Letter: Jacob's jaunt

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The Independent Online
Your story "Jacob's amazing and impossible journey to the City of Light" (30 November) quoted attacks on the authenticity of what is claimed to be a manuscript account of a journey to China, before Marco Polo, by a Jewish merchant, Jacob d'Ancona. The critics claim the manuscript could not date from the 13th century because it uses a word that did not exist before the 15th: mellah, a Jewish quarter in a Muslim city. Such a criticism is not watertight. In La Saga Des Juifs en Afrique du Nord (1972) the Israeli scholar, Andre Chouraqui, quotes divergent datings of the first use of mellah. True, the Yahas Fes of Rabbi Abner Sarfaty gives the date as 1433, but Chouraqui quotes Henri Terrasse's Histoire du Maroc (1950), which dates the foundation of the mellah of Fes to the 13th century. This fits with Jacob d'Ancona's use of the term.

John Underwood

Brussels, Belgium