ca. AD 1000
Possibly Tiberias (Israel)
Hebrew and Aramaic
Manuscript on parchment
15 × 14 × 4.6 in. (38.5 × 35.6 × 11.7 cm)
Not on view
The Washington Pentateuch (WP) is one of the oldest, most-complete, Jewish Bible manuscripts in the United States. The manuscript was created around the year 1000, and it contains the entire Pentateuch—the “five books” from Genesis through Deuteronomy. At some point, the final 10 folios were lost and replaced with folios from a different manuscript written in 1141 by the scribe Joseph ben Jacob, according to his colophon on f. 245r. Though these few pages connect to medieval Egypt, the majority of the manuscript may be associated with Tiberias, based on its writing style and use of the Tiberian Masoretic system.
Iconic manuscripts like the WP are often called “Masoretic Bibles” because they contain the masorah (a vast system of annotations) and were created during or near the Masoretic era (AD 700–1000). Indeed, some scholars suggest that the WP might have a direct link to another famous Masoretic manuscript—Codex Cairo of the Prophets. Further research is needed, however, to confirm or deny this proposition.
Created around the year AD 1000, probably in or near Tiberias. Acquired by a Karaite Jewish community in Yevpatoria, Ukraine; Gifted in 1835 to Gabriel, Archbishop of Kherson (southern Ukraine). Acquired by 1876 by a Russian theological academy near Moscow. Acquired before 1990 by an Israeli rabbi; Privately purchased in 1990 by David Sofer, London, England; Privately purchased in 2017 by Green Collection, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Donated in 2018 to The Signatry under the curatorial care of Museum of the Bible, Washington, DC.
Notes:  Tiberias is probable because of the writing style, scribal details, and the manuscript’s use of the Tiberian Masoretic system. Separately, ten replaced folios at the end of Deuteronomy (plus two in Genesis and nine in Numbers) were written in 1141 in Alexandria, Egypt, by the scribe Joseph ben Jacob. It’s unclear when the 21 folios dating to 1141 were replaced or added. Though these folios were created in 1141, the 1876 publication by Professor Gorski-Platonow is the first mention of the manuscript in its present form. The scribe, Joseph ben Jacob, is known to modern scholars. Another manuscript of his, dated to 1122, survives in the National Library of Russia as EVR.II C 144. In total, 28 folios were replaced in the Washington Pentateuch. Twenty-one folios date to 1141 (f. 9-10; f. 190-198; f. 238-247), and seven date later in the medieval period (f. 2-3; f. 51-52; f. 60; f. 160; f. 218). As a manuscript with a dated colophon and named scribe, codicological details on the Washington Pentateuch are available on Sfardata and Ktiv.  This is according to the Hebrew note on f. 245r, which appears on the colophon page among the final 10 folios dated to 1141. The note-of-gift does not clarify if the manuscript was gifted in its current form in 1835; meaning these 10 folios could have been added to the circa AD 1000 manuscript anytime between 1141 and the 1876 publication.  As mentioned in a Russian-French publication by Professor Gorski-Platonow in 1876. The manuscript was still with the Academy in 1882, when Professor Daniel Chwolson discussed it in a German publication as “No. 121.” Therein, Chwolson claims he saw the manuscript in 1869.  The medieval binding, boards, and bosses were stabilized and conserved by book-binding expert James Brockman—final report dated March 6, 1997. The manuscript was also separately examined by Prof. Malachi Beit-Arie and Prof. Mordechai Glatzer in the mid-1990s, as described in the codicological report on Sfardata.  Museum of the Bible curators continue to research the ownership history of this manuscript.
Jordan S. Penkower, “An Eleventh-Century Eastern Masoretic Codex of the Pentateuch,” Textus 29 (Brill, 2020): 1–19.
Malachi Beit-Arie, Colette Sirat, and Mordechai Glatzer, Codices hebraicis litteris exarati quo tempore scripti fuerint exhibentes. I, jusqu'à 1020 (Académie nationale des sciences et de lettres d’Israël: Paris and Jerusalem, 1997), 28–29; cited as “collection privée.”
D. A. Khvolʹson, Corpus inscriptionum Hebraicarum: enthaltend Grabschriften aus der Krim und andere Grab- und Inschriften in alter hebräischer Quadratschrift sowie auch Schriftproben aus Handschriften vom IX.-XV. [neunten bis fünfzehnten] Jahrhundert. (St. Petersburg: H. Schmitzdorff, 1882), 219.
V. V. Grigorʹev, ed., Travaux de la troisième session du Congrès international des orientalistes, St. Pétersbourg, 1876 (St. Pétersbourg: Imprimerie des frères Pantéléjeff, 1879–1880), 591.
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