alexa IbnSahula’sMeshal ha-Qadmoni as restorative polemic
Social & Political Sciences

Social & Political Sciences

Arts and Social Sciences Journal

Author(s): Cuffel A

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This essay explores the ways in which Isaac ibn Sahula (1244–c. 1284) drew upon philosophy, medical theory, astrology, and animal lore, both to polemicize against Christians and Muslims and to goad his Jewish readers to correct spiritual behavior in his Meshal ha-Qadmoni. Christians, Muslims, and “bad” Jews are portrayed as having degraded their intellect by following fleshly lusts or false wisdom. In losing their intellect, they have lost the quality that made them superior to animals. His use of animals to portray the “inhumanity” of most humans adds a level of irony to his work, but also becomes a part of his arsenal of symbolism, which he deftly uses to criticize the religious claims and behavior of non-Jews. In some instances loss of intellect feminizes his opponents. However, Ibn Sahula's use of gender symbolism does not fall along neat dichotomies of male-spiritual, female-material. Rather, non-Jews are often characterized by hyper-masculinity, violence, and excessive lust, whereas Ibn Sahula portrays himself as a woman giving birth, Israel as maiden or woman in need of going to purify herself in a miqvah. His manipulation of gender symbolism, like his use of animals, is part of a broad defensive polemic aimed at Christian and Muslim criticism of Jews.

This article was published in Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies and referenced in Arts and Social Sciences Journal

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