Move Over, Marco Polo!

The Travel Diaries of Wandering Jews

Melton Graduate Course

Instructor: Marsha B. Cohen

Thursdays, Temple Beth Am, 8:00-9:30 pm

Oct. 16-Dec. 18, 2003


One of the most fascinating lenses through which to understand Jewish history, culture, ethnography and folklore is the study of diaries written by Jewish travelers. These exotic ninth to nineteenth centuries accounts of the countries they visited and the events they experienced will offer new perspectives of Jewish life in the Land of  Israel as well as Europe, Asia and Africa.  We'll study the firsthand chronicles of Eldad the Danite , Benjamin of Tudela, Petachya of Ratisbon, Ovadia of Bartenura, messianic pretender David Reuveni, and Lady Judith Montefiore, among others.  Adventurers and armchair travelers welcome!


Course Outline


Recommended Reading:

Tzvi Howard Adelman, “Jewish Travelers Accounts: Community, Self, and Other” (JAFI)


Week 1 – Out of Africa: Eldad the Danite (c. 880)

Excerpt from Jewish Travellers in the Middle Ages: Thirteen Firsthand Accounts, ed. with an Introduction by Elkan Nathan Adler, p. 4-21


Week 2 – Benjamin of Tudela

The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela (1165-1173), Critical text, translation and commentary by Marcus Nathan Adler


Week 3 – Letters from Medieval Jewish Traders - the Cairo Geniza

Excerpts from S.D. Goitein, Letters from Medieval Jewish Traders

Mark R. Cohen, Goitein, the Geniza and Muslim History


Week 4 – Petachia of Ratisbon (Regensburg)

Travels of Rabbi Petachia of Ratisbon (London: Trubner, 1856) trans. by A. Benisch (pdf)


Week 5 - Ovadiah of Bartenura (Bertinoro)

Excerpts from Pathway to Jerusalem: The Travel Letters Of Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartenura Written Between 1488-1490 During His Journey To The Holy Land


Week 6 – David Reubeni (1522-1525)

Excerpts from Jewish Travellers in the Middle Ages: Thirteen Firsthand Accounts, ed. with an Introduction by Elkan Nathan Adler, pp. 251-328

Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress: And May the Messiah Come Soon


Week 7 – Lady Judith Montefiore


Excerpts from Judith Montefiore (1826-27) Private Journal of a visit to Egypt and Palestine, Photocopy of the London edition, 1836 (pages 128-234) Introduction: I. Bartal


Week 8 – These are the Names: Joseph Schwarz Makes History

Rabbi Joseph Schwarz (1850), Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine.


Week 9 – The Real “Frisco Kids” - Jews in the Wild, Wild West

Solomon Nunes Carvalho (1856), Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West With Col. Fremont's Last Expedition

Excerpts from: I Married Wyatt Earp: The Recollections of Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp



Click here for Marsha B. Cohen's Jewish Personal Training Website