Oldest Torah Scroll: Carbon Dating Confirms 800-Year-Old Torah Found In Italy [PHOTO]

By Philip Ross on May 30, 2013 4:08 PM EDT

oldest scroll 1
A scroll identified by Italian professor Mauro Perani as the world's oldest complete scroll of the Torah is seen in Bologna, central Italy. (Photo: Reuters)
oldest scroll 2
A segment from the oldest Torah scroll found in the archives of the University of Bologna. The text was written in the square oriental Babylonian style, a style that predated the Palestinian style used in the 1600s, suggesting the scroll was much older than previously believed. (Photo: Reuters)

The oldest Torah scroll was recovered in Italy by a professor at the University of Bologna. Professor Mauro Perani was excavating the university's long-neglected archives when he discovered the ancient text tucked away in the belly of the Bologna University Library for more than 100 years.

Reuters reports that Perani, who teaches Hebrew at the university in Bologna, a city of medieval towers, antique buildings and churches in northern Italy whose roots go back to 1000 BC, announced his findings on Wednesday after subjecting the Torah scroll to carbon-14 dating tests.

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Carbon dating confirms that the oldest Torah scroll, which is 120 feet long and made of sheep skin, is from sometime between 1155 and 1225. The manuscript was kept in the university library for centuries, its keepers unaware of the document's importance. According to ABC News, a previous librarian at the university had incorrectly dated the scroll as being from the 1600s. When Perani stumbled upon the oldest Torah scroll in Nov. 2012, he had a hunch the scroll was much older.

"I realized that the style of the writing was older than the 17th century so I consulted with other experts," he told Reuters. The scroll's text was written in the square oriental Babylonian style, a style that predated the Palestinian style used in the 1600s.

In an interview with National Geographic, Perani said he consulted his colleagues about the age of the Torah scroll and that they echoed his feelings regarding the time period the oldest Torah scroll was made.

"This is important because this is the entire Torah scroll, the most ancient entire scroll that we know of," he told National Geographic. "We have fragments of other Torah scrolls from the Cairo Geniza that date to the same time or earlier, and they show identical styles to this copyist."

He added: "Maybe we will find another Torah scroll that is older, but for now this is it."

In a press release about the oldest Torah scroll, the text does not adhere to the rules of Maimonides, a prominent Torah scholar of the Middle Ages who established rules regarding how to copy the Pentateuch, a term for the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.

The fact that the Torah scroll found in Bologna does not adhere to these ancient regulations means the writer did not yet know of them. Maimonides died in 1204; the oldest Torah scroll must be from before his death.  

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