Oldest Bible? Tell it to the Samaritans

UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph reports the discovery of a portion of a Bible from 350 AD in the library of the monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai. The Codex Sinaiticus is written in Greek on animal skin and the newspaper calls it "a fragment of the world's oldest bible." Well, I hate to disappoint the good Fathers in the Sinai, not to mention the hacks at the Torygraph, but there's a much, much older Bible on a hilltop just outside the Palestinian town of Nablus. The Abisha Scroll is used in the rites of the ancient sect of Samaritans. I featured it in my Palestinian crime novel THE SAMARITAN'S SECRET. How old is it? Read these few paragraphs from my novel to find out just astonishingly aged it is:

“Our greatest treasure was stolen, Abu Ramiz,” Ben-Tabia said. He lifted the tips of his fingers to his beard, as though he might pull it out in despair at the thought of such a calamity. “I felt terrible shame that it should be during my tenure as a priest here in our synagogue that the Abisha Scroll might be lost.”

“The Abisha?” Omar Yussef’s voice was low and reverent.

“What’s that?” Sami said.

“A famous Torah scroll,” Omar Yussef said. “The oldest book in the world, they say.”

The priest raised his eyes to the ceiling. “The five books of Moses, written on sheepskin three thousand, six hundred and forty-five years ago. It was written by Abisha, son of Pinchas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron who was the brother of Moses, in the thirteenth year after the Israelites entered the land of Canaan. Every year, we bring it out of the safe only once, for our Passover ceremony on Mount Jerizim.”

“It must be very valuable,” Sami said.

“It’s beyond all value. Without this scroll, our Messiah can never return to us. Without this scroll, we cannot carry out the annual Passover sacrifice, and if we fail to sacrifice on Passover we cease to be Samaritans and the entire tradition of our religion comes to a terrible close.” The priest’s eyes were moist.

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