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Ancient Jewish Scrolls Discovered in Afghanistan

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Most Significant Find Since Cairo Geniza, Say Experts
Jewish scrolls were found in Northern Afghanistan recently that may shed light on heretofore unknown facts about Jewish social and economic history in the Middle Ages.  This discovery, if verified, could be the most important in Jewish scholarship in over a century.  Approximately 150 documents were discovered and smuggled out of the Afghanistan, and are now in the hands of private dealers.

These documents are believed to be from the 11th century and reveal a bounty of information about the lives of Jewish people who lived in the region.  Scholars believe that the scrolls were written by merchants on the Silk Road, which runs through central Asia.  “They might have been left there by merchants traveling along the way, but they could also come from another nearby area and deposited for a reason we do not yet understand,” T. Michael Law, a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at Oxford University’s Center for Hebrew and Judaic Studies said to Reuters.  The scrolls were found in Afghanistan’s Samangan province.

The scrolls are currently being held in London by private antiquities dealers who have been slowly leaking these documents over the last two years.  Smuggling of ancient valuables out of Afghanistan has become an epidemic as valuable discoveries from antiquity are taken elsewhere during the constant military conflicts in the war-torn nation. These particular scrolls are believed to have been found in a geniza, a place where Jewish texts are buried, and were written in Arabic, Judeo-Arabic and ancient Persian.  Very little is currently known about the culture of the Jewish people in this area.

The last discovery of this importance towards the study of Jewish culture was the Cairo Geniza, in which nearly 300,000 documents were discovered, revealing over a thousand years of history.  The existence of that geniza was first reported in 1752, but its importance was not realized until 1896.

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