6/28/16

Is the Hullin Scroll the Oldest Talmud Manuscript Ever Recovered?

What is the oldest known Talmud scroll?
Scroll of tractate Hullin, Babylonian Talmud (CUL T–S MISC. 26.53.17), acknowledgment to Dr. S.C. Reif, Director of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit at the Cambridge University Library, and the Syndics of the Library.

I was delighted in December, 2009 to hear Professor Shamma Friedman speak at a Talmud department seminar at JTS. He spoke about a controversial scholarly issue: whether Maimonides intended his Mishneh Torah to replace the Talmud.

This event reminded me of a Talmudic fact that Professor Friedman brought to light several years ago, i.e., that the Talmud was at an early time circulated in scroll form. He discussed this in his paper,  “An Ancient Scroll Fragment (Bavli Hullin 101a-105a) and the Rediscovery of the Babylonian Branch of Tannaitic Hebrew,” JQR 86:1 (1995), pp. 9–50.

The Talmud as I studied it was in books, not scrolls. In the years of my Talmud study, until I read this article, I never imagined that the Talmud was at one time studied in scrolls.

Of course, my work translating and publishing Tractate Hullin did involve "scrolling" -- through the digital text as I prepared my three volumes for press in 1992 through 1994.
The Talmud of Babylonia : An American Translation. XXX.A: Tractate Hullin. Chapters 1-2, Brown Judaic Studies. Scholars Press, Atlanta. 1992.
The Talmud of Babylonia : An American Translation. XXX.B: Tractate Hullin. Chapters 3-6, Brown Judaic Studies. Scholars Press, Atlanta. 1993.
The Talmud of Babylonia : An American Translation. XXX.C: Tractate Hullin. Chapters 7-12, Brown Judaic Studies. Scholars Press, Atlanta. 1994.
Friedman discusses the earliest fragment of Tractate Hullin in scroll form in his recent essay, "The Transmission of the Talmud and the Computer Age" in the exhibition catalog, Printing the Talmud: From Bomberg to Schottenstein, Yeshiva Univ Museum (2006), pp. 147-8. He explains,
The early date of the Hullin scroll is corroborated by its extraordinary orthography, exhibiting many ancient forms previously considered uniquely Palestinian by scholars who assigned an inferior linguistic tradition to Babylonia. This scroll now demonstrates that in the early period the Babylonians had a linguistic tradition that incorporated some of the so-called Palestinian characteristics. The above, combined with other features, suggest that this extended fragment is a major candidate for being the oldest Talmud manuscript ever recovered. The scroll may have been part of the written Talmud texts prepared by the Babylonian geonic academies for dissemination in Spain and North Africa (and later perhaps other European destinations). Interestingly, the wording of the text is surprisingly close to ours.
It's indeed rare to find a scroll of the Talmud. Friedman further says,
The dissemination of the Talmud outside of Babylonia throughout the Jewish world, and the decline of the geonic academies, combined to garner greater acceptance for the written form of the Talmud and placed it on better footing. For an ensuing period of more than half a millennium the “book”  of the Talmud, in the form of manuscript codices, held sway in Jewish intellectual life. These codices usually contained the Talmud text only. The text remained a living and changing entity, in the sense that the margins provided space for textual notes (beyond what may have been possible on scrolls), which were often incorporated in the next copy. Related literature, such as Rashi’s commentary and Tosafot, so central to the printed Talmud as we know it, were essentially available in separate codices only.

The invention of movable-type printing dramatically brought its cultural revolution to the Talmud...
Accordingly, yes, it does seem likely that the Hullin scroll is the oldest Talmud manuscript recovered - probably from circa 750 CE according to Stephan Reif. And for those who are curious, this text's subject matters are the prohibitions of eating: the sinew of the hip of an animal; a limb from a living animal; milk together with meat. //repost//

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