Press Releases

Green Scholars Discover World’s Oldest Jewish Prayer Book

Published: Sep 26, 2013

Posted In: Press Releases

840 C.E. Discovery from the Green Collection is Important Link between Time of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Medieval Judaism

The Green Collection, one of the world’s largest collections of rare biblical texts and artifacts, announced today that it has identified what is likely the oldest Jewish prayer book (siddur in Hebrew) ever found, dated by both scholars and Carbon-14 tests to circa 840 C.E. The artifact may well be the earliest connection today’s practicing Jews have to the roots of their modern-day rabbinic liturgy.

The complete parchment codex is in its original binding, containing Hebrew script so archaic that it incorporates Babylonian vowel pointing (akin to Old or Middle English for the English language). That vowel pointing has led researchers to place the proto-prayer book to the times of the Geonim (Babylonian, Talmudic leaders during the Middle Ages).

“This find is historical evidence supporting the very fulcrum of Jewish religious life,” said Dr. Jerry Pattengale, executive director of the Green Scholars Initiative, the research arm of the Green Collection. “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.”

The announcement by the Green Collection comes just months after scholars in Italy identified the oldest-known Torah scroll from the 12th and 13th centuries; this Jewish prayer book dates some 300-400 years earlier.

Research on the proto-prayer book—perhaps the Jewish equivalent of a complete, early edition of the Christian Book of Common Prayer—will be released in late 2014 or early 2015 by the Green Scholars Initiative in its upcoming Brill Series on Early Jewish Texts and Manuscripts edited by Pattengale and Dr. 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.

Dr. 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 participating in the research project, made the initial discovery among other items from the Green Collection.

To date, Pfann’s team has been able to identify six distinct sections in the siddur, including:

  • Morning prayers (the earliest form of what is in today's Jewish prayer books, earlier than those of Amram Gaon and Saadia Gaon) and 100 biblical "Benedictions" (belssings/words of praise with separate supplementary Psalsm recited on the Sabbaths, Passover and Succoth)

  • Passover Haggadah (liturgy text said during the evening meal/seder)

  • Poem on Song of Songs in conjunction with Succoth

  • Poem on the End Times (apocalyptic text of an international battle)

  • Poetic form of the book of Zerubbabel

  • Unique section entitled, “Salvation in Zion”

“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 in early spring 2017,” said Steve Green, president of the national arts and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby. Green oversees support for the collection on behalf of his family.

“The research conducted by Green scholars the world over will bring to light the contents of valuable early Jewish texts—from Dead Sea Scrolls and Cairo Genizah leaves to rare manuscripts still being identified,” said Pattengale.

About the Green Collection:
Called “a sampler of Jewish, Roman Catholic and Protestant treasures” that span from ancient times to the digital age (USA Today), the Green Collection is comprised of over 40,000 ancient texts and artifacts that have spanned the ages and together weave a story of history’s most tenacious book. Whether called ancient literature, a work of art or the living Word of God, no other book has persevered the ages, endured such turmoil, is as hated and beloved as the Bible.

One of the world’s largest private collections of biblical texts and artifacts, the collection is named after the Green family, owners of national arts-and-crafts retailer Hobby Lobby. The collection will be permanently located in a yet-to-be-named international Bible museum in Washington, D.C., that will illustrate how the Bible as we know it came to be, the impact the Scriptures have had on the world and the story told in history’s No. 1 best-seller.