Medieval Jewish manuscripts discovered in Afghanistan

4/1/12 .-

Over 150 medieval Jewish documents have been discovered in Afghanistan. The works were found, purportedly by shepherds looking for sheep, in the mountains of Samangan province, which lies along the Silk Road trade route.

The manuscripts were written in the eleventh century and written in Judeo-Arabic and Judeo-Persian. They included an unknown history of the Kingdom of Judea, passages from the Books of Isaiah and Jeremiah; hitherto unknown works by the tenth-century sage Rabbi Sa’adia Gaon; personal poems of loss and mourning and even bookkeeping records by a Jewish merchant.

Professor Shaul Shaked of the Hebrew University was quoted by the Jerusalem Post, saying “There’s no doubt that they are authentic. They correspond with similar findings from the past.”

Robert Eisenman, professor of Middle East Religions and Archaeology at California State University, believes this work may offer new insights on the Rhadanites, a group of early medieval Jewish merchants who set up an expansive trade network that connected Europe and Asia. The Rhadanites had mostly disappeared by the 11th century, but the Jewish community remained in Afghanistan until the 20th century.

“In Afghanistan and northern Pakistan they all say they are the 10 Lost Tribes of Israel and I never knew what they were talking about,” said Eisenman, who visited the country in the 1960s. “If this was part of a Jewish permanent settlement then to my mind it reinforces the mythology that the 10 Lost Tribes were in that part of the world.”

The Israeli government and Jewish businessmen have reportedly been interested in purchasing the manuscripts. Scholars also believe that similar documents about the Jewish community also exist. Professor Shaked added, “In all, in my opinion, there are about 150 fragments. It may be the tip of the iceberg.”

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