Sunday, 21 September 2014

Green Collection and the "Oldest Known Siddur"

The controversial manuscript
The Green Collection exults in having acquired in a short time a lot of "Biblical artefacts" which the sycophants that surround it call "the biggest", or "the oldest", or at least "one of the finest....". Americans love this kind of thing.  So Mr Green became the owner of the "oldest known siddur"(Jessica Steinberg, 'World’s ‘oldest known siddur’ unveiled in Jerusalem, Times of Israel September 19, 2014). The fifty-page manuscript is said to be 1200 years old. It has been carbon dated (median date ninth century) but the script on it looks more like eleventh century hand according to at least one expert.   

But some scholars have expressed doubt that the collection of prayers was written in one piece [...] With as many as 10-15 different handwritings in the text, and a curious combination of prayers and liturgical poems, experts wonder when the book was actually written. “Having only seen photos of the book, and not the original, it looks like the pages are genuine, but the unity of this item is an issue that remains to be clarified,” said Matthew Morgenstern, a professor of Hebrew at Tel Aviv University. According to Morgenstern, who has worked on similar materials from the same period in which the prayer book was provenanced, the siddur contains prayers from the daily morning service, liturgical poems and sections of the Passover Haggadah. He thought it was strange that a prayer book would join three such disparate subjects. He also pointed out the size of the pages, which are similar, but unequal. An expert on the binding of manuscripts could “probably tell you in five minutes” if the sheets of the book were stitched together in the Middle Ages or in more modern times, said Morgenstern. “There’s an enormous amount of hype here,” said Morgenstern. “It’s not logical; where’s the evidence?” 
The origins of the manuscript are unclear. According to the article:
The prayer book floated around antiquarians and book dealers for a long time before being purchased by the Green Foundation, said Ben Outhwaite, head of the geniza research unit in the Cambridge University Library, which has the world’s largest collection of medieval Jewish manuscripts. “It’s been around for a good few years, but people were loath to have anything to do with it,” said Outhwaite. “They wanted to be sure. In Cambridge we could never have had anything to do with it because the origins were obscure.” According to museum director Weiss, the text was handed down by a family for generations before ending up on the antiquities market. 
Steve Green himself commented on his acquisition, that there has been “a lot of intrigue about the book” and "many questions to answer,” he said. “It will take our experts years to determine its significance. But we felt it would be of value to the collection”. Several scholars are going along with his decision to buy it:
Steve Green “must have been satisfied” with the text’s provenance, or he wouldn’t have purchased it, said Outhwaite. [...]  Both Morgenstern and Outhwaite said the Greens would never knowingly present a questionable artifact. 
It will be interesting to see what it was that convinced Green and his advisors about the "provenance" of the item which others had refused to touch. Why was documentation of kosher origins available to Mr Green but had been withheld from previous potential buyers?

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