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Cambridge University Library

Throwback Thursday: Section markings in Bible scrolls

T-S AS 56.179
T-S AS 56.179, one of the more than 350 Hebrew fragments of Jeremiah used in Dr Jack Lundbom's textual study
Author: 
Melonie Schmierer-Lee
Thu 1 Jul 2021

Our Throwback Thursday this week is taken from issue 32 of the printed edition of Genizah Fragments, published in October 1996, by Jack R. Lundbom, while he was a Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall:

What induced me to consult the Taylor-Schechter Genizah fragments in the Cambridge University Library was an interest in section markings in ancient biblical manuscripts. Modern critical editions of the Hebrew Bible, e.g. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, designate these sections open or closed, the former by a symbol (petuhah), the latter by a symbol (setumah).

Mediaeval manuscripts lack such sigla, simply having blank spaces like those found today in printed texts which set off paragraphs of prose, verses of poetry, or discourses in either genre which are independent literary units. There are indentations at the beginning of lines, spaces at the end of lines, spaces in the middle of lines, and entire lines left blank when sections cannot be indicated in one of these other ways.

Little attention had been paid to section markings until they turned up in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which predate the mediaeval manuscripts by 700 to 1,000 years. With the use of sections being much older than previously thought, these devices deserve a fresh look for whatever insights they might contain into the delimitation of units within the biblical text.

In the Prophets, particularly, proper delimitation is essential for getting at texts within the text, and reaching beyond these towards correct meanings and interpretations.

In preparing a forthcoming Jeremiah I-II in the Anchor Bible commentary series, I examined more than 350 Jeremiah fragments in the Cambridge Genizah Collections (9 in the Cambridge-Westminster Collection) for the purpose of comparing section markings with those in Leningrad Codex B19A (ML), the Aleppo Codex (MA), and the Dead Sea Scroll fragments of Jeremiah (2QJer; 4QJer).

I was interested primarily in Genizah fragments of the Hebrew Bible, which are generally (but not in every case) distinguishable from Genizah liturgical texts. Sections in the latter may well represent a different development. But in the great majority of cases, these sections were found to correspond exactly to sections in the Hebrew Bible, which means at the very least that they should not be relegated to a status of insignificance.

There was a high degree of correspondence between the Genizah fragments and the Ben Asher texts of ML and MA, as well as the Qumran fragments of Jeremiah. But there were divergences, a few of which struck me as being significant. For example, Genizah fragment NS 58.42 has a section after Jer 5:25 where rhetorical analysis and content both indicate closure; ML and MA both lack a section. No Qumran text exists for comparison.

Some Genizah fragments lack a section marking where other manuscripts have one that seems either misplaced or superfluous. This could indicate that the demarcation is unoriginal, or else not that important. A section marking or its absence in a Genizah manuscript - with or without corroboration from a DSS fragment - is at least as good as the judgment of a modern scholar, who, for reasons unexplained, makes or does not make a break in interpreting the larger Jeremianic text.

What happened next? Lundbom's 3 volumes on Jeremiah were published in the Anchor Bible series: Jeremiah 1-20, Jeremiah 21-36, and Jeremiah 37-52.

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