“The Genizah: An unexploited source for the intellectual history of the medieval world of Islam”, 9-14 sept. 2012, Berlin

The rich holdings of the various Geniza materials, that have been discovered and retrieved towards the end of the second half of the 19th century in Old Cairo (Fusṭāṭ) by a number of scholars and manuscript collectors, have revolutionized Jewish Studies throughout the 20th century in that it has deepened our understanding of the economic, social, political, and intellectual life of the Jews in the medieval world of Islam. For the fields of social and economic history, mention should be made in particular of S.D. Goitein’s classic, A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the World as Portrayer in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza (1967-88), a monumental study of the “documentary” Geniza (consisting of business letters, communal letters, and personal letters, court records, lists of recipients of charity and of gifts for charitable purposes, marriage contracts, deeds of divorce, wills, as well as business accounts). His work has been continued by a number of his students as well as their students.[1][1] The Geniza materials have also significantly advanced the study of Jewish intellectual history. Special attention has been paid over the decades to the Biblical materials (particularly Jewish translations of the Pentateuch into Arabic), exegetical literature, liturgical poetry,[2][2] as well as (more recently) philosophy and rational theology.[3][3] However, in addition to the specifically Jewish materials, the Geniza also comprises countless documents and literary texts that are of immediate relevance to students of Islamic Studies. The documentary Geniza that had been the primary source for Goitein’s studies on Jewish social history is likewise a rich source for Muslim social and economic history. Perhaps even more importantly, the Geniza holds a vast amount of copies of Muslim texts in the rational sciences (philosophy, rational theology, legal methodology, astronomy, medicine) as well as in mysticism and the occult (magical texts, astrology and alchemy) that had been transcribed by Jewish scribes and scholars, many of which are nowadays inextant in the Islamic world. In the field of Islamic rational theology, for example, one of the most spectacular recent findings of the last years are three extensive fragments of the opus magnum of the founder of the last innovative school of Mutazilism Abu l-Ḥusayn al-Baṣrī (d. 1044), Kitāb Taṣaffuḥ al-adilla, which was believed to be completely lost,[4][4] as well as fragments of two refutations of the doctrine of Abu l-Husayn, authored by his contemporary, the Karaite Yūsuf al-Baṣīr.[5][5] In the field of philosophy, there is the famous case of the “Theology of Aristotle” the original text of which is preserved exclusively in the Geniza.[6][6]

However, despite the evident significance of the Geniza materials for Islamic Studies, Islamicists until today only reluctantly admit its importance and often ignore its materials.  Its incorporation into the regular curriculum of Islamicists sources is thus a slow process.  The purpose of this School is to introduce students of Islamic Studies to the immense riches of the Geniza, to demonstrate its relevance and potential through a number of case studies and to enable them to work with the Geniza materials on their own. Special emphasis will be laid on technical and methodological issues related to the material.


[1][1] See the overview provided by Mark R. Cohen, “Geniza for Islamicists, Islamic Geniza and the ‘New Cairo Geniza’,” Harvard Middle Eastern and Islamic Review 7 (2006), pp. 129-145.

[2][2] Under the auspices of The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, all fragments of poetry and piyutim from the Cairo Geniza are being catalogued (“Prof. E. Fleischer Piyutim (Liturgical Poetry) of the Cairo Genizah Project”).

[3][3] The systematic inventarisation of all Geniza fragments around the world is the goal of The Friedberg Genizah Project; see http://www.genizah.org/ – See also Shulamit Reif, The Cambridge Genizah collections: Their contents and significance, Cambridge 2002.

[4][4] Abu l-Ḥusayn al-Baṣrī: Taṣaffuḥ al-adilla. The extants parts introduced and edited by Wilferd Madelung and Sabine Schmidtke, Wiesbaden 2006.

[5][5] Wilferd Madelung and Sabine Schmidtke, “Yūsuf al-Baṣīr’s First Refutation (Naqḍ) of Abu l-Ḥusayn al-Baṣrī’s Theology,” A Common Rationality. Muʿtazilism in Islam and Judaism, eds. C. Adang, S. Schmidtke, D. Sklare, Würzburg 2007, pp. 229-296.

[6][6] Paul B. Fenton, “The Arabic and Hebrew Versions of the Theology of Aristotle,” Pseudo-Aristotle in the Middle Ages, eds. J. Kraye and C. Schmitt, London 1986, pp. 240-263.



Prof. Sabine Schmidtke (Freie Universität Berlin)

Prof. Reuven Amitai (The Hebrew University)

Coordinator: Jan Thiele


Infos: http://www.geschkult.fu-berlin.de/e/islamwiss/Summerschool_Schmidtke/2012/2012_Summer_School_Poster.pdf


Agrégée d'Espagnol et docteur en Histoire médiévale à l'Université de Nantes, elle travaille sur les mudéjars/morisques et la littérature aljamiada (Espagne, XV-XVIe s.).

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