One of the oldest extant copies of the Ten Commandments from the Hebrew bible dating back 2000 years is the latest historical text to become part of the Cambridge Digital Library’s online treasure trove, according to media reports. Thousands of pages of fragile religious manuscripts are now available for perusal by internet users in a series of high-quality, zoom-friendly images.
Prior to the landmark discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls by a Bedouin shepherd in Israel in 1947, the document, also known as the “Nash Papyrus” or “The Ten Commandments” was the oldest known manuscript containing pieces of the original Hebrew bible, according to LiveScience. The document gets its name from an Egyptologist named Walter Llewellyn Nash who purchased the invaluable text in 1902.
The London Telegraph has reported that this is the first time the Ten Commandments have been released in digital format. Cambridge University published the document through its digital library.
Anne Jarvis, a Cambridge University librarian said in a statement: “Because of their age and delicacy, these manuscripts are seldom able to be viewed, and when they are displayed, we can only show one or two pages. Now, through the generosity of the Polonsky Foundation, anyone with a connection to the internet can select a work of interest, turn to any page of the manuscript, and explore it in extraordinary detail.”
The statement also noted that in 2010 the Polonsky Foundation offered a lead gift of $2.4 million, making it possible to fund the sophisticated technical infrastructure underpinning the digital library. This gift was one of the earliest and largest that the foundation has given as part of its International Digitization Project, which aims to make the world’s intellectual treasures freely accessible to a global audience.
Leonard Polonsky, whose foundation has funded the project, added that he was “delighted to see such important materials being made freely available to the world.” The Polonsky Foundation has also funded the digitization of much of the content included within this latest release. Since its launch in December of last year, the Cambridge Digital Library says it has already attracted tens of millions of hits to its website.
In addition to the biblical texts archived along with the Ten Commandments, the Cambridge library has also added to its collection the 10th century Book of Deer, which is believed to be the oldest surviving Scottish manuscript with the earliest examples of Gaelic writing, according to a report published by Reuters. This pocket gospel book is about 6.2 inches tall and 4.3 inches wide and is generally dated to the first half of the 10th century. Its name comes from additions that were made to the text in Gaelic or Middle Irish, likely by someone in Deer in Aberdeenshire.
Other texts posted include an ancient copy of the New Testament, called the “Codex Bezae,” which contains all four Gospels, (though the only complete one is the Gospel of Luke) and the Acts of the Apostles in both Greek and Latin. The Codex Bezae, thought to date from the late fourth or early fifth century, includes the oldest extant copy of the story of the adulterous woman (John 7.53-8.11). The oft-used phrase “let him who is without sin, cast the first stone” originates from that story.
The digital collection also contains several thousand items from the world’s largest set of medieval Jewish manuscripts. Called the Taylor-Schechter Cairo Genizah Collection, the manuscript fragments were found in a storeroom in Egypt in the late 1890s and detail life in the Jewish community at Fustat, near Cairo. Beyond texts with Jewish or Judeo-Christian significance, the online collection includes several very early fragments of the Quran, from the eighth or ninth centuries, and Sanskrit manuscripts covering all the major religious traditions of South Asia.