The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Mediaeval Judaism's crisis of confidence

Meira Polliack has an article on how the Jews reacted to the challenges of Christianity and Islam. Mainly of Islam.

The Jews weren't all that troubled by the Christian critique. First, they could just call Jesus himself a bastard and a sorcerer both of which he, well, probably was. Also, all agreed on the Bible for the most part. The Christians had proposed a few fixes, some of them "orthodox corruptions" themselves, and generally didn't pound the Bible all that much at the time; but their whole foundation was the Bible (sufficiently interpreted). Marcion proposed a Christianity without it, but that bold a challenge would have been an own-goal, leaving the religion rootless. After seeing him off, the Christians had to affirm the Jews as custodians of the general sense of the Torah and Prophets. The Jews, in competition, didn't even need to "corrupt" their scripture against Christianity. (They did that against Samaritanism, where the Christians didn't care so weren't looking.)

Islam was another problem: its prophet-based Heilsgeschichte and its Arab identity allowed for prophets whom the Jews could not control. This ended up with a Book which the Jews couldn't control, either. On that basis the Muslims called shenanigans on the whole Torah. The Jews realised that the Muslims had isnads testifying to their text, whatever we think of those isnads now. The Jews had nothing like that, at least nothing going back BCE. All they had were the sages.

This led to a schism in Judaism, the Karaism. The Karaites proposed to dump the Talmud and the sages, and to start over. If the Muslims were going to call us People of the Book, by G-d let's give them the Book.

posted by Zimri on 12:22 | link | 0 comments

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