An Early Codex of the Torah, Palestine or Middle East, probably ninth century. Exodus 20
This thousand-year-old document is one of the oldest surviving examples of a Hebrew Bible codex – a manuscript written in book form rather than a scroll – and includes information from early scholars on how to pronounce and read out the sacred text.
This codex is an early form of the masoretic text, compiled by Aaron Ben Asher, a 10th-century scholar from Tiberias, Palestine. The Masorah is a body of rules of pronunciation, spelling and intonation of the biblical text, intended to preserve it and transmit it correctly. Ben Asher’s text is considered to be the most authoritative version of the Hebrew masoretic Bible.
The exhibited page contains the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), one of the earliest codes of religious and moral precepts. According to Jewish (and also Islamic and Christian) tradition, the Commandments were carved by God on two stone tablets and given to Moses on Mount Sinai some 3000 years ago. They assert the uniqueness of God, and forbid such things as theft, adultery, murder and lying. In all, Jewish teaching as recorded in the Torah includes 613 commandments. Different Christian and Jewish traditions have different wordings and groupings for the Ten Commandments (which actually include 14 or 15 statements).
In this manuscript, the sacred text was copied in three columns in a beautiful Hebrew vocalised (with vowels) square script. The Masorah was added in the margins and between the text columns in smaller unvocalised script (without vowels).