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On BBC Radio 3 from 27 – 31 May, 2013, 10.45 pm

The Cairo Genizah is a treasure trove of medieval manuscripts found inside the ancient, crumbling Ben Ezra synagogue. Reflecting 800 years of community life, the documents contain everything from prayers to children’s exercise books and business letters to the complaints of disgruntled wives.  In this Essay series a group of scholars from the Genizah Research Unit navigate the archives to reveal their favourite fragments and weave a tale of the life of a multi-cultural medieval society not so different from our own.

Now available on the BBC iPlayer.

BBC Radio 3, 27 – 31 May, 10.45pm

The Cairo Genizah is a treasure trove of manuscripts from the Ben Ezra synagogue in Old Cairo that portrays over 800 years of community life. Rediscovered in the 19th century, this vast communal paper-bin contained hundreds upon thousands of scraps of rag-paper and parchment – an unedited archive of prayers, letters, poems, magical spells, alchemical recipes, children’s exercise books, divorce deeds and pre-nuptial agreements that paints a lively and intimate picture of daily medieval life in Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean.

Episode 1: A Discovery
In this first essay, Dr Esther-Miriam Wagner of the Genizah Research Unit tells the story of the discovery of the Genizah inside the ancient and crumbling synagogue of Al-Fustat, a suburb of modern day Cairo. Featuring a legendary curse, a pair of intrepid Scottish twins, an eccentric scholar and one very generous rabbi…

Episode 2: Letters
Intercepting private letters between medieval merchants, Dr Ben Outhwaite, Head of the Genizah Research Unit, uncovers an international trading network that united Jews, Muslims and Christians across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

Episode 3: Women
Looking at marriage and divorce deeds, as well as some incredibly detailed pre-nuptial agreements, Dr Melonie Schmierer-Lee of the Genizah Research Unit reveals the fortunes of women in medieval Cairo.

Episode 4: Three Lives
Reading the private documents of the legendary philosopher Maimonides, community leader Solomon ben Judah and Indian Ocean trader Abraham ben Yiju, Dr Daniel Davies of the Genizah Research Unit sheds light on three very different lives.

Episode 5: Alchemy & Magic
In this final essay, Dr Gabriele Ferrario of the Genizah Research Unit reveals the most secretive side of the Genizah collection: the manuscripts relating to alchemy and magic.

Presenters: Esther-Miriam Wagner, Ben Outhwaite, Melonie Schmierer-Lee, Daniel Davies, Gabriele Ferrario
Produced by Michele Banal and Miranda Hinkley