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We don't have (and more's the pity!) R' Yehudah Hanassi's autograph copy of the Mishnah (well, okay, it's a controversial issue whether he actually wrote it or only arranged it orally), or Ravina and Rav Ashi's of the Gemara, etc.

But what is the oldest known manuscript of the Mishnah, Gemara, Mechilta, or any other part of Torah Shebaal Peh? (Or perhaps there are manuscripts of Geonic writings - responsa, Halachos Gedolos, or whatever - that predate any known copies of the foundational texts?)

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Similar: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/70808 – msh210 Apr 28 at 17:38
up vote 18 down vote accepted

The oldest written Torah Sheb'al Peh (though not exactly a manuscript) would seem to be the recently-discovered mosaic of the ancient shul in Beit Shaan. The Hebrew Wikipedia article about that shul (which was destroyed 1300 years ago, and existed a few hundred before that) can be found at this link. Here is their image of the mosaic (I hope I'm allowed to use their image link):

The text is similar to passages in Yerushalmi Sheviis. An analysis of this text can be found in Teshuvos Mishnas Yosef 1:51, and at the end of Kaftor Vaferach vol. 1 (in the 3-volume edition).

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Wow, what an old Wikipedia article! 1300 years, you say? – Seth J Nov 15 '11 at 2:56
Context, @SethJ, context! (But I agree that misplaced modifiers are good for a laugh sometimes. :) – Dave Nov 15 '11 at 5:02

The oldest actual manuscript fragment appears to be the Cairo Genizah scroll fragment (in the Cambridge University Library Genizah collection) studied by Professor Shamma Friedman containing the Bavli's Chullin 101a - 105a. Opinions to the exact date vary, from "at latest 7th century(600's CE)" to Dr. Stephan Reif's estimate of around 750 CE. A picture and brief description of it is here and Professor Friedman's full JSTOR article is here. You have to sign up to read the full article, but it's free.

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