RIYADH: A rare centuries-old Jewish Torah manuscript has become a major drawcard after going on display for the first time at the Riyadh International Book Fair.

The book fair is being held at King Saud University under the slogan “An Inspiring Destination.” 

The scroll — written in Hebrew, and about 40 meters in length and 90 centimeters in width — is displayed in a secure glass case as part of a special pavilion.

It appears alongside other rare manuscripts belonging to several libraries in the Kingdom, including King Abdulaziz Complex for Endowment Libraries, King Salman Library at King Saud University, and King Fahd National Library.

Talal Al-Shammari, director of the manuscripts department at King Fahd National Library, said the library owns a variety of historic manuscripts written on leather, copper plates, leather and parchment used at various times in the past.

The scroll contains 39 lines of explanations and texts of the Torah written in Hebrew and dating back to the 16th century, he said.

The rare manuscript is said to belong to the Falash Mura, descendants of the Beta Israel community in Ethiopia.

Al-Shammari said the scroll, or “tumar” in Arabic, consists of pieces of leather stretched and bound together.

“The Hebrew copyists were careful not to add any new material to their writings, especially in the sacred texts, as they were keen to use ancient tools. Therefore, we find that they use leather, ancient natural inks, and traditional tools such as quills and parchments,” he said.

Visitors at the book fair were seen reading the information material accompanying the scroll. 

The Torah manuscript and other archaeological collectibles are acquired by King Fahd National Library either through direct legal purchase from the owners or endowment, Al-Shammari said.

Owners will offer a piece to the library to preserve and make it available to researchers, or items can be gifted to the library, he added.

The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, or Ithra, pavilion is also popular with visitors eager to learn about the center’s initiatives and programs. 

The center, which is participating in the book fair for the eighth time, produces a number of books, either on its own or in collaboration with other Saudi publishing houses. 

Two of its books are featured at the fair.

“Al-Mu’allaqat for Millennials,” which has been translated into five languages, elaborates on the 10 odes (Al-Mu’allaqat), and describes the poets’ lives and works in Arabic and English.

The second book, “In the Footsteps of the Prophet,” documents the events surrounding the Prophet’s migration. 

Abdullah Al-Hawas, developer of the Ithra Library programs, said that the pavilion offers an introduction to several projects, including the Reading Enrichment Initiative, which falls under the Iqra competition, offered to all male and female students in the Arab world at various educational levels. 

The pavilion also offers a virtual visit to the Ithra Library, which contains more than 326,000 books, and an interactive screen that displays issues of the magazine Ithraeyat. 


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