First, a review in Tablet Magazine:
Pieced TogetherNah, that's how it is all the time for philologists.
The Cairo Geniza did more than cast light on Judaism’s literary heritage; it helped us recognize that history’s raw materials can be anything from illuminated manuscripts to bits of junk
By Jenna Weissman Joselit | May 27, 2011 7:00 AM | Print | Email | tweetShare17
Chance encounters on street corners. Secret trips abroad. Whispered hints of buried treasure. To those of us steeped in the writings of John le Carré and Alan Furst, all this smacks of business as usual within the world of espionage. But, as Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole’s new book, Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, reveals, such goings-on were once as much the province of scholars as spies. In the telling of how, against all odds, a “pestiferous wrack” of papers, as one Cambridge professor put it, became one of the most important finds of the late 19th- and early 20th century, Sacred Trash transforms life within the dusty, dry, and often desiccated groves of academe into something akin to a giant romp, a thrilling adventure yarn—hijinks among the highbrow.
Second, a review by Anthony Julius in the NYT. Excerpt:
It is perhaps the chief appeal of Hoffman and Cole’s book that it restores to life the mostly obscure and unnoticed scholars whose careers were touched by the geniza or who committed themselves to its study. Chief in interest among them must be the extraordinary Solomon Schechter (circa 1847-1915). Romanian and Hasidic by origin, Yeshiva- and then university-trained, a vigorous critic of what he regarded as the anti-Jewish bias of the German Protestant higher criticism (which questioned the dating of several books in the Hebrew Bible), he was a Cambridge don before leaving for the United States, but throughout his life, a charismatic, brilliant man of wide culture and eccentric manner. He became the president of the Jewish Theological Seminary, and is best known today as the man after whom the Conservative movement’s network of day schools is named. He immediately grasped the significance of the geniza materials, which had been shown to him in 1896 by Cambridge acquaintances — two elderly widows of scholarly bent, also wonderfully revived by Hoffman and Cole. Schechter alone was responsible for rescuing some 190,000 fragments. The collection came to dominate his life, taking him away from other scholarly projects. One of his colleagues remarked, “It makes me unutterably sad when I see your unique powers not turned to noble account.”Third, a nice video interview of the two authors, also from Tablet:
For earlier reviews, go here. Note also, the other, similarly titled, recent popular book on the same subject: Sacred Treasure: The Cairo Genizah, by Mark Glickman.
Those "Syriac-wielding" "elderly widows of scholarly bent," Agnes Lewis and Margaret Gibson, were recently the subject of their own biography, The Sisters of Sinai by Janet Soskice, noted here and follow the links. They were the discoverers of the Gospels manuscript Codex Syriacus at St. Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai.