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Friday, January 4, 2013

Hidden Documents in Afghanistan Including Saadyah Gaon's Commentaries

Nadene Goldfoot
How did the Saadyah Gaon's 1,000 year old commentary manuscripts on the Bible wind up in a remote fox's cave that was a Taliban hideout stronghold in northern Afghanistan?  These were discovered by villagers near the Iran-Uzbekistan border.  This cache, about 150 documents, the Afghan Genizah, has "rocked the world of scholars", Haaretz reported.

A Gaon was an intellectual leader of the Babylonian Jewish community in the post-talmudic period from the 6th to 11th centuries. Gaons headed 2 leading academies, Sura and Pumbedita, and their influence extended for the greater part of this period over all Jewry.   The most famous Gaon of this acadamy was Saadyah, born in Egypt, appointed in 928 CE.  When he died in 942, the academy closed for 45 years, but reopened finally with his son, Dosa in 1013-17.

The area this cave is in was once an important cultural, political and economic center in the Medieval era.  It's part of the Silk Road,"  the main trading route between China and Europe during the Middle Ages.".  "Along the way, Jewish trading stations were established for Jewish traders, and over time they became Jewish communities.  Jews from Baghdad and Allepo, of Karaite Jews and Jews from Persia all settled in the same region." said Professor Ben-Shammai of Hebrew University.

 There was a Jewish merchant class known as the Raddanites, and these documents might shed more light on them.  Jewish merchants were involved in trade between the Christian and Islamic worlds during the early Middle Ages (approx. 500–1000). Many trade routes previously established under the Roman Empire continued to function during that period largely through their efforts. Their trade network covered much of Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and parts of India and China.  They spoke Arabic, Persian, Roman, and the languages of the Franks, Andalusians, and Slavs.  There were 4 basic routes that they followed.  A major route was from Southern France to China.

A dealer in Jerusalem got a small part of the collection and offered it for sale to the National Library in Israel.  They are 1,000 year old Jewish documents. Saadyah Gaon has 29 pages, commentary on Isaiah 34, written in Judeo-Arabic. Besides the religious comments were secular papers as well.

The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia 

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