Begun in the mid-1980’s by Professors Mark Cohen and Avrom Udovitch of the Department of Near Eastern Studies, the goal of the Princeton Geniza Project is to create a machine-readable, full-text database of transcriptions of historical documents from the Geniza, written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, and, mostly, Judaeo-Arabic. This invaluable cache of manuscripts was discovered in the second half of the 19th century in the medieval Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo. These letters, court records, marriage and divorce contracts, business accounts, lists, and other “secular” writings, as the late S. D. Goitein and his students have shown, constitute the most important primary source for medieval Jewish social and economic life as well as for many undocumented aspects of medieval Islamic history. As of September 2012, the database contains more than 4200 documents.
The documentary Geniza contains between 10,000 and 15,000 fragments of all sizes, only a minority of which have been published, and only automated research can hope to exhaust its treasures. This is especially true since the documentary manuscripts are mostly individual and original fragments, not pages of scribed copies of known or unknown books. Moreover, the Judaeo-Arabic texts display eccentric grammatical and syntactic features differentiating it from the language of the Qur’an and other medieval classical Arabic writings. Administrative documents in Arabic script addressed to Muslim authorities, also found in the Geniza (they are usually drafts), are particularly difficult to decipher, and transcriptions are necessary, even more so than for documents written in Hebrew script, in order to release their data. As of September 2009, the database contains more than 4000 documents, and a team of scholars, current and former graduate students in the NES department, add new documents on a regular basis.
The documentary Geniza, on which the Geniza Project specializes, represents only a fraction of the total mass of fragments, which exceeds 300,000. The rest are literary texts (Biblical and rabbinic fragments, poetry, liturgical texts, responsa, philosophical and sectarian texts, and more) that are important for Jewish cultural history, and there are even fragments from Islamic books in Arabic and pages of the Qur’an in Hebrew transcription. All these manuscript remains illustrate the cultural embeddedness of the Jews in Arab-Muslim society of the high Middle Ages.
Use of the browser is free and open to the public without registration. www.princeton.edu/~geniza
Project Director: Mark R. Cohen