Ancient Literature

Based on the best manuscript witnesses from library holdings worldwide, the Historical Dictionary Project has compiled all Hebrew compositions from the postbiblical era to the end of the geonic period. Naturally, for the ancient period, the vast majority of the original manuscripts are no longer extant. Of the witnesses to ancient Hebrew, the most faithful, unmediated by copyists, come from archeological excavations: tombstones, synagogue dedications, coins, and seal impressions.

Unlike the Judean Desert Scrolls, which accurately reflect the Hebrew of their day, most ancient texts have reached us in late copies. In the process of being copied, in some cases hundreds of times, many mistakes were introduced, especially when copyists corrected texts without fully understanding the language of the original. Thinking to improve, they actually corrupted the text. Therefore, the Historical Dictionary Project seeks the best transmission of each text, based on expert scholarly advice.

At present, most of the material assigned to the ancient literature section has been compiled and analyzed in the Historical Dictionary database. The geonic material still awaits analysis.