For centuries, historians have sought to uncover hidden secrets from the ancient world. One of the most significant discoveries was made a century ago by a scholar from Cambridge University in the UK. He discovered a fascinating collection of ancient manuscripts in a 1000-year-old synagogue in Egypt, which had been hidden for centuries in a Genizah, the Hebrew term for storeroom. These manuscripts contain poetry ranging from classic works to previously unknown writings by Egyptian Jews during the Middle Ages and the Ottoman era.
Most importantly, the manuscripts reveal that the Jewish community enjoyed reading poetry in their sacred language Hebrew, as well as in Arabic. The European Research Council-funded project, ‘Arabic Poetry in the Cairo Genizah’, is conducting workshops in Dubai and Abu Dhabi to bring this collection of epic poetry to the public’s attention and highlight its impact on the study of the history of Arabic literature.
The project, based at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, has collaborated with the University of Cambridge’s Genizah Research Unit and the Al Maktoum College of Higher Education, Dundee, Scotland, to bring a rare selection of manuscript facsimiles for display in the Emirates. The exhibit is being held at New York University-Abu Dhabi until March 26, with the possibility of the project returning to Sharjah in the future.
Mirza Al Sayegh, chairman of the Al Maktoum College of Higher Education, created by the late Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, former Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance, said, “The important thing about these manuscripts is that it shows that there was always a dialogue taking place between Jews and Muslims, and that they respected each other.”
The workshops are an opportunity to showcase the manuscripts’ unique content, which offers insight into medieval life in Egypt and the wider Middle East. The manuscripts reveal how the Jewish community in Egypt was engaged in the cultural and social life of the country, participating in literary and artistic activities alongside their Muslim neighbors.
The Arabic Poetry in the Cairo Genizah project has been underway since 2013 and aims to uncover and catalogue the literary treasures held in the Cairo Genizah, the largest collection of Jewish manuscripts ever discovered. The Genizah is a repository of over 300,000 Jewish manuscripts and fragments, discovered in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo, Egypt. The manuscripts were stored in a space in the synagogue, which had been used as a genizah, or repository, for over 1,000 years.
The project aims to bring a greater understanding of the rich cultural history of the Middle East by examining the writings of the Jewish community living in medieval Egypt. The manuscripts cover a wide range of subjects, including poetry, theology, law, and literature.
The exhibition is an opportunity to view these manuscripts and appreciate their historical significance. The manuscripts offer a unique insight into the cultural life of Egypt and the Middle East during the medieval period and demonstrate the richness and diversity of the region’s literary and artistic traditions.