The Cairo Codex of the Prophets (ca. 897 AD)

By: The Scribe on Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Codex Cairensis is believed to be the oldest known Hebrew manuscript that has the full text of the books of the prophets from the Old Testament.

According to the production notes at the end of the book, the Cairo Codex of the Prophets – also referred to as the Codex Cairensis or the Codex Prophetarum Cairensis – was composed by a man named Moses ben Asher from Tiberias, “at the end of the year 827, after the destruction of the second temple.” This would place the manuscript’s creation at 895 AD.

The Codex is important for one single reason: it is believed to be the oldest known surviving Hebrew manuscript which contains the entire text of the Nevi’im, or prophets, from the Old Testament. Notably, the Codex contains only those books which belong to the Old Testament prophets according to Jewish tradition and terminology – including Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and most minor prophets with the exception of Daniel; also Judges, Joshua, Kings and Samuel are included as they were considered to be the ‘earlier prophets’.

In addition, there are 13 ‘carpet pages’ – these were an early Medieval version of illuminated manuscript decoration which was often found at the beginning of New Testament collections.

According to tradition, Moses ben Asher put together the Codex Cairensis with punctuation included, though according to some studies done on the manuscript, it turns out that it may actually have been written by a completely different person – for that matter, arguments against its authorship have actually resulted in doubts from the scholarly community as to its authenticity in terms of when it was written!

As for finding the Codex, the pieces of text were located inside of an old synagogue’s Gezina room, which functioned as a kind of storage space where faulty or worn out manuscripts could be placed and later disposed of formally, in order to not profane any sacred documents. Fortunately, as time passed, the Geniza room was walled over and forgotten, sealing the manuscript fragments safely for over a thousand years.

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One comment so far

James at September 29, 2009

The Cairo Codex was not found in pieces nor was it ever in the geniza. It has remained intact for centuries in a synagogue in Cairo but not the one with the geniza.

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