Lost Archives, Sacrosanct Wastebins and the Jewish Communities of the Medieval Islamicate World

My name is Ali Behdad and I’m the Director of the Center for Near Eastern Studies, and on behalf of my colleagues, I would like to welcome you to this talk, to this second Averroes lecture of this series which we have been doing for several years now Before I turn the podium to my colleague Aomar Boum, who will introduce our today’s speaker professor Marina Rustow, I would like to take just this opportunity to thank several colleagues, first and foremost Sarah Stein and the Leve Center for Jewish Studies for the co-sponsorship of these series As well I would like to thank my colleagues at CNES, especially Aomar, I think Susan, Susan Slyomovics, who have really taken on sort of the intellectual leadership with Sarah, Sarah Stein, to help us organize these series. I also should give a shout out to our stellar staff especially Christian Rodriguez who is here tonight to help us out. For those of you are not familiar with the Center for Near Eastern Studies, I think many of you are, CNES is it is a Research Center We’re over a hundred faculty from humanities, social sciences, arts, and law school collaborate in a variety of research and pedagogical projects. The center that was founded in 1957 and is one of the oldest centers for interdisciplinary research on the broader Middle East. We provide a forum for exchange of ideas and dissemination of information within and beyond campus and you know our colleagues do really cutting edge research and offer our faculty and the broader community fresh perspectives on the challenges and cultural richness of the region. We also support graduate and undergraduate fellowships and awards of various sorts To students who work on the Middle East as you know we get support from the Department of Education and the Mellon Foundation recently. Today’s talk is part of the Averroes lecture series that has been underwritten by a generous donor, an anonymous donor and which focuses on the Jewish communities living in the Muslim world prior to the 20th century. We have named series Averroes, the Latin name for Ibn Rushd, as those of you who are familiar with the history of medieval Islam in the 12th century and the Lucien polymath whose philosophical work really integrated Islamic traditions with ancient Greek thought. To point out we’ve–– to point out the history of Córdoba’s Jewish Muslim relations as a model of coexistence and the connections between Averroes as an intellectual and the Jewish philosopher Maimonides, both of whom were committed to intellectual exchange and communal life across religious boundaries. I would like to very briefly introduce our wonderful colleague Aomar who is a sociocultural anthropologist here at UCLA and now the also the program director for our Mellon Grant on minorities in the Middle East which we hope to do more of this kind of a program but also other minorities as well almost. Aomar’s stellar ethnographic work addresses the place of religious and ethnic minorities in MENA region. He has published widely on this topic. His publication includes an important book Memories of Absence: How Muslims Remember Jews in Morocco, which was published by Stanford University Press, a very important book that I highly recommend and recently co-edited with Sarah Stein, The Holocaust and North Africa which was published by again by Stanford University Press So Aomar, please introduce our speaker and welcome to the podium Welcome everyone. It takes a special and unique scholar to revisit the Cairo Geniza after a generation of scholars such as great time Mark Cohen, and others have done so and still see what they couldn’t. It takes a scholar with special linguistic gifts, knowledge of materiality and paper, scholarly investigative expertise, an ability to reconstruct puzzles out of paper fragments. Above all, it takes a scholar with a sense of humility to collaborate with others to put together a story out of paper dispersed in different archives and institutions. Dr Marina Rustow has proven without doubt to be up to the challenge and emerge as

a leading 21st century expert of the Geniza, of the Cairo Geniza The historian of Judeo-Arabic documents of the Cairo Geniza and the history of Jews during the Fatimid period, Dr. Rustow is the Khedouri A. Zilkha professor of Jewish civilization in the Near East at Princeton University. In 2014, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, followed by a MacArthur Fellow in 2015 Professor Marina Rustow received a BA from Yale University and two masters and a PhD from Columbia University under the mentorship of Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi. She taught at Emory University of 2003 to 2010 and John Hopkins University from 2010 to 2015, prior to joining the faculty at Princeton University where she is currently professor in the Department of Near Eastern Studies and History and Director of the Princeton Geniza Lab Professor Rustow has changed our understanding of the Fatimid Caliphate, a Shia state which ruled in North Africa between 10th and 12th centuries As a historian whose research is largely based on the Geniza, Dr. Rustow has managed and succeeded to shed new light on eternal Jewish life and on board a Fatimid Society of the medieval period Dr. Rustow’s approach to this archive goes beyond decoding documents–in itself a phenomenal task– to questioning the relationship between subject and medieval states and asking what that relationship tells us about power and the negotiation of religious boundaries. In heresy, talking about her first work, in heresy a politics of community the Jews of the Fatimid period, the Jews of the Fatimid caliphate, Dr. Rustow focuses on the period from 909 to 1171 c.e. and upends long accepted ideas about the relationship between two rival Jewish communities under the Fatimid rule Analyzing archival documents and material from the point of view of both Islamic and Jewish communities Professor Rustow has built an academic career through mining these documents or what they can tell us about how the Caliphate state grew and how Jewish, Christian, and Muslim subjects related to it. Her second book, which is going to be on solo after the talk, The Last Archive:T races of a Caliphate in a Cairo Synagogue is a new book published by Princeton University Press in 2020–– in 2020 and analyzes the Fatimid history of documentation through material found in the Fustat synagogue Reminiscent of work about Islamic writing and manuscripts in sub-saharan Africa, Rustow challenges that arguing about Islamic dynasties produce little documents and manuscripts. With patience, rigor, and excellent analysis, Dr. Rustow takes her readers from Geniza twelve to communal spaces and outside geographic borders of Egypt following the complex trials by which Arabic documents made their way from Fatimid palace officials to Jewish scribes. Just like what she did in her first book on heresy and the politics of community, Dr Rustow invites us again to rethink Fatimid archives through the lens of– what she calls– the investor-owned ecology of documentation. Deploy her considering her prowess in languages, social history, and paper Dr. Rustow is rewriting our understanding of medieval Jewish life and transforming the historical study of the Fatimid Empire. Please join me in welcoming our winter Averroes lecture speaker Dr. Marina Rustow Aomar, thank you so much for that really generous introduction That was really nice of you and thank you to Ali and to the Center for Near Eastern Studies and especially to Christian Rodriguez for making this visit possible and as well as colleagues and administrators in the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies especially Jessica Goldberg and Luke Yarborough who organized a conference that’s happening this weekend that was the initial impetus for my trip to LA. I’m going to move a little bit closer in the hope that proximity will make up for the lack of a microphone and also the fact that I’m going to lose my voice over the course of this lecture because I’m getting over a cold, and thank you all very much for being here. I live in New York and I came to LA via Chicago and with weather like this I wouldn’t be sitting in a room indoors so I appreciate it So pre-modern historians all face a similar problem which is lack of information and the consequences of this lack of information have slightly they’re slightly different when you look

at it from the perspective of Jewish history and the perspective of Middle Eastern history. So from the Jewish side first, when the Muslims conquered the region that we now know as the Middle East in the seventh and eighth centuries, most Jews were living in areas that came under Muslim rule within the first decades of conquest. We know actually very little about what happened next. We do know that Talmudic law– so basically what formed the the basis of Jewish law– is largely agrarian, meaning if you read the Babylonian and the Palestinian Talmud’s the the version of Jewish law that you’re going to see represented presumes that most Jews are living in rural communities Yet we also know that if you flash-forward 500 years later, the Judaism that emerged is 100% urban. So what happened in between? A subsidiary question to that is how did the rabbinic construction of Judaism win out over all the other possible constructions? Judaism never developed a papacy or Church councils or a Grand Mufti or other centralized structures of governance and instead it relied on a kaleidoscopically shifting network and nodes of rabbis whose opinions Jews were actually under no obligation to follow. So given that the rabbis were relying entirely on persuasion and had very little coercive power, how did they convince anyone to actually listen to them? So that’s like just a glimpse of the kinds of questions that hover over the first 500 years of Islamic rule from the Jewish history side. On the middle east side, the questions are broader but I think no less perplexing. There’s a widespread perception, to which Aomar just referred, that the Middle East used documents less than Europe did in the Middle Ages, so the kind of most succinct and strongest statement of this thesis I’m just going to bring you, you know there are many places from which I could bring this but I’m going to bring it from a book that was published in the 90s, an otherwise excellent book on medieval Damascus by Michael Chamberlain where he argues that in the Middle East rulers maintained patrimonial if not absolutist claims, considered most of the wealth of their subjects their own, and permitted other social bodies none of the formal autonomies they had in Europe Individuals, households, religious bodies, and groups did not brandish documents as proofs of hereditary status, privilege, or property to the extent that they did in the Latin West, nor were there strategies of social reproduction recorded, sanctified, or fought out through documents to the extent they were in Europe. So you can see that the comparison between the medieval Middle East and medieval Europe is right there in the minds even of specialists in medieval Middle East history, the idea is that the grass is much greener on their side of the Mediterranean and they have better archives to work with. In fact this is a total myth actually on both sides. If you look at the period before 1200, in fact the Middle East has preserved far more original documents than medieval Europe has largely because the medieval European documents were at a certain point jettisoned, especially over the course of the course of the 9th and 10th century and copied into what are known as cartularies, which are kind of summaries and registers of documents. So we have lots of kind of documentary content, but we don’t actually have a lot of original documents from Europe before 1200, whereas we have, you know nobody’s actually counted, but certainly hundreds of thousands of documents from the Middle East. So this myth has had consequences for the field… Some of the the other assumptions that you see embedded in the Chamberlain quotation is the idea that together with documents goes a certain presumption about rights and privileges. So you can’t defend–– defend rights and privileges unless you have access to documentation and document production. And so what Chamberlain is saying here is there were no documents and effectively what you had was rulers making arbitrary decisions. So all of this has had unfortunate consequences for the field of medieval Middle Eastern history because people tend not to look for the documents that exist. Documents are important to historians especially because they give us access to information that was not intended for long posterity, but even more than long posterity, one of the many things that interests me about documents is how they’re used in kind of the immediate–– the immediate play of social power. In fact, we have vast caches of documents, many of them from Egypt, but it’s not just Egypt. The proximity–– in general the proximity of the desert and the zone is conducive to the preservation of human

artifacts, so the clearest example of this actually is a cache of mostly ancient papyri from a town that in the Roman period in Egypt was called Oxyrhynchus, now known as El-Bahnasa, where as the town contracted over the course of the late Roman period, the houses kind of hewed to the banks of the Nile, leaving a gigantic trash heap out in the desert where five hundred thousand documents were preserved, most of them in Greek although there are some Arabic documents from Oxyrhynchus as well which have not been published. So if you tally up all of the papyrus paper and parchment documents from the Middle East before 1200, there are far more than there are from medieval Europe, let alone from Byzantium. So in what follows, I’m going to try to give you a kind of Janus- faced view of what all of this documentation has a potential to do to our image of both Jews in the Islamic world and of the Middle East more broadly. At the time of the Islamic conquests, the two largest Jewish communities in the world were to be found in Mesopotamia and Syria, with other important communities in Asia Minor and Egypt. So the most significant thing that this map demonstrates for my purposes, you can see that in the darker green you have the conquests, Muslim conquests up until 632. In the middle shade of green, 632 to 661, and then finally in the lightest shade of green, the conquest that happened between 6061 and 750 so there’s a kind of concentric circle geographically going on here. So the the biggest Jewish communities were in Mesopotamia and Syria with other communities in Asia Minor and in Egypt, and what that means is that most Jews in the world lived in regions that the invading Muslim armies would conquer in their very first decade of campaigning outside the Arabian Peninsula So Palestine fell between 636 and 640, Egypt in 640, Iraq in 642, which means that before the last sasanian Shah was killed, before the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius knew that he permanently lost the eastern Mediterranean, most of the world’s Jews were living under a single polity and they would continue to do so for half a millennium or more. So basically they started out here and then the Jewish populations spread from there but I’ll get to that in a minute The notion that the Islamic conquests proceeded in an Islam or the sword fashion has been debunked already for a long time, although the consequences of that still have yet to be fully spelled out. In a fascinating example of a book whose methods have been basically completely– I mean, questioned to the point of like, you know, being nobody really accepts the methodology anymore and yet at the same time everyone accepts the general conclusions– I’m talking about Richard Bulliet’s book Conversion to Islam in the Medieval Period, which was a fascinating attempt in 1979 to apply the methods of quantitative history to the medieval Islamic period… and methods aside, what Bulliet tried to do was to shed light on the gradualness of conversion to Islam, and some of the consequences that that might actually have and some of also the causes and how that linked up with some of the events that we knew best from Islamic history, like the consolidation of Empire and then the fragmentation of Empire So what Bulliet concludes is that the proportion of Muslims in the Middle East didn’t reach an absolute majority until the 9th or 10th century, depending on the region. So that means that Muslims were ruling over a vast majority of non-Muslims for the first 300, 400 years of their rule. Linguistic Arabization was also a gradual process and a separate, but not completely unrelated one. And even the language of empire and its administrative practices were slow to change. You can see this in some of the documents that have survived. So these are two bilingual Greek Arabic papyri, one from Egypt and the other from Syria, and the Arabic text is on the top and the Greek text is on the bottom. Fascinatingly, both of them concerned taxation and in neither case does the Greek and the Arabic text say precisely the same thing. So this is kind of an example of, if you’re conquering a big swath of the planet and you still want to collect taxes, you should keep the tax structure in place and have the people who are collecting taxes under the Romans continue to collect taxes under your role, but at the same time your view of all of this from the upper echelons of the administration, i.e., the people writing in Arabic is going to be slightly different from the view of the people on the ground. So nothing necessarily–– I’m not claiming that nothing changed at the first conquests At the same time, it would be, I think, a

stretch to argue that everything changed at the first conquest for Jews or for anyone else So despite these papyri and other smaller but equally mind-blowing cache of early Islamic documents which are still in the process of being published and interpreted, what follows the Islamic conquest in Jewish history is a vast blackout of substantive information nearly everywhere except for Iraq and Syria… and even there all we know are the works of a thin crust of illiterate elite in and around the rabbinic academies at Tiberias and Palestine and Sora and Pumbaa dita on the lower Euphrates in Iraq. So basically there’s a vast silence until about 900. That silence lifts and when it lifts not only were there dense and well-organized Jewish communities all over the vast expanse of the Islamic world, but those communities were already urban and prosperous to an astonishing degree. The scatter bits of information that we do have suggest that the Jews adopted Arabic earlier than Christians likely because they were faster to move to cities. So cities are really the big kind of story here. A conservative estimate puts 9th century Baghdad at half a million inhabitants For comparison’s sake, remember that after Imperial Rome, no city in Europe would reach half a million inhabitants until 17th century Paris and London. So half a million is very, very impressive for a pre-modern city. A less conservative figure estimates Baghdad at closer to a million inhabitants, which would make its mean its only medieval rival eighth century Chang’an, which was about to be destroyed anyway. So even rabbinic scholasticism was forced in the end to become urbane, urban, and sophisticated. So the the yeshiva is the rabbinic academies in Iraq, which had always existed in these kind of rural communities themselves, move to Baghdad by 900. The Geonim who ran these academies in the 10th and 11th century were cosmopolitan, educated broadly in the sciences and not just in rabbinic law, educated in canonical Jewish texts and methods, but also in Islamic jurisprudence and philosophy. And an example that I like to bring of this for a couple of reasons is a letter of Hai Gaon who’s like… even if the Ganiza had never been discovered in the late 19th century, this is still somebody we would have known about. This is like a very, you know, famous, for those who know the inside baseball. It’s always funny when people say like famous, but to whom? A famous Gaon of the 11th century who all we had to go on were his legal opinions, his responsa, and they Ganiza yielded some letters of his. And in this case–– I like this letter because I had read it so many times before I realized what was going on. So if you’re a medieval letter-writer, the first thing you have to know is that you cannot mention anyone without putting a blessing after their name. Now if you really, really hate their guts, you still put a blessing after their name but it’s a kind of underhanded one or like a curse or something like that, but you have to say something. So if you look carefully at the blessings in this letter, he’s writing to thank a benefactor I have had a teacher at the Jewish Theological Seminary when I was in graduate school named Neil Danzig who used to describe the letters of the Geonim as shnorebriven which is Yiddish for begging letters, so you expect these kind of glorious, you know, legal pronouncements and in fact what you get are fundraising letters and this is one, where he says “please thank on my behalf David Ibn Bapshad, probably a Karaite by the way, may God support him since he has extended towards me every kindness benefited me and been loyal to me. Let him know of the esteem in which I hold his loyalty.” So translation: tell him to send me more money But when he puts in the blessing after his name, he puts it in an Arabic script And it’s something that, again I’d read the letter so many times before I realized this was happening and before I realized how kind of momentous it was… There are a couple of different ways to read this. One is that the Geonim were educated outside of the confines of the yeshiva and if you were writing a good letter in Arabic you would simply habitually write aya de allah, may god preserve him, and that was how it came out. But another way to read it which was pointed out to me by an undergraduate is maybe this is actually how people were learning to write letters inside the yeshiva too, and we simply don’t know the answer but either way that’s what was happening. So that’s just to give you a glimpse of kind of the curtain lift and this is what’s going on… Yeah sorry, the letter is in in Judeo-Arabic and for those who haven’t had the pleasure, Judeo-Arabic is Arabic written in Hebrew characters. So the kind of geographic mobility that Jews started to enjoy in the centuries

following the Islamic conquests simply couldn’t have been fathomable before. It was unfathomable in a number of ways First of all the proportion of Jews, especially male Jews who now traveled, the number of wages that a Jew was likely to undertake over a single life span– so in other words, if you traveled once you were probably gonna travel more than once– the distance is that a single person could traverse on a regular basis and also the techniques that Jews use to remain networked even as they traveled, especially letters. So one thing that my research over the years has convinced me of is that this map of medieval Jews is as good as far as it goes, but it actually doesn’t go far enough. In fact, if you want to get a kind of–– if you take a snapshot of the geographic region that the documents actually cover, we’re looking at a much much broader expanse. By the 9th century, Jews had reached China. In the late 11th and 12th century, traders were making money hand over fist in the Indian Ocean trade and Jews were among them. In the 9th and 13th century, we have evidence that they were Jews in the Eastern Indian Ocean, including sumatra, I’ll get to that in a minute. And we know about this primarily because of the Geniza, but there are other caches of documents that contribute to our knowledge that I’ll come to towards the end of the lecture. So first, let me just talk a little bit about the Cairo Geniza. It’s a rapidly changing field, which I’m really happy to be able to say, part of this is the advent of digital technology and part of it is that there’s now a critical mass of specialists in the field, so things are really moving and they have been moving for 10-15 years. So even this is a field you–– you tend to follow. I might say some things that you haven’t heard before So the Cairo Geniza, the the name comes from a Hebrew phrase bet genizah, which is a burial chamber or a storage chamber, generally for worn out texts, although that’s covering over a much, much more complicated history to do with old Iranian languages and Biblical Hebrew and in fact, again because of this big sort of gap in coverage, we don’t exactly understand how this particular practice developed, but by the time the the Cairo Geniza starts developing, Jews are depositing their worn documents into a special, dedicated chamber in their synagogues. So the way this happened in Cairo– Cairo is special for a number of reasons but most of all because it’s the largest and oldest Geniza to have survived. So when I say Cairo first of all, this is a bit of a misnomer because in fact the place where people actually lived in the 11th and 12th century was Fustat, which was the older residential core, whereas Cairo proper was a Palatine city that was walled off and so you didn’t get to hang out there unless you were part of government circles. The Fatimid dynasty arose in North Africa and 909 and they entered Egypt in 969, they had made several attempts to conquer Egypt but they were finally successful in 969 and it was bloodless because Egypt was in administrative disarray when they came in and they immediately set about building a number of buildings that still stand today, so if you go to Cairo today and you want to see some Fatimid buildings, you should ask to see Islamic Cairo, whereas if you want to see Fustat, don’t ask for Fustat because people will laugh at you, ask for Coptic Cairo, called thus because there are lots of medieval Coptic churches that survive there. So the Fatimids arose in central North Africa in 909 and if you watch the map carefully, it’s about to turn more green than lavender as the Fatimids conquer Egypt, Syria, and part of the Arabian Peninsula, which essentially means that they’re taking the biggest tax yielding regions outside of Iraq for themselves and depriving the Abbasid Empire of lots and lots of revenue. The change was palpable at the time. There’s a geographer from Palestine from the 10th century, he’s writing about 985 and he himself actually says Baghdad has been superseded until the day of judgment, Egypt’s Metropole has now become the greatest glory of the Muslims So there’s an idea that Baghdad is great but that was then, this is now, now Cairo is the important city. So this is the city of Fustat and the yellow buildings here are Christian churches, the ones that survived. In the blue you see the Ben Ezra Synagogue, and that’s

where the Cairo Geniza was kept. The way this looks on the ground is if you go down this alley and hang a left at the gentleman with the cane, if you hit the Coptic museum you’ve gone too far What you’re looking for is this. This is the Ben Ezra Synagogue as it was refurbished after 1991 It actually looks from this photo much larger than it is. If you go inside, it’s a little jewel box of a synagogue, small enough, I would say probably just about the size and volume of this room, that when I first went there, I had to totally revise my notions either of the Jewish population of medieval Cairo or of how many people actually made it to synagogue on a regular basis or possibly and how many synagogues there were, because it’s a very, very small space. At the same time the space that you’ll see is a simulacrum, it’s not actually the medieval synagogue, it was built on the site of the medieval synagogue supposedly on the footprints, I mean there are people who in the 19th century had seen the old building and then they saw the new building that was built in the 1890s and they were like yes, yes it’s just the same but do we really know? No. If you go–– if you look at this photo there’s a mezzanine level and on the left-hand side of the mezzanine, the mezzanine is the women’s gallery, and if you go on the left hand side of the mezzanine all the way to the front wall of the synagogue, you’ll see a little hole in the wall and again that hole in the wall is not actually historically accurate because for much of the 19th century, the Geniza was accessible only via a hole in the roof, so it was a totally walled off chamber that people were not accessing on a regular basis. What was going on in the Middle Ages, we don’t actually know Whether it was accessible via a hole in the wall or via a hole in the roof is not entirely clear. One of the advantages of being in Cairo–– people think that Geniza survived the way it did because of the dryness of Cairo. Cairo is actually not that dry. Cairo… what Cairo has to its advantage or to the advantage of manuscripts is even humidity. So you know the humidity level will be about 45 degrees in the winter. It’ll go up to about 60 in the early summer and then it kind of falls gently back down to 45 degrees humidity, which turns out to be the perfect humidity level for preserving paper, parchment, and papyrus. But there’s another factor as well, it’s not just the climate. If anyone’s ever been to Cairo, you know about the dust. So the dust of Cairo is a very particular kind of dust. I’m not talking now about what happens when there’s a sandstorm, that’s different. I’m talking about just the average everyday dust of Cairo which– it’s like a thing Like if you live in Cairo you have to dust your bookshelves every day even if you’re keeping your windows closed. It sort of fills your, you know, sinuses and, you know, with this kind of wonderful heady cocktail of diesel fuel. If you’ve been there you know just what I’m talking about– I find it completely addictive. But I didn’t understand until I talked to a friend of mine there who’s a historic preservationist, Noel Hassan, who explained to me that the source of the dust is not the desert. The source of the dust is actually the Mokattam massif which is a limestone cliff that overlooks Cairo and it’s friable, so the dust is actually coming from there and that means that it’s limestone dust, and limestone by definition is 50% calcium carbonate, which is chalk, which turns out to be a fantastic substance for preserving paper, parchment, and ink. Again, something I didn’t realize until I talked to a papermaker friend of mine who’s like “you know, if you really want to preserve this stuff you should put chalk in it.” I was like “oh, light bulb.” So the dust turns out to have been very, very fortunate for the Geniza. The story of the Geniza’s discovery I’m not gonna get into now, but I do just want to flag the fact that it’s a complex story, much more complex than anyone realized for most of the 20th century. So the ice started to break with this book, Sacred Trash by Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole, who pointed out that there’s a whole prehistory to the famous moment when Solomon Schechter from Cambridge emptied the chamber in 1897, and that prehistory is a very, very interesting and complicated one and explains why the Geniza today is dispersed over more than 60 collections. But even that book didn’t actually get to the bottom of it. Rebecca Jefferson, who used to work in the Geniza Research Unit at Cambridge University and is now at the University of Florida, is digging into the archives of people from the 19th century who were involved in collecting these manuscripts, and there are still many mysteries but she’s she solved many of them, so watch this space for her book. This is an iconic picture of Solomon Schechter when he got home from Cambridge with about 200,000 Geniza fragments And this is what they looked like before conservation. So the point being here: this is still happening today. This is a

photograph that I was sent by a paper conservator from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2015 after they had begun conserving and encapsulating some of the fragments that had literally never been sorted or taken out of boxes. So no researcher had ever seen these and as soon as she sent this to me, I got really excited because I was in the process of studying my, like, favorite kind of document– this is gonna sound so boring– which is the Fatimid tax receipt. I love tax receipts And it turns out that is a Fatimid tax receipt right there and I was like please, conserve these so then she sent me the pictures of them conserved and I realized how great it was that she had sent me the one– the picture– of the unconserved documents So this is still going on every once in a while like a shoe box will pop out of the closet of the grandson of an early 20th century Geniza researcher– this happened a few years ago, to a friend of mine in London. So not everything is accounted for. But even the things that are accounted for, less than half of it has been identified, let alone deciphered So what I’m going to tell you now are some provisional statistics, but this could all change depending on what happens with research in the next decade or two. So the vast majority of what we have from the Geniza dates from this period between 950 and 1250, about which we knew very, very little before the Ganesa came to light, although there are significant pockets of information from the 16th and the 19th centuries which are finally beginning to get their due, by which I mean there are like two researchers now as opposed to zero who are interested in the later Geniza material. The grand total is about 400,000 pages or fragments of pages which is considerably more than you may have heard. This is only in part because of those shoeboxes that are like coming out of the woodwork This is also because there are computerized methods of counting what are called multi-fragments, which is tiny fragments that are bound, like a hundred to the page, so those used to be counted as one and now they’re actually counted singly. But 90% are “books.” I put this in quotation marks because a book in the Middle Ages as many things. So a book is a text meant for posterity, written as it were on speakerphone in the sense that you don’t know quite who’s gonna read it in the future, even if you’ve dedicated it to an individual. But physically, a book can take forms. There’s the codex, which is the book as we know it and there are very few whole codices that survived in the Geniza because generally speaking, what you were putting in there was old books This is a fascinating codex because it’s a copy of a biblical book that didn’t make it into the Jewish canon, so it demonstrates that Jews were reading non- canonical literature in the Middle Ages, which nobody suspected. Nobody even knew that the Hebrew original of this particular text had survived because only the Christians had preserved the book, so we knew the Greek but we didn’t know the Hebrew. And in the end, dozens of fragments of the book of Ecclesiasticus have come to light from the Geniza, but only in 2018 did an article emerge trying to put together the actual codices from which these pages came. So that’s the codex. Then, the codex consists of smaller units which codacologists– specialists in books– call choirs, and a choir is a number of bifolio pages nested together. This is from a collection in Saint Petersburg It’s a manuscript that Luke Yarbrough, who’s here, is working on together with a team of researchers and it’s a totally fascinating one-off text. It seems to be an administrative manual, like government administrative manual from late 11th century Palestine. So it’s in the form of a choir, so 10 pages essentially. Here’s another example of a choir. This is a liturgical text in Hebrew, the author of which we actually know, which is not so common. So that’s the second form of the book. The third form of the book is the horizontal scroll, which is a much older form. That had been kind of the major form of the book in antiquity until the codex started to make inroads, especially among Christian books and the story of how the codex finally made inroads among Jews is a fascinating one, because for most of antiquity, Jews avoided writing anything in codex form and stuck to the scroll, probably because the codex was kind of, you know, smacked of Christianity, and Jews wanted to make their books look different from Christian books. But then what happened is that when the Muslims came along, they as a minority living among, you know, a huge sea of Christians, they wanted to make their holy book look like a serious holy book, so what are you gonna do? You’re gonna make it look like a Christian book. So the earliest Quran manuscripts that we have are in codex form, and at that point the Jews look at the codex and they say okay, now it’s kosher for us too. So the scroll, the horizontal scroll, became a kind of antiquated form for the Jews already by this period, and was used mainly only for liturgical purposes, like reading Torah

scrolls. Then there’s the vertical scroll So this is a very strange form of the book. It doesn’t look like a book to us, it looks more like a document, but in fact Jews routinely wrote literary texts in this long form — the one I’m showing you right now is about three meters long — and they particularly seem to have written text for performances in the long rotulis form That’s what it looks like up close Okay, so those are quote-unquote books Complicated issue, right? Summed up by one word: books. The other 10% of what’s in the Geniza are documents and again the figure of 40,000 is quite a bit higher– certainly than what I was taught– so S.D Goitein, who founded the field of Documentary Geniza Studies, used to estimate that there were between 10 and 15,000 documents and that’s what the second generation of Documentary Geniza scholars, his students, including my teacher Mark Cohen, also used to go with, by way of an estimate. But now that we have digital methods, by which I mean that people have actually made an attempt to photograph every single Geniza document, we have a much better sense of numbers, and so the current figure that I’m citing is 40,000 which sounds, like, insanely high if– like me– you were educated thinking about 10 to 15,000 documents. But in fact, the Princeton Geniza Project, which I took over when I came to Princeton in 2015, now has nearly 30,000 records, so I think 40,000 is probably not an unreasonable estimate I just want to point out here: the great fat eunuch. This is real, like you can’t make this stuff up, but what we do is we make an effort to have that document always be the first one in the database so it’s the first thing you see when you go to the Princeton Geniza Project website. This is catalogued by my friend Oded Zinger, who has a knack for finding the most hilarious Geniza documents. Okay, so those are the documents. The linguistic situation is relatively simple. The documents tend to be in Judeo-Arabic– again, Arabic and Hebrew characters in Hebrew, occasionally in Aramaic, which is like fancy, if you want to use old legal terminology, as well as Arabic script. So that’s kind of what you can expect to find: lots of Hebrew script, lots of Arabic script. But then– and here’s an example of both together. So here’s a Hebrew script document. This is a marriage contract Even if you knew absolutely nothing about either Hebrew or about medieval documents, you could probably guess at what this was, because you see at the bottom a bunch of handwriting that doesn’t look like it’s written in the same hand as the rest of the document. It turns out that those are signatures, and this is a legal document with 11 signatories. These guys are actually a pretty calligraphic bunch, but one of the great things about signatures as historical evidence is that you can see, kind of, the varying states of semi- illiteracy that people had. Sometimes they could only write their names, they could only write them in something approximating square script, but they had never learned to write beyond that. This is an Arabic script document that was discovered by a graduate student in a seminar that I was teaching two years ago. It’s a business letter in Arabic that mentions various red sea ports, as well as India. So this is basically an Indian Ocean trade letter that had not yet been identified or noticed or discovered by any of the people who were actually working on Indian Ocean documents, and that’s just to give you a sense. I had six graduate students in that seminar, and over the course of the semester, this came to light. Another couple of interesting things came to light, but the best one was when, you know, I had the students just go through, like, piles and piles of Arabic script documents to try to identify whatever they could and then they would email me the night before the seminar and kind of give me the rundown, and then we’d come to class and we’d try to read one or two of them. And so one of them emails me the night before class, and he says, “Nothing that exciting this week, I found a petition to Saladin,” who’s the first Ayyubid Sultan, and it was so great because when you make these discoveries, you don’t often know that you’re even making a discovery, right? So he thought, “Oh, this is totally normal, a petition to Saladin.” I said to him, “There’s only one other petition to Saladin that has survived on the planet Earth, and you’ve just discovered number two.” So the discoveries are still coming And then there are curiosities. So this was discovered by Gideon Bohak at Tel Aviv University in 2008 and despite the best efforts of Indyk linguists and philologists, nobody actually knows what language it’s written in. I’ve given it to a couple of specialists who said, “You know, Indyk dialectology is really, really difficult This seems to be something resembling southern Gujarati.” So basically we don’t know what language it’s written in, but one

thing that we do know is that there are peppercorns in this text, which makes me really happy because if it had been like a copy of some literary text that we have kind of, you know, a dime-a-dozen, I would have been a sad panda, but it seems to be some kind of commodity bearing document in a Sanskri-derived script, which stands to reason because of all of the Jews in the Indian Ocean trade, so this must have made it back to Cairo somehow in a trader’s personal archive. Okay, so I want to say a little bit about the Indian Ocean trade because this is really where, for me, the penny dropped, when I started to try to think in a kind of summary way about, okay, well, what actually has the Geniza taught us? We’ve known that there were something like 600-700 documents that have survived documenting trade in the western Indian Ocean, trade by Jews, but Jews had trading partners who weren’t Jews as well. But it’s not really until you kind of look into the documents that to understand the momentousness of this So the trade routes, first of all, the Indian Ocean trade and the Mediterranean trade are connected. What’s being traded in the Mediterranean, much of it actually comes from the Indian Ocean, which I hadn’t realized when I –– until I really started looking at the stuff. And there you see Egypt at the kind of hinge between these two trades Now, how you actually get to India– so it’s kind of incredible that anybody managed to do this at all– the one thing that you needed to do was to studiously avoid the Northern Red Sea, because the Northern Red Sea has coral reefs and bad winds, and it was the most dangerous passage you could imagine, so instead you would go up the Nile, and then you would go overland at Kush, and then you would set out sailing on the Red Sea at Quseir. You would sail south. Aden became a very, very important port along this trade, although it’s not actually a very well endowed natural harbor, but what the Adenese did was to provide services to boats that other harbors didn’t provide. They kind of, you know, they tried harder, like, I don’t know, the HBSC of their day or something And then eventually, you’d go over by the Persian Gulf and to the western coast of India. But what it actually felt like to do that is another question. So this is a letter from a trader who is originally from Libya, from Tripoli in Libya, and he’s writing to his brother back home in 1103, and he’s describing what for him was an absolutely terrifying journey, and it was terrifying for him not because of storms, not because the ship found or anything like that, but because the methods of boat building in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean were different. So in the Mediterranean, you have boats that were made with nails, and in the Indian Ocean you had boats that were tied together with coconut coir ropes, which he found to be uniquely terrifying, so he says, “Then we left the machlein, which I still don’t know where it is, and set sail on a ship that had in it not a single nail of iron, but rather was tied together with ropes, may God protect us with his shield.” So he’s just getting going. So now he describes the journey on the Red Sea and he describes it in a rhyme. “I arrived in Aybeb, which is truly a city of tribulations of ebb. We arrived at a city called Sowacken, which is really a most frightening place, a halde macken Then we arrived at a city called Badia, the jjone that cuts, for it is just as the name says, the most bitter, frightening, miserable of places. Then we arrived at a city called Dahlak, the following adage is said about it, but you surpass them all, it is a ruinous land, ballad mohalek.” So he’s clearly enjoying the, you know, the storytelling here, but nonetheless it gives you a sense of how, kind of, terrifyingly different this must have been for those who were used to the Mediterranean trade. These are the scholars who’ve done the lion’s share of the work on the Indian Ocean trade. They largely focused on the philology, just trying to understand what the documents say, which itself is not for the faint of heart, but there’s much, much more to be done in terms of historical contextualization. Goitein–– So, Goitein died in 1985. His student Mordechai Akiva Friedman took over the India documents project from him. It took him 25 years to publish volumes 1 through 4 Volumes 5 through 7 are sitting in a filing cabinet in Princeton, New Jersey Okay, so one of the things that I’m trying to do is, like, you know, bring in the scholars who will actually get this stuff out into the public It’s much likelier that they’ll go online before they go between covers because I simply want them to be out there and available. So this is where we get the Eastern Indian Ocean. This was super surprising to me when I found it,

and then I realized that it actually read these texts several times before–– before I, you know, was able to locate them on a map and realize what was going on. This is a draft of a court record in the hand of Maimonides’ son, Abraham Maimonides, is from 1226 and the record says, “We the undersigned members of the court, assembled in a court session in Fustat on Tuesday” – the dating systems are crazy – “1226 CE. Abu Sa’id Aleve, son of the elder Abu Maran Aleve, the merchant known as Dejanji, testified to us that Abu Fudul al-Moughard al-Schyendendy known as Ibn Something, died in Kala in the lands of of something-or-other.” So we know that that’s actually Malaysia “He checked and certified this one, he went to el Malabar, which is the Malabar Coast in India, and when he deposited his testimony in our presence We wrote it down for it to be a title of right and proof.” Okay, so basically a Jew dies in the Eastern Indian Ocean in 1226 Is this significant? So it turns out he’s not the only one. So this is the port of Funsour, which is where a lot of camphor came out of in this period and this is also a document to do with Abraham Maimonides from a few years earlier. So the question here has to do with what happened to the wives of these India traders who were left behind, if they disappeared, right? There’s a problem in Jewish law: if you don’t have a proper divorce document, you can’t remarry, meaning if your husband disappears, you–– and there’s no proof of his death and he hasn’t left you conditional divorce documents, then you can never remarry. So a man traveled to the lands of India and he spent 15 years there. Not a single letter has arrived from him. His wife works, eats, and provides for two children. He has a mother and when he went to India, we think he also left her behind. “A Jewish man was sent from Aden to close a deal. I met him and asked him to tell me the news regarding the man who was missing”– presumably. “He told me, we heard in Aden from those docked in the bay that he died in Funsour, at which point the government there took his possessions Instruct us, our teacher, is this testimony sufficient to permit the wife’s remarriage?” And alas the answer is no, in fact, that this counts as hearsay, it doesn’t count as a properly witnessed fact and therefore she can’t remarry. So this is a text that Goitein discovered half of it. He discovered the right half and he published it with a speculative reconstruction of what the left half might have said, which when the left half was later located, turned out to be like 80 percent correct which was kind of mind-blowing I had an undergraduate student who worked on on these two documents last year who pointed out to me that actually, when you look at the way Jewish law was shaped, you have to remember that it’s not just the rabbis who are shaping it It’s also the wives of the husbands who are missing like thousands and thousands of kilometers away. You have to have a much, much, kind of, bigger vision of what the Jewish community is, than just the organized Jewish community that you can actually see through the documents that we know best. So this was kind of like, I was listening to him give a presentation on class and I said, “I gotta totally revise my my vision here.” Okay, so that’s just to give you a sense of how this has all changed, and to give you a sense, as well as of the geographic breadth, but there’s also quite a bit of depth. There is depth on the daily lives of congregations and congregants. We know from Eve Krakowski’s book– I understand she spoke here a couple of years ago– there was more divorce, more extramarital sex, more quasi-independent women, less literacy, less piety, more internecine strife, which– of course– I love. I love to write about, you know, Jews who fight with other Jews. Krakowski also points out that there’s only a minority of children who are likely to live with a single set of adults in a single household over their lifetimes. So very flexible living arrangements, and if you look at archaeological excavations from medieval Cairo, you can actually see how this works because there’s not a lot of mobile furniture. The seating arrangements are built into the walls People didn’t have a lot of stuff, and people had extended families to whom they passed back and forth on a regular basis. The implications of that for the transmission of Jewish tradition in an age when Judaism was learned not from books, but mimetically, from imitating the grown-ups around you, are also momentous. Krakowski explores the idea of lived customs versus technical, legal norms. What she means by that is that on the one hand, when you look at how Jews

were actually living, it’s very similar to how Muslims were practicing marriage and divorce arrangements. At the same time, the rabbinic technical norms were very different from Islamic law, so how are they squaring these two? And that’s what her book is about. So that’s just one area of depth that’s opened up recently is gender and the family. There’s quite a bit more Arabic script than we realized, including Jews who are having their cases against other Jews tried in ecology courts, and there’s a lot more takeout food than I would have anticipated. So just as Cairo today is, like, the global center of take-out food, so too in the Middle Ages. It was much, much more likely that you were getting your food hot from the market in a food carrier than cooking it at home, because the last place you wanted a fire was in your house. This is a strange little text. It seems to be some kind of a shopping list with a number of foods including, at the end, a fat hen– again, you can’t make this stuff up– and what’s written on the other side is a section from the Babylonian Talmud to do with the kosher slaughtering of animals. So you can try to reconstruct for yourself where this little slip of paper might have come from, you know, somebody’s basket in the marketplace or perhaps a meat stall or something like that. This was, you know, I don’t know, the guy who was overseeing the butchery dropped it or something like that And finally, there’s quite a bit more magic than we realized So this is a set of amulets against scorpions, hence the drawings of scorpions that the amulet writer wrote in multiple, and apparently he only managed to sell just a few of his amulets, and the rest of them survived together. But these would have been cut apart into pieces and kept rolled up in an amulet holder around the neck. So all of this has kind of emerged in the last two or three years, and this is typical of the way research goes in this field. It proceeds slowly and pointillistically. You get a kind of pinprick of light here, a pinprick of light there, and until you can actually make a connection between them, sometimes it takes a long time. On top of that, the manuscripts are fragmentary. They’re housed in 60 collections on four continents, and the skills needed to make sense of them are specialized. But that said, digital technology has changed everything. So we had this kind of illusion in the humanities that we’re, like, in our monks cells working in solitude, but the possibilities of collaboration that digital technologies have opened up, I think, have forced us to admit that in fact what we do is much more similar to what the scientists do when they work in labs together It’s also enabled us to go back to images constantly, and to be looking at the texts. I wrote my entire dissertation based on printed texts, based on Geniza text that had been edited by somebody else, meaning printed text without looking at the originals. That’s unthinkable today. You learn so much just by looking at the text. And what that means, the corollary of that, is that our eyes have improved. We actually see more on these texts than we were seeing a generation ago. I don’t think that’s entirely because we’re looking at more Geniza fragments, I think that might also be because of Instagram, but if it’s a good thing, that’s fine. Okay, so that’s the, kind of, the Jewish history side. More briefly, I want to give you a glimpse of what’s changed in Middle Eastern history, and then I’ll bring it all home. So for the medieval Middle East, if all we had to go on were the Hebrew texts of the Cairo Geniza, we would actually have a surprising amount of information about Christians and Muslims. But that information would be skewed in one significant respect. It would be about Christians and Jews– sorry, Christians and Muslims as seen by Jews, by their trade partners, by their neighbors, by their patrons and clients Fortunately, there are Arabic scripts aplenty, Arabic script texts aplenty, but these have received much, much less attention than the Hebrew script texts have. Their legal deeds, and not just scattered legal deeds, but hundreds of them. They’re not easy to read, but luckily, being legal deeds, in many cases they’re formulaic so you can get the hang of it pretty quickly. There are trade letters, in which case we have no way of knowing whether their authors are Jews, Christians, or Muslims because Jews also wrote trade letters in Arabic script, and there are literary works aplenty in which case, as well, we have no idea what the religion of the scribe would have been, not even if the text is the Quran because we have lots of evidence that Jews and Christians copied the Quran on a regular basis. The material text can also teach us something. So this is a fragment of the Epistle of the so-called Brethren of Purity, the Ikhwan Al-Ṣafa, which is a work written in southern Iraq in the 10th

century in many, many volumes. It’s a fascinating, kind of, almnapedia by a group of thinkers who were absolutely committed to classical ideals, Pythagorean ideals in geometry, in music, and in calligraphy. And they were responsible for revolution in Arabic script, I have like a whole chapter on this in my book because I found this so fascinating. And this is a copy of their epistle on music written in precisely the script that they actually prescribed writing in. So this is like a typical, second half of the 10th century southern Iraqi script and it survived in the Geniza So was this very fragment the vehicle for the transmission of the Ikhwan Al-Ṣafa from Iraq to Egypt? We don’t know, but it’s only by actually understanding the material text that we can begin to piece bigger stories together. Then we have texts that were reused by Jews. So let me just back up one step. If the Geniza was a repository for war in Hebrew script text, why did non-Hebrew script text survive in the Geniza? So I’m not going to give you every possible answer to that question, because that would take me 643 pages, but I will say that in some cases, these texts survived in the Geniza simply because they were reused by Jews In other cases, Jews would have read them or used them as literary models. So why is this so fascinating to me? Because here we get into the territory of Arjun Appadurai, The Social Life of Things, the most influential introduction ever written to an edited volume. The argument of which is that we can learn a lot about an object by tracing not just its production, but also its circulation and exchange. And on that level, there was one class of document that really intrigued me, which was documents that were produced by state officials, because these were documents that changed hands And I thought that if I tried to trace all the hands through which these documents passed, I could learn not only about the Fatimid state, but also about how people related to the Fatimid state. So there are decrees. These are Ottoman state decrees that have been reused for Hebrew script texts, all of these come from the 1130s. There are many, many, many decree fragments. Most of the tree fragments that I found were actually sliced in half vertically before they were then sent out, presumably onto the used paper market, which is how Jews got their hands on them. But there were many other pathways by which Jews could get their hands on government documents. These are simply the most recognizable because they had these gigantic calligraphic lines with enormous line spacing. My colleague Tamara Lafy refers to this as “the sovereign privilege of waste,” like we’re the caliphs, we can write as large as we want to. There are petitions. Again, so many that it would be possible to write a whole book just about the petition and response procedure based on Geniza documents. Their fiscal receipt, these are my beloved tax receipts. They’re really, really hard to read. If you are fluent in Arabic and you want, like, a real challenge, try your hand at one of these. Again, luckily, they mostly say the same thing, so if it can read one, you can read mostly all of them. And then there are state memoranda. So in this case, we have a memorandum in five different hands. The bottom section had been published by S. M Stern and Geoffrey Khan before me. They didn’t realize that there were another two, actually now three, fragments that connected with these, so they didn’t–– they weren’t able to see that these were multiple hands. But if you think about the fact that there were five state officials writing on a single piece of paper, you immediately get a sense of the complex procedures that the government was developing as a kind of administrative habit. So the quotation that I brought to you from Michael Chamberlain about how there were no documents and these were autocratic decisions, you look at the documents themselves and you understand no, there was a bureaucracy, there were procedures, and there were, kind of, predictable habits of documentation. It wasn’t just the Middle East historians that I had to contend with when I wanted to talk about the state documents, it was also the Geniza historians themselves. So Goitein had kind of left the state out of his purview. One of the things he said about the Fatimids is that they excelled in laissez-faire. And he went on to say, “out of indolence, it seems, rather than conviction.” So I’ve just shown you a lot of documentation that, to my mind, does not really smack of indolence. The far-reaching degree of autonomy enjoyed by the Jews and, of course, the Christians during their rule has a very simple explanation. Their Muslim subjects, too,

were left mostly to their own devices. So this was kind of the image of the state in Geniza studies, because basically nobody had actually looked at the documentation that the state had produced. Now, Goitein thought that –– hat the Fatimid state was weak, and he wasn’t wrong about that The Fatimind state was weak compared to modern states, but all pre-industrial states were weak compared to modern states. If you’d like to be disabused about what states were and weren’t in the pre-modern period, this is the book to read: Patricia Crone’s Pre-Industrial Societies, and if you don’t feel like reading a whole book, just look at this chart Consider the demographics. This is global population. So the population of the world in the period that I study was roughly the population of the U.S. today, possibly the US and Canada, or to put it another way, it was equivalent to the current population of Egypt and Brazil combined, right? That’s the whole planet Earth. So manpower is thin on the ground, and that’s going to yield a very different kind of state administration than what we might unconsciously have in our minds based on 20th and 21st century states. But just because states were weak doesn’t mean that they were non-existent or that they didn’t rely on documentation, let alone in a region that had invented, pretty much simultaneously, both statecraft and writing. There was one other reason why all of the state documentation had been ignored, and that was that it’s not very easy to read. So in the 1906 Bodleian Catalogue of the Geniza manuscripts, every time there was a Fatimid state document, it was catalogued the same way: scribbling in Arabic characters. Okay, so you might say well this is 1906, we know better now. It turns out we don’t know better now, the Bodleian online catalogue still has this catalogued as illegible, when in fact it’s a Fatimid fiscal document with some pretty fancy titles from about 1034. The UPenn Geniza Collection catalogues this as scribbling in Arabic characters. It’s just hilarious to me how the word scribbling keeps coming back. It’s true that these scribes didn’t like to lift the pen, but they were writing for each other, not for us Okay, so there’s a state with complex—— a complex system of documentation. Little did I know when I set out to understand the state documentation, the Geniza, that there was enough material to try to reconstruct the state on its own terms, both as the Jews might have seen it and as they never could have seen it. So to kind of, like, put that into a nutshell, I have a colleague who finished her PhD at Princeton three years ago who is now in Vienna, who wrote on the Roman archiving system in Egypt based on papyri, and she—— the Romans were like these totally ambitious archivists, where they wanted everything in triplicate, and she has this fantastic papyrus that she quotes where the archivist comes into the Arsinoite nome in the year one-something- or-other and sees this huge heap of papyri with like mice nibbling away at it and says, “Oh my God, what am I gonna do with this? Like, I just inherited a total mess,” and writes to his superiors and says, you know, “This is the current state of the archive, what would you like us to do?” The Fatimid seem to have taken a different approach. They did not want everything in triplicate. They wanted everything in one copy in the central archives in Cairo, and the rest they simply jettisoned. So there was a constant pruning going on, which any archivist will tell you is necessary to archiving. If archives are there not just to store, but also to allow you to retrieve what you’re looking for, they need to be organized, and to be organized, they need to be pruned, and it’s to the pruning that we owe this kind of inverted mirror of the Fatimid archive that I have been digging up from the Geniza. Okay, last point, so how exceptional is all this? Is the Geniza simply a one-off and we’ll never be able to do anything like this again? It turns out that it’s not. There are actually other Genizas from the medieval Middle East, even if they’re not called that. In Damascus, in the Umayyad Mosque, a structure in the courtyard called various things, but called among other things the Qubbat al-Khazna, the “Dome of the Treasury,” preserved about 200,000 fragments of texts in an array of languages that are suspiciously parallel to what you find in the Geniza So Arabic, Syriac, Aramaic, Hebrew, as well as Greek, Latin, Coptic, and old French because after all, there was a crusade going on. So these are 200,000 medieval texts, almost all of which are in Istanbul now, and hardly any of which have been published. Another Umayyad Mosque, the Great Mosque of Sanaa, Yemen preserved, kind of, immured between the ceiling and the roof of the building The oldest Quran manuscripts that we have, and they were simply sitting there, and it wasn’t until the building was reconstructed in the 1970s that these

were discovered. So this is the manuscript called known as Sanaa one Benham Sadeghi, who was here at UCLA, worked on this because the palimpsest, so the upper text is Quran and the lower text is also Quran, and the lower text dates to before 669 C.E., so it’s the earliest evidence of the Quran that we have in physical form So both the Damascus and the Sanaa caches raise the possibility that Muslims accorded similar treatment to warn sacred texts as Jews did, i.e., don’t destroy it, but also protect it from future destruction, so there’s a kind of sacred limbo, and their current theme of having this in immured, whether it’s between the ceiling and the roof or between walls is a fascinating one. So as Mark Cohen argued in an article about 15 years ago, the custom of Geniza was not exclusively a Jewish one, and I agree with him that it was a kind of region-wide custom that wasn’t necessarily due to any Jewish taboo or prohibition on destroying Hebrew script I think there was a much wider prohibition on destroying text. But not only that, it’s a custom that actually reaches well beyond the Middle East. This is a map of the Taklamakan desert and the so-called silk routes, and I don’t if you can see from where you’re sitting, but there are these tiny yellow boxes Each of those yellow boxes is a Geniza So, like, we have our lovely Cairo Geniza, they have for 40 Genizas, and there, too, the practices are suspiciously parallel. So here at the eastern end of the silk routes in Dunhuang, there’s a story that, just like the story of the Geniza, begins around 1900, when a Daoist monk named Wang Yuan Liu fled violence in his home region, and came to the isolated town of Dunhuang, and I just want to give a shout out to my colleague Shen Wen, who— this is a story that’s been told many times in Chinese and not many times in English, and Shen Wen tells it particularly well in his—— in his book in progress, so I’m indebted to him for some of this information. So Wang appointed himself the caretaker of a series of caves known as the “Grottoes of Unparalleled Height,” Mogao ku, which has Buddhist statues and murals dating from the 4th to the 14th century, so exactly a parallel time period to what we’re talking about. So one night in 900—— in 1900, sorry, the story goes, this Daoist monk saw a flickering of light in one of the cave walls, so he started just kind of digging at it, and eventually he tunneled through, and what he found was a small hidden chamber, about three meters by five meters, that had been sealed in the early 11th century and lay undisturbed for nearly 900 years It contains 60,000 manuscripts, most of them were Buddhist texts, plus around 3000 documentary sources, about 5% of the total. The languages that he found there— there was a staggering array of languages, some of which have not yet been deciphered, Indo-European languages galore, Turkic, Mongolian, and Sino-Tibetan languages, as well as some Syriac and Hebrew. What ensues should sound familiar to those of us who know about the Geniza Manuscript hunters made piecemeal acquisitions, eventually the collection was dispersed. It’s now housed at the British Library, the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, and the National Library of China in Beijing, with smaller collections in Saint Petersburg, Osaka, Taipei, and Princeton. So this is a kind of sacred limbo that’s remarkably parallel to the other caches that I showed you. Not only that, you have evidence for the reuse of state documents for religious text. So this is a decree from the ruler of Dunhuang, giving permission for the ten-year-old daughter of an official to enter a monastery. The date seems to be in the early 10th century, and you can see the imprints from the ruler’s seal in red there, and the back contains a Buddhist text, a dharani, which is like the essence of a Sutra that’s generally used for meditative or prayer purposes. Likewise, the state documents that I saw, almost all of them are reused for Jewish liturgical texts. Okay, so what does it all mean? What can this wider array of sacrosanct waste bins, a phrase I’ve stolen from Amitav Ghosh, tell us that we didn’t know before? First of all, written objects and cultures of the handmaid. Was it the sanctity of the texts that led to their preservation and limbo, or a more generalized, pre-modern reluctance to discard anything? Why are we surprised in the face of medieval people’s habitual repurposing, so that we feel that we have to explain it as an act of piety? This was a culture of the handmaid, in which everything was reused, in which things fashioned by human hands, including texts, were never casually destroyed, but from hand to hand and from use to use. An average person owned very few garments

over a lifetime, and when the cloth could no longer be repaired, it was transformed into paper. And when that was written on—— when what was written on the paper no longer mattered, you wrote something else on it. And when you could no longer write anything else on, it went into the limbo of a Geniza. So what happens when we consider Asia as a continent not of static disconnected and mostly defunct civilizations, but of medieval documents, travelers, and traders, of the circulation of written artifacts? Their survival at the seams between the desert and the sown, and of the view that those documents can give us of extraordinary human mobility in pursuit of knowledge, of stable employment, a profit, and of prestige. Of the capacity of human beings to solve logistical problems before the Industrial Age, we should take all these lessons seriously, because if there’s one thing the Cairo Geniza has taught us, it’s that medieval Jews were not so very different from the Muslims, Christians, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, and Hindus, among whom they lived and worked. A Jewish householder from Jerusalem thought nothing of travelling to Baghdad to study with a revered scholar. A trader from Tripoli in Libya undertook journeys to Aden despite the terror of nailless boats. A Hebrew poet from Cordoba received commissions from patrons in Cairo and Caida Wan, and a Jew’s disappearance in Sumatra or Malaysia, and his wife’s need for clarity occasioned the testimony of traders in Aden and the writing of rabbinic responsa in Cairo. It’s not so different from the world we see in the Tarim Basin finds, but they haven’t yet been connected with the Geniza finds mostly because the linguistic complexities—— the linguistic complexities of the medieval imperial world, which make outsized demands on our modern, nationalist brains, impoverished by a lack of polyglotism Connecting these disparate worlds can shed light not just on Jewish history, but on global history more broadly— it’s just a question of digging through the documents. Thank you