Hidden Futures: Death and Immortality in Ancient Egypt, Anatolia, the Classical, Biblical and Arabic-Islamic World

By J. M. Bremer; Theo P.J. Van Den Hout et al. | Go to book overview

Hebrew Andalusian Elegies and the Arabic Literary Tradition

Arie Schippers


INTRODUCTION

For a long time, Hebrew literature was essentially a part of a religious tradition. This, however, changed in the tenth century CE, when in Muslim Spain ( al- Andalus) Jewish poets began to compose secular Hebrew poetry and inaugurated the 'Golden Age of Hebrew Andalusian1 poetry' which reached its apogee under the Party kings (Muluk al-tawa' if) in the eleventh century2. The existence of several courts resulted in a competition that stimulated cultural life3. This emancipation of Hebrew literature can be explained by the special position the Jews occupied in al-Andalus, as compared with the other regions of the diaspora.

This special position was the result of several historical factors. In the first place, the relationship between the Muslim rulers and the Jewish community was a good one. The Jews, who had been living on the Iberian peninsula from the first century, had welcomed and even helped the Muslim conquerors in the eighth century. They saw them as their liberators since they had been oppressed by the Visigoth rulers. A second peculiarity was that Jews were not confined to certain professions but were to be found in all walks of life: among them were wage labourers, artisans, merchants and landowners. There were even exclusively Jewish cities such as Lucena and Granada. But perhaps most important for the development of Hebrew literature was the fact that there were Jews serving in high offices at Muslim courts. They often acted as Maecenases for Jewish scholarship and art.

____________________
1
I use the term Hebrew Andalusian poetry in contrast with Arabic Andalusian poetry. The term Andalusian Arabic poetry is occasionally used in contrast with Oriental Arabic poetry.
2
More information on the subject is to be found in Arie Schippers, Arabic Tradition & Hebrew Innovation, Arabic Themes in Hebrew Andalusian Poetry ( Amsterdam, dissertation Institute for Modern Near Eastern Studies 1988), 290-338 and Arie Schippers, Spanish Hebrew Poetry and the Arabic Literary Tradition, ( Leiden, E.J. Brill 1994), 244-286.
3
Muslim Spain was divided into several Muslim kingdoms led by ethnic Arabs, Berbers, Slavs, or Africans. In the eleventh century there was a rich cultural life at the courts, which competed with each other in wine drinking and poetry parties. Cf. for political history and the position of the Jews: Eli Ashtor, The Jews of Moslem Spain, ( Philadelphia. Jewish Publication Society 1973, 1979, 1984), I-III; David Wasserstein, The Rise and Fall of the Party-Kings; Politics and Society in Islamic Spain, 1002-1086, ( Princeton, University Press 1985); Raymond P. Scheindlin, "The Jews in Muslim Spain'", in The Legacy of Muslim Spain, S.Kh. Jayyusi, ed., ( Leiden, E.J.Brill 1992), 188-200.

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