Intertwined Worlds, Hava Lazarus-Yafeh

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Intertwined Worlds

Medieval Islam and Bible Criticism

By Hava Lazarus-Yafeh

Excerpts from the text:

Chapter 1-Introduction

  • Why the focus on polemics? “The crystallization of every great civilization is based to a large extent on its contacts, clashes and competition with rival forces, for no civilization or religion can develop and prosper on its own.” (p.5)
  • Chapter gives a brief overview of why the bulk of interfaith polemics in the middle ages was between Islam and Christianity. Touches on why Jewish community is somewhat silent towards both faiths at this time. (p.5-17)

Chapter 2-Muslim Arguments Against the Bible

  • Four Arguments:
  1. Falsifications (p.19-34) such as chronological & geographical inaccuracies, theological impossibilities, and preposterous behavior.
  2. Abrogation (p.35-41) based on Surah 2:106 which states: “Such of Our revelations as We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, we bring (in place) one better or the like thereof. Knowest thou not that Allah is Able to do all things?”
  3. Lack of Reliable Transmission (p.41-47)
  4. Bible Exegesis (p.47-49)

Chapter 3-Ezra-‘Uzayr: The Metamorphosis of a Polemical Motif

  • Chapter discusses both the positive (conservator, canonizer) and negative (falsifier of text) portrayals of Ezra the Scribe, and how Islam received these views from earlier Jewish, Samaritan, Christian and anti-Christian sources. Discusses how the negative image became associated with medieval Muslim Bible criticism.
  • Ibn Hazm was undoubtedly the one who, by being the first to make Ezra into a wicked scoundrel who had intentionally corrupted the Scriptures, raised the general Islamic arguments against the Bible to an essentially higher level of systematic textual criticism.” (p.68)

Chapter 4-Muslim Bible Exegesis: The Prediction of Muhammad and Islam

  • Cites examples from biblical texts which Muslim authors say “if rightly understood, predict the coming of Muhammad and the rise of Islam as God’s true and last revelation to mankind.” (p.74) Examples:
  1. The Desert Motif and Comfort Verses in Deutero-Isaiah (p.83)
  2. The Conquering Army (p.88)
  3. Muslim Prayer & Pilgrimage (p.93)
  4. Messianic Verses (p.98)
  5. Epithets & Descriptions of Muhammad (p.106)

Chapter 5-Muslim Authors and the Problematics of Arabic Translations of the Bible

  • Chapter highlights some neglected aspects of history regarding the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Arabic, as well as challenges some assumptions made in this field.

– Issues that emerge when relying on oral transmission & interactions with Jews and Christians (p.113-121)

Chapter 6-Conclusion: From Late Antiquity to the Beginnings of Modern Bible Criticism

  • Aim of book was to survey the attitudes of Muslim medieval authors toward the Hebrew Bible, their knowledge of it, and the use they made of it. Author concludes that having traced the movement of pre-Islamic ideas of Bible criticism into Islam, and from there to the beginnings of modern Bible Criticism, the middle link between these is found in medieval Muslim Bible criticism. Says there is a need for further study of the transmissions between the three civilizations (Judaism, Christianity & Islam). “At this point, one can only state that these different worlds are indeed interdependent and intertwined: there seems to be no real basis for the commonly accepted belief among scholars that they are phenomenologically totally different from each other and that there is no historical or literary evidence that could establish a link between them.” (p.141)

Appendix: Jewish Knowledge of, and Attitudes Toward, the Qu’ran (p.143-160)