In this lecture, we zoom in on a particular field of study that was strikingly influenced by the turn to Arabic. Taking the Bible as a test case, we explore how Jewish scholars writing in Judeo-Arabic adopted and created new approaches to the study of the holiest of Jewish books – and how the new approaches that they innovated in Judeo-Arabic were shaping influences on how we conceive the interpretation of the Bible today.
Toward the end of the Talmudic period (around the sixth and seventh centuries) momentous events took place in the Near East, the area of residence of the majority of the Jewish population of the world. A new religion was developing – Islam – led by a charismatic leader named Muhammad. Groups of Muslims began to move outwards from the Arabian Peninsula, quickly conquering large areas of the Near East and North Africa in the name of Islam.
For the Jews of the region, formerly under Byzantine, Roman and Sassanian rule, these political changes were momentous. The linguistic changes were even more so. Within a few generations, most of the Jews of the Near East became native Arabic speakers. Arabic became the lingua franca of scholars as well, as Arabic-speaking society took up the heritage of the Greeks and other Near Eastern traditions of knowledge. Jewish scholars, already native speakers of Arabic, began to write in Arabic, addressing new subjects, in a new style, and in this way transforming Judaism and its scholarship. Jewish culture and scholarship were irrevocably shaped by the centuries of scholarly creation and study in Judeo-Arabic, becoming what we know as Judaism today.
This series is devoted to the revolutionary transformation in the history of the Jewish people caused by the adoption of Arabic and, along with it, the wide array of works that Jews wrote in Judeo-Arabic.