August 1999 - January 2000
Margalit Finkelberg (Tel Aviv University)
Guy G. Stroumsa (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Odd as it may appear, there seems to have been no single comparative study of canons. This was not what could be expected at the dawn of the historical scholarship two hundred years ago. When Friedrich August Wolf, with his Prolegomena ad Homerum, opened the era of Homeric scholarship in 1795, he used a model which was being developed at the time for the study of the Old Testament. The fact that the two main constituents of the Western Canon, the ancient Israelite canonical text as represented by the Hebrew Bible, and the ancient Greek canonical text as represented by the Homeric poems, were being studied side by side was seen as only too natural at the time. This fruitful collaboration was interrupted, never to be revived again, in the first half of the 19th century, when the “discovery” of Sanskrit, instead of stimulating a pluralistic approach to the widening spectrum of ancient civilizations, gave rise to the idea of an Indo-European cultural unity exclusive to the world of the Old Testament and if the ancient Near East in general. To resume the process at the point where it stopped, and thus to supersede the mutual isolation between civilizations of the ancient world which was artificially created thereby, is one of our objectives.
Similarly, the study of the other canonization processes in the ancient world, and in particular in late antiquity, seems to be in need of fresh approaches. While in the last fifty years, since the discoveries of Qumran and Nag Hammadi, dramatic new insights into the canonization processes of these texts have been provided, relatively little has been done in terms of comparison. Moreover, and perhaps
more importantly, very little attention has been paid to the fact that various canonization processes in late antiquity did not develop independently of one another, but are linked in dialectical relationships. The canonization of the Mishna, for instance, should be seen in parallel to that of the contemporary canonization of the New Testament: both were meant to provide a key to the correct understanding of the Old Testament, which both the Jewish and Christian communities claimed as their own.
The main question which brought about the establishment of the research group was the perceived chasm between the “Greek” (and the Latin) and the “Hebrew” (i.e. the Jewish-Christian) traditions. The first is usually perceived to be more “literary” by nature, while the second would be essentially “religious”. We will attempt to develop a coherent and precise language that will permit us to use the same tools in order to analyse together these rather different traditions.
[RG #77] Law and the State in Classical Islam
September 1999 - February 2000
Yohanan Friedmann (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Nurit Tsafrir (Tel Aviv University)
The study of Islam has been at the cutting edge of Islamic studies in recent years. The development of Islamic law beyond the Qur’ānic stage, the rise of the schools of law (madhābib) and their geographic spread, the relationship between the rulers and the jurists, the amount of freedom enjoyed by the jurists in the development of the law – all these are being subjected to intensive scrutiny.
An important question is the development of Islamic law from the Qur’ānic layer in early Islamic history, through the books of the 8th and 9th centuries, to the great compendia of later periods. It was accepted until recently that the early Muslim jurists derived the law from the Qur’ān and the prophetic tradition (hadith) during the first 250 years of Islamic history by way of individual reasoning. According to this view, the freedom to exercise individual reasoning gradually shrank and the jurists relied more and more on the decisions of the predecessors. These decisions were collected in large compendia and gradually acquired unquestionable authority. At the end of this process, in the 10th century CE, the right of individual reasoning disappeared totally and Islamic law lost its ability to adapt itself to the changing historical circumstances. If this theory is correct, a book of law written, for instance, in the 12th century cannot be used as a document reflecting the social and legal situation in the period in which it was written, but rather the legal tradition which prevailed in the 9th century and has remained stagnant ever since.
Recently, various scholars began to question the validity of this description and to argue that the “gates of individual reasoning” never closed and Islamic law has never lost its flexibility or ability to develop. The study of this question is a challenge for scholars of Islam. Islamic law is perceived as immutable because it is believed to represent the divine will. It therefore stands to reason that later jurists, even if they wanted to introduce changes into the law, invested much effort to present their views as identical with those of their forebears, or, at least, as derived from them. This is the reason why books of law from different periods appear very similar to each other. In order to discern changes which may have occurred in a certain field of law, it is imperative to examine numerous sources from different periods and compare them to the compendia of tradition and law from the 8th and 9th centuries. If we learn that Islamic law continued to develop throughout Islamic history, then books of law written in later centuries are of much greater value than that ascribed to them so far: they constitute historical documents which can shed new light not only on the development of law, but also on the social situation of the areas and periods in which these books were written.
This is one of the fields in which we will conduct research. Another is the study of the development of Islamic law in various areas of the Islamic world in different periods, as well as in the differences between the various schools of law on specific issues.