Friday, 13 January 2012

On Sale: Medieval Jewish Manuscripts Discovered in Afghanistan

It seems from what has already turned up scattered on the markets of three countries that a cache of rare, medieval Jewish manuscripts have been discovered somewhere in Afghanistan. There is only very vague information where ("along the fabled Silk Road") they were found, by whom and how they left the country and whether there are more to unearth. The 200 or so documents - some in good condition and others crumpled or in fragments - are in the hands of several dealers, in London, Geneva and Jerusalem. But scholars are eager to see them donated to libraries and museums. One story of the discovery of the manuscripts has them being found in a remote cave.
Many of the pages are torn from books and are in a variety of languages, including Judeo-Arabic and Judeo-Persian, both written in Hebrew script. They include biblical commentaries, books of Jewish law, liturgical poems, previously unknown work by Saadia Gaon, one of the most influential thinkers of the Middle Ages, as well as business letters and trading documents, such as deeds of sale.[...] The documents describe a Jewish community that lived, permanently or temporarily, in a trading station between the Muslim conquest and the Mongol invasion. [...] It was a turbulent period, he says, when a sect known as the Karaite — which rejected the Talmudic or rabbinic tradition and accepted only the Torah as holy scripture — was active.
One thing is clear, subsistence farming peasants in remote districts of Afghanistan do not have the business contacts to get stuff like this across international borders and into London and Geneva antiquities dealers stockrooms. So, who does, and where did the money generated by these illicit transactions go?

UPDATE: reports that the "150 fragments" were found "purportedly by shepherds looking for sheep, in the mountains of Samangan province".

Leslie Scrivener, 'Medieval Jewish manuscripts discovered in Afghanistan include an unknown work by Saadia Gaon', Toronto Star Jan 13 2012.

Paul J Baumeister, 'Ancient Book of Jeremiah Found in Mountains of Afghanistan', Apostolic perspective, Jan 4th, 2012., 'Medieval Jewish manuscripts discovered in Afghanistan' January 3, 2012

Vignette, one of the manuscripts.

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