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World's oldest complete Torah believed found in Italy

ROME -- An Italian academic has discovered what is believed to be the world’s oldest complete Torah -- the holy book of Judaism -- dating back as far as the 12th century. 

The scroll of fine lambskin, which measures 118 feet by 25 inches when unrolled, had long sat unnoticed at the University of Bologna, overlooked after being mistakenly dated to the 17th century. But when Hebrew studies professor Mauro Perani examined the Torah this year, he realized the writing had to be much earlier. 

Perani noticed that the text did not conform with changes made to the rules of Torah-writing in the 12th century and contained letters and symbols that were banned thereafter.

Perani contacted scholars around the world who agreed with his suspicions. To confirm his theory, he then had the scroll carbon-dated at the University of Salento in Italy and the University of Illinois. The results dated the manuscript to between 1155 and 1225.

Mislabeled by an archivist in 1889 and known as Roll No.2, the scroll is made of 56 sections of extremely soft lambskin and is in excellent condition. 

Torah fragments dating back to the 7th and 8th century have been discovered, but Perani said the Bologna scroll is the oldest complete Torah yet found and could be worth about $1.3 million. The Torah incorporates the first five books of the Bible, including Genesis and Exodus.

The Bologna scroll will be photographed section by section and made available digitally. 

Old Torah scrolls “are very rare because when they were damaged, they were deemed to have lost their holiness and could not be used in religious ceremonies and were buried,” Perani told reporters Tuesday.

Perani said the scroll had come to the university in the 19th century from a Dominican monastery in the city, probably after Napoleon had disbanded religious orders in Italy.

Bologna University was founded in 1088, making it the oldest functioning university in the world, and the city long hosted a large Jewish community. By the 15th century, the university had begun teaching Hebrew studies. Today it also holds one of the most important collections of Korans in Italy.

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