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The word islām means ‘submission’, ‘submitting’, and conversion to Islam involves nothing more, at base, than submitting oneself to God. It has consequences – legal, fiscal and especially social – in different contexts, but its religious aspect consists of just the formal recognition of the one God and of Muḥammad as His messenger. Reciting the formula lā ilāha illā Allāh, Muḥammad rasūl Allāh is enough. The act of coming to Islam is thus very simple. The worldwide spread of a faith that at first was exclusively that of the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula was, however, much more complex as Islam came for centuries also to mean an empire created and at first largely ruled over by Arabs and a culture dominated by Islam: ‘civilization and Islam went together’.
Between 632 and about 1500 the great majority of the people between the Atlantic and India, and many beyond, converted to Islam. Who did it, when, where, how and above all why? What was the meaning of conversion, for converts and for those around them, their new co-religionists and their former ones? Can we measure the degree or rate of conversion in different societies and areas of the Islamic world? Did it happen all at once or over a longer period of time? Was it voluntary or did converts change their faith under compulsion? What happened to those left behind, those who did not undergo conversion?
The eight hundred years between the first Roman conquests and the conquest of Islam saw a rich, constantly shifting blend of languages and writing systems, legal structures, religious practices and beliefs in the Near East. While the different ethnic groups and cultural forms often clashed with each other, adaptation was as much a characteristic of the region as conflict. This volume, emphasizing the inscriptions in many languages from the Near East, brings together mutually informative studies by scholars in diverse fields. Together, they reveal how the different languages, peoples and cultures interacted, competed with, tried to ignore or were influenced by each other, and how their relationships evolved over time. It will be of great value to those interested in Greek and Roman history, Jewish history and Near Eastern studies.
This book is devoted to processes of continuity and change over the thousand years which separate Alexander the Great from Muhammad the Prophet – two men perceived as instrumental in changing the linguistic and cultural map of the Middle East, the former responsible for the spread of Greek, the latter for the demise of Greek and the rise of Arabic. Obviously the reality is not so simple, and the main purpose of this book is to examine the finer details and complexities of the relationship between languages and cultures during this period, and also to offer some account of the variety of responses that Greek, and other languages, evoked in the peoples of that area from Greece (and Rome) eastwards to Iran.
Like many other collective works, this book too has its own history. It grew out of the success of a conference, and the conference itself out of the experience of the editors as leaders and participants in a yearlong research group at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2002–3. The group was led by Hannah M. Cotton (of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Jonathan J. Price (of Tel Aviv University) and David J. Wasserstein (then of Tel Aviv University, now of Vanderbilt University); the other members were Leah Di Segni and Shlomo Naeh (of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Robert G. Hoyland (then of Oxford University, now of the University of St Andrews), E. Axel Knauf (of Bern University), Marijana Ricl (of the University of Belgrade) and Seth Schwartz (of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York).
The first stage in the surviving testimony to the history of the Septuagint lies in the hellenistic Jewish tradition. This is as it should be, not only because the Septuagint was born in that community and not only because the legend of its birth there was a creation of a member of that community but also because that community was the largest and culturally the richest of all those to the west of Palestine in its time. From this point of view, indeed, we may be a little surprised at the paucity and thinness of the evidence that we have. The evidence consists in three parts. The first, associated with the name of Aristobulus, is of very dubious character. The third, from Josephus, is essentially a long quotation in the form of an extensive paraphrase, from the Letter of Aristeas, although there is also some information in the same writer's Against Apion. Only the second witness, Philo, offers testimony of real value and significance, and even what he has to say is not wholly free of difficulty.
Aristobulus is a most recalcitrant witness, even a slippery customer. He stands out among the small group of Jewish writers of the hellenistic age. Who was he? Did he ever exist? How many individuals, if any, lie hidden behind the name Aristobulus in our sources? How much of the writings attributed to him can be regarded as genuine? When was it composed? Is it all by a single person?
Among medieval Jews the legend of the Seventy enjoyed much currency. We know that the rabbinic texts discussed earlier, with their accounts of the genesis of the LXX, were in wide circulation among Jews both in the Islamic world and in the developing communities of Christian Europe. And we have a number of new witnesses to the tale from writers among the Jews of the medieval world themselves. These surprise both by their range and by their content. In addition to the numerous authors influenced by Yosippon examined in Chapter 8, we have testimonies from the sectarian Jewish communities of the Karaites and the Samaritans as well as from the mainstream Rabbanite Jews. The Karaites see the story as laden with potential in their polemics against the Rabbanites. Similarly, the Samaritans take their knowledge of the story from rabbinic sources, but use it to attack those sources. Among the Rabbanites themselves, however, although the miraculous element in the story is not forgotten or questioned, the legend as a whole is incorporated into the historical and pseudo-historical works that are now beginning to appear.
For reasons which remain obscure, the Karaites separated themselves from the bulk of Jewry, probably in the ninth century. Somewhat like the Samaritans, they claimed that they followed only the sacred texts of Scripture and rejected such later writings as the Mishnah and the Talmuds.
The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible was a literary enterprise of immeasurable consequence in the history of western mankind. It has justly been called “the most important translation ever made”. It was not, however, the first translation of a text from one language into another. The practice of translation was old and well established in the Near East long before the translation of the Hebrew Bible, and translation techniques had existed for many centuries before the hellenistic age. Its products had long been known over wide areas. Such translations often served official and administrative purposes. Literary bilingualism and translation technique were also widespread in the second millennium in Mesopotamia where Sumerian texts were regularly accompanied by Akkadian translations. We know also of Babylonian interest in the grammar of the Sumerian language. A number of official translations have survived, particularly such as glorified the conquests and commemorated the achievements of imperial rulers. Among the most famous of these are the Behistun (Bisitun) inscription, on the road from Babylon to Ecbatana, of the greatest of the Achaemenid kings, Darius I (521–486 b.c.e.), in Old Persian, Elamite and Assyrian. The same ruler erected monuments inscribed on one side in Persian, Elamite and Babylonian and on the other in Egyptian hieroglyphics, along the course of the canal connecting the Nile with the Red Sea in Egypt. Such triumphal inscriptions as that at Behistun were translated into Aramaic and thus “published” throughout the empire.