Mike Aquilina

Expect the Unexpected

Wednesday June 13th 2007, 3:01 am

Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, there was the Cairo Geniza. A Geniza is the storeroom in a synagogue where old, worn-out books were kept. In the Geniza of Cairo’s Ben Ezra synagogue, there were almost a quarter of a million manuscripts, some dating back to the ninth century. In the late 19th century a Jewish antiquarian realized the value of the documents and drew attention to them. Since then, they’ve occupied many academics, some of whom are deciphering layers and layers of palimpsest.

Jim Davila reports on a very cool, unexpected discovery — “a fragment of vellum containing a Latin text of a sermon by Saint Augustine — an unquestionably Christian text … probably one of the last things you’d expect to find in the Cairo Genizah … a piece of vellum containing Book 2 Chapter 24 of St. Augustine’s De Sermone Domini in Monte (the Sermon on the Mount).” Here’s a picture of the fragment.