The Greatest Medieval Masoretic Pentateuch: The Lailashi Codex—the Crown of Georgian Jewry

28 May, 2024

We are deeply honoured to welcome a Panel of Distinguished Scholars to present the Greatest Medieval Masoretic Pentateuch—The Lailashi Codex: The Crown of Georgian Jewry.

The Lailashi Codex is the greatest nearly complete Masoretic Pentateuch. This ancient witness to a scribal tradition known as vavei ha‘amudim (arranging the biblical text so that each leaf of the manuscript begins with the letter vav except for the six cases defined by a scribal school) is lavishly adorned with exquisite micrographic designs and calligrams. The codex emerged into Western European awareness, for the first time, in Dr Thea Gomelauri’s publication in October 2023. The provenance of the Lailashi Codex and its trajectory is as mysterious as its authorship and ownership. According to the legend, it was brought to Lailashi (Georgia), a remote village at the footstool of the Caucasian mountains, on an angel’s wings. The villagers saw a floating book in a river and rescued it from the stream. This unique artefact was said to have miracle-working powers. It became the best-kept secret of Georgian Jewry.

Here are more details of this fascinating event.

Author Dr Thea Gomelauri, together with three distinguished scholars of Semitic Languages, Illuminated Jewish Art, and the Hebrew Manuscripts, will discuss the fascinating history and content of the Lailashi Codex, and its significance to the Biblical scholarship and Jewish Studies.

Panel Members:

Dr Thea Gomelauri, Author of the Lailashi Codex, is Associate Member of the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oxford, and Inaugural Director of the Oxford Interfaith Forum.

Professor Geoffrey Khan FBA is a Regius Professor of Semitic Philology at the University of Cambridge, UK. His research publications focus on three main fields: Biblical Hebrew language (especially medieval traditions), NeoAramaic dialectology, and medieval Arabic documents. He is the general editor of The Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics and is the senior editor of Journal of Semitic Studies. His most recent books are Language Contact in Sanandaj: A Study of the Impact of Iranian on Neo-Aramaic (De Gruyter Mouton, 2024), and the two-volume The Tiberian Pronunciation Tradition of Biblical Hebrew (University of Cambridge and Open Book Publishers, 2020).

Professor Ori Soltes is a Professor of Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University, USA. He teaches across a range of disciplines, from art history and theology to philosophy and political history. He is the former Director of the B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum, and has curated more than 90 exhibitions across the country and overseas. He has authored or edited 25 books and several hundred articles and essays. Recent volumes include Our Sacred Signs: How Jewish, Christian and Muslim Art Draw from the Same Source; Mysticism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Searching for Oneness, Tradition and Transformation: Three Millennia of Jewish Art & Architecture and Growing Up Jewish in India: Synagogues, Ceremonies, and Customs from the Bene Israel to the art of Siona Benjamin. More information about Professor Soltes’ work is available on his website.

Ilana Tahan OBE is a Lead Curator of Hebrew and Christian Orient Studies at the British Library, UK. She has been educated at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, and at the Aston University where she was awarded a Master of Philosophy degree.  Ilana joined the British Library as a Hebraica Curator in 1989. In 2002 she became Head of the Hebrew Section in charge of one of the finest Hebraic collections in the UK, comprising some 3,000 Hebrew manuscripts, c. 7,000 Genizah fragments and over 70,000 printed books. In addition to being responsible for the significant British Library’s Hebraic collections, she also manages the Library’s Christian Orient collections which include the Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Georgian and Syriac holdings. In 2009, Ilana was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to scholarship. Between 2013 and 2020, Ilana acted as Lead of the Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project, a large-scale challenging initiative aimed at making accessible online the entire Hebrew manuscript collection held in the British Library.

Moderated by Dr Ben Outhwaite FRAS FSA, Director of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit, University of Cambridge, UK.

Date: 28 May, 2024

Time: 18:00-19:00 BST | 19:00-20:00 CEST | 10:00-11:00 PDT | 13:00-14:00 EDT

Venue: Online

Library of Congress Catalogue record: https://lccn.loc.gov/2023518057

The University of Oxford Bodleian Library catalogue record: https://tinyurl.com/mrxd88c2

BOOK REVIEW by Professor Golda Akhiezer, Department of Jewish History, Ariel University, Israel.

Independent Georgian Jewish Magazine Menora, No. 3 (509). March (Adar II). 2024 (5784).

The book is available for order in all major bookshops, including Blackwell’s, Waterstones, and Amazon.

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