Medieval Exegesis and Religious Difference: Commentary, Conflict, and Community in the Premodern Mediterranean

Medieval Exegesis and Religious Difference: Commentary, Conflict, and Community in the Premodern Mediterranean

Medieval Exegesis and Religious Difference: Commentary, Conflict, and Community in the Premodern Mediterranean

Medieval Exegesis and Religious Difference: Commentary, Conflict, and Community in the Premodern Mediterranean

Synopsis

Jews, Christians, and Muslims all have a common belief in the sanctity of a core holy scripture, and commentary on scripture (exegesis) was at the heart of all three traditions in the Middle Ages. At the same time, because it dealt with issues such as the nature of the canon, the limits of acceptable interpretation, and the meaning of salvation history from the perspective of faith, exegesis was elaborated in the Middle Ages along the faultlines of interconfessional disputation and polemical conflict. This collection of thirteen essays by world-renowned scholars of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam explores the nature of exegesis during the High and especially the Late Middle Ages as a discourse of cross-cultural and interreligious conflict, paying particular attention to the commentaries of scholars in the western and southern Mediterranean from Iberia and Italy to Morocco and Egypt.

Unlike other comparative studies of religion, this collection is not a chronological history or an encyclopedic guide. Instead, it presents essays in four conceptual clusters ("Writing on the Borders of Islam," "Jewish-Christian Conflict," "The Intellectual Activity of the Dominican Order," and "Gender") that explore medieval exegesis as a vehicle for the expression of communal or religious identity, one that reflects shared or competing notions of sacred history and sacred text. This timely book will appeal to scholars and lay readers alike and will be essential reading for students of comparative religion, historians charting the history of religious conflict in the medieval Mediterranean, and all those interested in the intersection of Jewish,
Christian, and Muslim beliefs and practices.

Excerpt

Ryan Szpiech

In the third chapter of his anti-Muslim treatise Contra legem sarracenorum (Against the Law of the Saracens), written around 1300 after his return to Italy from Baghdad, Dominican Riccoldo da Monte di Croce (d. 1320) discusses the Muslim claim that Jews and Christians received a true revelation from God through Moses and Jesus, but then subsequently corrupted it. in order to argue against this accusation, Riccoldo turns to the Qur’ān itself:

It says in the [Qur’ānic] chapter about Johah [Q. 10:94], “If you are in
doubt concerning what we have revealed to you, ask those who have read
the Book before you.” However, those who read the Book before the Sar
acens were the Christians and Jews, who received the Pentateuch and the
Gospel, as Muḥammad himself sets out. Muḥammad, therefore, tells the
Saracens to make enquiries from Christians and Jews concerning
ambiguous matters. However, how is it that Muḥammad sent these
people back to false testimonies, if he really was a genuine prophet, as
they say?

With these words, Riccoldo raises one of the central issues facing medieval Muslim, Christian, and Jewish writers alike in their confrontations with other religions—namely, how to evaluate the religious and legal status of foreign scriptures without undermining the validity or uniqueness of one’s own. Riccoldo is here attempting to affirm the integrity of the Bible against Muslim accusations of its corruption, and he is doing so by interpreting a passage that Muslims would consider valid and immutable as divine revelation. At the same time, however, this appeal forms part of Riccoldo’s attack on Islam, including an attack on the legitimacy of the Qur’ān itself. in such exegetical maneuverings, Riccoldo was caught . . .

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