Waves Dead Sea scrolls Sharon

  • Issue: May 1997
  • Designer: A. Vanooijen
  • Stamp size: 30.8 x 30.8 mm
  • Souvenir sheet of 2 stamps
  • Printers: E. Lewin-Epstein Ltd.
  • Method of printing: Offset

The Cairo Geniza

Geniza, meaning 'archive', was originally a place for the storage of valuable objects and written items. In the course of time, the term came to convey the meaning of 'hiding and 'concealment'. Sacred books, worn out after extensive use, were consigned to cupboards and storage rooms in synagogues and from there were removed for burial in cemeteries. As knowledge of the Hebrew language diminished, the degree of sanctity ascribed to the Hebrew letters increased and the custom spread of consigning to the Geniza all items written in Hebrew, whether sacred or not.

A hundred years ago, a variety of circumstances led to the discovery of a Geniza in the Ben Ezra Synagogue of Old Cairo (Fustat) which contained hundreds of thousands of pages that had not been removed for burial for about a thousand years. During the second half of the 19th century, it had already been possible to purchase such ancient Geniza folios in the market-places of Egypt.

A more widespread knowledge of the Geniza came about in a dramatic fashion as the result of the Middle Eastern travels of two learned women and the purchases they had made of fragments that they were unable to decipher. One of the fragments was identified by Professor Solomon Schechter of the University of Cambridge as belonging to the original Hebrew of the Book of Ben Sirs, a volume of wise proverbs included in the Apocrypha. Schechter made a journey to Egypt and brought back to Cambridge some 140,000 fragments. A somewhat smaller number than this of such Geniza items is to be found in various libraries around the world.

The fragments cover a variety of topics and shed light on every aspect of human activity, from sacred literature and learned works to children's written exercises. The discoveries particularly illuminate the social and cultural activities of Egypt and the Mediterranean Basin between the years 1000 and 1250 CE. Discoveries made among the Geniza fragments have included: documents written as early as about 830 CE; texts in the handwriting of Moses Maimonides and Yehudah Halevi; compositions that have in the course of the centuries also been lost to Hebrew literature; forgotten versions of prayers; documents relating to the history of the area, many of them dealing with the relations between Jewish leaders in the Land of Israel and the surrounding communities; and works written by and about the Karaite Jews.

Medieval copies of the Damascus Document have also been identified in the Geniza. Fifty years after the discovery of that tract, as well as of Ben Sirs and a number of others such works, important earlier versions were to be found among the Scrolls from the Judean Desert.

The large number of subjects represented in the fragments from the Cairo Geniza, and the fact that they cover a period of about a thousand years, have made a major impact on historical descriptions of the Middle East, and of the Jews and their culture.

The Dead Sea scrolls

The first seven scrolls were discovered in 1947, by a Beduin shepherd in a cave near Hirbat Qumran, near the Dead Sea. The shepherd, seeking a lost goat, threw a pebble down a crevice in the rock, and hits ceramic jar. When the shepherd entered the cave with a friend, they found large jars, fully intact, housing leather scrolls. These scrolls found their way to an antiquities dealer in Bethlehem. Professoi Sukenik, an archaeologist from the Hebrew University, purchased three of the scrolls [the Thanksgivings Scroll; the War Scroll and the Isaiah Scroll (MS B)] prior to the War of Independence. The four remaining scrolls [the Community Rule; the Commentary of Habbakuk; the Isaiah Scrolls (MS A); and Genesis Apochryphon] found their way to the United States, and in 1964, Professor Y. Yadin, Sukenik's son, purchased them and returned them to Israel. And so it transpired that in 1955, all the scrolls were brought together again, to be housed many years later in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum.

In addition to those scrolls discovered in excellent condition, thousands of fragments of hand-written manuscripts were also discovered, most of them written on parchment, some on papyrus. Despite the poor condition of these scrolls, researchers managed to restore BOO documents of various sizes. To this day, the deciphering, research and publication of these scrolls continues.

For the first time in history, it became clear that we had discovered the remains of the library of a Jewish Sect (Essenes?) from the end of the Second Temple period (150 BCE -70 CE). Owing to this impressive find, we now have copies of all the books of the Bible (except for the scroll of as well as many of the Apochryphal and Pseudepigraphical books) and original writings of the sect, hitherto unknown. And so, 50 years after they were first discovered, it can be said with certainty, that the Dead Sea Scrolls present a turning point in the research of the history of the Jewish people, because they reveal the link between Biblical Israel and the Jewish culture of the period of the Mishna and the Talmud.

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100 years since the discovery of the Cairo Geniza / 50 years since the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls