Adventures with Dead Jews

Time-Traveling Jews: Ep. 5

The bizarre story of how multiple genius identical twins discovered a massive 900-year-old document dump in a closet in a Cairo synagogue … and what that time capsule reveals about how we remember the past

October 1, 2021

Our stories so far have explored relationships between Jews and non-Jewish societies that have ranged from awkward to, well, murderous. But in this case, the social snubbing of Jews actually worked to everyone’s advantage, resulting in the biggest historical discovery in the history of the world.

Here, two genius Scottish identical twins match wits with one half of a pair of genius Hasidic Romanian identical twins in order to track down some of the oldest existing manuscripts of the Bible. They embark on an Indiana Jones style adventure in 1890s Egypt, and wind up with much more than they bargained for: hundreds of thousands of centuries-old Hebrew manuscripts that are still changing the way we think about the past.

Dara Horn also brings us to current-day attempts to preserve ancient Jewish sites in the most volatile parts of the Middle East, to uncover the rewards and perils of trying to preserve Jewish history. How do we decide what’s worth saving?

Chrystie Sherman’s photographs of the Eliyahu Hanavi-Jobar synagogue in Damascus are available in the online museum of Diarna. Janet Soskice’s biography of Margaret Gibson and Agnes Lewis is The Sisters of Sinai. Ben Outhwaite directs the Taylor Schechter Genizah Research Unit. Marina Rustow’s most recent book is The Lost Archive: Traces of a Caliphate in a Cairo Synagogue. More information about the Cairo Genizah is also available in Sacred Trash by Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole, Sacred Treasure by Mark Glickman, and A Jewish Archive from Old Cairo by Stefan Reif, as well as in the documentary film by Michelle Paymar, From Cairo to the Cloud. A fictionalized version of the Genizah’s discovery can be found in Dara Horn’s novel A Guide for the Perplexed.

Adventures with Dead Jews is brought to you by Tablet Studios and Soul Shop. It’s created and written by Dara Horn, and produced and edited by Josh Kross and Robert Scaramuccia. The managing producer is Sara Fredman Aeder, and the executive producers are Liel Leibovitz, Stephanie Butnick, Gabi Weinberg, and Dan Luxenberg. We hope you’ll rate and review it wherever you get your podcasts, so that more people can join us on our adventures.

Dara Horn’s new book, People Love Dead Jews, is published by W.W. Norton and is available wherever books are sold. It’s also available as an audio book from Recorded Books. We hope you’ll check it out.

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