Maimonides autographs linked
It is fitting that the Genizah Research Unit should mark the 800th anniversary of the death of Moses Maimonides (1135 or 1138-1204) not only with an exhibition in the Library celebrating his life and work, but also by the discovery of a new folio in the great man's own hand.
I had the good fortune to identify a previously unknown autograph fragment of his philosophical work, Dalalat al-Ha`irin (The Guide for the Perplexed), while preparing a handlist of Hebrew letters in the Genizah collections at Cambridge University Library, in a piece of research funded partly by the Friedberg Genizah Project.
The new fragment was discovered late on a Friday afternoon while I was examining the contents of the binder Or.1081.2.
This contains a varied selection of liturgy and late documents that derive originally from the Cairo Genizah but were bought from the bookseller S. Raffalovich at around the time of Solomon Schechter's famous visit to Egypt in 1896-97.
The autograph fragment Or.1081.2.44 - of which only the top two-thirds of the leaf is preserved - is torn and stained, making the text difficult to read in places. This is probably why it has remained unnoticed by scholars until now.
There have been five previous discoveries of autograph fragments of the Guide in Genizah manuscript collections, the last being made over ten years ago. All are written in the difficult, cursive hand that Maimonides employed in his draft works, and it is likely that all stem from the same draft copy of the Guide.
The new find is no exception, being written in Maimonides's unmistakeable (and, at times, barely legible) cursive hand, and on the same type of paper.
The text is from the Guide II.30 and deals with the Genesis story, in particular the creation of Eve and the history of the serpent. There are corrections, deletions and marginal additions, which result in frequent differences from the published edition.
Exciting as the initial find was, it was even more gratifying to learn that it could be linked to a previous discovery.
In 1982, Simon Hopkins (formerly of the Genizah Research Unit at Cambridge University Library) found two small autograph fragments of the Guide in the Gaster Collection of the John Rylands University Library, Manchester - Rylands Gaster B2597 and B4094 - which he fitted together to form the lower third of a single leaf.
When I saw a photograph of them, it was immediately clear to me that this was the missing part of the new Cambridge leaf. The Rylands kindly provided us with a digital image of the two Gaster fragments which Ellis Weinberger, of the Genizah Unit, and Scott Maloney, of our Imaging Services, then combined with an image of Or.1081.2.44.
The result was a complete leaf of Maimonides's draft of the Guide, re-formed from three separate fragments, divided between two university libraries.
My colleague in the Unit, Dr Friedrich Niessen, and I have completed an article on the new autograph, with a transcription, notes and plates, which is scheduled to appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Jewish Studies.
Given that, after over 100 years of Genizah research, new Maimonidean autographs are still being discovered in the Cambridge Genizah collections, we are hopeful that yet more remain to be found.
Leigh Chipman describes how her work with Dr Efraim Lev on medical and pharmaceutical fragments led to a more precise identification of another Maimonides autograph.
A wonderful experience
When, during his year in the Genizah Research Unit, Dr Efraim Lev asked me [Leigh Chipman] if I would like to work with him on a project to identify fragments of medical and pharmaceutical works from the Cairo Genizah, I was thrilled.
What student of the medieval Islamic world would fail to jump at such a chance, particularly one such as I, currently engaged on writing a dissertation on the social history of medieval Egyptian pharmacy?
Our starting point was from the many Genizah fragments identified by the late Dr Haskell Isaacs as pertaining to medicine and pharmacy.
After Dr Lev divided these into prescriptions, personal notebooks and books proper, I began to work on the identification of the last-mentioned category.
''Identification'' in this context refers to two things: first, the identification of a fragment as belonging to a copy of a particular work; and second, the identification of a number of fragments (classmarks) as constituting parts of the same original manuscript.
With the kind co-operation of Dr Nikolaj Serikoff, of the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine, London, we have been able to make use of a database of chapter-headings found in all the Arabic medical manuscripts in the Wellcome Library collection.
This has made possible the identification of several fragments as belonging to copies of Ibn al-Jazzar's Kitab al-I`timad fi al-adwiya al-mufrada (a book that does appear in several book-lists found in the Genizah, but not identified by Isaacs), and of Ibn al-Nafis's Mujiz al-qanun.
The most efficient database of all, of course, is that carried in the researcher's head. I have been fortunate enough to identify several separate manuscripts, in both Arabic and Judaeo-Arabic, of the two pharmaceutical works that I am most familiar with: Ibn Abu al-Bayan's al-Dustur al-bimaristani (eleven copies), and Abu al-Muna al-Kuhin al-`Attar's Minhaj al-dukkan (five).
These works - the first intended for the hospital pharmacist, and the other aimed at the private pharmacist in his shop - are both known to have been extremely popular, and both were written by Cairene Jews. Until now, neither has been identified in the Genizah collections.
The most exciting finds, however, were an autograph fragment of Maimonides's epitome of Galen's On Affections, and a page in Judaeo-Arabic from Sabur ibn Sahl's pharmacopoeia, the oldest known dispensatory in Arabic, which survives in very few manuscripts and quotations in other works. Both are currently being prepared for publication.
The Maimonides autograph had been the subject of earlier research by S. M. Stern, Paul Fenton and H. D. Isaacs and will now be more closely studied in the context of a complete edition and translation.
As new books are identified, we are obtaining a better idea of what to look for, and are constantly returning to previously-examined fragments to check whether they are copies of a new work.
In several cases, all that remain of the original writing are the rubrics listing the names of the various recipes.
The thrill of being able to make a positive identification of a book hitherto unknown in the Genizah must be one of the most wonderful experiences academic work can provide.
Why T-S research has flourished
In an earlier article in Genizah Fragments (No. 47, April 2004), I offered my assessment of the degree to which the Genizah Research Unit has made Cambridge's great Genizah resource accessible to the world of scholarship and has succeeded in spreading knowledge about the collection.
While such achievements relate to the immediate aims of collection management, another matter now to be considered is how the Cambridge Genizah texts function within wider academic activities, both at the University of Cambridge and beyond it.
In the context of providing a library service, the Unit has developed along special lines, in the direction of multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary research on Genizah topics, and has turned what might have been a limitation into a distinct advantage.
However large a proportion of Genizah material is found in Cambridge, the fact is that such a source is only part of a collection that originated in one place, itself limited to the first few centuries of the second millennium. This invites the suggestion that there lies here the danger of a restricted dimension.
Treatment of all the Genizah material as a total entity, however, is a different matter. Given that it sheds light on daily life during those centuries and, to a lesser degree, on some subsequent centuries, it becomes a multi-disciplinary test-case that provides a wealth of information not only about Jewish life, but also about numerous aspects of the whole medieval Mediterranean experience.
This ranges from children's doodling and magical amulets to folios of draft copies personally penned by leading scholars and thinkers.
What is remarkable - although it is now becoming virtually self-evident at the end of the first generation of Genizah Unit activity - is that, despite the potential obstacles to developing a centre for academic Jewish studies in Cambridge, Genizah research has flourished, and has done so where the collection is housed, in a university library, and in a unit that might have been seen merely as part of a library service.
The reason for this lies in the appointment, as director of the Unit, of an academic researcher with administrative talent and orientation who saw as his mission not only the creation of research tools, but also the practice of research itself.
Academic research centres are assessed (and indeed today financed) in accordance with their achievements in the areas of innovation, the creation of new methodologies, the publication of books and articles in competitive contexts, and the wide dissemination of such information in the universal community of scholars.
While the Unit took its first steps with the support of an international group of senior scholars who headed their respective fields of Genizah research, it also appointed promising young men and women to full-time and part-time posts.
The tasks that faced them were, in a sense, library tasks, but the degree of expertise and competence required for a successful completion gradually ensured their training and emergence as scholars at the forefront of their fields. Almost all of those young people who occupied posts of limited tenure created in the Unit have ultimately become senior scholars.
The earliest recognition of the Unit's research direction, together with a high academic evaluation of its efforts, appears to have come from outside of Cambridge.
International scholarly societies sought to hold their academic conferences specifically in Cambridge so that they could benefit from closeness to the Genizah collection and to the Unit.
Researchers in the Unit were invited to universities that led the way in related fields and to research projects at institutes of advanced study in Europe and beyond.
Their articles were accepted for publication by the most prestigious journals, and their books appeared under the imprint of fastidious publishing-houses. And the world's finest scholars made links with the Unit and had their descriptions of Genizah material appear in the Genizah Series published by Cambridge University Press.
Gradually, the Unit was also recognized within the University of Cambridge itself, and its researchers came to participate prominently in seminars; to surpervise students for higher degrees; to engage actively in faculties and committees; and to win recognition by way of academic appointments and senior promotions.
An interesting question is whether such developments amount to a recognition of the talents of specific individuals or an appreciation of the Genizah's importance as one of the most distinguished areas of research in the humanities and social sciences.
The answer to this question lies with the relevant authorities in the University of Cambridge. The manner in which they choose to look upon this subject in the next generation may well be based on the outstanding success of the Unit as a library service and as a productive centre of academic research.
The Lauffer Family Charitable Trust has kindly followed its practice of earlier years and provided a grant to the T-S Genizah Research Unit to help meet the costs of producing this issue of Genizah Fragments. Its generous assistance comes in memory of David Lauffer, who consistently recognized the Genizah's importance for the study of Jewish history, and was a regular supporter of the T-S Unit.
From the Editor's desk
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