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Ancient Jewish Texts Found in Afghanistan to Debut Next Week

Texts found in Afghanistan genizah estimated to be 1000 years old, include writings of Rabbi Saadiah Gaon; unveiling will be next week.
By Tova Dvorin
First Publish: 12/24/2013, 1:13 AM

Ancient texts (illustrative)
Ancient texts (illustrative)
Flash90

The National Library will hold a special event next week to debut ancient texts found in an Afghanistan genizah, or storage area for old Jewish texts. The texts are estimated to be over 1000 years old and include writings from post-Talmudic Jewish leader Rabbi Saadiah Gaon.

Professor Hagai Ben-Shammai, academic director of the National Library spoke to Arutz Sheva Monday about the event, and revealed that thousands of texts were found in the genizah - some dating back to the first century CE. The National Library has managed to acquire 29 texts for archival purposes. 

Most of the texts were written in Ancient Persian or Arabic, and consist of legal and commercial documents, according to the Professor. The documents appeared to have belonged to a small group of people.

However, one notable find stands out: a commentary written in Arabic on the book of Isaiah, which is attributed to post-Talmudic Jewish leader and Rabbi Saadiah Gaon. 

The items in question were found in a cave in northern Afghanistan - and well preserved, probably due to the climate. 

In order to verify the chronology of the items, archaeologists sent microscopic portions of the texts to be carbon-dated; they also verified the dates by examining the documents themselves. The texts, interestingly, are written on paper and not on parchment; yet they have remained well-preserved for over 1000 years. 

Other documents of Rabbi Saadiah Gaon are among the finds, though the National Library has not been able to purchase everything from private traders, according to the Professor.

The texts include a debate between the Rabbi and a prominent figure of the day, who calls into question the historical and moral cohesion of the Bible. The language used throughout the debate is said to be particularly poetic. 

When asked whether or not the Library would be able to purchase all of the texts, the Rabbi expressed hopes that it would eventually - but also hinted that the price for the hundreds of documents exceeded six or seven figures. 

The discovery is the latest in a trend of texts being unearthed across the globe this year.

In 2013, the world's oldest siddur, or Jewish prayer book, was uncovered in Italy. The siddur is estimated to date back to about 840 CE.