As reported just a few days ago by the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit, there has been a new discovery of two leafs of the apocryphal book Ben Sira (also known as Ecclesiasticus) found among the Cairo Geniza fragments, which are still being organized and catalogued more than a century after their discovery by Solomon Schechter 1. Although these new leaves are badly damaged, they are still recognizable for the most part, and represent chapters 7:18 – 8:18 of the text. The significance of Hebrew Ben Sira texts such as this is that we had not seen their Hebrew version for nearly a thousand years prior to their discovery in the late 19th and early 20th century. Finding these Hebrew manuscripts has been a remarkable watershed in the significance of Hebrew in Jewish religious texts. It was proof (once again) of a Hebrew original behind a beloved sacred text.
In regard to this most recent discovery, scholars are saying that the most exciting aspect of the discovery is that fills in one small gap of the previously known manuscripts, related to an “interpretive problem” of 7:31. They do not elaborate at this time, but assure us that their illumination will be forthcoming.
Yet another exciting discovery in the world of archaeology and biblical texts! Now, if someone would just be able to find that 5-volume work of Papias…!
- If you would like to learn more about Solomon Schechter and the Cairo Geniza treasures and how they correspond in many ways to the Dead Sea Scrolls, I recommend reading “Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls: A Reader from the Biblical Archaeology Review” edited by Hershel Shanks, 1992. ↩