Jewish-Muslim Intellectual History Entangled

Textual Materials from the Firkovitch Collection, Saint Petersburg

Jewish-Muslim Intellectual History Entangled: Textual Materials from the Firkovitch Collection, Saint Petersburg, edited by Camilla Adang, Bruno Chiesa, Omar Hamdan, Wilferd Madelung, Sabine Schmidtke, and Jan Thiele, has been published by the University of Cambridge as part of the Cambridge Semitic Languages and Culture series.

Jewish-Muslim Intellectual History Entangled unearths forgotten textual materials that once belonged to the library of the Karaite community in Cairo and that were eventually abandoned in their synagogue’s storeroom, or geniza. Consigned to oblivion for centuries, a great many of these manuscripts were sold in the second half of the nineteenth century by Abraham Firkovitch to the National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg, where they remained inaccessible to most scholars until the end of the Cold War.

The texts from the former Karaite library of Cairo cover almost the entire spectrum of medieval literary genres and scholarly disciplines. In spite of their origin in the Jewish community, they include copies in Hebrew and Arabic characters of works by Jewish, Muslim, and sometimes Christian authors. Regardless of their poor material condition—which is typical for geniza manuscripts—the fragmentary remains of the Karaite library are invaluable sources for historians of the Middle East: in many cases, they provide unique access to an otherwise lost body of literature from the medieval Islamicate world.

The present volume includes fragments of five texts by adherents of the Muʿtazila, a school of rational theology that emerged in the eighth century C.E. and that was soon declared heretical by a majority of Muslim scholars. The five texts include Karaite copies and recensions of works by Muslim authors, notably ʿAbd al-Jabbār al-Hamadhānī and ʿAbd Allāh b. Saʿīd al-Labbād, as well as original Jewish Muʿtazilī treatises.

The collection is concluded by an anonymous Rabbanite refutation of the highly influential polemical tract against Judaism, entitled Ifḥām al-yāhūd. All texts are edited here for the first time. This collection of previously unknown texts offers unprecedented insights into the intellectual crossroads between Muslims and Jews of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.

The book is freely available at