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Targum on Toast

T-S K22.16 P1
T-S K22.16 P1
Marc Michaels
Fri 7 Jun 2024

My colleague, Estara Arrant posted an image on social media of one of the nine fragments that constitutes T-S K22.16, jokingly remarking that the streaky brown mess resembled a slice of toast.

As one might expect the catalogue entry on these fragments is short. Very short. It consists of one word - ‘illegible’. This of course piqued my interest. What was the ‘toast’ hiding? Also, I love a challenge. Thus, the day after the 2024 Ullendorff lecture, Estara brought the manuscript into the Genizah Unit and we set to work to solve the puzzle.

Whilst we refer to this as toast, because of its appearance, the manuscripts were not burnt. In fact, precisely the opposite. The fragments had been exposed to a lot of moisture. The ink had run and lifted as a result. However, the worst impact was that it made the parchment substrate not only very creased, but more transparent. As a result, you can see the script on the reverse of the sheet showing through backwards which merged into the script on the front – particularly unhelpful when holding the fragments up to the light!

As a result of the ink lift, ink spread and show through, on the first eight sheets it was hard, though not impossible, to pick out a few individual words.

Obviously, being the conscientious academics we are, I started with P1. Using a combination of close looking with my glasses off, a magnifying glass and my Dino-Lite electronic microscope (unfortunately the infrared and ultraviolet settings did not help), I quickly lost the will to live as very little was revealed, with the odd word here and there. The same applied to sheets P2–8, the last of which is also in the folder upside down.

However, sheet 9 was different. It did not have writing on the reverse, but instead was a blank page. As a result, it is much more legible and frankly mostly just needed a close look, though the microscope was also helpful. 

T-S K22.16 P9

P9: the most legible fragment.

As I wrote the letters seen on a piece of paper, it very quickly and rather obviously revealed itself as an interlinear Targum. The Hebrew verses from the Torah - in fact the start of Berešit interspersed with Targum translation, so the page before was likely blank, since it was the first, or a divider. 

This discovery was so obvious in hindsight, that we imagine the original cataloguers gave up before they got to sheet 9! Indeed, the Targum is Onqelos – obvious from the very first verse as this differs from Neofiti, Pseudo-Yonatan and the Fragmentary Targumim.

For example, Onqelos begins בקדמין ברא יוי ית שמיא וית ארעא (In former times, the Lord created the heavens and the earth). Neofiti renders מלקדמין בחכמה ברא {ד}ייי שׁכלל ית שׁמיא וית ארעא (From the beginning, with wisdom, the Lord created and finished the heavens and the earth). Pseudo-Yonatan brings מן אוולא ברא אלקים ית שׁמייא וית ארעא (From the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth) and the Fragmentary Targumim give בחכמה ברא וייי ושׁכליל ית שׁמיא וית ארעא ((FTP) With wisdom, the Lord created and finished the heavens and the earth) and בחכמה ברא ה׳ ית שמיא וית ארעא ((FTV) With wisdom, the Lord created the heavens and the earth) – translations are from the Accordance Targum module. Since this is a standard text of Onqelos, we have not included a full transcription here. Estara now plans to include reference to this fragment in her Targum descriptions for Cambridge Digital Library and in an in-draft monograph (for the ERC-funded TEXTEVOLVE project).

T-S K22.16 close up  

Close up of the letters showing on one side and the show through of the letters in reverse on the other side.

T-S K22.16 under microscope

Using the microscope to assess very faint letters.

The fragment pages themselves when they were originally written were c. 22 cm by 23cm (though different pages now varied because of the damage), and written on parchment. Indeed Dr Melonie Schmierer-Lee spotted some hair in the top left hand corner of P5, but actually mid-way down that left side there's even more. 

T-S K22.16 P5

The rather hairy parchment of T-S K22.16 P5

Each side has two columns of text with quite small (c. 3mm) unpointed square Hebrew script. The top margin is slightly smaller than the bottom margin (this helps the eye and is a well-known design technique used in Sifrey Torah). The scribe uses dilation, stretching certain letters to keep the columns justified. Sheet 9 has 30 lines of text on each column.

Sheet 9’s first column consists of Gen. 1:1 to part way through Gen 1:8, ויהי ערב (‘and it was evening’) and the second column continues ויהי בקר יום שני (‘and it was morning - [the] second day’) to part way through Gen. 1:14 ending ובין הלילה (‘and between the night’) the last few words having become lighter outlines against the darker background. This is a phenomenon that appears on some of the other sheets, caused by the exposure to the moisture and makes the letters appear quite ghostly (see below).

T-S K22.16 ghostly letters

Armed with that knowledge and looking at a few legible words on sheets 1-8, it would seem that they are part of the same interlinear Targum, though require further analysis and more patient study to confirm which verses are extant, and thus re-order them from their shelfmark assigned pages.

The script, where clear, is a simple fairly consistent hand, with a uniform stroke weight. It is possibly a 10th/11th century, South-Western type (Egypt or Israel). However, it is difficult to assess since it is hard to create an abecedary and look at allographs of the letter forms. More work would be required here to look at comparators.

A final couple of observations, both regarding God’s Name. In the Targum translation, the word ʾElohim is replaced with the stacked yod in a triangular layout (for a discussion and some examples see Michaels, Marc, מגילת בני חשמונאי The Scroll of the Hasmonean Sons, Kulmus Publishing, 2013, p. 105). This became quite a popular device in medieval manuscripts. Also, in the left-hand margin of sheet 1, just above the pencil shelf mark the Tetragrammaton is marked in the margin. It is smaller and fainter and may be a separate scribe’s contribution. Though with the rest of the text obscured, it is difficult to know why it is there.

T-S K22.16 stacked yod  

Stacked rod in a triangular layout.

T-S K22.16 Tetragrammaton

Tetragrammaton marked in the margin, possibly by a second scribe.

Fortunately, the toast inspired post prompted our investigation and T-S K22.16 is now worth more than the single word ‘illegible’ and the catalogue can be updated. Let's raise a toast to that!


Marc Michaels is a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge, supported by the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe.



Very nice, wish you and Estara success etc.
PS we are back home after 5 months evacuation in the Dead Sea., not far from the caves.

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