The Cairo Genizah and the Age of Discovery in Egypt by Rebecca J. W. Jefferson
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The History and Provenance of a Jewish Archive
The Cairo Genizah is considered one of the world’s greatest Hebrew manuscript treasures. Yet the story of how over a quarter of a million fragments hidden in Egypt were discovered and distributed around the world, before becoming collectively known as “The Cairo Genizah,” is far more convoluted and compelling than previously told. The full story involves an international cast of scholars, librarians, archaeologists, excavators, collectors, dealers and agents, operating from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century, and all acting with varying motivations and intentions in a race for the spoils.
Basing her research on a wealth of archival materials, Jefferson reconstructs how these protagonists used their various networks to create key alliances, or to blaze lone trails, each one on a quest to recover ancient manuscripts. Following in their footsteps, she takes the reader on a journey down into ancient caves and tombs, under medieval rubbish mounds, into hidden attic rooms, vaults, basements and wells, along labyrinthine souks, and behind the doors of private clubs and cloistered colleges. Along the way, the reader will also learn about the importance of establishing manuscript provenance and authenticity, and the impact to our understanding of the past when either factor is in doubt.
Year first published: 2022