The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Awzaʿite Spain

I need a separate post commenting on Daniel König's article. The Umayyads did restore order in Spain; and historically in Islam "order" has implied a legal infrastructure. The first coherent Spanish code just haven't survived very well.

The Christian chroniclers noted that when the Umayyads took over, suddenly there came an oppression against the Christians and also against the Jews. This is, as König notes, comprehensible as a religiously-motivated law for minorities that abrogates the old sulh pacts.

It happens that at roughly the same time in Spain, the Muslim jurists there had decided upon a legal madhhab: the Awzaʿiya, which like Sufyān al-Thawri's school in Basra maintained the jurisprudence of the dead Umayyad caliphs... or at least claimed to. This school does not survive (neither does Thawri's by the way) and is recorded only in fragments. König, for his part, notices that even in Spain not much direct record of Awzaʿism has survived. But the Awzaʿite school's law of war and jihad – which is what König's article cares about – proved practical and popular. So these fragments were often maintained by scholars from the schools that supplanted the Awzaʿiya. (For a summary of the legal fictions in Islam that have historically enabled warfare, see Bernard Lewis.)

As for what the Awzaʿiya made of Islamic jurisprudence on warfare, that's not all that difficult to define. It's privatised jihad. Read up on it in Deborah Tor, "Privatized Jihad and Public Order in the Pre-Seljuq Period" (2005).

Given all that, I cannot dismiss that the Umayyad Spaniards of the 760s and 770s did have time to formulate an Awzaʿite code of warfare and for Christian spies to pass that, or at least to pass a caricature of that, to the Franks. There was indeed nuance between amirs’ legal-systems but this could, perhaps, have been Awzaʿism being tested and failing. As for why Spain lacks record of Awzaʿism today, I would personally not blame the lack of legal sophistication (at this stage); neglect at the hands of the later (here, Malikite) schools would suffice.

UPDATE 1/28/2017: On truce-capability.


posted by Zimri on 16:56 | link | 0 comments

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Charlemagne's crusade

Among the questions debated among the so-called “counter jihad” is the extent to which Muhammad’s heresy, in turn, inspired similar movements in Christendom. Among these would be the holy war. More to the point, I’d like to look at “take the cross or this sword”.

I’d heard the Crusades called a Christian jihad before, back when I used to haunt Christian booksellers in the early 2000s. Probably independently of that confession's tracts, in 2006 one Yitzhak Hen observed the bloody verdict of Verden as religiously-tinged violence. This Jew looked for such atrocities before in Christian history, and despite having every motive to find some he failed. So he looked to classical Arabic accounts of Islamic maghazi instead and, as anyone might, found quite a lot of holy battles on their part. Hen concluded that since Islamic qital preceded Charlemagne's conquests, the one likely inspired the other. It seems anachronistic to consider the Saxon wars a proto-crusade, but then – I’ve done that already with Heraclius, before anyone had even heard of Muhammad.

A decade later, another scholar Daniel König has looked into Charlemagne's time and place. He finds that jihad had little to do with Verden.

König reasonably holds that for Frankish impressions of Islam, we have to start with Spain and the Maghreb. He points out that, over the long decades the Umayyad-commanded Arabs absorbed the Western Med, their invasions and “Islamicisations” were piecemeal and chaotic. Each city received its own terms based on whether the amir was in a good mood or not: viz., the amir was pleased when it surrendered, annoyed when he had to fight. (Such was exactly the way it had gone in Syria a century prior.) There was, in short, no Pact of ʿUmar. And the bulk of the Umayyad-era maghazi narratives are equally bogus.

Spain, when it was conquered, instantly became a backwater for Islam. It lay far from the Madina and Damascus, and even further from Iraq when the ʿAbbāsids massacred the Umayyads there and made it the caliphate's base. What mattered more to newly-conquered Spain was what the Berbers were up to. König notes by way of example that in the 740s, when the Berbers rebelled, Spain suffered what northwest Africa suffered. And the Muslims couldn't even take all of Spain. So early Islamic Spain was also a mess.

Until the 760s it was difficult to find an Arab there (much less a Berber) who even could tell you what Islam *was*. The senior judges could tell you, but these were few. Maybe Mūsā b. Nuṣayr the Lakhmi could have told you (and even here I wonder *what* he would have told you; e.g. did he accept sura 28?). Most Muslims here had other concerns, like staying alive. Only after the Umayyads had restored themselves as amirs in Spain was there a consistency at least in its governmental classes.

König also finds what it seems Hen could not find, on non-Islamic precedent among the Christian Germans and Latins for handling conquered peoples.

Given the knowledge of Islamic Spain I have, which isn't much, I am going to treat König's essay as the default stance on whether or not the Caroling mind had been infected by Islamic holy war. It has convinced me that Hen's essay had overreached. But I cannot call König's essay conclusive, yet, because there's a gap from 760 AD on - [update] which I'm to discuss later. Really we need more legal texts with a secure eighth-century provenance (wouldn't we all?). Perhaps some will turn up in an arid part of southern Spain.

UPDATE 7/14/16: Split this off from the above book-report: possible legal texts.


posted by Zimri on 17:41 | link | 0 comments

Monday, July 11, 2016

Joel M Hoffman's Biblical misinterpretations

On yesterday's book thread I was alerted to Joel M Hoffman. Not the rabbi. And not this guy either, G-d forbid. The other one, son of a rabbi.

Today I have found a summary of Hoffman's work on Biblical "mistranslations".

Hoffman assumes of the archetypal shepherd of (MT) Psalm 23 that most today will take him for a marginalized loner who spends more time with sheep than with people. That commandment lô taḥmôd shouldn't be "covet not", but "take not". He doesn't accept to translate that commandment against causing death as "kill not" or "murder not". Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, he says, is poor shorthand; in the reporter's summary, The first Hebrew word refers to all of the intangible aspects of life, including emotions and intellect, while the second connotes the physical flesh, blood, and breath.

If the word "shepherd" has taken on poor connotations, this will come as news to any player of Mass Effect; in which your character - saviour of the universe - is, indeed, named "Shepard". I am pretty sure that Hoffman stands alone among Semiticists and, indeed, among Bible students in his translation of taḥmôd; and besides, unlawful "taking" is already handled in the commandment against stealing. On the flip side, all Bible scholars accept the nuance around "thou shalt not kill" (so why bring it up?). Perhaps we should re-translate the Deuteronomist in terms of "soul and heart"; but again, it's so minor - why bring that up?

Add to that that Hoffman accepts the political-cant term "gay" as acceptable shorthand for "homosexual", and I cannot take the man seriously as a linguist. Nor, come to that, as an honest interpreter of Judaism.


posted by Zimri on 16:49 | link | 0 comments

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Nothing but lies

How far would you go to promote your book? If you're J.K. Sheindlin, you'll fake a video.

H/t, if you can call it that, to the dupe Howie at My Pet Jawa.


posted by Zimri on 15:24 | link | 0 comments

Tibetan uplift

I am here for Umayyad-era Islam. To that end I go seeking 'ilm on what other nations say about the Arabs and their beliefs, following the trail of their conquests (seek it even to China, as the Prophet said...). Once the Muslims got into Central Asia, among the nations they would have met was Tibet. But Tibetan isn't one of the languages used to document "Islam as others saw it".

One comment Valerie Hansen, in The Silk Road (2012), makes: the Tibetans (and Tangut) were illiterate until 617 AD. Until then they did their recordkeeping with knotted ropes. On reading this I thought... like quipu? Maybe there's something about them mountains. And then I wondered what the "uplift" process must have been like, because today Tibet is considered the great book-depository of Buddhist wisdom. For any people there comes a span of time between preliteracy and Classical Civilisation.

The Tibetan uplift didn't go quite the way of the Inca uplift. The seventh-century Tibetans appear to have got on the ball more quickly and decisively. Tibet went more like Meiji Japan.

Within a century the Yarlung, having united Tibet, were able to mount serious inroads on the Silk Road. When An Lushan (Roxhann the Pahlevi) rebelled, the Tang of China allied with the Yarlung and delegated their southwestern front to them. Predictably the allies kept what they took, and even indulged in a little prima-nocte action with the locals' wives. The Yarlung didn't relinquish Dunhuang until that whole dynasty collapsed. Then, depending on who's counting, China - or at least, people identifying as Chinese - retook Dunhuang 848 AD; some Tibetans did try to re-re-take it a few years later, but lost.

Hansen portrays a Tibetan people struggling with transliterating their language into Chinese characters, into the Sanskrit script, and into a syllabary (like the Japanese). It seems the first thing they did in Dunhuang (or second, after done boffing Chinese girls) was to copy and translate all the Buddhist stuff they could get their hands on.

If the Tibetans were still fine-tuning their script through to the 700s, and still figuring out what they wanted to write about with it: that would explain why we don't see Tibetan comments about their western frontier. Although perhaps later Tibetans made some comments later on. There's a book on that: Anna Akasoy, Charles Burnett, Ronit Yoeli­Tlalim, Islam and Tibet - Interactions along the Musk Routes (Ashgate, 2011).


posted by Zimri on 13:24 | link | 0 comments

The reviews are in

[7/9/2016] For those, like me, who don't want to pay for reviews - in my case, because I critique books for free - here is a roundup of reviews of Ostler's Passwords to Paradise on the inner tubes.

WSJ offers a substantive critique. This is so far the best review.

Sandra Collins calls it dry; this is more for the linguistic historian or the textual specialist than the general religion reader. She's right, but... if the book's not for her, why's she even trying to review it?

Kirkus offers a blurb. I gotta say, I don't trust its business-model. Last I looked, people paid Kirkus to review books. Those people paying for the review might be involved in publishing that very book. And it looks suspiciously like this is what has happened to Passwords; Kirkus's "review" here smells rotten to me. Also unsure about Publisher's Weekly; if Ostler was self-published would they be so kind? Would they review it at all?

So there's three (or four), a broad spectrum of review-types. Good, bad, and ugly.

7/10 8:30 AM BUMPED: The boulder terlit review. Most of it anyway. Scroll down for the rest of one paragraph.


posted by Zimri on 08:30 | link | 0 comments

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