University Of Cambridge Shows Ancient Documents That Reveal Early Jewish Life [Video]


The University of Cambridge displays ancient documents that take people to the world of medieval Jews. Reportedly dated between 9th and 19th century, the exhibit lasts for at least half a year at the University Library.

Dubbed as "Discarded History: The Genizah of Medieval Cairo", the exhibit opened to the public on April 27. Per the University of Cambridge, the artifacts provide a unique and "unparalleled" glimpse into the daily lives of Jewish men and women. For one, the people of Fustat (Old Cairo) deposited over 200,000 unwanted writings in a purpose-built storeroom in the Ben Ezra synagogue.

Otherwise known as the "Genizah", it was a safe place to store away old and unusable text. Apparently, the manuscripts contained the name of God. Thus, they were considered too holy to be simply thrown out.

On the other hand, according to the Tablet, the collection contained samples such as Bibles, prayer books, and works of Jewish law. Interestingly, the manuscripts also hinted about the everyday life of this particular community. Shopping lists, marriage contracts, divorce deeds, and a 1,000-year-old page of child's doodles and alphabets can also be viewed. In the same manner, Arabic fables, Muslim philosophies, medical books, business letters, and even "magical amulets" make visitors stare in pure awe.

To better illustrate, the Genizah has been the home of textual remnants of Jewish life in Cairo, making the collection as vast as its history. Well, tales of romance and scandal have been discovered too. For example, the story of a Jewish woman who fell in love with a Christian man was seen. Another story is that of a man who gave up "a life of Debauchery" to be with the woman he loves.

Accounts of a woman who threatened a hunger strike against her husband are featured as well. Consequently, the secrets of a wealthy adulterous female who had been excommunicated were exposed. The existence of the Cairo Genizah was first brought to the attention of Western scholars by the fearless travelers Agnes Lewis and Margaret Gibson in 1896.

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