An Afghan shepherd enters a wolves den perched high in the mountains of Samangan
province looking for a sheep that went astray.
Inside, he doesn’t find
what he is looking for, but just as he is about to leave he notices something
strange: Pieces of old parchment lie strewn on the dirt floor.
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one of the stories behind the recent discovery of about 150 manuscripts
artifacts in a remote cave that belonged to a medieval Jewish
“But there are several and they are always the same about
shepherds looking for sheep,” admitted Prof. Haggai Ben-Shammai of the
Hebrew University on Sunday.
“Who knows how they were really found?”
Scholars are currently in the early stages of poring over the texts dating from
the 11th century and written in Judeo-Arabic and Judeo-Persian.
have dates so we can date them precisely,” said Prof. Shaul Shaked of the Hebrew
“There’s no doubt that they are authentic. They correspond
with similar findings from the past.”
The expert in ancient Persian
languages said the scrolls included an ancient copy of the book of Jeremiah;
hitherto unknown scholarly works by the medieval sage Rabbi Sa’adia Gaon;
personal poems of loss and mourning and even bookkeeping records that could
teach us about everyday life in the community.
“The person who wrote it,
a Jewish merchant, keeps track of who owed him how much,” said Shaked.
added that the texts show the community may have been Karaite, a sect of Judaism
which strictly adheres to the bible rather than the Talmud and other later
Jewish texts, and name several early Karaite leaders.
Channel 2, which
first reported the find on Friday, likened the discovery in Afghanistan to that
of the find in the Cairo geniza, but scholars say such a comparison is
The number of documents, about 150, is tiny when compared to the hundreds of
thousands found in the Egyptian synagogues.
Furthermore, they are in
various stages of decay.
Many are illegible fragments that suffered the
ravages of time. But Shaked believes the Afghani scrolls may be “the tip of the
He said there may be many more findings in that part of the
world that would provide valuable information about ancient Jewish
Prof. Robert Eisenman, a noted scholar of the Dead Sea
Scrolls, hopes such findings might shed light on the Rhadanites, a group of
early medieval Jewish merchants who set up an expansive trade network that
connected Europe and Asia. He said the Jewish community that penned the
documents found in Afghanistan might be a “left over” of the Rhadanites, which
had mostly disappeared by the 11th century. Moreover, he said such discoveries
might teach us about the historical origins of peoples in Central
“In Afghanistan and northern Pakistan they all say they are the 10
Lost Tribes of Israel and I never knew what they were talking about,” said
Eisenman, who visited the country in the ’60s. “If this was part of a Jewish
permanent settlement then to my mind it reinforces the mythology that the 10
Lost Tribes were in that part of the world.”
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