The Andalusi Literary and Intellectual Tradition: The Role of Arabic in Judah Ibn Tibbon's Ethical Will

The Andalusi Literary and Intellectual Tradition: The Role of Arabic in Judah Ibn Tibbon's Ethical Will

The Andalusi Literary and Intellectual Tradition: The Role of Arabic in Judah Ibn Tibbon's Ethical Will

The Andalusi Literary and Intellectual Tradition: The Role of Arabic in Judah Ibn Tibbon's Ethical Will

Synopsis

Beginning in 1172, Judah ibn Tibbon, who was called the father of Hebrew translators, wrote a letter to his son that was full of personal and professional guidance. The detailed letter, described as an ethical will, was revised through the years and offered a vivid picture of intellectual life among Andalusi elites exiled in the south of France after 1148. S. J. Pearce sets this letter into broader context and reads it as a document of literary practice and intellectual values. She reveals how ibn Tibbon, as a translator of philosophical and religious texts, explains how his son should make his way in the family business and how to operate, textually, within Arabic literary models even when writing for a non-Arabic audience. While the letter is also full of personal criticism and admonitions, Pearce shows ibn Tibbon making a powerful argument in favor of the continuation of Arabic as a prestige language for Andalusi Jewish readers and writers, even in exile outside of the Islamic world.

Excerpt

"The Preface of Every Book Is Its First Part":
An Overview of Materials and Methodologies

The year 568/1172 was monumental in the political life of the Almohad caliph, Abū Ya‘qūb Yūsuf ibn ‘Abd al-Mu’min. He succeeded his father in 557/1163 to become the second leader of a still young and fervently monotheistic Berber messianic movement, and by 561/1167 he assumed the regnal name Yūsuf I and the caliphal title amīr al-mu’minīn (prince of the believers). He then pressed on with his father’s program of territorial expansion, bringing along with it a culture that privileged rationalist thought, accommodated prayer and theological reasoning in the vernacular, and ushered into North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula striking new developments in aesthetic and literary production. ‘Abd al-Mu’min, Yūsuf’s father and the first caliph of the Almohad dynasty, had taken and held Tangier, Ceuta, Seville, Córdoba, and Granada and consolidated his rule by installing loyal family members as governors of those cities; Yūsuf was able to subjugate or win over the remaining provincial military and political leaders who had held out against his father. By that extraordinary year of 1172, following successful campaigns at Andújar, outside of Córdoba, and at Huete, eighty-five miles due east of Toledo and well into the heart of Castile, Yūsuf ordered construction begun on the triumphalist Great Mosque of Seville and considered his conquest of al-Andalus complete.

Where 1172 was a capstone in the political and military prongs of the broad cultural program that Yūsuf inherited from his father, it was just the beginning of a very different kind of familial cultural project that would be carried out by one of the men who fled the advancing Almohad armies and the religious and social restrictions imposed consequently on Andalusi dhimmī, the members of the other Abrahamic faiths, Judaism and Christianity, generally recognized as . . .

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