"The documentary by Michelle Paymar on the Cairo Genizah is the first fully comprehensive film to examine the whole history of one of the world’s most remarkable, but least known, collections."
This vast store of medieval manuscripts discovered in an Egyptian synagogue by intrepid twin Scottish sisters and an unconventional Cambridge professor at the end of the nineteenth century has revolutionised the study of the Medieval Mediterranean world, and Paymar has brought together all the leading scholars and figures in the field to examine the history of its discovery and expose the importance of its manuscripts.
Sumptuously shot, through site visits, interviews with scholars, librarians and authors, and through the words of the medieval texts themselves, the film will enlighten all those interested in learning how the Cairo Genizah has impacted the field of Jewish Studies, Mediterranean, Medieval and World History, Manuscript studies, Codicology and Palaeography and more.
Even the burgeoning field of Digital Humanities will find interest in the film’s treatment of the recent digital history of the Genizah: reuniting and analysing the scattered fragments has required the application of the latest technologies, the computation of big data and artificial intelligence.
Those who already know about the collection will be delighted to see the novelist Amitav Ghosh explain how he discovered the riches of the Genizah for his book ‘In an Antique Land’, while others should be assured that they are hearing it explained by the leading figures of Genizah research, Marina Rustow, Judith Olszowy-Schlanger, Abraham Udovitch, Stefan Reif, and Mordechai Friedman, to name just a few.
Students of history are increasingly getting their facts through videos and podcasts, and Paymar has produced an ideal experience for them here: a documentary on perhaps the most important archive of the Middle Ages with high production values and unquestionable authority."
Dr Benjamin Outhwaite Head of Asian and African Collections & Genizah Research Unit, Cambridge University Library
"More than a half-million worn and discarded manuscript fragments discovered at the end of the nineteenth century “buried” behind a wall in a synagogue in Fustat (Old Cairo) form the background of this fascinating documentary.
Narrated by some of the foremost scholars of the so-called “Cairo Geniza,” and by authors of fiction who have exploited the Geniza in their writing, the film illuminates the lively commercial and cultural life of Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors living in the Eastern Mediterranean during the eleventh to thirteenth centuries and traveling westward as far as Spain and eastward as far as India.
Michelle Paymar’s brilliantly conceived and executed film will captivate the general public while being of special interest to academic Jewish studies, especially Jewish history and culture; to those interested in Jewish-Muslim relations in the Middle Ages; to material culture and literacy; to the history of medicine and magic; to medieval Islamic administration; and, finally, to the application of computer technology to confronting the challenge of reconstructing these torn manuscripts, dispersed today in some seventy collections around the world."
— Mark R. Cohen Khedouri A. Zilkha Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East, Emeritus, Princeton University