"The oldest existing fragments of the Babylonian Talmud come to us almost coincidentally, having long ago ceased to serve their original function as pedagogic material. Currently, they enjoy a new incarnation as archeological artifacts that testify across the centuries to the development of a living, breathing literary tradition based on an even older oral culture of textual transmission. Discovered in repositories of discarded texts or hidden and preserved as constituent components of later volumes, these earliest surviving fragments of the Babylonian Talmud, some of which may date back to the ninth century c.e., serve modern scholars in a variety of ways. For the talmudist, the historian, or the linguist, these fragments illustrate the evolution of the text by means of variant word choices, sentence structure, orthography, and the like" (Goldstein & Mintz, Printing the Talmud from Bomberg to Schottenstein  no. 3, p. 178).