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What Is the Oldest Hebrew Bible?

The formation of the Hebrew Bible from the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Aleppo Codex
Jennifer Drummond 12/16/2016 (12/16/2016T21:00)

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in 2015.Ed.

What is the oldest Hebrew Bible? That is a complicated


question. The Dead Sea Scrolls are fragments of the oldest
Hebrew Bible text, while the Aleppo Codex and the
Leningrad Codex are the oldest complete versions, written
by the Masoretes in the 10th and 11th centuries,
respectively. The Ashkar-Gilson Manuscript falls in between
the early scrolls and the later codices.

In Missing Link in Hebrew Bible Formation in the


November/December 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology
Review, Biblical scholar Paul Sanders discusses the role the
Ashkar-Gilson Manuscipt had in bridging the gap between
the Dead Sea Scrolls and the later Aleppo Codex and
The Ashkar-Gilson Manuscript is a
Leningrad Codex.
seventh- or eighth-century C.E.
manuscript that sheds light on the
The Dead Sea Scrolls were first discovered by Bedouin in formation of the Hebrew Bible in the
1947. Over 80,000 scroll fragments that came to be known period between the Dead Sea Scrolls
and the later codices. Photo: The Israel
as the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 11 caves near the
Museum, Jerusalem, by Ardon Bar Hama.
Dead Sea site of Khirbet Qumran. The Dead Sea Scrolls date
between 250 B.C.E. and 68 C.E. and represent the largest group of Second Temple Jewish
literature ever discovered. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain two types of documents: fragments of
the oldest Hebrew Bible texts and writings thatmost scholars arguedescribe the beliefs and
practices of a community of Jews living and writing at the nearby settlement of Qumran.

The Aleppo Codex, the oldest Hebrew Bible that has survived to modern times, was created by
scribes called Masoretes in Tiberias, Israel around 930 C.E. As such, the Aleppo Codex is
considered to be the most authoritative copy of the Hebrew Bible. The Aleppo Codex is not
complete, however, as almost 200 pages went missing between 1947 and 1957.

Interested in the history and meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls? In the free eBook Dead Sea
Scrolls, learn what the Dead Sea Scrolls are and why are they important. Find out what they
tell us about the Bible, Christianity and Judaism.

While the Aleppo Codex is the oldest Hebrew Bible, the Leningrad Codex is the oldest complete
Hebrew Bible. The Leningrad Codex dates to 1008 C.E. The scribe who penned the Leningrad
Codex actually identified himself in two colophons (an inscription containing the title, the
scribes or printers name, and the date and place of composition) at the beginning and end of the
text as Samuel ben Jacob, or Samuel son of Jacob. The colophons also identify the place written
(Cairo), the person who commissioned it (Mevorak son of Nathaniel) as well as further sale and
donation details.

The Ashkar-Gilson Manuscript was purchased by Fuad Ashkar and Albert Gilson (hence the
name Ashkar-Gilson) from an antiquities dealer in Beirut, Lebanon in 1972, and some years
later, they donated it to Duke University in North Carolina. Based on carbon-14 dating and
paleographic analysis, the Ashkar-Gilson Manuscript was dated to sometime between the
seventh and eighth centuries C.E., right at the tail end of the so-called silent era an almost
600-year period from the third through eighth centuries, or the time between the oldest Hebrew
Bible fragments (the Dead Sea Scrolls) and the oldest complete Hebrew Bible authoritative
Masoretic codices.

Was the Ashkar-Gilson Manuscipt the source of the later, authoritative Masoretic traditions? For
the answer to this question and more, read the full article Missing Link in Hebrew Bible
Formation by Paul Sanders as it appears in the November/December 2015 issue of BAR.

BAS Library Members: Read the full article Missing Link in Hebrew Bible Formation
by Paul Sanders in the November/December 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on November 1, 2015.Ed.

More on the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex in the BAS Library:
Emmanuel Tov, Seaching for the Original Bible: Do the Dead Sea Scrolls Help?
Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2014.

Y osef Ofer, The Mystery of the Missing Pages of the Aleppo Codex, Biblical
Archaeology Review, July/August 2015.

Y osef Ofer, The Shattered Crown: The Aleppo Codex, 60 Years After the Riots,
Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2008.

James A. Sanders and Astrid Beck, The Leningrad Codex, Bible Review, August 1997.

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