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

David M. Frei­den­re­ich and Miri­am Gold­stein, eds.
  • Review
By – June 25, 2012

Schol­ars have long been inter­est­ed in con­tacts between reli­gions in the Mid­dle Ages. The focus has shift­ed with time from cat­a­clysmic con­fronta­tions to the more mun­dane ways in which peo­ple from dif­fer­ent reli­gions inter­act­ed and relat­ed to each oth­er. Beyond Reli­gious Bor­ders is the prod­uct of a year-long research group at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia that was devot­ed to the lives of Jews, Chris­tians, and Mus­lims under medieval Islam­ic rule. As sug­gest­ed by the sub­ti­tle, the stud­ies in the vol­ume are most­ly devot­ed to high-lev­el inter­ac­tion – philo­soph­i­cal and sci­en­tif­ic exchange between intel­lec­tu­als of dif­fer­ent reli­gions, and legal bound­aries that were imposed by rulers and by reli­gions. A cou­ple of fas­ci­nat­ing arti­cles by Hag­gai Ben-Shamai and Sag­it But­bul deal with the first emer­gence of Judeo-Ara­bic and with the bib­li­cal trans­la­tions cre­at­ed by Jews in this lan­guage before the tenth cen­tu­ry. Trans­la­tion is a prime exam­ple of inter-cul­tur­al exchange that has been stud­ied exten­sive­ly, though often with­out con­sid­er­a­tion of the fac­tors that led to its cre­ation. Gad Freudenthal’s chap­ter sug­gests a his­tor­i­cal expla­na­tion for one of the major trans­la­tion projects of the Mid­dle Ages – the trans­la­tion of Ara­bic texts in phi­los­o­phy, med­i­cine, and the sci­ences into Hebrew by Jews in south­ern France from the twelfth cen­tu­ry onwards. Sev­er­al of the arti­cles are tan­ta­liz­ing­ly brief, as they raise inter­est­ing ques­tions but defer the answers to future, larg­er stud­ies. The vol­ume pro­vides a glimpse of the excit­ing state of Mus­lim-Jew­ish stud­ies today, with rel­e­vance to medieval Jew­ish phi­los­o­phy, the legal sta­tus of medieval minori­ties, and medieval polemics.

Discussion Questions