The Afghan Geniza.

Samuel Thrope reports for Aeon on a tantalizing find from Afghanistan, “a trove of Jewish documents nearly a millennium old … now known as the Afghan Geniza”:

Like its namesake the Cairo Geniza – the trove of discarded books and papers kept in the ‘genizah’ (Hebrew for storeroom) of the Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo – the manuscripts from Afghanistan are a grab-bag of texts. There are legal documents in standard Persian, written in Arabic script; personal and business letters in standard Persian, and more in Judeo-Persian; fragments of Persian poetry; a commercial document in Arabic; and, most spectacularly so far, a page from a commentary on the biblical book of Isaiah by Saadia Gaon, the 10th-century Jewish philosopher.

The manuscripts are likely part of a family archive belonging to Jewish merchants from Bamiyan, an important trading city on the medieval Silk Road. […]

The Judeo-Persian of these letters is not only important because it was spoken by the region’s Jews. Judeo-Persian also preserves antiquated vocabulary and grammatical forms lost from standard Persian. The Afghan Geniza’s medieval Judeo-Persian will help scholars understand the development of Persian as a whole. Previously, the corpus of Judeo-Persian texts from the eastern reaches of the Iranian world consisted of two letters and a handful of literary and religious works.

While Arabic continued to be the predominant legal language in the region, the inclusion of Gaon’s Judeo-Arabic commentary implies that Abu Nassar’s family had a deeper knowledge of the language. It might indicate that the family – and, perhaps, other Jews – had emigrated from Baghdad or other Arabic-speaking regions to the west of Bamiyan. Such movement was common; Judeo-Persian documents found in the Cairo Geniza show that Persian-speaking traders had moved there from points east.

[…] But as Shaul Shaked, professor emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, cautions, 29 manuscripts lack the context and volume of data that hundreds could provide. As he put it, until the entire find is available for research, the Afghan Geniza ‘offers more questions than answers’.

I certainly hope many more documents turn up. Thanks for the link, Paul!

Comments

  1. The word Genizah is from gnz ‘hide away’ — itself a borrowing from Persian , and ultimately from Median *ganza ‘treasure’.

  2. Y, that’s interesting. Of course there have been Persian-speaking Jews since Achaeminid times but I wonder how much influence there was on Western Semitic during Mitanni period.

  3. J. W. Brewer says:

    Fans of the better-known Cairo Geniza may be interested in this online searchable database: https://etc.princeton.edu/genizaproject/.

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