Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Reconstructing a Cairo Geniza manuscript

GENIZA FRAGMENT OF THE MONTH (DECEMBER 2016): The Long Art: T-S AS 144.331 (Katelyn Mesler).
“Life is short, the art is long.” So begins one of the foundational texts of Greek medicine, the Aphorisms of Hippocrates. The ‘art’ of which Hippocrates wrote was the knowledge and skill to be acquired by physicians, but the sentiment has been expressed in other contexts, not least of which is R. Tarfon’s saying, “The day is short, the work is great” (mAvot 2:15). Faced with hundreds of thousands of textual fragments, far too many still unidentified, researchers of the Cairo Genizah might sometimes feel the same. But the increasing number of catalogs, digitization of fragments, and other electronic sources are helping make the research more productive than ever, even for a newcomer to the field such as myself. And so, I’d like to share with you a story about T-S AS 144.331.

The shelfmark in question is actually a collection of 82 small fragments from numerous different sources, some in Hebrew, some in Arabic, and some with little or no legible text.

This commentary by Maimonides on a Hebrew translation of Hippocrates is not of direct interest to PaleoJudaica (although I do touch on Maimonides from time to time). But the process of the reconstruction of the manuscript from tiny fragments using new technologies is of much wider potential application and interest. It may, for example, prove useful for the Dead Sea Scrolls, of which many thousands of tiny fragments still remain unidentified. Cross-file under Technology Watch.

Past posts noting Cairo Geniza Fragments of the Month in the Cambridge University Library's Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit are here and links.