The RAS was delighted to host a lecture yesterday evening by Dr Ben Outhwaite ( University of Cambridge) titled “Lewis, Gibson and the Discovery of the Cairo Genizah”. Dr Outhwaite’s lecture highlighted the careers of twin sisters Agnes Lewis and Margaret Gibson who returned from one trip to Egypt in the 1890s with a thousand manuscript fragments acquired from the Genizah of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat. The sisters showed their collection to the scholar Solomon Schechter who later embarked on his own trip to the Genizah, when he acquired the bulk of material from the Genizah and transported it back to Great Britain. The collection is remarkably rich and diverse and contains material in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic with Hebrew characters. The collection was donated to the University of Cambridge but has only really been studied in detail since the 1960s.
Dr Outhwaite discussed the history and role of Genizahs, storerooms in synagogues used to store books and papers on religious topics that are no longer intended for use. Dr Outhwaite explained the unique combination of factors that ensured the Ben Ezra Synagogue Genizah remained largely intact for about a thousand years, and why Fustat’s role as a cosmopolitan cultural centre of medieval Judaism ensured that the collection is today particularly rich in religious, historical and social interest. Recent efforts to catalogue and digitize the collection are bringing it to the notice of a wider public and we look forward to hearing of more research based on this unique collection.
The lecture was followed by a question and answer session with Dr Outhwaite and a reception.
We have more lectures coming up: next week we have the latest lecture in our Fresh Perspectives series on Tuesday 17 November when Azadeh Fatehrad (Royal College of Art) will present An Evening with Nizami, which is followed by a book launch in our Council Room on Wednesday 18 November for The Arabic Influences on Early Modern Occult Philosophy by Liana Saif. We hope that you will be able to join us for these wonderful events.