Ancient Jewish scrolls found in north Afghanistan

Published: January 23, 2012

The 150 or so documents, dated from the 11th century, were found in Afghanistan's Samangan province. PHOTO: SXC.HU

KABUL: A cache of ancient Jewish scrolls from northern Afghanistan that has only recently come to light is creating a storm among scholars who say the landmark find could reveal an undiscovered side of medieval Jewry.

The 150 or so documents, dated from the 11th century, were found in Afghanistan’s Samangan province and most likely smuggled out — a sorry but common fate for the impoverished and war-torn country’s antiquities.

Israeli emeritus professor Shaul Shaked, who has examined some of the poems, commercial records and judicial agreements that make up the treasure, said while the existence of ancient Afghan Jewry is known, their culture was still a mystery.

“Here, for the first time, we see evidence and we can actually study the writings of this Jewish community. It’s very exciting,” Shaked told Reuters by telephone from Israel, where he teaches at the Comparative Religion and Iranian Studies department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The hoard is currently being kept by private antique dealers in London, who have been producing a trickle of new documents over the past two years, which is when Shaked believes they were found and pirated out of Afghanistan in a clandestine operation.

It is likely they belonged to Jewish merchants on the Silk Road running across Central Asia, said T. Michael Law, a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at Oxford University’s Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies.

“They might have been left there by merchants travelling along the way, but they could also come from another nearby area and deposited for a reason we do not yet understand,” Law said.

‘Sold eslewhere for 10 times more’

Cultural authorities in Kabul had mixed reactions to the find, which scholars say is without a doubt from Afghanistan, arguing that the Judeo-Persian language used on the scrolls is similar to other Afghan Jewish manuscripts.

National Archives director Sakhi Muneer outright denied the find was Afghan, arguing that he would have seen it, but an advisor in the Culture Ministry said it “cannot be confirmed but it is entirely possible”.

“A lot of old documents and sculptures are not brought to us but are sold elsewhere for ten times the price,” said advisor Jalal Norani, explaining that excavators and ordinary people who stumble across finds sell them to middlemen who then auction them off in Iran, Pakistan and Europe.

“Unfortunately, we cannot stop this,” Norani said. The Culture Ministry, he said, pays on average $1,500 for a recovered antique item. The Hebrew University’s Shaked estimated the Jewish documents’ worth at several million dollars.

Thirty years of war and conflict have severely hindered both the collecting and preserving of Afghanistan’s antiquities, and the Culture Ministry said endemic corruption and poverty meant many new discoveries do not even reach them.

Interpol and US officials have also traced looted Afghan antiquities to funding insurgent activities.

In today’s climate of uncertainty, the National Archives in Kabul keep the bulk of its enormous collection of documents — some dating to the fifth century — under lock and key to prevent stealing.

Instead reproductions of gold-framed Pashto poems and early copies of the Quran scribed on deer skin, or vellum, are displayed for the public under the ornate ceilings of the Archives, which were the nineteenth century offices of Afghan King Habibullah Khan.

“I am sure Afghanistan, like any country, would like to control their antiquities… But on the other hand, with this kind of interest and importance, as a scholar I can’t say that I would avoid studying them,” said Shaked of the Jewish find.

Reader Comments (15)

  • R.A
    Jan 23, 2012 - 10:23PM

    Does this some way take us to the claim
    that Jesus P B O H was here after he was
    put on cross and suvived.
    Recommend

  • Asad
    Jan 24, 2012 - 1:50AM

    @R.A Yeah he took refuge in the mountains of Tora Bora later on he moved to a city in Pakistan…

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  • B.M
    Jan 24, 2012 - 1:55AM

    @R.M. – If you don’t believe the already available Greek manuscripts from the first century that say that he not only died, but was resurrected; why would you believe the contents of an 11th century document?

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  • Anonymous
    Jan 24, 2012 - 3:07AM

    I agree with this speculation though needs further.research. Means Kashmiris have Jewish heredity as Jesus is buried there. Ahmedis very strongly follow this belief..Recommend

  • John B
    Jan 24, 2012 - 4:41AM

    @R.A.
    It is a 11 century scroll. Compared to the history of the subcontinent and Jewish history it is not as ancient as one would like to think.

    Jewish diaspora have been living in the subcontinent time immemorial and at the time of 600 BC, the persian kingdom was up to Indus and Jews were courtiers. An old Islamic/Arabic manuscript,”Book of idols” narrates a story of how Jewery came to the subcontinent after the big flood.

    These Scroll gives an idea of the civilization that lived there and their interaction with locals, customs etc. Like Muhanjadharo seal found in Bagdad. Nothing more nothing less.

    As far as Jesus in the subcontinent story and the shirne potected in Kashmir -many claimed to be the second coming one during third through 10 century and the shrine may be a bogus or one of those wanderers/ evangelists/ preachers. However, erecting shrine in the subcontinent to the dead saint began after the arrival of Islam. Prior to that no shrines were ever erected, as burial was not customary in the natives of India.

    All shrines- reverence to grave site -were started in the subcontinent , surprisingly, after the arrival of early Islam that came with a mixed bag of Coptic, catholic,Zoroastrian practices and amalgamated with Indian cultural practices and persisted until 18th century.

    Pak should know the name of the reformer in India who asked people to shun those practices.

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  • Adil
    Jan 24, 2012 - 4:56AM

    @R.A:

    Theories about Jesus (Pece and Blessings Be Upon Him)surviving on the cross and migrating towards South Asia in order to preach the Lost tribes of Israel is very common and does seem to have strong factual backing if you watch documentaries by NG,Disocvery and BBC. Jamat-e-Ahmadiya believes that the Tomb of Jesus (P.B.U.H.) is located in Srinagar. But apart from Mirza Ghulam Ahmed,a number of British and Russian archaelogists have already made the discovery earlier.

    Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in his Tafsir of The Holy Quran also said that Jesus (P.B.U.H.)just went unconsicous on the cross due to injuries but didn’t die…and later on when he got healed with the help of few of his disciples then he continued with his his mission and died a natural death.

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  • Ramzan
    Jan 24, 2012 - 4:50PM

    Its just of scroll they found in Afghanistan. I am a student of Judeo-Islamic wisdom. I have traced Ark of the covenant the most important Jewish artifact in Afghanistan. Just beneath the blue Mosque in Mazar e sharif Afghanistan rests the Ark of the Covenant.

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  • Anonymous
    Jan 25, 2012 - 12:28AM

    So now on new holly land for jews is gonna be afghanistan ahhahahahahaRecommend

  • Salman Sheikh
    Jan 25, 2012 - 12:21PM

    @Anonymous:
    Well said.

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  • Buahahah
    Jan 26, 2012 - 4:09PM

    @Anonymous: Now I understand why Jewish lobby convinced NATO forces to invade Afghanistan.. this is part of the promised holy land.

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  • TRex
    Jan 26, 2012 - 10:52PM

    “Jesus in Kashmir, The Lost Tomb” by Suzanne Olsson…covered all of this..

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  • sunny
    Jan 27, 2012 - 3:46PM

    Jesus and Jews – there is no sweet relevance. from where the Jesus came in?? its totally Jewish find not christian one.
    Opss- Afghnistan going to be another sacared land for Jews?????

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  • Anonymous
    Jan 27, 2012 - 7:11PM

    @Salman sheikh
    Think about it jews claims palestine on the base of Moses were there then north america was red indians and afghnistan and pakistan was budhist and europe was pegans if they starts claiming too then what gonna happend.?? hahahhahah

    Recommend

  • ch. sheraz
    Jan 28, 2012 - 1:06PM

    @Asad:

    very well said asad…

    Recommend

  • M.A.S
    Feb 8, 2012 - 12:07AM

    Reading some old scripts and word of mouth stories, many pashtun tribes in our tribal areas and in the Hazara division are said be the lost tribes of the jews who were excilled from the promised land because of being unfaithful. Some suggests they are son of the soil.
    Many graves have been discovered in Mansehra and Mardan that clearly prove the jewish influence in the region.
    Many would offend…..but no offence since it’s historical fact and one should be proud of his/her history because u havent created it, u just became a part of it.

    Recommend

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