Sunday, December 23, 2018

Recovering the layout of lost Geniza fragments

GENIZA FRAGMENT OF THE MONTH (NOVEMBER 2018): Reconstructing folios from text editions: Lévi (1900) + T-S NS 98.18 and Bodl. MS Heb d.74.27 (Sacha Stern and Jay Birbeck).
Joining fragments is commonplace in Genizah research; less common is joining fragments with edited text.

The two folios in question, part of a larger manuscript that Sacha Stern is currently editing,[1] were torn horizontally, probably before they even left the Cairo Genizah. One of the lower fragments ended up in Cambridge, and the other in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The upper fragments have not survived, but they were seen by Israel Lévi at the great exhibition of Paris in 1900, at the stall of a merchant from Cairo. Lévi copied out the text and promptly published it, but without saying what happened to the fragments.[2] They may have remained in the hands of the merchant, or they may have been sold. Sacha Stern has searched for them in vain, in Paris and elsewhere; the assumption must be that they are lost. All that we have of them now is Lévi’s edition.
Three other sections of this codex survived in the Cairo Geniza:
These three folios, thus joined, contain the copy of a Hebrew letter that was written in 922 by someone most likely in Syria or Palestine. This can be told by his dating from the destruction of the Temple, a chronological era which was never used in Babylonia or further east. The letter concerns the controversy about the calendar and dates of the festivals that was raging, in 921/2, between Palestinian and Babylonian Rabbanite leaders (a controversy that has been known until now as ‘between Saadya and ben Meir’; but the role of Saadya was actually marginal). Although a Westerner, the author of this letter sides with the Babylonians, and reproaches his correspondent for appearing to support the Palestinians.
The subject matter of this correspondence is late for PaleoJudaica's usual interests. But this is worth a read just to follow the fascinating process of reconstructing the original layout of lost manuscript fragments using computer technology. So 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.

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