Experts at Cambridge University have made a major discovery about the history of the Bible.
Researchers have been studying ancient biblical manuscripts in the University Library, and have found that a version of the Bible written in Greek was used by Jewish people for centuries longer than originally thought.
The documents, known as the Cairo Genizah manuscripts, were discovered in an old synagogue in Egypt and were brought to Cambridge at the end of the 19th century.
They have now been brought together digitally and posted online, enabling scholars worldwide to analyse them for the first time.
Prof Nicholas de Lange, professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at Cambridge University, has been leading a three-year study into the ancient fragments.
He said: “The translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek is said to be one of the most lasting achievements of the Jewish civilization – without it, Christianity might not have spread as quickly and as successfully as it did.
“It was thought that the Jews, for some reason, gave up using Greek translations and chose to use the original Hebrew for public reading in synagogue and for private study, until modern times when pressure to use the vernacular led to its introduction in many synagogues.”
Prof de Lange’s research has discovered that some of the manuscripts contain passages from the Bible in Greek, written in Hebrew letters. The fragments date from 1,000 years after the original translation into Greek – showing that use of the Greek text was still alive in Greek-speaking synagogues in the Byzantine Empire, the Greek-speaking eastern part of the Roman Empire.
Prof de Lange said the research offered a rare glimpse of Byzantine Jewish life and culture, and also illustrated the cross-fertilisation between Jewish and Christian biblical scholars in the Middle Ages.
He said: “This is a very exciting discovery for me because it confirms a hunch I had when studying Genizah fragments 30 years ago.”