Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Well, that time of the year has arrived -- the beginning of the fall semester. I definitely feel a pang that I will soon have very little time to do anything except prepare for classes and organize and go to Jewish Studies events....although I think my classes this fall will be good: Hebrew Scriptures (despite the name, we're reading the Tanakh in English translation), and Jews in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds (from 586 B.C.E. to 1492 C.E. in 14 weeks!). I was just looking over some readings on the Cairo Geniza documents and the world they describe. I think I'll have my students read excerpts from Amitav Ghosh's wonderful book (In an Antique Land), which links his experiences doing anthropological field work in Egypt with his researches into the life of the Indian slave of Ben Yiju. One of the details about the book that particularly fascinates me is that when Ghosh starts to do research on the Geniza documents (many of which are written in medieval Judeo-Arabic -- i.e., colloquial Arabic written in Hebrew characters), he doubts very much that he'll be able to understand the documents he's interested in reading. He's skeptical that the modern spoken Arabic of Egypt that he's learned will help him much with the medieval language. He finds, much to his surprise, that much of what he learned, including various idioms, is very useful in reading the Geniza documents. Fascinating to see the persistence of the vernacular language.

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