Beyond Religious Borders

Beyond Religious Borders: Interaction and Intellectual Exchange in the Medieval Islamic World

David M. Freidenreich
Miriam Goldstein
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Beyond Religious Borders
    Book Description:

    The medieval Islamic world comprised a wide variety of religions. While individuals and communities in this world identified themselves with particular faiths, boundaries between these groups were vague and in some cases nonexistent. Rather than simply borrowing or lending customs, goods, and notions to one another, the peoples of the Mediterranean region interacted within a common culture. Beyond Religious Borders presents sophisticated and often revolutionary studies of the ways Jewish, Christian, and Muslim thinkers drew ideas and inspiration from outside the bounds of their own religious communities. Each essay in this collection covers a key aspect of interreligious relationships in Mediterranean lands during the first six centuries of Islam. These studies focus on the cultural context of exchange, the impact of exchange, and the factors motivating exchange between adherents of different religions. Essays address the influence of the shared Arabic language on the transfer of knowledge, reconsider the restrictions imposed by Muslim rulers on Christian and Jewish subjects, and demonstrate the need to consider both Jewish and Muslim works in the study of Andalusian philosophy. Case studies on the impact of exchange examine specific literary, religious, and philosophical concepts that crossed religious borders. In each case, elements native to one religious group and originally foreign to another became fully at home in both. The volume concludes by considering why certain ideas crossed religious lines while others did not, and how specific figures involved in such processes understood their own roles in the transfer of ideas.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0691-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    The individuals and communities that lived in the Arabo-Islamic world speak through their many and diverse literary creations with a variety of voices. Distinguishing among these voices and evaluating their interaction is a challenging and often elusive task. For this reason, students of this interaction have conceived of it in various ways, in terms that reveal their differing perspectives and approaches. Terms like “influence” and “reception” emphasize the agency of the “donor culture”; “appropriation” and “accommodation” emphasize the agency of the “adoptive” group or culture; biological metaphors such as “cross-pollination” and “symbiosis” emphasize mutual aspects of exchange; and terms like...

    • CHAPTER 1 Observations on the Beginnings of Judeo-Arabic Civilization
      (pp. 13-29)

      An appropriate definition of Judeo-Arabic civilization would be the following: the sum total of all communications, or documents, as well as other written materials, in which Arabic-speaking Jews have expressed their spiritual and material needs, occupations, aspirations, and achievements. The focus of this definition is no doubt linguistic and will continue to be the focus in the present study, which is based on the premise that language is a major expression of the uniqueness or particularity of any culture. The definition applies to communications that incorporate certain Jewish elements, including the Hebrew script, a considerably large, or at least discernible,...

    • CHAPTER 2 Shurūṭ ʿUmar: From Early Harbingers to Systematic Enforcement
      (pp. 30-43)

      It has been the prevalent view of scholars concerned with the treatment of ahl al-dhimma, non-Muslim “protected people,” that various sets of restrictions enjoined upon dhimmīs in the early period of Muslim rule (known as shurūṭ ʿUmar) were irregular and sporadic, and, when issued, often were not enforced or fell quickly into disuse. Two famous episodes—the imposition of restrictions by the caliph al-Mutawakkil (r. 847–61) and those of al-Ḥākim (r. 998–1021), both of which are well-known and widely documented—are seen as exceptions rather than the rule. Thus Antoine Fattal, in his still relevant work, Le statut...

    • CHAPTER 3 Thinkers of “This Peninsula”: Toward an Integrative Approach to the Study of Philosophy in al-Andalus
      (pp. 44-54)

      The development of philosophical thought among Muslims in al-Andalus is often described in contradictory terms. On the one hand, scholars agree that, in many ways, the Iberian peninsula witnessed the acme of Islamic philosophy. On the other hand, medieval and modern scholars alike often regard the development of philosophy in this region as something of an anomaly.¹ Medieval Muslim writers such as Ibn Ḥazm (d. 1065) and Ibn Ṭumlūs (d. 1223) speak apologetically regarding the scarcity of philosophical interest and of philosophical and theological compositions in al-Andalus, while al-Maqqarī (d. 1631) reports animosity toward the study of philosophy in this...

    • CHAPTER 4 Translations in Contact: Early Judeo-Arabic and Syriac Biblical Translations
      (pp. 57-64)

      The histories of biblical translations into Greek, Latin, Syriac and Judeo-Arabic reveal remarkable similarities, particularly in matters of strict literalism. Although literalism can vary, it seems that, by and large, the principle underlying these literal biblical translations was very much opposed to that of Horace in his Art of Poetry: “And care not thou with over anxious thought / to render word for word.”¹

      Syriac and Judeo-Arabic biblical translations seem to reveal a particular affinity to each other in many respects, including their tendency toward literalism. While the Syriac tradition of translating the Bible is well attested and documented, the...

    • CHAPTER 5 Claims About the Mishna in the Epistle of Sherira Gaon: Islamic Theology and Jewish History
      (pp. 65-77)

      In an Aramaic Epistle of 987, Sherira Gaon, head of the rabbinic academy at Pumbeditha, responded to questions posed by Jews of Kairouan about the genesis of the ancient corpora of rabbinic tradition.¹ Reconstructing the circumstances under which Mishna, Tosefta, Talmud, and Midrash were formed, Sherira described the pedagogic practices of earlier rabbis, traced intellectual lineages linking many generations of sages, and identified political and geographic developments that precipitated internal cultural changes. Sherira pointedly disabused his questioners of their assumption that the rabbinic corpora had begun as written works. Tradition, he emphasized, was transmitted orally through face-to-face encounters between masters...

    • CHAPTER 6 Maimonides and the Arabic Aristotelian Tradition of Epistemology
      (pp. 78-95)

      Recent years have witnessed increased scholarly interest in Maimonides’ epistemology, especially his understanding of the nature, scope, and justification of human knowledge.¹ These studies have often viewed Maimonides within the context of Aristotle’s epistemology and the Arabic philosophical tradition but less often within the Arabic Aristotelian epistemological tradition that we have strong reason to believe was known to him.² I say “strong reason to be lieve was known to him” because of the scholarly propensity in recent Maimonidean studies to look far and wide for possible influences, as the writings of his era become better known.³ That Maimonides crossed religious...

    • CHAPTER 7 Ibrāhīm Ibn al-Fakhkhār al-Yahūdī: An Arabic Poet and Diplomat in Castile and the Maghrib
      (pp. 96-112)

      In his monumental anthology Nafḥ al-ṭīb min ghusn al-andalus al-raṭīb (The Fragrant Breeze from the Succulent Branch of al-Andalus), Shihāb al-Dīn al-Maqqarī (ca. 1577–1632) includes a section of several pages dedicated to six Arabic Jewish poets including one Ibrāhīm Ibn al-Fakhkhār al-Yahūdī (d. ca. 1239).¹ Among al-Fakhkhār’s several poems is a couplet composed in honor of Alfonso VIII of Castile, under whom al-Fakhkhār served as a diplomat during key negotiations with the Almohads of the Maghrib. The verses, along with the introductory superscription by al-Maqqarī, read as follows:

      He said praising Alfonso, may God exalted curse them both:


    • CHAPTER 8 The Impact of Interreligious Polemic on Medieval Philosophy
      (pp. 115-123)

      One of the outstanding characteristics of the academic study of Jewish philosophy from its very inception in the nineteenth century has been the search for the non-Jewish sources employed by medieval Jewish philosophers.¹ Most scholars have assumed that Islamic philosophy was the most significant influence on medieval Jewish philosophy, but in the last few decades students of the field have made increasing efforts to expand the corpus of sources.² Thus, some scholars have recently turned to the non-philosophical internal Jewish sources of Jewish philosophers,³ while still others have investigated external influences on Christian and Islamic philosophy.⁴ Diana Lobel’s excellent and...

    • CHAPTER 9 Arabic into Hebrew: The Emergence of the Translation Movement in Twelfth-Century Provence and Jewish-Christian Polemic
      (pp. 124-143)

      I would like to invite you to join me in approaching my topic as a follower of the philosopher of science Karl R. Popper. By this I mean that our look at the historical facts should be informed by questions and problems. “Facts without theory are blind,” Kant famously said, and a problem at the back of our minds can similarly function as a searchlight that guides us through the thicket of the historical raw material. Rather than simply describe yet again the facts of the Arabic-into-Hebrew cultural transmission, I will sketch what I identify as problems calling for explanation....

    • CHAPTER 10 Fusion Cooking in an Islamic Milieu: Jewish and Christian Jurists on Food Associated with Foreigners
      (pp. 144-160)

      The principle that intellectual activity is shaped by the milieu in which it occurs receives strong confirmation in medieval philosophical literature by Jews and Christians who lived in lands dominated by Islamic culture. Sarah Stroumsa vividly depicts the intellectual marketplace in these lands as a whirlpool whose current transports and transforms ideas irrespective of the religious community in which they originate: “Like colored drops falling into a whirlpool, new ideas were immediately carried away by the stream, coloring the whole body of water while changing their own color in the process.”¹ Because Christian and Jewish philosophers were full participants in...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 161-214)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 215-222)
    (pp. 223-223)