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A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish…

A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as…

by S. D. Goitein

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202792,806 (4.33)None
This six-volume "portrait of a Mediterranean personality" is a composite portrait of the individuals who wrote the personal letters, contracts, and all other manuscript fragments that found their way into the Cairo Geniza. Most of the fragments from the Geniza, a storeroom for discarded writings that could not be thrown away because they might contain the name of God, had been removed to Cambridge University Library and other libraries around the world. Professor Goitein devoted the last thirty years of his long and productive life to their study, deciphering the language of the documents and organizing what he called a "marvelous treasure trove of manuscripts" into a coherent, fascinating picture of the society that created them. It is a rich, panoramic view of how people lived, traveled, worshiped, and conducted their economic and social affairs. The first and second volumes describe the economic foundations of the society and the institutions and social and political structures that characterized the community. The remaining material, intended for a single volume describing the particulars of the way people lived, blossomed into three volumes, devoted respectively to the family, daily life, and the individual. The divisions are arbitrary but helpful because of the wealth of information. The author refers throughout to other passages in his monumental work that amplify what is discussed in any particular section. The result is an incomparably clear and immediate impression of how it was in the Mediterranean world of the tenth through the thirteenth century. Volume IV, subtitled Daily Life, details city life, domestic architecture, furnishings and housewares, clothing and jewelry, food and drink, and other material culture.… (more)



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This entire series is a tremendous work of scholarship. This volume is the fourth out of six. In essence, the author treats the entire series as a single work, which means that he does not divide this book into individual chapters, a somewhat disconcerting experience. Instead, Goitein relies heavily on an outline format carried across all of the volumes: the fourth volume is section IX. It is divided into A. the home, B. clothing and jewelry, C. food and drink, and D. mounts. Goitein is very specific and detailed in each of these categories, relying extensively on quotes from the Geniza documents to illustrate his conclusions and arguments and densely footnoting each section. And because he is using entirely textual sources, he pays great attention to questions of terminology, language, translation, etc., which is very useful for my purposes. I found the whole thing quite interesting and useful, leading to new sources of information and insights into the middle class of the 10th to 14th centuries in the Cairo area. Admittedly, he focuses on Jewish middle class society, since the Cairo Geniza consists of documents from that community, which is less useful for my purposes. So my challenge is interpreting how much this material applies to Muslims and Christians and also how much they apply beyond the vicinity of Cairo. But at least he gives me a lot to work with--between the footnotes, the many excerpts, and the appendices of selected documents translated in their entirety, this is quite a valuable resource. ( )
1 vote justchris | Apr 25, 2009 |
A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza: Daily Life v. 4 (Near Eastern Center, UCLA) ( )
  lilinah | Mar 9, 2007 |
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