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Cairo geniza  

Lawrence H. Schiffman

The Cairo geniza was a storeroom for no longer usable holy books in the synagogue of Fustat, Old Cairo, where for centuries, old Jewish manuscripts, mostly in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Judeo- Arabic, including also secular documents and communal records, were deposited. In the 19th century, European scholars became aware of this collection and manuscripts were removed to a variety of libraries in Europe and the United States. This material provides those studying the ancient world and ancient Jewish texts in particular with an amazing treasure of documents, throwing light on the history of the biblical text and its interpretation, the Hebrew language, Greek and Syriac versions of the Bible, Second Temple and Rabbinic literature, Jewish liturgy and the later history—political, economic, and religious—of the Jews in the Mediterranean basin. This material has totally reshaped our understanding of these fields. In the area of Bible, these texts illustrate the manner in which the vocalization and cantillation symbols were developed. Hebrew versions of some important Second Temple literature, later found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, had earlier been discovered in the geniza. Many previously unknown Midrashim and rabbinic exegetical materials have become known only from this collection. This material has provided an entirely new corpus of liturgical poetry.

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The Jewish Patriarchate  

Lee I. Levine

The Jewish Patriarch (Hebr. Nasi) was the leading Jewish communal official in the late Roman and early Byzantine Empires, in both Palestine and the Diaspora. The Patriarchate, which emerged around the turn of the 3rd century under the leadership of Rabbi Judah I, had the support of the Severan dynasty (193–235 ce). The testimony of Origen (Letter to Africanus 14), who lived in Caesarea c. 230, views the function of the “Jewish ethnarch” (another term for Patriarch) as that of a king, enjoying, inter alia, the power of capital punishment.

Non-Jewish sources from the 4th century attest that the Patriarch enjoyed extensive prestige and recognition. The Theodosian Code is particularly revealing in this regard. One decree, issued by the emperors Arcadius and Honorius in 397, spells out the dominance of the Patriarch in a wide range of synagogue affairs; he stood at the head of a network of officials, including archisynagogues, presbyters, and others—all of whom had privileges on a par with the Christian clergy. Together with other realms of Patriarchal authority noted in earlier rabbinic literature, such as making calendrical decisions, declaring public fast days, and issuing bans, the prominence of this office in Jewish communal and religious life had become quite pronounced at this time.