LONDON – Scientists at a British university hope to use digital technology in reassembling some 300,000 tiny fragments of an 800-year-old Jewish philosopher's oeuvre.
The University of Manchester's Centre for Jewish Studies is reassembling the life works of Moses Maimonides, a scholar and writer whose findings were hugely influential on modern Judaic thought.
A British government grant of $670,000 will fund the center's use of digital imaging software, a crucial aid in piecing the hundreds of documents back together.
Maimonides worked as a physician, lawyer and scientist in the Middle Ages, project leader Philip Alexander said. His writings were obtained from a medieval document storeroom — called a "genizah" — discovered in a Cairo synagogue.
Documents gleaned from the Cairo genizah, both by Maimonides and other Jewish scholars, are in repositories all over the world, said Stella Butler, head of special collections at the Manchester's John Rylands University Library. More than 10,000 pieces from the ancient manuscripts are in the Manchester library.
"Internet technology means we can collaborate with colleagues around the world to solve some of the puzzles contained in the genizah collections," Butler said.
"We hope to link together fragments from our collections with those held in other libraries, and so achieve greater understanding of the genizah as a whole," she said.
The grant money will enable the center to buy a special camera to take digital images of the fragments.
"Until we got image technology, it was very difficult for people across the world, if they've got one bit of a document, to know if another fits," Butler said.
They intend to digitally reassemble the documents and to upload the resulting images to the Rylands library Web site, where they can be viewed for research purposes.