Monday, November 14, 2011

More on the Cairo Geniza & TAU

THE CAIRO GENIZA DIGITIZATION PROJECT at Tel Aviv University is covered briefly in Haaretz:
High-tech science pieces together ancient scraps of Jewish Life

Computer scientists at Tel Aviv University use artificial intelligence to gather fragments of the legendary Cairo Genizah to tell the story of 1,000 years of Jewish history and culture.

By Joel N. Shurkin Tags: Jewish World

Computer scientists at Tel Aviv University are using artificial intelligence to gather the fragments of the world’s largest collection of medieval documents, the legendary Cairo Genizah, to tell the story of 1,000 years of Jewish history and culture. They have reconstructed more than 1,000 documents from 350,000 individual items found in the Cairo storage room: more in a few months than in 110 years of conventional scholarship.

In some ways, the contents of the Cairo Genizah are more important than the Dead Sea Scrolls, several scholars believe. While the Dead Sea scrolls were the religious literature of a small sect that lived in the desert for a few years, the Cairo Genizah told the story of the day-to-day details of a millennium of Jewish life, from the mundane to the magnificent.

Wait a minute. The Dead Sea Scrolls are more important than this paragraph implies. The "small sect" may have been pretty extensive; whether or not the sect actually lived at Qumran, the library itself may have been gathered from all over Judea in advance of the war with the Romans; the scrolls were written over a period of a few centuries, not a few years; and they are a thousand years and more older than anything in the Cairo Geniza and include some of our earliest fragments of the Hebrew Bible.

In the scheme of things, inevitably the antiquity, romance, and biblical connections of the Dead Sea Scrolls bring them more attention from both scholars and the public. Objectively, it's hard to say whether they or the Cairo Geniza finds are more important. It depends on what you want to know. I'm glad we have both.

Background to this project is here and links.