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Fatimid State Documents, Serial Recyclers and the Cairo Geniza

Fatimid State Documents, Serial Recyclers and the Cairo Geniza

Paper by Marina Rustow

Give as part of the Mellon Sawyer Sessions on April 28, 2017

Abstract: Among the many unexpected finds the Cairo Geniza has yielded are hundreds—possibly thousands—of medieval documents of state in Arabic script. Among these are decrees, rescripts, petitions, tax receipts and fiscal accounts from period of the Fatimid caliphs in Egypt and Syria (969–1171). Most of these Fatimid state documents were reused for Hebrew-script texts, hence their survival in the discarded manuscript chamber of a medieval Egyptian synagogue.

In most cases, we can only speculate on the path they took from the government offices where they were produced to the synagogue where they were preserved. Nonetheless—and perhaps paradoxically given that they did not survive in an archive—they offer glimpses of the complexity and sophistication of medieval Middle Eastern techniques of archiving and deacquisition, as well as informal scribal habits in one of the largest and best documented Jewish communities of the Middle Ages.

You can follow Marina Rustow on Twitter @mrustow

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