How Islam Saved the Jews
By the early seventh century Judaism was in crisis. In the Mediterranean basin it was battered by legal, social, and religious pressure, weak in numbers and culturally almost non-existent. It was also largely cut off from the Jewry of the Persian empire, in Babylon, present-day Iraq. The future seemed clear: extinction in the west, decline to obscurity in the east. Salvation came from Arabia. Islam conquered the entire Persian empire and most of the Mediterranean world. Uniting virtually all the world’s Jews in a single state, it gave them legal and religious respectability, economic and social freedoms, and linguistic and cultural conditions that made possible a major renaissance of Judaism and the Jews. The significance of Islam for Jewry has been interpreted very variously since the middle ages and is a source of controversy to this day.
David J. Wasserstein is Eugene Greener, Jr. Professor of Jewish Studies, Professor of History, and Professor of Classics at Vanderbilt University. He received his D.Phil. from Oxford University. His research interests include medieval Islamic history, medieval Jewish studies, Islam in Spain, Islamic numismatics, and minorities in the Islamic world. With a background in classical studies, he is also interested in the classical tradition in Islam, and in particular in the ways in which Judaism, Islam and the classical world intersect culturally, linguistically and politically. He is the author of numerous scholarly articles, as well as of The Rise and Fall of the Party-Kings, Politics and Society in Islamic Spain, 1002-1086 (1985), The Caliphate in the West. An Islamic Political Institution in the Iberian Peninsula (1993), and The Legend of the Septuagint, From Classsical Antiquity to Today (with A. Wasserstein, 2006).
[Co-sponsored by the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies, the Taube Center for Jewish Studies, the Stanford Humanities Center, the Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and the Department of History]