Hobby Lobby President Steve Green isn’t just the head of a popular craft chain. He and his family also own, oversee and operate “The Green Collection,” one of the world’s largest collections of rare biblical texts and artifacts (there are over 40,000 ancient relics and texts). A recent discovery within this fascinating compilation is making headlines this week, as it is believed to be the oldest Jewish prayer book ever found.The Forward adds that it appears to be a Sabbath prayerbook with the addition of 100 benedictions that should be said every day.
The small text, which had a Carbon-14 test that placed its origins to 840 A.D., is likely to provide fascinating insight into early Jewish culture. And, as a press release announcing the find highlights, it “may well be the earliest connection today’s practicing Jews have to the roots of their modern-day rabbinic liturgy.”
Plainly stated: It’s a big deal.
The document is in its complete parchment and original binding, factoids that are quite stunning considering its age. Written in Hebrew, the script is described as “archaic” — so old in fact that it uses Babylonian vowel pointing (a system that is no longer in use).
Frustratingly, the Green Collection did not release any photos of the text of the siddur itself, instead giving out three separate photos of the outside (slightly translucent) cover.
While the Babylonian pointing system is archaic, the text itself would be easily readable to any modern Hebrew reader, so this purposeful hiding of even a single page of the text from the world smacks of hubris. We will have to wait for late 2014 or early 2015 for the Green Collection to publish its research.
The current oldest Siddur manuscript known is that of R' Saadiah Gaon which is at Oxford, from the late 9th century. I could not find any images of that siddur online either.