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The Bible of the Land of Israel: Re-Examining the Palestinian Vocalisation Tradition

Dr Kim Phillips is working on a four-year (part-time) project to examine all known Genizah Bible manuscripts vocalised with the so-called Palestinian vocalisation (Niqqud Ereṣ-Yisraʾeli) – approximately 120 manuscripts – in the Cambridge Genizah Collections. This form of vocalisation, which marks vowels above the consonants, is a system less complete, less uniform, and more ‘popular’ in character than the dominant Tiberian system. It is found only in manuscripts from the Cairo Genizah, where it is mainly used to vocalise liturgical poetry, rabbinic texts, targum fragments and the Hebrew Bible.

Despite pioneering work by Kahle, and more recent work by Dietrich, Chiesa, Revell and Yahalom, there remain many unanswered questions about both the system itself and the manuscripts that employ it. Dr Phillips’ project will pay particular attention to the different layers of Palestinian vowel and accent signs, attempting to produce a rigorous typology, and will examine the underlying consonantal text, to see how this compares with the consonantal text types of the Tiberian and Babylonian-vocalised manuscripts of the Bible. Furthermore, the project will examine the masoretic notes found on many of the manuscripts, as well as analyse in detail the intriguing serugin ('shorthand') fragments, which present an abbreviated biblical text, probably to be used by scribes. 

The project, which is mostly funded by a philanthropic foundation, will interact with previous reconstructions of the historical development of the Palestinian tradition found in biblical manuscripts, propose a new typology of text types, and provide a body of research data for future studies on this enigmatic reading tradition of the Bible. The result will be a descriptive map of the Palestinian Bible materials preserved in the Genizah, placing the fragments in their linguistic and historical context.