Afghan Genizah Revealed
On Thursday Israel’s National Library unveiled the cache of recently purchased documents that run the gamut of life experiences, including biblical commentaries, personal letters and financial records. Researchers say the “Afghan Genizah” marks the greatest such archive found since the “Cairo Genizah” was discovered in an Egyptian synagogue more than 100 years ago, a vast depository of medieval manuscripts considered to be among the most valuable collections of historical documents ever found.
The National Library of Israel recently purchased 29 pages that are part of a cache of Jewish documents from Afghanistan. The collection includes unknown writings by Saadia Gaon as well as legal and family correspondence from 1,000 years ago. The cache, sometimes known as the Afghan Genizah, has rocked the world of scholars who study ancient manuscripts, and the dealers who buy and sell them, to name just two groups. The find has been compared to the 19th-century discovery of the Cairo Genizah in significance.
Information about the documents, which originated in the Jewish communities of Central Asia during the Middle Ages, is wrapped in layers of legend and rumor. They were reportedly discovered by villagers in a cave in eastern Afghanistan, near the Iranian and Uzbeki borders. Rumor has it that the cave was home to a family of foxes. In recent years the caves have served as hideouts for Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.
No one knows the exact number of manuscripts in the Afghan Genizah but it is thought to be in the low hundreds, minuscule in comparison to the 200,000 or so of the Cairo cache, and spread among a number of dealers in Switzerland, England and other countries. One Jerusalem antiquities dealer who obtained a small part of the collection offered it for sale to the National Library. The negotiations continued for more than a year.
Some more information and a few images can be found here.