Jews of Cairo would preserve every piece of writing that contained Bible verses or references to God. The rationale was that Yahweh’s name is too sacred to be tossed out. These worn-out writings had been faithfully deposited in a genizah, or a synagogue storage chamber. Alongside the expected copies of the Bible, prayer books and works of Jewish law, the casual collection grew with the most mundane documents, such as personal letters, legal and business papers and shopping lists, which offer an intimate portrait of a vibrant Jewish community in the center of an Islamic empire.

When the Cairo Genizah, located in the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo (medieval al-Fusṭāṭ), was thoroughly explored by Solomon Schechter of the University of Cambridge in 1896/7, it revealed itself to be the world’s largest and most important collection of medieval Jewish manuscripts, including the handwritings of Maimonides and other famous rabbis. Schechter then acquired more than 140,000 of these unwanted writings (mere snippets, at times) and shipped them back to Cambridge.

Spanning a millennium between the ninth and 19th centuries, some of these treasured scraps are on display in the exhibit Discarded History: The Genizah of Medieval Cairo at the Cambridge University Library that runs until October 28, 2017. Included is the above copy of the original Hebrew version of the Book of Ben Sira (also called the Book of Sirach and the Book of Ecclesiasticus), which was thought lost until this 10th-century fragment surfaced in Cairo.

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  • Trisha says

    Agreed! Curious if you could point a seeker and budding history buff in the direction of more resources re the 14 books the Vatican removed from the Bible? Almost finished with “The Bible as History “, which I found fascinating. TIA!

    • Dave says

      Trisha, I believe Tamara is referring to the Biblical Apocrypha. These were books that were included in the Latin Vulgate and the King James Bible and during the Reformation this decision was questioned. As you can probably guess, the question of whether or not they should have been included in the first place is much more complicated than simply, “Why were books removed from the Bible?” You first need to define what the Bible is, and then you can decide if they were removed, or if the Bible was restored to its original state, and the 14 books were actually *additions*. If you’re interested in learning more, I would suggest the extremely excellent “History of the Early Church” course which is free via iTunes University via Reformed Theological Seminary.

  • Tamara says

    These documents and scraps of writings may have been preserved for us simply because they are ready to reveal their secrets. There are so many places in our Bible that have had words changed, names changed, messages changed or omitted, or even whole chapters or parts of chapters omitted to pacify a ruler and/or rulers or a ruler’s wife or mistress, that a person needs to do comparison with their Bible and Bible of perhaps centuries old to receive the correct message. Most people think and use the King James version of the Bible. If you notice that he uses the same name for father and son and perhaps grandson. If you read the English translation of the Greek texts, you will discover over that the men had different names. King James also removed several chapters of the Bible that meant the removal of 400 years of Jewish history. The Bible is not only God’s word, but it is also a history book. King Henry VIII removed several books of the Bible and parts of books to fit his idea of the belief for his new idea of the Anglican church. In 1684, the Vatican removed 14 books from the Bible. King Phillip changed the words in several books to fit his idea as to what he believed. Perhaps some of these documents may clear up these additions or omissions from our most loved book.

    of the Bible


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