New Testament Texts in the Cairo Genizah
In the course of checking up on some details pertaining to another matter, I’ve come across a fascinating item: Copies of NT texts among the many fragments of material from the ancient Cairo “Genizah”. I confess that, although these items were published over a century ago, I didn’t know about them.
The publication I’ve only recently come to know is this one: Hebrew-Greek Cairo Genizah Palimpsests from the Taylor-Schechter Collection, Including a Fragment of the Twenty-Second Psalm according to Origen’s Hexapla, ed. Charles Taylor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1900).
The term “Genizah” (alternate spelling, Geniza) refers to a kind of storeroom in ancient synagogues where worn out manuscripts were placed. So, e.g., the Cairo Genizah contained masses of largely now-fragmentary manuscripts, which are now in Cambridge (where there has been a major project to identify, study and publish them).
“Palimpsests” are manuscripts in which one text was written over a previous text. The NT texts in question are the “under-writing” and the later “over-writing” is one or another Hebrew texts (e.g., portions of the rabbinic text, Bereshith Rabbah). The under-writing in these fragments includes portions of Matthew 10, John 20, Acts 24, and just a few bits of 1 Peter.
Intriguing questions immediately form, such as these: What is the provenance of the NT manuscripts that were acquired and then re-used at some later point? Why were they acquired, likely by members of the ancient Cairo Genizah?
The Greek of the NT texts was written in remarkably fine “majuscule” (capital) letters, and was dated palaeographically to the late 5th or early 6th century CE. Taylor proposed that the original codex from which the Gospel fragments come “must have been an Evangelisterium [liturgical Gospel book] or other Lectionary” (p. 89). The copy of Acts and 1 Peter may have been part of another codex (Acts was typically copied with the “Catholic” epistles in ancient manuscripts).
Did the synagogue acquire copies of NT writings to get acquainted with them for purposes of dialogue and/or debate?
As well as these NT texts, Taylor’s slim volume also includes transcriptions and analyses of fragments of another palimpsest in which the under-writing is Psalm 22, perhaps remnants of what was originally a full Greek Psalter, and still another palimpsest whose under-writing was some of the Psalms according to the Greek Version by Aquila (made in the 2nd century CE). A few years earlier, F. C. Burkitt had published another slim volume giving transcriptions of fragments of 1-2 Kings in the Aquila Version: Fragments of the Books of Kings according to the Translation of Aquila, from a MS. formerly in the Geniza at Cairo Now in the Possession of C. Taylor D.D. Master of St. John’s College and S. Schechter D.Litt. University Reader in Talmudic Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1898).
To return to the fragments with portions of NT texts, it’s clear that they are Christian copies of these texts, readily reflected in the “nomina sacra” forms at points (e.g., ΤΟΝ ΚΝ [“the Lord”] at John 20:11, and ΧΝ ΙΝ [“Christ Jesus”] at Acts 24:24).
By contrast, the Greek of the Psalms has the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) rendered as “ΠΙΠΙ” (“pipi”) in the fragments of Origen’s Hexapla, and in the fragments of Acquila’s Version of the Psalms YHWH is consistently written in archaic Hebrew characters. Further, in the one preserved instance of θεος (“theos“) in Psa 91:2 (LXX 90:2), it is written in full (i.e., not as a nomen sacrum). These data suggest a derivation from Jewish copyists, who didn’t typically use the apparently Christian innovation of the nomina sacra. (I’ve given a list of nomina sacra in an item by this name under the “Selected Published Essays” tab on this blog site. For a fuller discussion, see my book, The Earliest Christian Artifacts, pp. 95-134.)
I’d be grateful if readers know of scholarly publications on the items published in the two volumes I’ve mentioned. The two books themselves are now available in cheap reprint editions.