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Medicine and Magic

Discarded History

Many leading members of the Egyptian Jewish community practised medicine. Among them was the thinker Moses Maimonides (d. 1204 CE), who acquired his theoretical knowledge from Arabic translations of Galen, Hippocrates and the other great writings of Classical Antiquity. Maimonides worked as a physician at the Caliph’s court in Cairo, but also dispensed medical advice to his neighbours and in letters to friends. The Genizah contains many samples of his medical writings in his own hand.

Alongside theoretical works on medicine, the Genizah preserves a huge number of prescriptions and medical notes written by medieval Jewish doctors and pharmacists. These reveal the most common ailments and their treatments. Despite advances in medical science, there also continued to be a strong reliance on magical cures for everyday problems. And so we find many amulets and collections of magical spells, which call upon God, his angels and even demons to solve problems, bring wealth or help find love.