Sacred Leaves Graduate Symposium Collection
When myth and nomos meet: The use of midrashic sources in halachic literature of the Middle Ages
The classic Jewish sources have traditionally been marked by a sharp distinction between narrative and legal discourse, between Midrash and Mishnah, between creative exegesis on the Hebrew Bible and the codification of law. Similarly, the Talmud is deemed to include two separate genres of discourse: Aggadah (story telling) and Halacha (legal discussion). However, these distinctions are not characteristic of the Hebrew Bible or the early medieval period. Why was the distinction so adamantly asserted by the sages of the classic rabbinic period (2nd-5th century C.E.) and why does it breakdown in the 8th century and onward? This presentation traces the midrashic antecedents to the blurring between halachic (legal) and aggadic (narrative) discourse in the medieval works of R. Elazar of Worms (1160-1230 C.E., known as the Rokeah), and Isaac ben Moses of Vienna (circa 1200-70 C.E., known for his legal work Or zaruʻa). Adelman claims that a movement existed to provide a biblical basis as mythic narrative to legal discourse particularly in the area of ritual and liturgy beginning with the 8th century.
Medieval manuscripts and medieval Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations
Thomas E. Burman
Explores Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations in the Middle Ages as they can be perceived in manuscript copies of the Bible and Qurʼān that circulated in that period. Medieval intellectuals and religious leaders frequently found themselves reading the sacred book of a religion other than their own. By examining such things as the marginal notes they left in the copies they read, Burman argues that relations between these groups were much more complicated than has been typically thought.
Mark I. Greenberg
Emotional healing in the medicine of the prophet
Nyssa Rhiannon Hanger
Medieval Islamic prophetic medicine is based in the power of belief. In a culture that employed both fairly comprehensive physicians trained in the theories of Greek science and practitioners of magical/folkloric techniques of the Arabian Bedouin traditions, the appearance of texts titled al-tibb al-nabawi (prophetic medicine) indicates a need existed for a specifically Islamic medical system. As a whole, prophetic medicine stresses the connection between mind and body by tracing all illness back to a lack of belief and claims that restoration of health is equivalent to a restoration of belief.
Bernard's sermonic performance of the Song of songs
Analyzes the method of 12th century Cistercian Bernard of Clairvaux as his reading both shapes and is shaped by his personal monastic devotion. Bernard reaches attention to the self through reflection on the smallest fragments of the "Word," and by weaving them together in an active reading establishes the trajectory that will lead him to the telos of the monastic life, which is to make the person wholly available to God and prepare in hope for the gift of his coming. Bernard interacts with the text by projecting himself into its world. In a close textual analysis of a key section in his Sermons on the Song of songs, we observe Bernard perceiving his vocation as a lifetime performance of scripture, interpreting sacred writ and his life circumstances in light of each other as a guide to living that properly honors God.
"In the astonishing commentaries of the Christian masters on this book"
Chaim M. Neria
Analyzes a unique, unpublished medieval manuscript of Aristotle's Nicomachean ethics in Hebrew translation, with a commentary by Rabbi Joseph b. Shem Tov ibn Shem Tov. While this Hebrew translation and commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean ethics circulated widely among medieval Jewish philosophers in the 15th and 16th centuries, up until now no systematic analyses have been made of this important commentary or of the general history of the reception of Nicomachean ethics in medieval Jewish philosophy. The uniqueness of this specific commentary is also related to its author's extensive use of Scholastic material, most notably the Sententia libri Ethicorum, the Latin commentary on Aristotle's Ethics by St. Thomas Aquinas. Even more surprising, especially in the eyes of the modern reader, is that Joseph b. Shem Tov ibn Shem Tov uses at the same time, and side by side with St. Thomas' Sententia, Averroës' Middle commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean ethics. The paper clarifies two crucial aspects of medieval Jewish philosophy, namely the influence of Greek and Arabic texts, and its debt to Scholastic literature.
Kufic Korans: The art of calligraphy in Islamic manuscripts
Examines the development of Kufic, an angular style of Arabic calligraphy, from the 9th to 12th century in Islamic manuscripts and its revival by scribes and artists in later periods, including architects. Neumeier challenges the idea that Arabic script is merely a vehicle for textual meaning and argues that different styles of Arabic calligraphy, especially Kufic, have the power to connote meaning outside of the text as an icon in and of itself. Beyond Islam, Christian artists admired Kufic's stylized beauty and often prized the ornamental calligraphy in their own manuscripts, painting, and architecture.
Ascendancy and authority of the tafsir genre
W. Richard Oakes
This presentation fills a void in the literature of the relatively obscure and unstudied Islamic interpretive genre of tafsir (scriptural exegesis). Oakes argues that while Islamic tradition initially held the genre in low regard, it ascended relative to other early genres and retained its authority among scholars even when threatened by the later development of kalam (theology) and falsafa (philosophy). Tafsir established itself by citing tradition, then ventured beyond traditionalism by including poetry, mysticism, grammatical analysis, and literary analysis. This flexibility prepared the genre to respond to the threats of colonialism then post-colonialism.
Do Halakhic texts talk history? The medieval legal Hebrew text Or zaruʻa as a primary historical source
Or zaruʻa ("light is sown," Psalms 97:11) is one of the most important medieval Jewish legal (halakhic) codes, written by Isaac ben Moses of Vienna (ca. 1180-1250). Only two medieval manuscripts of Or zaruʻa have survived. One is kept in the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana, the Jewish Special Collection of the Library of the University of Amsterdam; the other is in the British Library in London. Or zaruʻa represents a sophisticated interweave of Talmudic texts, halakhic responsa, discussions of customs of medieval German and French Jewries, historical events and contemporary science. Besides, it contains unique information on the daily contacts between medieval Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors. This presentation addresses the text of Or zaruʻa as a primary historical source. This approach is innovative though not entirely unproblematic, since rabbinic legal codes were never intended to record actual historical events.
Interpreting borrowed images: Explaining Medieval Jewish illuminations modeled upon the Christian divine couple
Israel M. Sandman
Several German Jewish holiday prayerbooks, dating between 1272 and the mid-14th century, contain various illuminations of a Jewish male-female couple. Sandman interprets these images, based upon Christian models, as being genuine Jewish expressions, rather than "antisemitic hate signs" as some have argued. These images occur in the context of illustrations of liturgy based upon Canticles, the biblical love/marriage song. Considering several puzzling features of the iconography which can be resolved by reference to the Zohar, Sandman considers whether the Zohar may have impacted German Jewry at an earlier date than previously presumed.
Georgian hagiography and manuscript tradition in the XIth century
From the 5th to the 11th century, Georgian literature bore an exclusively ecclesiastical and religious character, determined by the political and cultural conditions peculiar to the Georgian tribes of the time. The adoption of Christianity (ca. 337) had a stimulating influence on the life of the Georgian people. Saints' lives (vitae) were much translated in medieval Georgia. Almost simultaneously with translations, there emerged and speedily developed an original Georgian ecclesiastical literature, called into being by the ideological requirements and urgent needs of the local Christian Church. The presentation deals with the two most important Georgian hagiographical texts of the 11th century: "Life of Saints John and Efthumios, founders of Iveron monastery on Mount Athos" by George the Athonite and "Life of George the Athonite" by George Mtsire.