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Professor Stumbles Upon Historic and Ancient Find in His Own University Library

"... it certainly is important and clearly looks like a very beautiful scroll."

In this undated photo provided by Alma mater Studiorum Universita' di Bologna, a document that an Italian expert says to be the oldest known complete Torah scroll. An Italian expert in Hebrew manuscripts says he has found the oldest known complete Torah scroll, a sheepskin document dating from 1155-1225. It was right under his nose, in the library of the University of Bologna, where it had been mistakenly catalogued a century ago as dating from the 17th century. Mauro Perani, a professor of Hebrew in the university's cultural heritage department, was updating the library's Hebrew manuscript catalogue when he stumbled upon the scroll in February. In an interview Wednesday, May 29, 2013 Perani said he immediately recognized that it had been wrongly dated given its script and other graphic notations. Two separate carbon-14 dating tests confirmed the revised dating. (Photo: AP/Alma Mater Studiorum Universita' di Bologna)

ROME (TheBlaze/AP) -- Although not the oldest of Torah text, a sheepskin document discovered by a Hebrew manuscripts expert is the oldest complete scroll of the Torah from 1155-1225.

And it had long been was right under Mauro Perani's nose, in the University of Bologna library, where it had been mistakenly catalogued a century ago as dating from the 17th century.

In this undated photo provided by Alma mater Studiorum Universita' di Bologna, a document that an Italian expert says to be the oldest known complete Torah scroll. In an interview Wednesday, May 29, 2013 Perani said he immediately recognized that it had been wrongly dated given its script and other graphic notations. Two separate carbon-14 dating tests confirmed the revised dating. (Photo: AP/Alma Mater Studiorum Universita' di Bologna)

Although the Leningrad and the Aleppo bibles - both of them Hebrew codexes, or books - pre-date the Bologna scroll by more than 200 years, this is the oldest Torah scroll of the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses, according to the Italian  professor of Hebrew in the University of Bologna's cultural heritage department.

Such scrolls - this one is 36 meters (40 yards) long and 64 centimeters (25 inches) high - are brought out in synagogues on the Sabbath and holidays, and portions are read aloud in public.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Perani said he was updating the library's Hebrew manuscript catalogue when he stumbled upon the scroll in February. He said he immediately recognized the scroll had been wrongly dated by the last cataloguer in 1889, because he recognized that its script and other graphic notations were far older.

Specifically, he said the scroll doesn't take into account the rabbinical rules that standardized how the Pentateuch should be copied that were established by Maimonides in the late 12th century. The scroll contains many features and markings that would be forbidden under those rules, he said.

He said it was "completely normal" for such mistakes to have been made in the late 1800s, given the "science of manuscripts was not yet born."

Two separate carbon-dating tests - performed by the University of Salento in Italy and the Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign - confirmed the revised dating, according to a statement from the University of Bologna.

Watch Jewish News One's video of the find:

Outside experts said the finding was important, even though older Hebrew bibles do exist.

"It is fairly big news," said James Aiken, a lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament studies at Cambridge University. "Hebrew scholars get excited by very small things, but it certainly is important and clearly looks like a very beautiful scroll."

However, Giovanni Garbini, a leading expert on ancient Semitic languages and retired professor at Rome's La Sapienza university, said the discovery doesn't change much about what the world knows about Hebrew manuscripts.

"It's an example of an ancient scroll, but from the point of view of knowledge, it doesn't change anything," he said in a telephone interview.

But Stephen Phann, acting president of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem and an expert in ancient Jewish manuscripts, said if accurately dated, the scroll is a rare and important find.

"We don't have anything much from that period," Phann said.

Few such scrolls have survived since old or damaged Torahs had to be buried or stored in a closed room in a synagogue, for eventual burial.

There are far older scraps of Torah scrolls that can be dated back to the 8th century, but Phann said it was rare to find a complete manuscript.

The find was also emotionally important, he said because the scroll, as opposed to a bound book, is used for reading Torah portions throughout the year in synagogue.

"It's almost a friendship - that they have come to know the Torah scroll in their midst, and they draw their knowledge and focus on worship on how they live their daily life," Phann said.

Perani said it remains a mystery how the scroll came to be part of the Bologna university library but that he anticipated further study would now begin.

The scroll remains in the library and doesn't require any extra conservation precautions beyond what it already has, he said.

Diaa Hadid contributed from Jerusalem.

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