R’ Naftali Hertz Ben Yakov Elchanan, a student of the Ari, quotes in the introduction to his kabbalistic sefer Emek Hamelech (Amsterdam, 1648) a whole Masechta of what he calls “Mishnayot” that discuss various holy vessels (Keilim) from the Bet Hamikdash that were hidden at the time of the destruction of the first Bet Hamikdash. The quote appears in chapter 11 of the introduction to the sefer. It begins on page 14a and ends on page 14b. There are 12 paragraphs in this chapter, each of which is called a Mishna. From the style of the text it is really hard to say when it was compiled but it is written in a much longer form than the Mishna or the Tosefta that we recognize. The same text of the so-called Masechat Keilim is quoted in Eisenstein’s Otzar Midrashim Vol. 1 on page 260, although from a different source.
For centuries this chapter of Beraitot in Emek Hamelech was completely ignored, except apparently for Napoleon’s army who tried to look for it in 1799 during their campaign in Palestine. See this article. All of that has changed after the discovery of the Cairo Geniza. Apparently a fragment dated to the 10th century was found in the Cairo Geniza that contains this chapter of Beraitot. According to Vendel Jones, a prominent archaelogist who directed archaeological searches for Biblical artifacts such as the Ark of the Covenant, the fragment was mentioned to him by Prof. William Bowen, the finder of the Genizah. See page 11 of Jones’ Spring 2009 newsletter where he writes that. I have not been able to find online a copy of this fragment. This piece of literature became really interesting when various scrolls that it mentions were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, including the famous Copper Scroll.
Why am I writing about this on the Tosefta Blog? The reason is , because I have seen on various websites claims that this fragment is a lost section of the Tosefta from Masechta Keilim, although none of them have a reliable source to quote, which is why I am not linking them here. Obviously any part of this chapter of Beraitot does not appear in any printed editions and the 3 extant manuscripts of the Tosefta. Bar-Ilan University Tosefta project does not list this fragment among its list of fragments of the Tosefta from the Cairo Geniza. Besides, as I already have mentioned, the style of writing of this piece is simply way too long for the Tosefta, in my humble opinion.
In addition some scholars write that this is a stand-alone text and was simply given the name of Masechta Keilim and it has nothing to do with the Mishna or the Tosefta. See p. 244 in the book The idea of biblical interpretation: essays in honor of James L. Kugel, by James L. Kugel, Hindy Najman.
Of course, I could be wrong, but until more light is shed on this I am leaning to say that this fragment has nothing to do with the Tosefta what so ever. For now it is just a stand-alone piece of Jewish literature.
For more information about this strange text so-called “Masechta Keilim” see the article in French: J.T.Milik, “Notes d’epigraphie et de topographie Palestiniennes,” Revue Biblique. 67(1960), p. 580 (No. 71) [Revue Biblique 66 (1959): p.550-75]. I found a reference from it on this blog:
One of the two textual sources for the Treatise of the Vessels is inscribed on two marble plaques that seem to have been made in Beirut. (The other source is Jellinek’s Bet ha-Midrasch, II, xxvi-xxvii and 88-91.) J. T. Milik in his article “Notes d’épigraphie et de topographie palestiniennes,” RB 66 (1959): 550-75 writes the following:
Un doublet de ce “Traité des vases sacrés” se lit sur les plaques de Beyrouth. C’est M. l’abbé Jean Starkey qui m’en a raconté l’histoire. Il y a un bon nombre d’années, on lui montra dans une maison de Beyrouth plusieurs plaques de marbre gravées de lettres en relief. Il semble qu’elles étaient destinées à une synagogue de Syrie ou du Liban. Elles contenaient le texte entier d’Ézéchiel mais sur les deux dernièrs plaques se trouvaient inscrites l’histoire d’un trésor du mont Carmel et les descriptions d’autres cachettes sacrées. M. Starkey photographia l’avant-dernière plaque (pl. XIV) et copia quelques lignes de la dernière. Il m’a passé aimablement ces matériaux et j’ai réussi à identifier une grande partie du texte des deux plaques avec le Traité des vases susmentionné.
That translates more or less into:
A doublet of this “Treatise of the Holy Vessels” is read on the “plaques of Beirut.” It was his Reverence Jean Starkey who recounted to me the story. A good number of years ago someone showed him in a house in Beirut several plaques of marble engraved with letters in relief. It seems that they were intended for a synagogue of Syria or Lebanon. They contained the entire text of Ezekiel, but on the last two plaques were found inscribed the story of a treasure of Mount Carmel and the descriptions of other sacred caches. Mr. Starkey photographed the next-to-last plaque (pl. XIV) and copied some lines from the last. He has kindly passed these materials to me and I have succeeded in identifying a large part of the text of these two plaques with the above-mentioned Treatise of the Vessels.
Milik then published Starkey’s photograph and transcription of the plaques.
UPDATED: August 20,2009
In my search for this Genizah fragment mentioned by Vendyl Jones, I have contacted 2 largest Geniza collections, the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit at the Cambridge University Library, and also AHRC John Rylands Cairo Genizah Project at the The John Rylands University Library at The University of Manchester. So far I have received the following a reply from the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit. I am quoting a part of their email here:
We are also not aware of Solomon Schechter ever having seen or published any such fragment.
I see from your Tosefta blog that you quote Vendyl Jones who claims that a William Bowen at Cambridge University mentioned the fragment to him. But further searches on the internet show that this Bowen was Jones’ teacher at the so-called ‘Bowen Biblical Museum’ in the United States. Further researches show that the only museum under that name is one housed in the Bob Jones University in Carolina and the ‘museum’ in question is connected to a Mr and Mrs Frank Bowen. So, I really don’t know how reliable a source Mr Vendyl Jones is.
We certainly do not know of any William Bowen connected to Cambridge or the Genizah, but if you can enlighten us that would be great.
That just shows you how careful you have to be about all of these quotes in different sources. So far it seems that such fragment may not exist. I am still waiting for a reply from the Reyland collection.