Summary: A recent publication on the 2017 rediscovery of a Hebrew manuscript from Cairo, Egypt of a large portion of the Bible has generated excitement over recent months. Here, we look at Part 1 of a 2-part installment on its discovery, subsequent loss, and rediscovery 112 years later.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. – Psalm 1:1, 2 (ESV)
A Crown Rediscovered in Egypt
In 2017, an Israeli historian and University Professor named Yoram Meital was in Cairo as part of a project to survey and document the city’s numerous synagogues. While in the monumental Moussa Der’i Synagogue, he observed several packages wrapped in white paper and lying on the lower shelves of a bookcase. Written on the cover of one of these in Hebrew lettering, was the phrase, “Gottheil 22.”
The historian had somehow managed to stumble upon a package bearing the name of a famous scholar who had examined and documented dozens of manuscripts in Cairo in 1905. Meital described the experience of the discovery in a recently published article. He stated:
“While trying to locate the book [The Jewess, by Murad Farag], I came upon a bookcase that was facing the right entrance door. I noticed several packages on one of its lower shelves, wrapped in white paper, the type that is sometimes used as a table covering at inexpensive restaurants. On the back cover of the first wrapping someone had written in Hebrew ‘Gottheil 22.’ I was utterly overwhelmed when, as I unwrapped the dusty cover, hundreds of parchments were exposed.” 
What Meital had discovered, or rediscovered, was the “crown” of Zechariah Ben Anan written almost a thousand years earlier. It was one of the oldest and best-preserved copies of the Hebrew Bible’s third division, known as “The Writings.” Bibles of the class encountered by Meital were the actual reference works, or guidebooks for professional copyists of the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament, in its original language during the late classical through medieval era.
These complex tools give us a glimpse into the process of how the text of Genesis-Malachi was preserved and transmitted from antiquity, and the mechanics of how accuracy was maintained. By comparing these to more ancient manuscripts, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, we are able to observe the checks and controls that were utilized to ensure the fidelity of text during the pre-modern era.
The manuscript discovered by Meital was one of those reference books. It had originally been documented in the early 20th century, but had gone missing decades earlier. This is its story.