Concordances, as compositions providing alphabetical lists of all the occurrences of each word in a certain corpus, began appearing in Europe in the thirteenth century as an aid for biblical studies. Yet it was only in the nineteenth century that concordances for other literary corpuses were published, though those – including a concordance of Shakespeare’s works – were not as widely used, since it was not always clear who would have a use for them and for what purposes. However, in the case of the Jerusalem Concordance, there was an answer to that question: Horovitz himself wanted to use the outcomes of this project as the basis for a future book he planned to publish on pre-Islamic poetry, one of his research interests.
This Concordance served another purpose, too. When the School of Oriental Studies was founded, Horovitz, as well as the university’s Chancellor Judah L. Magnes (1877–1948) – both staunch supporters of an agreement-based resolution of the Arab-Jewish conflict – hoped scholarly work dedicated to Arabic and Islam would draw Arab and Muslim scholars to the university, establishing an intellectual common ground for a betterment in Arab-Jewish relations.
The Concordance played a key role in this plan. For example, upon learning of the Egyptian government’s intention to fund the compilation of an Arab dictionary in Cairo, the Jerusalem orientalists suggested that those involved in its preparation be granted free access to the concordance cards. More generally, Arab visitors to the Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus during the British Mandate would usually be taken to the Concordance room, to hopefully be impressed by the scholarly work being done there. One of those visitors was the renowned Egyptian writer and intellectual Taha Hussein (1889–1973), who decades later, at a 1965 conference dedicated to the Arabic language, shared with the audience his impression from the piles of cards with Arabic words.
By that time, the Concordance was no longer where Hussein had seen it. As recently depicted in Yfaat Weiss’ essay Niemandsland. Hader am Berg Scopus, Mount Scopus in 1948 became an Israeli exclave surrounded by Jordanian territory. While the university quickly renewed its activities at various locations in West Jerusalem, now the capital of the nascent State of Israel, it lost its access to the books and research materials still located on the hastily abandoned campus, among them the wooden boxes with an estimated 600,000 concordance cards. Only in 1958 was a UN-brokered agreement between Israel and Jordan reached, and the cards were finally transferred to West Jerusalem.
But that was already too late. A time- and budget-consuming Sisyphean project that employed not only designated research assistants but also teachers and students, the Concordance has become, to a certain extent, a burden. Following the decline of Germany as the epicenter of orientalist work, new trends in Oriental studies – mainly the study of the modern Middle East as part of the emerging North American field of Area studies – made the Concordance seem, to younger scholars, irrelevant. Its political irrelevance was even greater: Horovitz and Magnes were long gone, and Arab intellectuals were now behind enemy lines.
For many years, the Concordance of Classical Arabic Poetry has been a symbol of the German orientalist scholarly heritage and its lasting influence on the study of Arabic in Jerusalem – a binding heritage, in a way. In the same manner, the fate of the concordance cards was emblematic of the larger material problem that the Hebrew University faced after 1948. The Concordance, therefore, provides a physical testimony of the power of migrating knowledge – and its limits.