This session provides a space for scholarly encounter concerning Muslim and Jewish writing about each other.
Early Muslims adopted many narratives of Jewish and Christian origin and adjusted them to Islamic beliefs and values. These ‘adjusted’ narratives often reflect nascent Islam’s need to distinguish itself from previous monotheistic religions and define its uniqueness. It is well known that perception of the ‘other’ plays an essential role in defining self-identity. This paper aims to trace the Muslims’ perception of the Jews and its role in crystallizing Islam’s self-image, by focusing on narratives dealing with the destruction of Jerusalem. These narratives demonstrate Muslim perceptions of Judaism and their own self-image as successors, rivals and heirs of this religion.
Pirqe Mashiaḥ is an apocalyptic midrash from Palestine from the 7th or 8th centuries, and part of the so-called revival of Jewish apocalyptic literature in Late Antiquity when political events, including the Persian, Byzantine, and Arab conquests, were regarded as a sign of the messianic era and the coming age. Pirqe Mashiaḥ is a compilation of eschatological teachings that is supplemented with historical allusions to demonstrate that the major political changes under Arab rule from the 7th century onwards are a sign of the apocalyptic end of time. There are many references to ‘the other’ in Pirqe Mashiaḥ as manifested in descriptions of the wicked Edom, Sammael the prince of Rome, references to the minim and the representation of the Arabs (ערבים) in the compilation. The portrayal of the Arabs in Pirqe Mashiaḥ raises important questions about the development of Jewish apocalypticism both in terms of the traditions that it preserves, but also how these motifs and concepts are developed in light of the contemporary political situation from the 7th century onwards and what this suggests about relations with the ‘other’ at this formative period.
This lecture will discuss the attitude of medieval Kabbalists versus medieval philosophers towards oriental wisdom – specifically the practices of astral magic, which both of them related as a wisdom originated among the earlier Sabean. On the one hand, I will present the stance of Maimonides, who declared his familiarity with magic books but criticized hermetic magic, regarding it as idolatry and denied their scientific validity. Moreover, according to Maimonides, Abraham’s faith originating in this context, he set himself to discredit the religion of the ‘Easterners’ as reflected in their books, this being one the prominent tendencies of Israelite faith and some of its laws. On the other hand, I’ll present the complex attitude of the Zohar towards these magic books which he attributed to a lost Jewish wisdom, an ancient legacy of Adam and Abraham. I would like to show that in contrast to their stances regarding Greek culture, the attitude towards eastern culture is more liberal within Kabbalistic circles than among medieval philosophers.