Recovering “Missing Links” in the Intellectual History of the Islamicate World: The Abraham Firkóvič Collections in Saint Petersburg
A major desideratum in contemporary Genizah scholarship relates to the still largely untapped holdings of the Abraham Firkovitch collection of the National Library of Russia (NLR) in St. Petersburg (with a total number of around 15,000 items) which was inaccessible to scholars from outside the Soviet Union for most of the twentieth century (with few exceptions). The large majority of Firkovitch manuscripts was taken from the Geniza of the Karaite synagogue, Dar ibn Sumayh, in Cairo, which originated with the synagogue’s former library. The Firkovitch collection consist of fragments of literary works that cover virtually all disciplines of medieval learning, such as Bible exegesis, theology, philosophy and logic, law and legal theory, medicine, astronomy and other sciences, belles lettres, and so forth. Many of the Firkovitch manuscripts are quite large, containing hundreds of folios, and a significant percentage of the material can be dated to the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The Arabic manuscripts, the large majority of which are written in Hebrew characters, are extremely important. Most of the works they contain are completely or virtually unknown to scholarship. A considerable number are unique manuscripts, among them numerous works by Muslim authors. Even though many of the fragments are rather large in size, almost all of them are in poor condition, as is typical for Geniza material. They are fragmentary and jumbled, usually without a title page or colophon that would identify the text they contain. Since the 1990s, microfilms of most sections of the collection have been available at the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts (IMHM) at the National Library of Israel (NLI) in Jerusalem. These include the Arabic material written in Hebrew characters that is part of the Second Firkovitch Collection, which consists of manuscripts belonging to the so-called First Series (RNL Yevr.-Arab. I) and to the Second, or New, Series (RNL Yevr.-Arab. II or NS). Excluded from microfilming was the section of the collection that consists of Arabic writings written in Arabic characters ("Arabski-Arabski"), which is equally rich in material pertinent to the "rational sciences". In 2015, the NLR and NLI signed an agreement that allows the NLI to digitize those microfilms and provide online open access to the images. Over the past ten years, there have been several initiatives to seek funding to produce a full catalog of the Firkovitch collection, none of which have been successful, the principal reason being the uncertainty about the full accessibility of the manuscript materials during the lifetime of the respective proposed projects. Among the initiatives, mention should be made of an earlier grant application by David Sklare and Sabine Schmidtke (2011), and another application to the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities by Sarah Stroumsa and Sabine Schmidtke (with Shaul Shaked for the Persian materials in the Firkovitch collection) which was first submitted in 2012, followed by a full version submitted in 2014. In the meantime, enormous progress in uploading manuscripts from the Firkovitch Collection (YA II) unto the National Library of Israel’s digital repository has been made [http://web.nli.org.il/sites/NLIS/he/ManuScript/] and the accessibility of the bulk of the material is thus no longer an issue. It is to be hoped that others will take up the past initiatives to advance this important field of inquiry. The BBAW application in its final version (April 2014) is included in this bundle for interested scholars to use.