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It has been some time – as usual – and I am as always terrible sorry for it.
The war is on break for now, people are back to normal, or at least as close you can come to normal here.
The studies are going on as usual as well, stressing me and leaving me with a lot of pressure, as well as a son soon to be born, BE”H. But I am grateful, very grateful.
I have been thinking about the comparative study, and how we teach about religions. One thing that has struck me is that we often teach about the religions for themselves, that is, instead of comparing some interrelated fields, we study them unrelated to each other. Take for example philosophy in religion (or religious philosophy). When we study Jewish philosophy, most often it is only rarely related to Islamic or Christian philosophy, but in order to get a good understanding of Jewish philosophy we need to relate it to other players in the field. Maimonides, for example, is influenced by a number of Islamic philosophers (as well as Greek), and has himself influenced both Christian and Muslim philosophers.
Another example is the role of central figures and how to understand them. Often we are told that Muhammad is to Islam what Moses is to Judaism, but is that really so? I have more and more thought about this issue, that we need to have the comparative element integrated into the general study and teaching of religions, in order both to understand the religions in and of themselves, as well as in their relation to other religions. I will try to give a small example on how this can be done in the following:
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all three religions based on one or more central figures. In all of them one person stands out of centrality compared to other central figures. In Judaism Moses is of great central importance, in Christianity Jesus has the same centrality, and in Islam it is Muhammad. What is interesting in this respect, is not so much how these characters are viewed and understand in the other respective religions – though that certainly also is of importance – but how they are central in comparison of other central figures in the respective religions, as well as how they are understood in comparison to how the central characters are understood in the other religions.
Moses, for example, is far from the only central character in Judaism, we can easily mention both Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Isaiah, David, and Salomon as examples on other very central characters. And that is just in the Bible itself, would we expand our focus to other Jewish materials, then we would find Hillel and Shamai, Yehudah haNasi, Maimonides, and so on. And furthermore, though I believe that Moses is the most central character in Judaism (except God Himself, of course), I am not sure of how strong his centrality is compared to the centrality of the other characters. For example, where Moses is very central and of crucial importance when it comes to the implementation of law in Judaism, he doesn’t hold the same level of importance when it comes to the establishment of Israel as a people. There Abraham might be of greater centrality. Or Moses compared to David in the establishment of the kingdom of Israel. And so on. Yet, I still believe that Moses overall is of greater central importance than other characters are.
We see the same with Christianity, where Jesus is far from the only central figure. Take characters like Paul, Peter, and John. Or the various church fathers. Or even Luther. In both these cases, though there would be no Judaism without Moses, and no Christianity without Jesus, their central importance is to some degree matched by other characters, though the two religions might have existed in some form or another without them.
It seems to me that Muhammad enjoys a much greater centrality and importance when it comes to Islam. Though references are abundant to other characters in the Qur’ân, Muhammad is still the receiver of the Qur’ân, and in the early times he was the leading figure when spreading Islam, at least till his death. In this context we don’t see Moses or Jesus spreading their respective religions, which can be part of the reason that Muhammad is more central in Islam than the two in their respective religions. Of course there are other important characters, the four righteous caliphs, the founders of the legal schools, the philosophers, and so on, but put notice on how Muhammad is in focus, both when it comes to the role as the receiver of the Qur’ân as well as when it comes to the Hadith-literature. In comparison, the Mishnah is not ascribed to Moses, and the letters in the New Testament is not ascribed to Jesus. Where Moses mostly is of crucial central importance to the written Torah in Judaism, and Jesus plays somewhat the same role in Christianity, neither of them are ascribed to the “oral tradition” (the Mishnah/Tosefta in Judaism, and the letters in Christianity), while this is the case for Muhammad in Islam.
This is one aspect. Another aspect is how we view them, how we describe them. This can teach us a lot about how the followers of the respective religions understand their religion and their role as followers of the religion in question. I am not going to too much into how followers are relating to them, just use the most used examples.
Moses is – by Jews – described as “teacher”, Moshe Rabenu. This is very crucial for the Jewish conception. He teaches us and we learn from him. He has a role not unlike the rabbis, as the chief rabbi, and this – I believe – has left its mark on Jews, who generally have been very occupied by the focus on study.
Jesus, on the other hand, is described as savior. This is something we often see in how Christians describe themselves, as being saved.
Again we see Islam somewhat differ here. Muslims see themselves as submitted to God, not so much describing Muhammad as God’s submitter, but rather in describing themselves as such. Where Jews today are named after a tribe, Yehudah – earlier named as a people, Israel – Christians are named as followers of Jesus, the Christ, and Muslims are named after their relation to God, as people submitted to God. But Muslims are neither taking their name after a role perceived in relation to Muhammad, nor after a role described him. Nevertheless, in one incident we do see Muslim self-perceiving based on Muhammad, namely as the final group of believers. Muhammad is the final prophet, therefore those who are following him are the right group of believers. In Judaism as such Moses wasn’t the last prophet to come, and it wasn’t unperceivable that other religions would form, though they wouldn’t have importance for Israel as such, and in Christianity we also see the spokesman, the holy spirit, would come after Jesus.
All this more or less describes an idea I’m working on, which could be interesting to follow in the future. I don’t know if anything will come of this or what it will end with, but if any of you out there have any suggestions, then please share with me, I would be very interested in hearing about what you have on mind.
I also know that there are many conceptions and thoughts, which could have been explained better, for example when I talk about strength of centrality and the like, but again, this is mostly sharing thoughts.
Looking forward to hear from you.
All the best and Hanukkah Sameah!
The finals for this semester are closing in, and it provokes the inevitable question: What am I going to write about in my assignments?
This summer will present me for five finals, which all need a written assignment, one of them being a seminar paper, so there will be a lot of writing, which is fine, I do love to write, but it also takes a lot of extra reading. Nothing to do about that, besides to read.
What is nice about this semester, contrary to the last, is that I have more freedom to choose subjects, so the subjects will be more interesting for me. Anyway, as far as I have decided the subjects I am going to write about are:
The Use of Quranic Verses in Umayyad Architecture: In the course Archaeology and History of Muslim Jerusalem I have been wondering where to put my focus. Since the course mostly focused on the archaeology, and not so much in the history (well, it is part of it), I wondered how to combine it with my study of religion. My decision fell on the use of Quranic verses, which seems to be have very widespread during the Umayyad Caliphate, e.g. in the Dome of the Rock, so I thought that it could be interesting to see how the Quran was used as part of architecture and whether it was meant as some sort of educational tool, as was the case with other expressions of thought, e.g. in mosaics.
Christian Thought on Free Will: In the Early Christianity and Late Antiquity we have dealt most of this semester with studies on Augustine. In one of the classes we dealt with another Christian and contemporary of Augustine, Pelagius, who did provoke some controversy, among other thing on the question of free will and original sin. I found the thought interesting, especially from a theological point of view. Do we really have free will? If not, is God then Just? And if so, is God then All Powerful? It’s going to be interesting to see what these two thinkers thought of it.
Abraham ibn ‘Ezra’s response to Muslim Polemical Arguments: In the Medieval Jewish Exegesis we have dealt with the commentaries and methodology of four great Jewish commentators from the medieval Western Europe, namely Rashi, his grandson Rashbam, Abraham ibn ‘Ezra, and RaMBaN. Since I am mostly focused in the meetings between Islam and Judaism, I have decided to focus on ibn ‘Ezra and possible answers against Muslim attacks on the Jewish faith. I have to admit that I’m not too sure whether he really did deal with it, so I might change focus to his answers to the Karaites instead, in order to keep my focus on the Muslim world.
The Jewish Convert’s Attack on Judaism, and the Jewish Thinker’s Responses: The Battle over the Bible has really been an interesting course, where I’ve learned a lot of new things concerning approaches to the Bible as text and as phenomenon, both concerning Jewish, Christian and Muslim attitudes. Especially one Muslim caught my attention, the 12th century Jewish convert, Samaw’el al-Maghrabi, who wrote a polemical work against the Jewish faith called Ifham al-Yahoud, Silencing the Jew. This work apparently did become rather known, since we see a lot of later responses to it. One who responded rather early is Maimonides, though not on all of the Ifham, and probably not directly on it either. In his Iggeret Teyman, Letter to Yemen, he responds on some of the claims which is being brought forth in the Ifham. It could be interesting to see how the two view the Bible, and how Samaw’el’s approach differ from earlier Muslim approaches to the Bible.
Jewish Influences on Early Islamic Jurisprudence: This is one I’m really looking forward to, and which I have spend a lot of time considering. In the Early Islamic Texts and the Formation of the Muslim Community I have chosen to write my first seminar paper. I did decide from the outset to focus on Islamic law, since I feel that there are a lot of similarities between law in Islam and in Judaism, both in rules but also in methodology and attitudes. It is going to be a challenging subject though, leaving me with four problems to choose between. The first is the obvious comparative study of Jewish and Islamic Jurisprudence, where I wondered about whether there are any Jewish influences in the way early Islamic scholars approached the deduction of laws. One reason why I think so is the contrast in method there existed between the two earliest schools of law in Islam, al-Maliki and al-Hanafi, the former being situated in Medina and Mecca, and traditionally focused on tradition, based on the logic that since the prophet lived there, then he would naturally correct people who did things incorrect as well as showing the people the correct ways, whereas the latter, situated in Iraq, was much more inclined to relate to logical reasoning, something they might have learned from the many great Jewish scholars which had their ancient dwelling there, namely in the old Babylon. It wouldn’t be totally weird for the early Muslims to have relations to the Jewish scholars of Iraq. This doesn’t mean that there was influences or that they were total in so far as there were. The problem is how to relate to the matter, do we choose to make an external or internal study, do we compare the apparent similarities or do we go in and focus on the approach and outlook.
The interest in this particular subject was raised by two articles, one by Judith Romney Wegner, “Islamic and Talmudic Jurisprudence: The Four Roots of Islamic Law and their Talmudic Counterparts,” and one by Joseph E. David, “Legal Comparability and Cultural Identity: The Case of Legal Reasoning in Jewish and Islamic Tradition.”
In Islamic Jurisprudence there are four sources traditionally, two revealed sources, Quran and the Sunnah of the prophet (as it is found in the Hadith-literature), as well as Ijma, which means consensus, as well as Qiyas, which means analogical reasoning. The two first sources are agreed upon a hundred percent by all four schools, where as the two latter sources are subject for discussions.
Wegner, in her article, argues that the four sources are influenced by Jewish sources in the Talmud, the Quran being the Islamic answer on the Written Torah, the Sunnah on Oral Torah (written down in what is called Mishnah, which root is close to the root of sunnah), the consensus of the Ulamah, the learned Islamic scholars, being the Islamic answer on the consensus of the Sages, and Qiyas, legal reasoning being the answer on the Talmudic reasoning, two forms of reasoning which seem pretty similar, at least from an external point of view. And it is here where David comes in with his article, where he deals with different approaches to the comparative study, attempting to present a new approach, “jurisprudential consciousness”, based on the conscious ideas, principles, concepts, beliefs and reasoning of the jurist, which contrary to Wegner’s approach is a much more internal approach, leaving a different impression than the first.
An example is in its place, taken from David’s article. In both the Talmudic reasoning as well as in Islamic reasoning there is an understanding of judicial error, that is, a judge who makes a faulty decision. There are two categories under this subject, those faults which are based on lack of knowledge or understanding of the revealed sources, and those which is caused by flawed legal reasoning. In both Judaism and Islam the former has to be corrected, whereas the latter is accepted. And in both religions the former is based on precisely the same criteria, going against the revealed sources (in Judaism the Written and the Oral Torah, and in Islam the Quran and the Sunnah), where is the criteria differs in the latter case. In the Talmud the flaw based on legal reasoning is based on the wrong choice of two differing opinions, which have never been dealt with. It can be the case of two Tannaim (Mishnaic Sages) or two Amoraim (later Sages from the Gemarrah) who have a disagreement which was never solved. A later judge might then base his decision on one of the two opinions, whereas the general practice follows the other opinion. It is a fault, since he should have followed the normal practice, but it is still accepted. In case of Islamic thought, at least according to Shafi’i, the fault is caused based on flawed legal reasoning based on the principle of qiyas, analogy, not on the judge deciding the wrong of two differing opinions. And here we see a contrast between Jewish and Islamic legal reasoning.
But this is only the first of the four possible problems I might choose among. That is, how much similarity or difference are there between Jewish and Islamic legal thought, and can this be a sign of Jewish influence on early Islamic legal thought? The next problem is to establish connections. Namely, are there any Jewish converts who had influence on early Islamic law? If not, can we then assume that early Muslim legal scholars met with Jewish scholars and discussed with them? That is also an interesting question, a question which demands a different approach, focusing on historic accounts on interfaith meetings between Jews and Muslims within the first centuries of Islamic time.
The third question deals with the reasoning and methods of the “ahl al-ra’y,” the people of reasoning, the early Islamic scholars in Iraq, an important step in understanding the way the resonated in their dealing with legal questions. The reason for the importance of this, is obvious. If Shafi’i, a third century AH Islamic scholar, can be said to be influenced by Jewish thought, whereas the earlier Islamic scholar in Iraq differ strongly, then the question is how much Jewish legal thought influenced Islamic legal thought, and if at all.
The fourth problem is the already mentioned difference in approach found in the Meccan-Medinan legal thought, as expressed by imam al-Maliki, and the Iraqi legal thought, expressed by imam abu Hanifa, and their disciples. There are differences and the root and cause of these differences can be hinting to some Jewish influences on the one of them, so far as we can point to any similarity in the legal thought of the two religions.
My problem is to choose only one of these for problems, not having room or time enough to deal seriously with all of them. And I am in doubt which one of them to focus on.
So, there you are. This is my program for next two months. I’m looking forward to share thoughts and progress with you.
I’m sorry that this is going to be a little short. The thing is, Pessah is starting today, this evening, and we have been cleaning like crazy the last couple of days, and today the last couple of things had to be done, so now everybody’s a little exhausted myself included. I’m not even turning my computer on, which is rare for me.
So why this crazy cleaning? Well, according to the Torah we are not allowed to eat leavened bread for the next week, as a reminder of our exodus from Egypt some 3000 years ago. Yeah, I know it’s a long time ago, but we’re commanded to remember what God did for us, so that we’ll do, even if it means. Cleaning and no bread for a week.
Actually it’s not only the bread. We’re not allowed to have any ‘hametz’ which means all kinds of products which needs time just standing on its own, in order to become what it’s meant to be, for example beer and other equal products.
Anyway, it is a wonderful Hag, and there’s a lot to tell about. And since it’s only the first and last day that we have ‘close down’ I will spend some time next week to tell a little more about this very important time for us.
And since the Christian also are. Celebrating one of their days I will take the opportunity to wish them a good time too.
So for the Christian readers a happy Easter, and for all my Jewish brethren out there a Hag Kasher v’Sameah!
When we compare Christian and Jewish versions of Bibles, we will often – though not too often – see some crucial differences, especially when comparing translations. Much of that can of course be explained as interpretation, but that isn’t always the case. There are two original texts considered to be the Jewish and the Christian text respectively. For the Jews we are talking about the Masoretic Text (MT), and for the Christian the Septuagint (Sep.).
These differences have, of course, been the reason for much discussion. It is expected, even when there are no differences there are still discussions on interpretations.
Nevertheless, these differences do help to a much more extensive discussion, even on small matters. The most central maybe is regarding which original is the correct one. But before I continue, then let me explain what I mean when I write “original.” I don’t mean to say that they are the original text/s, nor that they are the ones used today. Or rather, the MT is actually the most used, but for Christian translations the Septuagint is also used. The Septuagint, which is a Greek translation of Hebrew text/s (we are not sure which), differs in a number of words from the MT, which is based on the Rabbinical tradition on reading and pronouncing the Hebrew texts. Let me give an example on one place where they differ:
In the beginning of Genesis 2 we read about how the heaven and the earth were finished, and that God rested (or ceased) from the work. In the second verse though what seems to be a problem arises when reading the MT. It says like this: “And on the seventh day God had finished his work which he had made: and he rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made.” Whenever I read this I always imagine some reader reading this out loud with a powerful voice. Anyway. The translation I have quoted are not so good, the word for “had finished” is actually waychal, “he finished.” The problem arising from this is that God both created – though finishing it – and rested. Okay, I hear you argue that maybe it’s just a figure of speaking, maybe we should understand it as the translation says, that God actually finished the last details on the sixth day. The problem being that that’s not what the text says, God finished on the seventh day, and that is how it always has been understood. I’ll get back to that one.
In the Septuagint the second verse is a little different stating: “And God finished on the sixth day his works which he made, and he ceased on the seventh day from all his works which he made.” Do you see the difference? Instead of both finishing the work and ceasing/resting on the seventh day, He actually finishes the sixth, and then on the seventh does He cease/rest. And then relating to something interesting, when we read the Samaritan text we are reading the exact same Hebrew text as the MT, expect in one case; the day is not haShvi’i, but haShishi, the sixth day instead of the seventh day, agreeing to the Septuagint (or the other way around, depending on which came first). This might have been the cause to some debate, since there was a rabbinical response (and now I’ll return to why the Hebrew text cannot be understood as God finishing the sixth, while resting on the seventh day). The response goes: “What did the world lack (after the first sixth day, on the seventh day)? Rest! Shabbat came – Rest came; and the work was thus finished and completed!” That is, since rest was part of the creation, God – by resting – finished the creation, and thus did the finishing the work and resting on the same day come together.
This is one example which shows that the Septuagint isn’t a translation of the MT, showing that there were more Hebrew texts out there. Of course, those relating to the Septuagint would say (and indeed do) that the text the Septuagint is translated from is the true text, while the followers of the MT would deny that.
So what is it?
As I hope you have noticed it has been some time since my last post. I am sorry for that, but the last couple of weeks have simply been too busy and packed, among other things with the conclusion of my assignments and the beginning of the new semester.
When I have received my grades I will most likely share one or more of my assignments, or at least tell about them, so for those interested, there is something to look forwards to!
My new semester offers both the continuation of some old courses, as well as the introduction of some new ones. Early Christianity and Early Islamic Texts are continuing, though with the unfortunate change in the former, that Dr. Paula Fredriksen is not going to teach us anyway, so we are continuing under Dr. David Satran (who definitely is a good teacher, no doubt). The focus in the new semester will be on Augustine, so I’m looking forward to spend some time on one of the biggest Christian thinkers. If any of you out there can recommend any material on him, then please let me know.
Hebrew is also being continued, though on a new level, which also introduce me to a course on Jewish Texts. On Hebrew. High level Hebrew. Just hope that it’s not going to be too high, though I do speak Hebrew I’m still not used to it in an Academic context, but I’ll guess that will change now.
The new courses are Medieval Jewish Exegesis, with focus on Rashi, Rashbam, and Ibn ‘Ezra, Z”L, going to be interesting, and after the first class I can see that it’s certainly is going to teach me a lot of new things. Stay tuned for that one. I also am going to begin a course in History and Archaeology of Muslim Jerusalem, something I really am looking forwards to, but we are waiting for the first class, because of strikes (big dislike). And finally a course called “The Battle over the Bible!” on Jewish, Christian, and Muslim polemics and interpretation of the Bible. Definitely also going to be interesting, already having discussed whether the Rabbis believed that they had the exact original text being revealed in their hands (they didn’t!), so also a course I’m going to relate to a lot.
What else will I be focusing on this semester? Since I’m going to write a seminar paper on Fiqh, Islamic Jurisprudence, there probably will be some focus on that, as well as gender studies in Judaism and Islam, since my focus will be on that in context of religious law the next coming semesters (I think). I’m working on Langmuir’s and Geertz’ theories of Religion, so I’ll probably also deal a little with that.
Besides that it’ll probably be whatever comes to my mind, as normal.
That’s it I think. Take care out there!
I’m sitting and reading up on theories in Religious Studies, and went through some of the founding theorists (at least claimed to so), Marx, Freud, Nietzsche and Saussure. The last, being a linguistic, founded the theory on language as a structure of signs, being related to synchronic rather than diachronic.
A part of his theory is that words have their meanings from a structured understanding, being created on a conventional fundament, rather than having the words inheriting their meanings based on some natural relation to the objects of the words. That is, the word “dog” means “dog” because that is something we have agreed on, not because there is some natural relation between the word and the object. This is explained a little simple, I know.
Anyway, the thing is that he sees words as having meaning from their opposition, that is, a dog is a dog, opposed to cat, not based on the magical composition of the word dog, with the three letters magically put together and then giving this particular meaning.
Why that is important for the study of religion, is that this concept, the understanding of “symbols” or “signs” (words being signs or symbols) can be used in the study of religion as well, and thus we can understand what something is or mean, by putting against what it is not (for example, day is not night), hence we can get an understanding of what holy is by putting it opposite what is profane (or the other way around) as well as good and evil and so on.
Anyway, what struck me is the focus the various religions put on some symbols, for example “good” vs. “evil,” and how we can get a better understanding of the religions by seeing which symbolic value they put on what is “right” vs. what is “wrong,” as well as how they relate to it.
Here in particular I thought about Christianity and Judaism. Where the dichotomy is being formed around “good” and “evil” in Christianity (take for example Jesus and Satan), in Judaism it is more about “allowed” and “forbidden” in Judaism (doing the commandment or refraining from it), which seems to me that the two religions have different relation to what is a right moral behavior. I haven’t established any thesis or theory on this, it is just a thought I got, but if there is something about it, then the whole notion of “Judeo-Christian” anything seems to be, well, without any basis, since that would be putting two different notions, which differ to much to make it one. Or would it?
Seems like something I have to think a little more about, but please feel free to add comments. If it gave any sense at all.
Take care out there!