Power in the Portrayal

Power in the Portrayal: Representations of Jews and Muslims in Eleventh- and Twelfth-Century Islamic Spain

Ross Brann
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    Power in the Portrayal
    Book Description:

    Power in the Portrayalunveils a fresh and vital perspective on power relations in eleventh- and twelfth-century Muslim Spain as reflected in historical and literary texts of the period. Employing the methods of the new historical literary study in looking at a range of texts, Ross Brann reveals the paradoxical relations between the Andalusi Muslim and Jewish elites in an era when long periods of tolerance and respect were punctuated by outbreaks of tension and hostility.

    The examined Arabic texts reveal a fragmented perception of the Jew in eleventh-century al-Andalus. They depict seemingly contradictory figures at whose poles are an intelligent, skilled, and noble Jew deserving of homage and a vile, stupid, and fiendish enemy of God and Islam. For their part, the Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic texts display a deep-seated reluctance to portray Muslims in any light at all. Brann cogently demonstrates that these representations of Jews and Muslims--each of which is concerned with issues of sovereignty and the exercise of power--reflect the shifting, fluctuating, and ambivalent relations between elite members of two of the ethno-religious communities of al-Andalus.

    Brann's accessible prose is enriched by his splendid translations; the original texts are also included. This book is the first to study the construction of social meaning in Andalusi Arabic, Judeo-Arabic, and Hebrew literary texts and historical chronicles. The novel approach illuminates nuances of respect, disinterest, contempt, and hatred reflected in the relationship between Muslims and Jews in medieval Spain.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2524-0
    Subjects: History, Religion, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION Power in the Portrayal
    (pp. 1-23)

    Despite its reputation as a singularly tolerant premodern society and its romanticized popular image as an interfaith utopia shared by the three monotheistic religious communities, al-Andalus, or Muslim Spain of the (European) High Middle Ages as it is more commonly known, was torn repeatedly by tribal and ethnic social cleavages, and socioeconomic struggles and factional rivalries among Andalusi Arabs, Berbers, theṣaqāliba(the so-called Slavs), and Mozarabic Christians. For their part, the Jews of al-Andalus prospered materially under Muslim rule and apparently ranked among the most acculturated and politically complacent groups in the society. They readily accepted Muslim political and...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Force of Character Three Eleventh-Century Andalusi-Muslim Views of Ismā‘īl ibn Naghrīla (Samuel the Nagid) (Ṭabaqāt al-umam; Ibn A Ḥayyān al-Qurṭubī apud Al-Iḥāṭa fī akhbār gharnāṭa; Al-Tibyān)
    (pp. 24-53)

    According to the literary historian and critic Moses ibn ‘Ezra’ (c. 1055–after 1138) and later chroniclers of Andalusi-Jewish tradition, Abraham ibn Daud (b.c. 1110) and Sa‘aadia ibn Danān (fifteenth century), there was no greater figure among the Jews of eleventh-century Iberia than Samuel the Nagid (993–1055 or 1056).¹ A reputable rabbinic scholar, Hebrew grammarian, and biblical exegete, and the first truly accomplished and innovative Hebrew poet of the so-called “Golden Age” of Jewish culture, Samuel the Nagid was arguably the most significant Jewish cultural mediator of the eleventh century. The twelfth-century Andalusi-Maghribi Jewish philosopher and biblical exegete Joseph...

  7. CHAPTER TWO An Andalusi-Muslim Literary Typology of Jewish Heresy and Sedition Al-Fisạl fī l-milal wal-ahwā’ wal-niḥal and Al-Radd ‘alā ibn al-naghrīla al-yahūdī (‘Al ibn Ḥazm)
    (pp. 54-90)

    The figure of Samuel ibn Naghrīla turns up again in a heresiographical text by Abū Muhammad ‘Alī ibn Hazm (994–1064), the outstanding but highly idiosyncratic Andalusi-Muslim literary and religious intellectual of the eleventh century. Ibn Naghrīla is also taken to be and may well be the suggested subject in another fiercely polemical work by Ibn Hazm. Both texts draw a fundamentally different portrait of Ibn Naghrīla than eitherṬabaqāt al-umam, Ibn Ḥayyān, orAl-Tibyānexamined in the previous chapter. They are of interest not only because of their extensive treatment of samuel and the Jews of eleventh-century al-Andalus but...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Textualizing Ambivalence Ibn Bassām’s Literary Miscellany, The Treasury concerning the Merits of the People of Iberia (Al-Dhakhīra fī maḥāsin ahl al-jazīra)
    (pp. 91-118)

    Let us now turn to the extended passage in Abū l-Ḥasan ‛Alī Ibn Bassām al-Shantarīnī’s (d. 1147) monumental Andalusi-Arabic literary miscellany,Al-Dhakhīra fī mahāsin ahl al-jazīra(The Treasure Concerning the Merits of the People of the [Iberian] Peninsula). This text initially presents Ismā‛īl ibn Naghrīla as a Jew worthy of admiration, respect, and tribute. Then conversely, the text demonizes Ibn Naghrīla as a scoundrel who utilized his office to undermine Islam and attempt to establish a Jewish polity in its place while denying Muslims their rights and depriving them of their wealth. We can think of this textual maneuver as...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Muslim Counterparts, Rivals, Mentors, and Foes—A Trope of Andalusi-Jewish Identity? The Problem of Andalusi-Jewish Representations of Muslims
    (pp. 119-139)

    As we have seen in the three previous chapters, Andalusi Muslims freely represented Jewish personalities in historiographical works, literary miscellanies, biographical dictionaries, and other genres. Andalusi-Arabic representations of Jews, particularly their supposed strengths, weaknesses, and religious otherness, we learned, were tropes of Muslim culture and spoke to conflicts of Muslim religion, culture, and identity. For their part, eleventh-and twelfth-century Andalusi-Jewish authors rarely took the liberty of representing Muslim figures. The discipline of their textual practice in this respect might seem to reflect a reluctance to portray Muslim characters or personalities with any degree of detail even though their reading audience...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The Silence of the Jews: Judah al-Ḥarizi’s Picaresque Tale of the Muslim Astrologer
    (pp. 140-160)

    Imagine migrating from Iberia and the Muslim West to the Muslim East and composing two texts en route in which are recounted realistic incidents and fanciful escapades in familiar, exotic, and fantastic locales. The two texts, an Arabic rhymed-prose work and a book of Hebrew imaginative prose, have much to relate about the widely dispersed members of a small ecumenical minority, including mention by name of more than 150 communal notables and literary figures encountered during the odyssey. But the texts are noticeably lacking in narrative reports about the dominant culture and society and in depictions of its constituents.


    (pp. 161-184)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 185-194)