Benjamin of Tudela

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[pp. 290-292]


(about 1173 A.D.)

Famous Jewish traveller from Spain who from 1160-1173 A.D. visited Jewish communities throughout the world. Messā’ ōt Shel Rabbi Benjamin (written in Hebrew by a friend from oral reports with notes from Benjamin).

Ed. A. Asher, The Itinerary of Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela I, London-Berlin 1840. Engl.transl.:Th. Wright, Early Travels in Palestine, London 1848. Exc.: MC 879.

T.: Wright

Eight days from thence [Sebid]<ref>Sebid (Zebid), is located on the S-W tip of the Arabian Peninsula, facing the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. (cf. MC 879 r).</ref> in Middle India, which is called Aden and in the Scripture Eden in Thelasar<ref>Aden Thelasar is located by Lelewel in the country between the Red Sea and the Blue Nile, including the northern provinces of today’s Ethiopia.</ref> : This country is very mountainous and contains many independent Jews, who are not subject to the power of the Gentiles, but possess cities and fortresses on the summit of the mountains from whence they descend into the country of Ma’atūm, with which they are at war. Ma’atūm, also called Nubia (Nūbyāʾ), is a Christian kingdom and the inhabitants are called Nubians (Nubim). The Jews generally take spoils and plunder from them, which they carry into their mountain fortresses, the possession of which makes them almost unconquerable. Many of the Jews of Aden visit Egypt and Persia.<ref>Thus in the wright translation. But the Hebrew original has Paras, which A. Asher (op. cit.) rendered as Paras (Faras).</ref> (Wright, p. 117).

[p. 291] The country of Aswan, twenty days’ journey through the desert of Sheba, on the banks of the Nile (Pisōn) which comes down here from the country of the Blacks (Kūsh). This country is governed by a king, whom they call Sultān al-Ḥabash and some of the inhabitants resemble beasts in every respect. They eat the herbs which grow on the banks of the Nile, go naked in the fields, and have no understanding like other men: for instance, they cohabit with their own sisters and with anybody whom they find. The country is excessively hot. When the people of Aswan invade their country, they carry wheat, raisin and figs which they throw out like bait, thereby attracting the natives. These are made captive and sold in Egypt and in the adjoining countries, where they are known as black slaves, being the descendants of Ham. (ibid., pp. 117-118).

From Aswan to Chalwah (Khalwah) <ref>Idrisi has “Ghalwah”.</ref> it is a twelve days’ journey. This place contains about three hundred Jews, and is the starting point of the caravans which traverse the desert al-Zahara in fifty days on their way to Zavila, the Havilah of the Scripture, which is the country of Ganah.

This desert contains mountains of sand, and whenever a storm arises, the caravans are exposed to the imminent danger of being buried alive by the sand; those who escape, however, carry iron, copper, different sorts of fruits, pulse and salt. Gold and precious stones are bought from thence in exchange. This country lies westwards of Kush or Abyssinia.

Thirteen days’ journey from Chalwah stands Kuts, a city of the frontier of Egypt containing thirty thousand Jewish inhabitants. (ibid., p. 118).

[p. 292] People from all Christian kingdoms resort to Alexandria<ref>Here some thirty different nations, from Europe and Middle East, are mentioned.</ref> … You meet Mohammedans from Andalusia, Algarve, Africa, Arabia as well as from countries towards India, Savila, Abyssinia, Nubia, Yemen, Mesopotamia and Syria, besides Greeks and Turks. (ibid., p. 123).