Jewish scrolls found in Afghanistan may shed light on ancient culture
Many such items are stolen and sold for high prices on black market
A hundred and fifty ancient Jewish scrolls founding northern Afghanistan have recently been discovered, creating a storm among scholars who say the find reveals a little known aspect of medieval Jewry. Dating from the 11th Century, and found in Afghanistan's Samangan province, the documents were probably smuggled out.
The National Archives in Kabul keep the bulk of its enormous collection of documents -- some dating to the fifth century -- under lock and key to prevent theft.
Israeli emeritus professor Shaul Shaked says that while the existence of ancient Afghan Jewry is has been established, their culture remains a mystery.
"Here, for the first time, we see evidence and we can actually study the writings of this Jewish community. It's very exciting," Shaked told Reuters by telephone from Israel.
The discovery is being kept by private antique dealers in London. Shaked believes they were found and pirated out of Afghanistan in a secret operation.
T. Michael Law, a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at Oxford University's Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies theorizes that they belonged to Jewish merchants on the Silk Road running across Central Asia, said.
"They might have been left there by merchants travelling along the way, but they could also come from another nearby area and deposited for a reason we do not yet understand," Law said.
Cultural authorities in Kabul have expressed mixed reactions to the find. Scholars agree that the find is without a doubt from Afghanistan, arguing that the Judeo-Persian language used on the scrolls is similar to other Afghan Jewish manuscripts.
However, National Archives director Sakhi Muneer has denied the find was Afghan, arguing that he would have seen it. An advisor in the Culture Ministry said it "cannot be confirmed but it is entirely possible."
"A lot of old documents and sculptures are not brought to us but are sold elsewhere for ten times the price," advisor Jalal Norani says, explaining that excavators and ordinary people who stumble across finds sell them to middlemen who then auction them off in such places as Iran, Pakistan and Europe.
"Unfortunately, we cannot stop this," Norani said. The Culture Ministry pays on average $1,500 for a recovered antique item. The Hebrew University's Shaked estimated the Jewish documents' are worth at several million dollars.
The National Archives in Kabul keep the bulk of its enormous collection of documents -- some dating to the fifth century -- under lock and key to prevent stealing.
© 2012, Catholic Online. Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Kabul, Afghanistan, medieval Jewry, theft, black market
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