Greek bibles, much older than thought
Ben Ezra synagogue and manuscript
Cambridge University researchers suggest that early Jewry used a Greek version of the Bible in synagogues much longer than previously thought.
Studying a fragment of manuscript kept in Cairo Genizah, a special vaulted room in Cairo's Ben-Ezra Synagogue, the team found that in some places the Jewish community continued to use Greek bibles almost until living memory.
Cairo Genizah contains a cache of “trashed” documents written in Hebrew or transliterated into Hebrew text, Arabic and other languages during the Middle Ages.
“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, 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” he added.
Some of the Geniza's documents were transferred to private collections or libraries via scholarly visitors or Middle Eastern antiquity markets.
The remaining texts, however, survived the hand of time due to Cairo's dry climate which kept them from complete deterioration.
Cambridge University scholar Prof. Solomon Schechter transferred the remains -- some 130,000 fragments -- to Cambridge in 1896.
Recent studies by Professor de Lange revealed that some of the texts contained passages from the Bible in Greek written in Hebrew letters.
Some others contained parts of a lost Greek translation made by a convert to Judaism named Akylas in the 2nd century CE, Past Horizens reported.
Date back to 1,000 years after the original translation into Greek, the fragment shows that Greek texts were still in use in Greek-speaking synagogues in the Byzantine Empire and elsewhere.
Manuscripts in other libraries confirmed the results also revealing that a variety of Greek translations were used by Jewish people in the Middle Ages.
An online source at gbbj.org provides the manuscripts along with comparison of each word of the Hebrew text, the Greek translation, and the fragments of Akylas' and other Jewish translations from antiquity.