A history unearthed: the forgotten Jews of Afghanistan
A set of 1,000-year-old manuscripts found in the mountainous north of Afghanistan have shed light on the cultural, economic and religious life of a Jewish society living there in the 11th century.
The find has been analyzed for the first time and will be unveiled at Israel’s National Library this month, reported the New York Times on Monday.
The texts, known collectively as the Afghan Geniza, were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Judeo-Persian, Judeo-Arabic and Arabic.
The papers include economic and legal documents as well as letters between family members- revealing evidence about the everyday life of the community.
One particularly interesting text is a fragment of Judeo-Persian commentary on the Book of Isiah, originally written by renowned Babylonian rabbinic scholar Saadia Gaon. Part of the text has been sent to the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel for carbon dating.
The manuscripts are said to have come from an area near the borders of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Jews may have migrated to the region in the early Middle Ages with the motivation of engaging in lucrative commerce along the Silk road, a vital trade route linking China and Europe.
During the era in question the region now known as Afghanistan was dominated by the Persians.
“This is the first time that we have actual physical evidence of the Jewish life and culture within the Iranian culture of the 11th century,” said Professor Haggai Ben-Shammai, the National Library’s academic director.
Scholars say the texts have been sold to private collectors around the globe. Those belonging to the National Library were bought from an Israeli antiquities dealer for an undisclosed sum.
In a move befitting the 21st century, the Afghan find will be scanned and uploaded onto a digital platform in order to ensure the manuscripts are widely available.
“This tells the story of the Jewish people,” a curator in the library, Aviad Stollman, said. “The technology is here. You can make it come alive.”
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