World’s oldest Torah found - in a library

By Sandy Rashty and Anna Sheinman, May 29, 2013
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The sacred scroll believed to date between 1155 to 1225 (Photo: University of Bologna)

The sacred scroll believed to date between 1155 to 1225 (Photo: University of Bologna)

An Italian university has found the world’s oldest complete Sefer Torah — in its library.

The sheepskin manuscript (below), which could be over 800 years old, has been held in the library of the University of Bologna for over 100 years.

It had previously been examined by an academic at the university in 1889, who mistakenly labelled it as a 17th century text.

However, when Professor Mauro Perani, who teaches Hebrew studies at the university, studied the manuscript, he recognised the script as ancient Babylonian and suspected the scroll was older.

Carbon dating in Italy and the US has dated the scroll as being from between 1155 and 1225.

The artefact, which is 64cm high and 35 metres long, is the oldest written example of the entire five books of the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Prof Perani explained that another reason for dating the scroll to a much earlier time was that it contained ideas that go against rabbinical law put forward in the 12th century by Spanish philosopher Maimonides.

Safeguards are now being put in place to protect the manuscript at the library and it is believed that the text is now being filmed and transferred to a digital format. The oldest complete version of the Torah before this one was discovered dated from the late 13th century.

Last updated: 10:42am, May 30 2013