Codex Cairensis: A Notable Vellum Hebrew Manuscript of the Hebrew Scriptures

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The Codex Cairensis (also: Codex Prophetarum CairensisCairo Codex of the Prophets) is a Hebrew manuscript containing the complete text of the Hebrew Bible’s Nevi’im (Prophets). It has long been referred to as “the oldest dated Hebrew Codex of the Bible which has come down to us.”[1] Its colophon[2] reveals that it was completed in about 895 C.E. by the renowned Masorete Moses ben Asher of Tiberias. However, relatively recent research suggests an 11th-century date instead of 895 C.E.  It contains Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the book of the Twelve Minor Prophets). It includes 575 pages, plus 13 carpet pages.[3]

Codex Cairensis

History

According to its colophon, it was written complete with punctuation[4] by Moses ben Asher in Tiberias “at the end of the year 827 after the destruction of the second temple”[5] (this corresponds to the year 895 CE the reign of Al-Mu’tadid).[6] It was given as a present to the Karaite community[7] in Jerusalem and taken as booty by the Crusaders[8] in 1099. Later it was redeemed and came into the possession of the Karaite community in Cairo. When the Karaite Jews left Egypt, they deposited the Codex in 1983 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It is kept in a secure room on the floor below the Hebrew Manuscript collection.[9] The Codex was brought back to Jerusalem by a committee of six persons.

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Text Evaluation

Although, according to its colophon, the Codex was written by a member of the Ben Asher family, Lazar Lipschütz, and others observed that, within the Masoretic[10] tradition, Codex Cairensis seems to be closer to ben Naphtali[11] than to Aaron ben Moses ben Asher.[12]

While some scholars consider this to be an argument against its authenticity, Moshe Goshen-Gottstein[13] assumed that ben Naphtali stuck more faithfully to the system of Moses ben Asher than the latter’s own son, Aaron ben Moses ben Asher, who corrected the Aleppo Codex[14] and added its punctuation.

More recently, further doubts on its authenticity have been cast by radiocarbon dating[15] and other scientific techniques. It was stated, after scientific investigation, that the scribe[16] must have been a different person from the vocalizer,[17] and the manuscript must be dated to the 11th century, not the 9th.[18]

Umberto Cassuto[19] relied heavily on this Codex when producing his edition of the Masoretic Text,[20] which means that in the Prophets, his edition is closer to the ben Naphtali tradition than in the Torah or Writings.

Between 1979 and 1992 an editio princeps[21] of the codex (text and masorahs) was published by a team of Spanish scholars. See F. Pérez Castro et alia, El Códice de Profetas de El Cairo, Textos y Estudios “Cardenal Cisneros”, CSIC, 8 vols., Madrid 1979-92.

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Attribution: This article incorporates text from the public domain: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and Edward D. Andrews

Sources

  • Ernst Würthwein, Der Text des Alten Testaments, Stuttgart 1974 (4th edition), ISBN 3-438-06006-X
  • The Hebrew University Bible Project: Ezekiel, ed. Shemaryahu Talmon; pub. The Hebrew University Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 2004; ISBN 965-493-186-9
  • Israel Yeivin, trans. E. J. Revell: Introduction to the Tiberian Masorah 1980, ISBN 0-89130-373-1
  • KAHLE, PAUL E. (1959). THE CAIRO GENIZA (2ND ED.). OXFORD: BASIL BLACKWELL. ASIN: B0024YG33S

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[1] Paul E. Kahle (1959). The Cairo Geniza (2nd ed.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell, p. 91.

[2] In publishing, a colophon () is a brief statement containing information about the publication of a book such as the place of publication, the publisher, and the date of publication. A colophon may include the device of a printer or publisher.

[3] Carpet pages are a characteristic feature of Insular illuminated manuscripts. They are pages of mainly geometrical ornamentation, which may include repeated animal forms, typically placed at the beginning of each of the four Gospels in Gospel Books.

[4] In Hebrew orthography, niqqud or nikud (Hebrew: נִקּוּד‎, Modern: nikud, Tiberian: niqqud, “dotting, pointing” or Hebrew: נְקֻדּוֹת‎, Modern: nekuddot, Tiberian: nəquddôṯ, “dots”) is a system of diacritical signs used to represent vowels or distinguish between alternative pronunciations of letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Several such diacritical systems were developed in the Early Middle Ages.

[5] Kahle 1959, p. 96.

The siege of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE was the decisive event of the First Jewish–Roman War, in which the Roman army captured the city of Jerusalem and destroyed both the city and its Temple. The Roman army, led by the future Emperor Titus, with Tiberius Julius Alexander as his second-in-command, besieged and conquered the city of Jerusalem, which had been controlled by Judean rebel factions since 66 CE, following the Jerusalem riots of 66, when the Judean provisional government was formed in Jerusalem.

[6] Abu’l-Abbas Ahmad ibn Talha al-Muwaffaq (Arabic: أبو العباس أحمد بن طلحة الموفق‎, romanized: Abū al-ʿAbbās Aḥmad ibn Ṭalḥa al-Muwaffaq; 853/4 or 860/1 – 5 April 902), better known by his regnal name al-Mu’tadid bi-llah (Arabic: المعتضد بالله‎, “Seeking Support in God”), was the Caliph of the Abbasid Caliphate from 892 until his death in 902. Al-Mu’tadid was the son of al-Muwaffaq, who was the regent and effective ruler of the Abbasid state during the reign of his brother, Caliph al-Mu’tamid.

[7] Karaite Judaism () or Karaism (; Hebrew: יהדות קראית‎‎, Modern: Yahadut Qara’it from, Tiberian: Qārāʾîm, meaning “Readers”; also spelt Qaraite Judaism or Qaraism) is a Jewish religious movement characterized by the recognition of the written Torah alone as its supreme authority in halakha (Jewish religious law) and theology. Karaites maintain that all of the divine commandments handed down to Moses by God were recorded in the written Torah without additional Oral Law or explanation.

[8] The Crusades were a series of religious wars initiated, supported, and sometimes directed by the Latin Church in the medieval period. The best known of these Crusades are those to the Holy Land in the period between 1095 and 1291 that were to liberate Jerusalem and its surrounding area from Islamic rule.

[9] A column by Jerusalem Post columnist and editor J. Zel Lurie.

[10] The Masoretes (Hebrew: בעלי המסורה‎, romanized: Ba’alei ha-Masora) were groups of Jewish scribe-scholars who worked from around the end of the 5th through 10th centuries CE, based primarily in early medieval Palestine in the cities of Tiberias and Jerusalem, as well as in Iraq (Babylonia). Each group compiled a system of pronunciation and grammatical guides in the form of diacritical notes (niqqud) on the external form of the biblical text in an attempt to standardize the pronunciation, paragraph and verse divisions, and cantillation of the Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh) for the worldwide Jewish community.

[11] Ben Naphtali was a rabbi and Masorete who flourished about 890-940, probably in Tiberias. Of his life little is known.

[12] Aaron ben Moses ben Asher (Hebrew: אהרן בן משה בן אשר‎; Tiberian Hebrew: ʾAhărôn ben Mōšeh benʾĀšēr; 10th century, died c.960) was a Jewish scribe who lived in Tiberias in northern Israel and refined the Tiberian system of writing vowel sounds in Hebrew, which is still in use today, and serves as the basis for grammatical analysis.

[13] Moshe Goshen-Gottstein (Hebrew: משה גושן-גוטשטיין) (born 1925; died 1991) was a German-born professor of Semitic linguistics and biblical philology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and director of the lexicographical institute and Biblical research institute of Bar-Ilan University.

[14] The Aleppo Codex (Hebrew: כֶּתֶר אֲרָם צוֹבָא‎, romanized: Keter Aram Tzova, lit. ‘Crown of Aleppo’) is a medieval bound manuscript of the Hebrew Bible.

[15] Radiocarbon dating (also referred to as carbon dating or carbon-14 dating) is a method for determining the age of an object containing organic material by using the properties of radiocarbon, a radioactive isotope of carbon. The method was developed in the late 1940s at the University of Chicago by Willard Libby.

[16] A sofer, sopher, sofer SeTaM, or sofer ST”M (Heb: “scribe”, סופר סת״ם‎; plural of sofer is soferim סופרים‎; female: soferet) is a Jewish scribe who can transcribe sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls), tefillin (phylacteries), and mezuzot (ST”M, סת״ם‎, is an abbreviation of these three terms), of the Five Megillot and other religious writings. By simple definition, a sofer is a copyist, but their religious role in Judaism is much more.

[17] In Hebrew orthography, niqqud or nikud (Hebrew: נִקּוּד‎, Modern: nikud, Tiberian: niqqud, “dotting, pointing” or Hebrew: נְקֻדּוֹת‎, Modern: nekuddot, Tiberian: nəquddôṯ, “dots”) is a system of diacritical signs used to represent vowels or distinguish between alternative pronunciations of letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Several such diacritical systems were developed in the Early Middle Ages.

[18] The Hebrew University Bible Project: Ezekiel, p.xli, note 116: “It was recently proven that the scribe and the naqdan (vocaliser) of the Cairo Prophets codex cannot be identified as Moshe Ben-Asher, and cannot be dated to 895 but rather to the 11th century CE. Cf. M. Beit-Arié et al., Codices Hebraicis litteris exarati quo tempore scripti fuerint exhibentes (Monumenta palaeographica medii aevi. Series Hebraica; Paris/Jerusalem: Brepols, 1997) 25-29; D. Lyons, The Cumulative Masora: Text, Form and Transmission (Beer-Sheva: Ben-Gurion University Press, 1999 [4]-7 (Hebrew).

[19] Umberto Cassuto, also known as Moshe David Cassuto (16 September 1883 – 19 December 1951), was an Italian historian, a rabbi, and a scholar of the Hebrew Bible and Ugaritic literature, in the University of Florence, then at the University of Rome La Sapienza. When the 1938 anti-Semitic Italian racial laws forced him from this position, he moved to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

[20] The Masoretic Text (MT or 𝕸; Hebrew: נוסח המסורה‎, romanized: Nusakh haMasora) is the authoritative Hebrew and Aramaic text of the 24 books of the Tanakh in Rabbinic Judaism. The Masoretic Text defines the Jewish canon and its precise letter-text, with its vocalization and accentuation known as the masorah.

[21] In classical scholarship, the editio princeps (plural: editiones principes) of a work is the first printed edition of the work, that previously had existed only in manuscripts, which could be circulated only after being copied by hand. For example, the editio princeps of Homer is that of Demetrius Chalcondyles, now thought to be from 1488.

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