EAJS Conference Grant Programme 2019/20
Stranger in a Land: Late-Antique and Medieval Narratives on Foreigners and Exile
Córdoba, 4–6 March 2020
Academic Organizers: Miriam Lindgren Hjälm (Stockholm School of Theology & Sankt Ignatios Theological Academy); Juan Pedro Monferrer-Sala, University of Córdoba; Israel Muñoz Gallarte (University of Córdoba); Meira Polliack (Tel Aviv University); Marzena Zawanowska, University of Warsaw & Jewish Historical Institute;
Academic Secretary: Lourdes Bonhome Pulido (University of Córdoba)
The aim of the conference was to explore the ways in which representatives of monotheistic traditions perceived and described “the other.” This central category – understood not only as adherent of different religion, but also foreigner, sectarian, or convert – was studied from various perspectives and viewpoints in order to see how Judaism, Christianity and Islam conceptualized their respective “others,” as well as these “others’” sacred texts, their languages and deities. All these is intrinsically related to the idea of exile, another category that was subjected to analyses. The planned outcome of the event is the enhancement of international, multidisciplinary academic cooperation that transgresses the boundaries of distinct scholarly disciplines. The planned output of the event includes the publication of a conference report and of a collective volume of articles based on selected papers presented at the conference.
Main Conference Report
The Original Event Rationale
The medieval “Mediterranean Society” presented a rich tapestry of cultures and religions wherein the adherents of Judaism, Christianity and Islam wished to preserve their different identities vis-à-vis “the others.” These “others” were not necessarily outsiders, i.e., adherents of other monotheistic traditions, or outright heretics, but also insiders, i.e., representatives of the inner varieties of a given tradition, such as Rabbanite and Karaite Jews, Sunni and Shiʿi Muslims, Eastern and Western Syriac Christian communities and Copts, as well as converts. This last category is of special interest as it refers to those who initially had been “others,” until they decided to cross a community’s boundaries and become “one of us.” As such, although well-desired, they were always suspicious to the receiving culture.
The idea of “the other” is intrinsically connected to spacial displacement. To be a refugee, forced from one’s home and homeland, has always been a difficult experience, for some even a death sentence. All monotheistic traditions, but especially Judaism and Islam, preserve collective memories of exile and emigration (e.g., Babylonian exile in Judaism, or the emigration from Mecca to Medinah in Islam) which form an important part of their religious self-identity. The experience of estrangement and hardship involved in sojourning in a foreign land found reflection in the respective sacred texts of both religions, which recount numerous stories of famous emigrants (e.g., Abraham, Muḥammad). The concept of exile is also present in Christianity, though in many texts it became sublimated to reflect the state of human soul as an outsider exiled in one’s material body (e.g., the texts from Nag Hammadi). Yet, in the Middle Ages, the exile was not always imposed. Spectacular military conquests as well as the steadily growing world of trade and commerce made many people abandon their homes and settle in foreign lands of their own will. This notwithstanding, their experience – even if living within their own religious community, and all the more so, if forced to settle among the confessional strangers – was not always an easy one.
The complex reality of vibrant multi-religious and movable society as well as the resulting cross-cultural and cross-sectoral interactions and interchanges find reflection in the respective literatures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The canonical texts of these religions register the authors’ concern with the subject. Later legislations of the monotheistic traditions tried to accommodate the sacred texts to the ever changing reality by means of elaborating legal frames to normalize the life together with “strangers,” while other literary genres provided more abstract conceptualizations of the subject at stake.
So far, more practical, legal aspects of the relations between Jews Christian and Muslims in the Middle Ages have mainly been addressed in research, while theoretical, conceptual dimensions of the ideas of “the other” and “otherness” have not drawn much scholarly attention. In addition, scholars who ventured to explore the subject, usually focused on one particular religion in isolation from others. The purpose of the proposed conference is to redress this unbalance and revisit the ways in which “strangers” and the state of estrangement were perceived and described in the intertwined worlds of the major monotheistic traditions in cross-fertilizing contact.
The papers presented at the conference – to a large extent based on unpublished and understudied sources (e.g., Cairo Genizah manuscripts) – will attempt to answer the following questions: What did the major monotheistic traditions share in common in their approaches to strangers and conceptualization of the state of estrangement? How did their respective views influenced one another and how did they change and transform over time? What were the possible venues of cross cultural transfers and inter-faith transmissions among them: direct or indirect, oral or written?
These as well as other issues will be addressed from different perspectives and viewpoints by scholars representing various disciplines related to Jewish, Christian and Islamic studies, and on the basis of versatile source texts, written in many different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, including Judaeo- and Christian Arabic, Coptic, Syriac, Latin and Greek) representing diverse literary genres (chronographies, exegetical literature, philosophical and grammatical treatises, legal texts, private correspondence, Genizah documents, etc.).
Yet the objective of the proposed conference is not only to give answers, but also to raise questions and map out possible avenues of research based primarily on unpublished and/or understudies sources. The main intention of this initiative is to foster international, multidisciplinary cooperation of established as well as early-career scholars. Therefore, we welcome submissions of papers in English that deal with the broad categories of “the other” and “otherness” in medieval monotheistic traditions and religious denominations.
The conferences met its original rationale. First, it addressed the subject in a pronouncedly interdisciplinary fashion thanks to the diverse fields of interests and scholarly competences of the participants. Accordingly, it explored different perspectives on the notions the “other”/ stranger otherness/ estrangement and exile from the view point of representatives of different monotheistic traditions, as well as of branches (or internal divisions) existing within these traditions (such as Rabbanite and Karaite Jews, or Sunni and Shiʿi Muslims). It did so through a close scrutiny of works written in different time periods (transcending late antiquity and the Middle Ages), in numerous languages (such as Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, Greek, Syriac). As a result, the papers investigated not only the respective sacred scriptures of major monotheistic traditions and/ or exegetical treatment of specific biblical and qur’ānic verses, passages, or broader narratives that refer to various types of strangers, the state of estrangement and exile, but also the conception of the “other” and the condition of otherness and exilic life as reflected in numerous other literary genres such as chronographies and other historical documents, philosophical, grammatical and lexicographic treatises, Genizah sources, legal texts (including fatwās collections and calendar calculations and rulings), mystical and polemical writings, formal letters and private correspondence, poetry, and others. Second, as initially planned many of the sources used by the participants were so far unpublished and/or understudied. Third, the conference not only addressed many of the above mentioned issues, but also raised a fair amount of new questions as testified by the discussion that followed participants’ presentations (see below). Fourth, it enhanced international cooperation of established and early-career scholars which will be continued while working on the post-conference volume.
Detailed Overview of Sections and Papers
There were altogether 24 papers (and not 26 as initially planned) presented at the conference, divided into 9 thematic sessions. Unfortunately, due to the situation caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic, 6 scholars decided to cancel their participation, of whom 4 sent their papers in advance, so that they be read by someone else in their stead).
The first session (chaired by Juan Pedro Monferrer-Sala, University of Córdoba) was devoted to The Concepts of Stranger and Estrangement in Canonical Texts. Originally, it was planned to be opened with a paper Greece and Judah: Models of Mutual Relationships in Persian and Hellenistic Period in the Light of Common Intellectual Heritage by Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spano (University of Warsaw), who, unfortunately, had to cancel his participation. Therefore the first talk was given by Mette Bjerregaard Mortensen (Université Libre de Bruxelles) who spoke on Enclave Rhetoric in the Qur’ān. It argued that the tension between the early Muslim believers and the surrounding world, including the tension between in-group and out-group, was a prevalent theme throughout the Qur’ān which was evidently preoccupied not only with boundary drawing, but also – and perhaps even more so – with boundary maintenance. Building on the research of the American New Testament scholar, E.P. Sanders, who had introduced a distinction between the ideas of “getting in” and “staying in” in connection with the study of early Judaism and had argued that early Torah piety was concerned mainly with “staying in” (i.e., staying in the covenant with Yahweh), rather than “getting in” (meaning that Torah piety was not essentially missionary, but preserving and upholding in its character), the paper argued that a similar concern was mirrored in the Qur’ān. It demonstrated that the Qur’ān espoused what might be termed “enclave rhetoric,” that is, rhetoric which articulates the world in which the believers live as full of iniquity and rampant sinfulness. Referring to Mary Douglas’ observations that the enclave is particularly preoccupied with reactualizing and refueling the resentment that led to the formation of the enclave in the first place, Bjerregaard Mortensen argued that this tendency is particularly visible in the Qur’ān’s continuous encouragement to the believers to “emigrate in the way of God” (e.g. Q 2:218; Q 8:72; Q 9:20; Q 22:58) from maltreatment and persecution. She showed that the emigrant identity, articulated as a central, even decisive (e.g., Q 8:72) part of being a member of the early qur’ānic community, and upholding the “emigration project” – and, thereby, the boundaries of the early qur’ānic community – was in the Qur’ān enhanced by rhetorical reactualization of the reasons for emigrating in the first place. The following discussion focused on the double meaning of the concept of emigration which may refer to an actual physical displacement, but also spiritual alienation. The discussion also touched upon possible similarities to the Kharājites (Khārijites took their name from the term kharaja, meaning “to leave”), as well as devotional practices referred to in Sufi texts, where the Arabic root hajara – used to denote Muḥammad’s emigration from Mekka to Medinah – means “leaving house to devote oneself to God”).
The last paper in this session, Strangers on the Earth: Two Nag Hammadi Texts on Humans Exile in the Physical World, was presented by F.L. Roig Lanzillotta (University of Groningen). It is a well-established topos that Gnostics had a very low opinion both of their physical body and of the material world in which they were forced to live. In the black-and-white overview provided by anti-heretical writings, indeed, all Gnostic sects are described as being anti-cosmic dualists and pessimists. Roig Lanzillotta demonstrated that thanks to the discovery of the Nag Hammadi corpus, nowadays we have a much more nuanced picture of heterodox Christians, since it offers a broad spectrum of attitudes and concepts regarding both the physical body and the world, running the gamut from radical rejection to implicit acceptance. The paper focused on two Nag Hammadi treatises, namely the Exegesis on the Soul (NHC II, 6; ExSoul) and the Authoritative Teaching (AuthTeach), of supposedly dualistic character that conceive of human life as the soul’s exile on Earth. It showed that while the former mainly described the violence of incarnation in the body, which forced the soul to bear an unnatural, physical relationship, the latter pondered how violently the world imposed itself on the soul. In both these Nag Hammadi texts, therefore, physical life was depicted as that which perpetuates dualism, keeping the soul far removed from the Father and forcing her to live exiled in an alien and distressful environment. Yet, Roig Lanzillotta argued that against the commonly accepted view, they did not convey a clear-cut anti-cosmic dualism, as their cosmology was evidently monistic (only one God). Thus, he concluded, they rather represented a moderate dualism (akin to Platonic conceptions) in which the earthly/ human and the heavenly/ divine were in opposition. The following discussion raised the question as to what extant these texts reflected their authors’ wish to be the “other,” alienated from the common people who do not seek knowledge.
The second session (chaired by Mateusz Wilk, University of Warsaw) was devoted to Conceptions of “the Other” and the Exile in Medieval Thought and Traditional Literature. It opened with a paper The Karaites as others in Judah Halevi’s Book of the Kuzari, presented by Marzena Zawanowska (University of Warsaw & Jewish Historical Institute). It focused on one of the most influential books of Jewish religious thought ever written, namely Judah Halevi’s Book of the Kuzari. On the basis of a letter preserved in the Cairo Genizah, it had generally been assumed to have originally been composed as a polemical response to a Karaite convert. However, Zawanowska argued that the Karaites had neither been perceived nor described by Halevi as heretics. She pointed out that in fact, his depiction of this alternative to Rabbanite Judaism – its adherents and origins – appeared so appealing to the Karaites that it made some of them believe that the author had been a (crypto-) Karaite himself, while his reconstructions of the movement’s history became appropriated as the founding myth of Karaism. The paper attempted to answer the questions of what was the attitude of Halevi towards the Karaites, and what, in his view, was their main fault. It also addressed a more fundamental issue of what was his purpose in writing the Kuzari. In an attempt to answer them, she showed that although Halevi was evidently ambivalent towards the Karaites, he was also ambivalent towards the Rabbanites. Her conclusion was that the Book of the Kuzari conveyed a sustained critique of all the Jews, whether Rabbanite or Karaite, aimed not only at their improvement, but also at reconciliation between the adherents of these two major branches of Judaism. The ensuing discussion focused on the question of how different Halevi was in comparison with his contemporaries (especially in terms of his conceptualization of divine revelation), hence to what extent he was the “other” within his own society.
The second talk in this session, Exile and estrangement in the thought of Baḥya ibn Paqūda and Judah Halevi, was given by Ehud Krinis (independent researcher), who employed the interpretation of the prolonged existence of Jews in exile (Heb. galut) as a prime example of Baḥya’s and Halevi’s radically diverse understanding of the meaning of Jewish experience. He argued that Baḥya suggested a re-formulation of exile not as a historical experience, but as a personal-existential one, whose dimensions of loneliness and alienation were formulated with the help of the Arabo-Muslim terms of “estrangement” (Ar. ghurba) and “stranger” (Ar. gharīb). In Baḥya’s thought the individual’s acknowledgement of his status before God as the one meaningful axis of his existence, entails his inner acknowledgment of himself as a stranger (Ar. gharīb), one who is estranged and alienated, in his inner concealed level, from matters of his earthly existence in general, and from matters concerning his social existence and national affiliation in particular. In contradistinction, Judah Halevi, who perceived Judaism as developing along the axis between the God of Israel and the people of Israel, sought to emphasize the national dimension of exile (Heb. galut) as a situation which drastically weakens the ties bonding the people of Israel with the God of Israel. For Halevi, acknowledging and experiencing exile as an acute and profound crisis are crucial to the arousal of a real and concrete desire and plea for national redemption. According to him, an authentic yearning for God’s redemption of Israel from exile requires not just adhering to the traditional rabbinical customs of lamenting and praying, but also active steps of traveling and dwelling in holy land. It is in this context that Halevi integrated his own original interpretation of the concept of the “stranger” (Ar. gharīb), which he took upon himself to realize. The stranger is the one who, after departing from his family and community, assigned himself to walking across the holy land, grasping directly the bitter reality of the land’s occupation by foreigners and impostors. This is much in the way the nation’s patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, did in the aftermath of God’s convent with them. Thus, Krinis convincingly demonstrated that by applying the concept of the “stranger” (Ar. gharīb) to their interpretations of the situation of exile (Heb. galut), both Baḥya and Halevi had found themselves in conflict with their own cultural and social environment, retreating from their Jewish-Andalusian society. While in the case of Baḥya this retreat was inner and implicit, in Halevi’s case it was explicit and provocative. The following discussion focused on different influences on Baḥya and Halevi (of al-shuʿūbiyya, the possibility of which Krinis rejected, and of the shiʿīte concept of ṣafwa, which he confirmed referring to his PhD dissertation).
The third paper of this section presented by Łukasz Piątak (Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań), was entitled “Banished from its World.” The Image of Fallen Soul in al-Suhrawardī’s al-Wāridāt wa-al-Taqdisāt (The Divine Inspirations and Sanctifications). It explored the influences of Gnostic and Neoplatonic paradigms of treating what is divine in human (be it soul, spirit, pneuma, light, etc.) as essentially alien to the mundane world on Muslim religious thought, and more specifically on the twelfth-century mystic author, al-Suhrawardī’s (1154–1191). It argued that some traits of this worldview could be found in, or interpreted from, the famous hadīth of the prophet Muḥammad: “This world is the prison for a believer and paradise for a non-believer” (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 5390) and that it had been typically interpreted in this way by Sufi mystics and Muslim Neoplatonic philosophers. Piątak demonstrated that in the thought of al-Suhrawardī the soul (Ar. nafs/ an-nūr al-isfahbaḏī) was an intermediate being, which had its origin in the realm of spiritual light. However, being attached to the body during its life on earth meant a forced descent to the dark world of matter. In this state a soul was engaged in a number of relations that caused its ethical deterioration and might have an impact on its eschatological fate. The paper showed that in his well-known allegorical narrative entitled Qiṣṣat al-ġurba al-ġarbiyya (The tale of western exile), al-Suhrawardī presented temporary stay of the human in this world as “an exile in the West,” while in al-Waridāt wa al-Taqdisāt, he developed an image of a soul as a stranger lost in the land of danger, desperate to free itself from oppression. Thus, Piątak concluded that the medieval author invoked his soul to remind it of its noble descent and called for its purification and implores the Active Intellect to facilitate the soul’s return to its homeland through the process of illumination. The paper was mainly based on Piątak’s critical edition of the hitherto unpublished Arabic text of al-Waridāt wa al-Taqdisāt. The ensuing discussion raised the question of al-Suhrawardī’s estrangement as a mystic. One of the participants asked why he was killed, whether it was because of his controversial and heterodox views. The answer was that one should not disregard the tense political situation in the region of the time (e.g., Crusades, but also Sunni/Abbasid and Ismāʿīli/Fatimid rivalry for power). Referring to previous scholarship (Ziai, Marcotte), Piątak pointed out that al-Suhrawardī was probably seen by his adversaries as possible crypto-Ismāʿīli (e.g, his ideal of the king-philosopher rather than orthodox Qurayshī caliph). In addition, the chroniclers mention him as a master sorcerer, a person perceived by his disciples as a prophet (Ibn Abī Uṣaybi‘a, Ibn Khallikān). Indeed, Piątak argued, that two of al-Suhrawardī’s texts might have been seen as having pretense to the status of revelated books, namely Ḥikmat al-Ishrāq (The Philosophy of Illumination) and al-Waridāt wa al-Taqdisāt.
The third session (chaired by Marzena Zawanowska, University of Warsaw & Jewish Historical Institute) was devoted to Converts and Community Boundaries in the World of the Genizah. It opened with the paper Conversion of women to Judaism in the Cairo Genizah documents, presented by Amir Ashur (The Research Authority of Orot Israel College). It discussed numerous cases of conversion of women, all dated to the 11th–13th centuries. It argued that the heroines of these conversions were independent women – each one of them being a foreigner not only as a non-Jew asking to be accepted into the Jewish community, but also as a woman, that is, of lower social status, not equal to men (thus “double strangers”). In-depth analyses of various documents from the Cairo Genizah inspired Ashur to raise interesting questions: how these women perceived themselves as “foreigners” or “others” and how they were perceived by the community, as well as whether there was any difference in the attitude of the community toward male converts or foreigners, as opposed to the attitude toward women. In an attempt to answer these and other questions, Ashur discussed different aspects of “otherness” – gender, religion and ethnic community. The following discussion evolved around the status (and rights) of women as internal “others,” and touched upon the question of their literacy and access to education. One of the participants gave an example of a woman who served as a Bible teacher for boys. There was also a question about the conversion of slaves and their status as “new-comers” in the society.
The next speaker in this session was to be Zvi Stampfer (The Research Authority of Orot Israel College), who was to give a talk on Trust or Suspicion: The Status of the Non-Jews as Reflected in Judaeo-Arabic Works, but, unfortunately, had to cancel his participation.
The last paper in this session, Strangers by the Law: A Sharia Perspective on Others According to Mālikī Fatwās from Medieval Maghreb, was delivered by Filip Jakubowski (Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań). It begun with an observation that being a stranger could be considered from different angles – religious, ethnic, tribal, social as well as others, and argued that the famous “us and them” dichotomy was also visible in Islamic jurisprudence (especially in fatwās, reflecting different perspectives). Considering Islamic legal rulings a unique source of knowledge on everyday life, Jakubowski analyzed Mālikī fatwās from the medieval Maghreb preserved in a collection known as Al-Miʻyār l-muʻrib wa al-jāmiʻ al-muġrib ʻan fatāwī ahl Ifriqiyya wa al-Andalus wa al-Maghrib. This multivolume work was compiled by al-Wansharīsī (d. 1508) and transmitted by al-Mahdī al-Wazzānī (d. 1923) in his Al-Miʻyār al-jadīd. Jakubowski pointed out that among many fatwās dating from 3rd/9th to 9th/15th c., there were cases of marginalisation of both individuals and entire groups. Not only were there entire groups labeled as heretics, as well as traces of some controversies with Jews or Christians could be discerned, but also, what is most peculiar, a clear distinction between local Muslims and others was made. Those considered strangers seemed to be Andalusīs, members of certain Berber tribes, or Muslims from other parts of the Islamic world. Although the Sharia theoretically treats all Muslims equally (this approach is based on Q 49:13), the questions posted to muftīs testify to the existence in practice of clear distinctions between “us” and “them,” especially if the customs of those who were recognized by the community as others were different from the local ones. Jakubowski demonstrated that the theoretical equality of Muslims (kafā’a) depended on: lineage (the descendants of the Quraish tribe were considered better), duration of adherence to Islam (recent converts were considered worse), freedom, piety, occupation (scholars were considered better; there were even produced tables of unsuitable professions) and wealth. Finally, he observed that the same distinction was also visible in the choice of the words describing the “others.” The ensuing discussion focused on different conceptualizations of otherness within Muslim society (e.g., the title of sharīf is given to those who descend from Fatima, but ironically women in some cases do not inherit it).
The fourth session (chaired by Yoram Erder, Tel Aviv University) was devoted to Strangers and Estrangement Real and Imagined. It opened with Camilla Adang’s (Tel Aviv University) paper on Ibn Ḥazm’s Self-portrayal as a Stranger in His Own Land. The controversial religious scholar and literary figure Ibn Ḥazm of Cordoba (d. 1064 CE) stood out in the intellectual landscape of al-Andalus for a number of reasons: (1) the rare breadth and depth of his scholarship, which resulted in a vast number of major works and short epistles on theology, morals, substantive law, legal theory, logic, history, political theory, interreligious polemics, belles lettres and more; (2) the suspicion that he had not acquired his knowledge through the accepted channels of oral instruction but rather from books; (3) his insistence that religious law and doctrine should be based exclusively on the Qurʾān and reliable Ḥadīth, taken in their external sense (Ar. ẓāhir) and, closely related to all the above (4) his relentless conflict with representatives of the dominant Mālikī religious establishment in al-Andalus, whose authority he challenged and whose piety and learning he questioned. All of this, together with his critique of some of the party kings, who had created small states on the ruins of the former Umayyad caliphate, led to his ostracism and withdrawal from public life and to the burning of his books. Even before events took this dramatic turn, however, Ibn Ḥazm seems to have been well aware of his unusual position, as we can infer from a number of texts that reflect his sense of alienation and otherness. The paper focused on a close analysis of these source texts. The final discussion evolved around the question of how common was it to feel linguistic estrangement in al-Andalus (the spoken Arabic dialect differed from the classical one), and thus to what extent it was a cultural topos. It also touched upon the question of the concepts and relationship between the oral and written traditions in Islam. In addition, one of the participants asked about Ibn Ḥazm’s competences and training (who were his teachers, whether he was a true Ḥadīth scholar; Adang confirmed that he was).
The second paper in this session was presented by Mateusz Wilk (University of Warsaw), who talked on Otherness and Politics in Zīrid Granada. It discussed the political and cultural activity of two Jewish leaders (viziers?) active in Zīrid Granada – Samuel ha-Nagid (Abū Ibrāhīm b. al-Naġrīla, d. 447/1055) and his son, Joseph (Abū Ḥusayn b. al-Naġrīla, d. 459/1066) – as well as the situation that led to the upheaval of Muslim inhabitants of Granada against the Jews in 1066. It used the case of Zīrid Granada as an example of a Classical Muslim state paradigm, where non-Muslim officials were often employed, but this practice frequently caused social upheavals, conflicts and riots. Wilk explored the nature of interactions between Jewish leaders and Muslim inhabitants of Granada, demonstrating how the “otherness” of Jewish high-ranking state officials influenced the politics of Granada in mid-5th/11th century, paying special attention to some methodological difficulties posed by the sources. He also scrutinized in detail one of these sources, namely the famous anti-Jewish poem written by the jurist Abū Isḥāq of Elvira, showing that the way he presented Jews in this text might have reflected collective fears characterizing the political unrest of the taifa period. At the end of his presentation, he addressed a question of whether the poem might indeed have triggered the outbreak of anti-Jewish violence in 459/1066 as maintained by some scholars. The ensuing discussion focused on the role played by the poem in the aforementioned riots of 459/1066. One of the participants argued that the poem did not incite violence (it would be hard to imagine for a poem written in classical Arabic to exert influence over uneducated masses), but rather it was the other way around – it reflected views that brought it about. Another participant observed that although it was against Muslim law to have a Jew in power, no one had a problem with it, as long as the Muslim ruler was strong and his politics were successful. The problem started when the Muslim power weakened and had to cope with its own defeats by looking for a scapegoat. Finally, someone made a comment that nowhere in Muslim sources ha-Nagid was called a vizier.
The last paper in this session, Do Calendar Differences Cause a Social Rift?, was given by Nadia Vidro (University College London). She opened her talk with an introductory comment to the effect that calendars and time reckoning had occupied a central position in medieval society, as an organizing principle of society and social life. The calendar structured all aspects of social and economic life, defined the rhythms of religious liturgy and worship, and provided a focus for communal and religious identities. For this reason, scholars have often assumed that disagreements over the calendar led to social rifts and sometimes even schisms. In her paper, Vidro aimed to undermine this view, by offering a more nuanced picture of the impact that calendar differences between medieval Karaites and Rabbanites had exerted on Jewish social cohesion and daily life. She explained that in the Middle Ages, Rabbanites determined their calendar by calculation using fixed arithmetical schemes, while Karaites relied on the observation of natural phenomena, such as the new moon and the state of barley crops. It has thus long been recognized that the calendar differences played a critical role in Karaite-Rabbanite relations. In early research on the subject it was assumed that the use of different calendars would have broken up society and led to a Karaite-Rabbanite social and religious schism. More recently, the assumption that Karaite and Rabbanite communities must have led separate lives because of their different calendars has been challenged, for example, by marriage contracts between Karaites and Rabbanites which included special provisions for their different festival dates. In her paper, Vidro considered the implications of medieval Jews running their lives with different time frames and calendars and convincingly argued that calendar differences did not entail social segregation and schism. The ensuing discussion revolved around the question of whether there was a real schism between Karaites and Rabbanites in the Middle Ages and if it did affect the everyday life interactions of the adherents of both these branches of Judaism. One of the participant observed that one should not draw general conclusions on this matter from the Genizah documents relating to specific instances (thus not to take pars pro toto). It was also pointed out that the Rabbanite authors’ theoretical statements in this respect are not a reliable source either (e.g., Ibn Daud’s information on the yearly excommunication of the Karaites was probably his own invention). Another participant asked if calendrical works by Abraham bar Hiyya and Abraham ibn Ezra might have been composed in response to the Karaite “threat.” The answer was negative; they were composed in 12th century Spain where the Karaite presence did not pose a real threat, and therefore most likely reflected genuine scientific interests of their authors.
The fifth session (chaired by Camilla Adang, Tel Aviv University) was devoted to the question of The Status of Strangers and Converts in Religious and Secular Legislation. It opened with Krystyna Stebnicka’s (University of Warsaw) paper on Jews as Strangers in Late Antiquity Jerusalem/Aelia Capitolina. It began with a historical introduction on Emperor Hadrian and his refounding of Jerusalem as the Roman colony called Aelia Capitolina. Jews were banned from this totally pagan city populated with military veterans, as well as from its environs. The ban remained in force for the next couple of centuries (in the 4th c. Constantine permitted Jews to visit the Temple site only once a year to commemorate the destruction of the Temple). Stebnicka presented and analyzed in detail all known evidence (objects with Jewish symbols) for Jewish pilgrimages to the Christian Holy City from the 4th to the 6th c. CE. She argued that the early fourth-century itinerary of the anonymous Bordeaux Pilgrim, including the first description of the Temple Mount after the one by Josephus Flavius, as well as Jerome’s commentary on Zephaniah and the so-called pilgrim vessels decorated with Jewish menorot, left no doubt about regular Jewish visits to Jerusalem and Jewish presence on the ruined Temple Mount during the time when Emperor Hadrian’s ban was theoretically still in force. The ensuing discussion focused on the question of why the Jews were allowed to enter Jerusalem, what made Constantine issue a permission for Jews to access the Temple site once a year. The conclusion was that their visits were tolerated for religious propaganda purposes as a means of showing the superiority of Christianity (the miserable situation of the Jews was considered as convincing proof that God favored Christians). As to the preserved material evidences of their presence, it may safely be assumed that they represented a sort of souvenirs produced for the pilgrimages.
The second paper in this session, The Proselytes (gerim) in the Hebrew Bible According to the Early Karaites, was presented by Yoram Erder (Tel Aviv University). It opened with a remark that as on many other issues, there were numerous contradictions in the Hebrew Bible regarding the proselyte status in Israel. The answers given by the Talmudic sages to these contradictions in the Oral Law were irrelevant to the Karaites, who sought solutions through their own interpretation of the Hebrew Bible alone. Analyzing the Hebrew concept of ger (“proselyte”), Erder demonstrated that the Karaites maintained that the Bible made a distinction between two types of proselytes: Ger ṣedeq (in Judaeo-Arabic: ger dīnī) who accepted the yoke of religion, and ger shaʽar – a proselyte who partially assimilated to the Jewish people. The Karaites found it hard to identify the type of proselyte to which a particular scriptural verse was referring to. Erder explored in depth the definitions of proselyte in Karaite law, and the duties and rights of the various types of proselytes, considering the following issues: Are the rights of a proselyte in the Land of Israel the same as those of a proselyte in the Diaspora? Did the laws of the dhimma in Islam influence the Karaites’ legislation concerning the proselytes? He also pondered the extent to which the Karaite discourse influenced the Rabbanite commentators of the Hebrew Bible in the Gaonic period and after. The ensuing discussion focused on the medieval Karaites’ internal debates over the concept of “proselyte,” as well as how their internal disagreements were reflected in their writings (theory) on the one hand, and influenced their legal rulings (practice) on the other.
The last paper in this session, Maimonides and Andalusian Legal Thought, by Marc Herman (Yale University), was read by Camilla Adang. It opened with the observation that Moses Maimonides (1138–1204) had penned perhaps the most comprehensive medieval account of rabbinic tradition, but that his ideas were at odds with his medieval predecessors and frequently, as his interpreters noted, the Talmudic tradition itself. It situated several anomalous features of Maimonides’ legal thought in the context of Andalusian Mālikī and early Almohad jurisprudence, thereby embedding Maimonides’ timeless vision of Jewish law in a particular moment of Islamic legal history. Herman demonstrated that integrating ideas from non-Rabbanite Jews and, more decisively, Muslims thus enabled Maimonides to reevaluate rabbinic literature and to present rabbinic authority in a novel way. Ultimately, he argued that reading Jewish and Islamic legal traditions in concert contributed to a long-needed reevaluation of the constitutive elements of Jewish law in the Islamic world. Given the absence of the author of the paper, there was no possibility to take questions from the audience.
The sixth session (chaired by María Angeles Gallego, Spanish National Research Council) was devoted to Reflections on “the Other” and “the Other’s” Scripture in Exegetical Literature. The first paper, The Pedagogy of Failure: Christian Arabic Commentaries on Exile Psalms, by Miriam Lindgren Hjälm (Stockholm School of Theology & Sankt Ignatios Theological Academy), was read by Marzena Zawanowska. It opened with the observation that reception history is increasingly becoming an integral part of biblical studies. Accordingly, the reception of the popular Psalm 137 [LXX 136, “By the Rivers of Babylon…”] has recently been the subject of several studies that show how the interpretation of this Psalm was adapted so as to be made meaningful for new audiences as it traveled through the centuries. We are told in these studies that the interpretation divided Jews and Christians because of their respective approaches to the Bible. Yet the story told is the story of the West. As a complement, the present paper focused chiefly on the Eastern Christian reception. It argued that Eastern Christian commentaries and homilies on this Psalm showed that Eastern Christianity resorted to a broad spectrum of approaches in their efforts to make sense of the Jewish exile and that Christian reception was far more complex and rich than what recent studies on the reception of this Psalm have accounted for. By bringing examples from Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Arabic texts, Hjälm demonstrated that the question of interpretation divided not primarily Jews and Christians, but Christians internally in Patristic times and for centuries to come. Given the absence of the author of the paper, there was no possibility to take questions from the audience.
The second paper in this session, The Vision of the “Other” in Menahem ha-Meiri’s Commentary on Psalms, was presented by Mariano Gómez Aranda (Spanish National Research Council). It opened with an introductory information on Menahem ha-Meiri (1249–1315), a Provençal halakhist and exegete. He wrote several commentaries on the Bible, of which only two have been preserved up to our times (viz. on Psalms and Proverbs). In his commentary on Psalms, ha-Meiri observes that some Psalms were written as prophecies of “our long exile” or “our exile in Edom,” making a clear reference to the situation of the Jews among Christians in Medieval times. Thus in his exegesis, the ambiguous “other” of the biblical text is transformed into the Christian “other.” The paper analyzed how this Provençal exegete perceived the Christian “other” by applying the biblical text of Psalms to the circumstances of his own time (“actualization”). By doing so, it contributed to our understanding of how the contacts of Christians and Jews in Medieval Provence were perceived by a Jewish exegete in the light of the biblical text. Finally, Gómez Aranda analyzed and compared Meiri’s vision of the Christians as expressed in his exegetical comments (in his Bible commentaries) with his positive attitude towards them in his halakhic works (Talmud commentaries). The following discussion touched upon the resemblance between ha-Meiri’s approach and those of the earlier Karaite exegetes from the East (especially Daniel al-Qumisi) in terms of his “actualizing” comments. One of the participants asked whether ha-Meiri made a clear theoretical distinction between the literal-contextual and allegorical interpretations, and if he elaborated on his hermeneutics (e.g., in introductions to his commentaries). The answer was negative. Moreover, Gómez Aranda stated that it was rather improbable for ha-Meiri to be acquainted with Karaite writings. Another debated issue was the apparent incongruity in ha-Meiri’s approach to Christianity – his positive assessment of this religion as non-idolatrous and promoting positive values in his Talmud commentaries, and his negative assessment of it in his Bible commentaries. The conclusion was that both types of works were written for different audiences with different purposes in mind and that ha-Meiri considered Christianity good in theory, but bad in practice.
The seventh session (chaired by Israel Muñoz Gallarte, University of Córdoba) was devoted to The Others, Their Languages and Deities. It opened with a paper entitled The “Unsacred” Language of the Others: Jewish Views on Other Languages in the Andalusi Context, delivered by María Angeles Gallego (Spanish National Research Council). It opened with the introductory observation that the role that the Hebrew language played in the history of the Jewish people as their sacred language has been widely studied. The study of Jewish attitudes towards other languages is arguably less developed, especially for the pre-modern period. The paper addressed the issue in the specific context of al-Andalus. The Jews of al-Andalus played a crucial role in the study and revival of the Hebrew language for literary purposes in the so-called Golden Age period. Interestingly, however, their investigative work in the Hebrew language took place at a time of profound Jewish embedment in the Arab-Muslim milieu, often idealized as the Golden Age of “convivencia.” Gallego demonstrated that references to languages other than Hebrew, the sacred language of Judaism, were scarce and usually occurred in grammatical works in the context of comparative analyses between Hebrew and Arabic. The view that Andalusi Jews had of other languages was also reflected in the initial polemics between those scholars who were in favor of writing in (Judeo)-Arabic on the one hand, and those in favor of using Hebrew for their scientific works on the other. Furthermore, attitudes towards languages other than Hebrew, and more specifically Arabic, are implicit in the linguistic registers used for their writings and their acknowledgement of the literature of other groups, notably Arab Muslims. Thanks to the in-depth analysis of these different factors, Gallego offered a comprehensive view of Jewish attitudes to languages other than Hebrew in al-Andalus. While doing so, she showed how they evolved through time (early period, 8th–11th c.; from 11th c. onwards) pointing to the link between religious and linguistic identification. The ensuing discussion revolved around the Jews’ of al-Andalus “nationalism” versus their pride in their Oriental ancestors (such as Saadia Gaon). One of the participants suggested that in al-Andalus it was generally considered prestigious to study in the East. Another participant responded to this comment by observing that initially the Jews of al-Andalus indeed recognized the intellectual superiority of Eastern Jewry and its cultural centers, and only with time developed a sense of self-pride. Yet, he argued, the Jewish-Muslim encounter in medieval Spain would not have been as fruitful as it was, if not for the earlier interactions of both cultures in the East. Gallego pointed out that although the Andalusi Jews evidently acknowledged and were proud of their cultural heritage, during the Golden Age they predominantly saw themselves as an independent intellectual elite, superior to other contemporary traditions. Comments from the audience reinforced some of Gallego’s arguments. Furthermore, one of the participants pointed out that in the quotation of Moshe ibn Ezra regarding his conversation with a Muslim scholar about the use of other languages for translating the sacred texts, we should assume that the conversation took place within a shared house (pointing to the closeness of Muslims and Jews) rather than merely in the same land. One of the participants referred to the linguistic evolution of al-Andalus and asked why from the 11th c. onwards Latin ceased to be used as a literary language in the Iberian Peninsula, especially given the spread of Christianity. The answer was that Christians had largely adopted Arabic. Another participant was interested to know if the Jews of al-Andalus might have known Greek. The answer was that it was hardly probable.
The second paper in this session, The Self as the Other in the Jewish Literature of the Egyptian Diaspora in the Hellenistic Period: The Case of the Letter of Aristeas, was delivered by Agata Grzybowska (University of Warsaw). It opened with the introductory comment that the pseudepigraphic Letter of Aristeas was one of the two works of Jewish literature of the Hellenistic Period (the other being the Sybilline Oracles), in which a non-Jewish figure was introduced as the narrator and the central figure of the text. In this work, the story of how the Greek Bible translation known as the Septuagint came about is told from the perspective of a Greek court official under the rule of Ptolemy II Philadelphos in a letter – or a diegesis [narrative] – written to his friend Philocrates. The author of the Letter, who, according to the scholarly consensus, was a Hellenized Jewish intellectual most probably based in Alexandria, adopted the Hellenic perspective to the point of approaching his own culture as a Hellene would approach the culture of the “other.” The narrative features several digressions, including a travelogue, in which Aristeas relates his impressions of Jerusalem, an apology of the Law, in which peculiarities of the laws of kashrut are explained to him by the High Priest Eleazar, and a symposion, where King Ptolemy II Philadelphos interviews the Judean translators on their culture’s views on kingship. The paper analyzed the construct of the non-Jewish narrator, who explored his own tradition as the cultural legacy of the “other.” In the first part of her talk, Grzybowska connected this work with the Greek educational practice of progymnasmata (exercises in rhetoric), as well as early Hellenistic attempts at historical fiction. In the second part, she briefly discussed the benefits and ideological implications of this kind of approach. Finally, she concluded pondering the questions of what and how did the text tell us about the author’s own approach to the “other.” Grzybowska posited that although it was seemingly aimed at conveying a favorable image of the Jews to the Greeks, it in fact conveyed a favorable view of the Greeks to the Jews. The following discussion disputed this claim providing various arguments for and against this claim.
The last paper in this session, The Treatment of Idols (asnām) in the Hebrew Bible According to Andalusi Hebrew Lexicography, was presented by José Martínez Delgado (University of Granada). It opened with the observation that although according to the Bible the God of Israel is evidently one, He is not the only one, as Scripture contains numerous allusions to neighboring local deities and gods (called “idols”). In the following, it showed how these deities and gods were treated in the Andalusi lexicographical tradition, especially in Ibn Janah’s dictionary. The paper offered a detailed lexicographic analysis of their names demonstrating that medieval authors had ridiculed them through providing mocking etymology of their names (e.g., as originally zoomorphic terms). Martínez Delgado argued that this interpretative tradition was deeply Arabized. He also demonstrated that when a reference to an idol or idols appeared in the Bible in connection with the forefathers, it was neutralized in lexicographic texts by means of interpretative translation (e.g., Rachel’s home deities, tĕrafīm, were explained to mean astrolabe). The ensuing discussion touched upon the possible sources of inspiration of Andalusi lexicographers. It was pointed out that strikingly similar explanations were earlier provided by the Karaite exegetes active in the East (e.g., the explanation of tĕrafīm as astrolabe).
The eighth session (chaired by Filip Jakubowski, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań) was devoted to Power, Powerlessness and Expulsion. It opened with Fred Astren’s (San Francisco State University) paper, A Doubly-Articulated Anomaly in the Muslim Past: The Expulsion of Jews and Christians from the Hijaz under the Caliph ʿUmar, read by Marzena Zawanowska. It discussed the expulsion of Jews (and Christians) from the Hijaz that is recorded to have taken place under the caliph Umar (634–644). Since Muḥammad made a pact with the Jews of Khaybar and others in the Hijaz, this expulsion seemingly violates rightly-guided prophetic precedent. Many reports found in ninth and tenth-century Muslim tradition and historical writing sought to harmonize this anomaly, in part to define the Hijaz as a Muslim holy land, and as part of a wider discourse on Muslim space. In this regard, questions about a Hijaz purged of non-Muslims parallels scholarly discussions on the character of Muslim cities. Even as later Muslim scholars imagined the seventh-century Hijaz, they also imagined the seventh-century Muslim garrison cities as pristine exemplars to be applied to contemporaneous Muslim urban space, in which the presence of non-Muslims was either circumscribed or entirely forbidden. Re-writing both the history of the Hijaz and the garrison cities in Muslim tradition together was used to frame the place of Jews (and Christians) in Muslim society. Given the absence of the author of the paper, there was no possibility to take questions from the audience.
The second paper in this session, The Exile of Cain. A Passage in the Syriac and Arabic Apocryphal Sources, delivered by Lourdes Bonhome Pulido (University of Córdoba), focused on one particularly problematic passage from the Book of Genesis (Gen. 4:10–16). It narrates how Cain, after having killed his brother Abel, was sent to inhabit the Land of Nod. The paper offered an overview of the reception of this passage in the Apocryphal Cave of Treasures, written in Syriac. A detailed analysis of the source text aimed at enhancing our understanding of where was located – according to the Syriac author – the place of Cain’s exile, as well as of how early Christian commentators conceived of the controversial character of Cain. The ensuing discussion touched upon the question of whether the music which, according to the Bible, was created by Cain’s descendants should be considered blameworthy or not. Someone also asked about the possible relationship between this Syriac text and the apocryphal Book of Jubilees. The answer was that this issue has so far not been researched well enough.
The last paper in this session, entitled Stranger in Power: The Image of Shmuel ha-Nagid as a Jewish Dignitary at a Muslim Court in Contemporary Literature from al-Andalus, was presented by Barbara Gryczan (University of Warsaw). It scrutinized selected aspects of Shmuel ha-Nagid’s political activity through the prism of his poetic oeuvre. Ha-Nagid (993–1056) – known also as Ismāʻīl Ibn al-Naġrīla – was a Jewish intellectual who rose to power and prominence in the city-state of Granada in the first half of the 11th century. His life story provides a rare example of the spectacular success and career advancement of a Jew, thus a stranger, at a Muslim court. Gryczan explored the ways in which ha-Nagid’s unusual biography (with its various stages: Cordoba 993–1013; Malaga 1013–1020; Granada 1020–1056) was reflected in his poetry. Analyzing in detail his poems in which ha-Nagid recorded the events of his life, kept poetical track of what was happening around him, or commented on it and replied to criticism, Gryczan argued that his lyrical oeuvre represented a single example in the history of Jewish literature of a versified autobiography. In this unusual autobiography recounted by a poetic voice, he presents himself as a Jewish leader of the chosen people appointed to this role by God, despite that in reality he was serving as a hight official at a Muslim court and leading wars for Berber Kings. Special attention was paid to the poet’s reflections on his own status as “the other,” at first as a refugee from Cordoba and next as a stranger in power in the city-state of Granada. The following discussion focused on the question of the reliability of ha-Nagid’s texts as well as other sources of the period and on his purposeful auto-creation as a stranger in the exile. In addition, it considered possible ways of tracking the waves of emigration from Cordoba after the fall off the Umayyad dynasty and ha-Nagid’s probable visit to Lucena. It also touched upon the issue of the reception of Ibn al-Naġrīla’s figure in Arabic sources (Ibn Hazm and ‘Abd Allāh).
The ninth session (chaired by José Martínez Delgado, University of Granada) was devoted to Historical and Exegetical Narratives on Strangers. It opened with a paper entitled A Christian Out of Home: The Greek Sources of the Abgar’s Legend Revisited, delivered by Israel Muñoz Gallarte (University of Córdoba). It analyzed one of the most intriguing texts in the history of Christianity, related to the supposed exchange of letters between King Abgar V Ukama of Edessa and Jesus. The original source texts, probably composed in the early 4th c. CE in Syriac, have been translated and preserved in various languages (Armenian, Coptic, Latin as well as Greek, and afterwards also in Arabic). Although they have already deserved scholarly attention, the information regarding the Greek sources remains scarce and misleading. The paper revisited the main threads of the legend, closely analyzing Greek sources from literary, historical and philosophical perspectives. It scrutinized the circumstances in which they were written (after the conversion of Constantine to Christianity in 312 CE) and the purpose of their composition. Muñoz Gallarte suggested that they might have reflected Eusebius’ interpretation of the history of Christianity on the one hand presenting Jesus as a good pastor and letter writer, and over-emphasizing the culpability of Jews on the other. In addition, at the time of the spread of Christianity towards the East, the image conveyed by these letters of a pagan king who converts to Christianity and is rewarded might have served as an instructive model to be emulated by other kings. In the end Muñoz Gallarte demonstrated that the letters analyzed were evidently in popular use (as amulets). The ensuing discussion revolved around the question of whether these letters might have been originally composed in response to Manicheism and whether Eusebius translated them directly from Syriac.
The second paper in this session, An Idumean among Nabataeans and Romans: On the Source-text of a Passage in Maḥūb al-Manbijī’s Kitāb al-‛Unwān, was offered by Juan Pedro Monferrer-Sala (University of Córdoba). It focused on a short text contained in Maḥbūb al-Manbijī’s Chronicle (dated to the 10th c. CE). Among other things, this work recounts the major events of the life of Antipater. The paper provided a detailed analysis of the relevant passage with a view of shedding new light on the possible sources employed by Maḥbūb al-Manbijī in his recount of Antipater’s narrative. To this purpose, it scrutinized two other accounts of the same story provided by earlier Jewish and Christian historians: the Hellenized Jew Flavius Josephus’ War of the Jews (1st c. CE), and the Christian historian and exegete Eusebius of Caesarea’s Historia ecclesiastica (3rd–4th c. CE). In addition, a quotation brought by Michael the Syrian (12th c. CE.) was also analyzed in this context. Finally, Monferrer-Sala offered some conclusions about the possible Vorlage of the story cited by Maḥbūb al-Manbijī, stating that it was impossible to know for certain whether he had drawn directly on Josephus, or not. The ensuing discussion revolved around the questions of whether in his recount of Antipater’s story Maḥbūb al-Manbijī might have used the Book of Yosippon as his source (given the popularity of this text as attested by the Genizah documents), and whether he provided some more detailed information on Antipater’s title (designation).
The last paper in this session, prepared by Dotan Arad (Bar-Ilan University), Muslim Rule in Jewish Eyes: Different Views and Approaches from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern Period, was presented by Marzena Zawanowska. It dealt with the relations between Jews and Muslims in the Islamic world. In previous research, legal aspects of these relations (in terms of discriminatory laws against Jews and their enforcement) have chiefly been discussed, but not the conceptual ones. Addressing this lacuna in research, Arad investigated texts written in the Middle East in the late medieval and early modern period by Jewish thinkers, Kabbalists, preachers, as well as laymen, exploring different ways in which these authors addressed the following questions: What did they think of the Muslim authorities? Did they consider their governors to be righteous and fair rulers? Would they have preferred to live under Christian rulers? He discussed inter alia a Talmudic dictum which rates the non-Jews as rulers depending on under whose rule it is more comfortable for a Jew to live (BT Shabbat 11a). Arad showed that there existed different variants of this saying. While manuscripts copied in Christian countries put the Ishmaelite on top of the list, those written in Islamic countries put the “Goy” (i.e., the Christian) on its top. The Jews living in in the realm of Islam imagined Jewish life in Christendom as relatively more tranquil and safe than their own. Analogously, Jewish travelers from Europe (mainly Italy) described with enthusiasm the safety of roads in the Mamluk state as well as deep involvement of Jews in the local economy. Interestingly, their travelogues preserve also voices of local Jews which reflect a more negative view of the Muslims (including mockery of Islamic praxis). In addition, a negative attitude towards Muslim neighbors and Islam appears in a letter (dated to the 15th c.) sent to the Community’s leaders of Cairo. The Cairene Jews are described in it as those “who live in their enemies’ wilderness; who dwell in a land that is not theirs.” The author’s viewpoint is clear: The Jews are strangers who are subjected to the Muslim rulers like the Jewish slaves in Egypt at the time of the exodus were, while their neighbors are their enemies. In light of the above, Arad suggested that despite the paucity of sources we may conclude that Jews in the Muslim lands in the late Middle Ages and early modern period did not share the optimistic view of their own situation expressed by their brethren from Christian lands, and depicted their Muslim rulers in a dark light. The difference in descriptions written by the representatives of the two Jewish Diasporas reflects well the idiom: “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Given the absence of the author of the paper, there was no possibility to take questions from the audience.
Summary of the most significant and productive threads
Among the most significant and productive threads in papers and discussions were the following:
- the importance of the ideas of otherness, estrangement and exile in late antique and medieval sources, no matter their literary genre; the impression is that in one way or another everyone felt a stranger or wished to depict himself as such;
- it was relatively common to be/ feel the “other” within one’s own society (e.g., women, converts, slaves, but also free-thinkers, mystics, etc.);
- the double meaning of the concept of emigration which may refer to an actual physical displacement (often conceived of as negative), but also spiritual and/or intellectual alienation (often conceived of as positive, e.g., in gnostic tradition, but also in Baḥya ibn Paqūda’s and Judah Halevi’s thought);
- the use of the concept of exile to construct one’s own religious identify vis-à-vis another religious tradition/s; accordingly, emigration may sometimes be made into an important part of a group’s self-identity (or cultural topos, as in the case of early Muslim society of the Muhājirūn);
- alienation may sometimes be self-imposed and conceived of as a sort of a privileged status (e.g., Gnostics, but also Baḥya ibn Paqūda);
- linguistic estrangement and alienation may sometimes make one feel at home in an alien culture and thus create cultural boundaries between representatives of the same religion;
- the concepts of stranger and estrangement is much dependent on the nature of inspected sources (e.g., the Genizah materials testify to no social segregation and schism between the Rabbanites and Karaites, while other sources prove the contrary);
- the inner dynamics of parallel developments within different religious traditions (e.g., Gnostic authors of Nag Hammadi texts, mystical thinkers such as al-Suhrawardī), as well as cross-cultural transfer of ideas, concepts and motifs;
- diverging and converging interpretations of the concept of exile, as well as exegetical methods and techniques applied by Jewish, Christian and Muslim authors; the enduring efforts on the part of both Jewish and Christian commentators to make sense of the Jewish exile, as well as the extent to which the question of interpretation divided not only Jews and Christians, but also Christians internally;
- synchronic processes of cross-cultural development of given concepts or phenomena, and their diachronic evolution;
- the extent to which some interpretations were informed by the Sitz im Leben of a given Jewish, Christian or Muslim author (e.g., ha-Meiri’s approach to Christiany versus the approach of the Jews who lived in the Muslim realm);
- the unusual fertility of the discussed concepts of the “other”/ stranger, otherness/ estrangement and exile that inspired many varied interpretative responses;
- the extent to which interdisciplinary approaches contribute to and enhance fruitful inspiring discussions.
Planned Outcomes and Outputs
The conference helped to shed new light on conflicting tendencies of inclusion and exclusion discernible in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as well as dialectic tensions between freedom and coercion in one’s choice of belonging to a given religious community or geographic location (homeland). It traced and thus helped elucidate the roots of modern approaches to “the others” – no matter foreigners or minority groups – and “otherness” within a given society. The subject is of special interest and significance in Europe now, given all the discussions related to the refugees.
The additional outcome of the event is the enhancement of international, multidisciplinary academic cooperation that transgresses the boundaries of distinct scholarly disciplines, in order to examine the cross-cultural transfers of concepts and ideas among different monotheistic traditions. The underlying assumption is that none of these traditions operated in isolation from others, and that they all had a far-reaching, cross-fertilizing effect on one another.
The planned output of the event includes the publication of a conference report in a well-established journal (indexed by Scopus, and included in the ERIH or Master Journal List, such as Collectanea Christiana Orientalia or Studia Judaica). An additional output considered by the organizers is publication of a collective volume of articles based on selected papers presented at the conference (edited by Juan Pedro Monferrer-Sala, Miriam Lindgren Hjälm and Marzena Zawanowska) to be submitted to a renowned publishing house (such as Mohr Siebeck, Brill, etc.).