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Ancient Jewish prayer book may be oldest in the world, dated A.D. 840

Published: Friday, Sept. 27 2013 7:00 a.m. MDT

This Jewish prayer book, dated at A.D. 840, is believed to be the oldest book of its kind ever found. It was purchased about a year ago by the Green Collection from a private seller for an undisclosed price.

The Green Collection

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Scholarly research and carbon testing have dated an ancient Jewish prayer book to A.D. 840, which could make it one of the oldest books of its kind ever found, the owners of the artifact announced Thursday.

The Green Collection, one of the world’s largest collections of rare biblical texts and artifacts, purchased the book about a year ago from a private party for an undisclosed price.

The provenance of the book, which is about the size of a large smartphone and originates from the Middle East, is still being researched, said Jerry Pattengale, executive director of the Green Scholars Initiative.

But the complete 50-page parchment manuscript is in its original binding and contains Hebrew script that incorporates Babylonian vowel pointing.

Steve Green, president of the Hobby Lobby craft store chain who oversees support for the Green Collection, announced the find at the annual meeting of the Religion Newswriters Association's annual conference in Austin, Texas, along with plans for a new museum that will house the book and more than 40,000 ancient religious texts and artifacts.

The public will have the opportunity to witness the prayer book, along with the findings from The Green Scholars Initiative’s initial round of research, at a new museum, expected to open in Washington, D.C., in early spring 2017,” Green said.

He said the Green Collection and yet-to-be named national Bible museum are designed to showcase and share the message of the Bible.

"We are not collectors," said Green, an evangelical Christian. "We buy (ancient biblical texts and artifacts) because of the story that they tell. We believe in this book. … It is a guide for us and our lives."

Research on the Jewish prayer book, which is equivalent to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, will be released in late 2014 or early 2015 by the Green Scholars Initiative, the research arm of The Green Collection, the press release stated.

This find is historical evidence supporting the very fulcrum of Jewish religious life,” Pattengale said. This Hebrew prayer book helps fill the gap between the Dead Sea Scrolls and other discoveries of Jewish texts from the ninth and 10th centuries.”

In May, scholars in Italy identified the oldest-known Torah scroll from the 11th or 12th centuries.

Stephen Pfann, a senior scholar with the Green Scholars Initiative and president of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, along with his students, determined the age of the prayer book.

The Babylonian vowel pointing along with Carbon-14 tests have led researchers to place the prayer book in the times of the Geonim — the Babylonian, Talmudic leaders during the medieval period.

"The artifact may well be the earliest connection today’s practicing Jews have to the roots of their modern-day rabbinic liturgy," the press release stated.

Research on the prayer book will be included in the forthcoming Green Scholars Initiative series "Early Jewish Texts and Manuscripts," edited by Pattengale and Emanuel Tov.

The series will feature in-depth examination of some of the world’s oldest and most rare biblical texts, including portions from the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Nehemiah, Jeremiah, Jonah, Ezekiel, Micah, Daniel and the Psalms.

Email: mbrown@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @deseretbrown

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