Tuesday 12 August 2014

Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza

A most exciting book: Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, by Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole. I have been dipping into it the last few days, but today I found it unstoppable. The main hero is Solomon Schechter, so far, thoroughly Jewish, aided and abetted by a variety of friends, both Jewish and non, and eventually founder of the Conservative Jewish Movement in the United States. And Sacred Trash itself is not only beautifully but even exquisitely written, beginning from the title itself. I cannot imagine a better job being done on such a potentially tiring and tiresome topic, except for enthusiasts, of course. The story of Schechter is the story of a man bitten, even literally, by a bug - or many bugs. The exciting story of his search for the original Hebrew MSS of Ben Sirach, till his time known only in its Greek and perhaps Syriac versions.

In a very small way all this vibes with our search for the missing print editions of Thomas Stephens' Khristapurana. But Ananya Chakravarti's digitization project seems to be turning out very well, though I cannot yet see any sign of the print editions, or even of hitherto unknown MSS. She has done - perhaps with the help of collaborators like Leonard Fernandes - an enormous job of contacting people and institutions, mainly in Goa. Let us hope!

And many thanks to Stephanie Saldana for Sacred Trash. And of course to Amitav Ghosh's In an Antique Land, thanks to which I first came to know about the Cairo Geniza, only to learn later in Jerusalem that the Geniza actually existed, and that it had a long and exciting story around it. 

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