Core 3: Abraham’s Growing Family

Steve Smith
Office: Christian Center 11, 601-974-1334
– Office hours posted – Home: 1611 Edgewood St, 601-354-2290

IDST 1300-05 Topics in the Premodern World
Focuses: History, Religion
Spring 5770/2010/1431 MWF 11:00 Th 9:00

Three religious traditions became firmly established in the Western part of the Old World during the first millennium CE: Judaism, lacking a political base but thriving wherever Jews settled; Christianity, originally a counter-cultural sect but by the end of the 4th century the official religion of the Roman Empire; and Islam, which by the early 8th century was in charge of Arabia, Mesopotamia, Persia, North Africa, and Spain. Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived in proximity to each other and awareness of each other in a large proportion of medieval Western urban settings. They had explicit policies about how to interact with each other. They argued against each other’s beliefs—sometimes in the form of philosophical dialogue. They recognized their shared Abrahamic heritage, which often made their interactions all the more violent (sibling rivalry to the max!) but also, on occasion, all the more collegial. Each had distinctive ideals of God’s power and providence; each had their own ideals for personal devotion and for human community and history (tied to actual impressive accomplishments and embarrassing failures); and these ideals were continually tested in their interactions with each other. The three faith communities evolved in intimate togetherness.

This is still going on. We have not left this “medieval” world behind—any more than we have left behind the dynamics of the urbanized ancient Hellenistic world of multicultural mingling in which Judaism and Christianity first matured. Don’t think of great historical periods as things that are over with!

The purposes of this course are

1. To improve our acquaintance with the chief classical and medieval sources of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religiousness.

2. To expand our awareness of what was ventured, gained, lost, and learned in the premodern period, especially regarding personal and communal formation with a religious rationale.

3. To develop our ability to think about religion and religious issues in historical and comparative perspective.

There is plenty of information to be gathered in this course, yet there is more: the course is an exercise machine to strengthen your thinking, speaking, and writing powers so that you can enter more fully into the life and fellowship of the mind. Like other Millsaps core courses, this one promotes certain broadly relevant liberal arts abilities:

Reasoning. This is your ability to keep track of differences and similarities, of evidence and lack of evidence, and of your own acts of acceptance and rejection, so that you can draw conclusions about what is true or false, likely or unlikely, consistent or inconsistent. Most of the assignments I give and many of the things I say in class will challenge you to reason in a sustained way. Also, we will read some classic texts that were deliberately created to (and, in fact, did) advance the art of reasoning for everyone.

Communication. Learning doesn’t take place only in a private laboratory in your head. It depends on conversation. This course will ask you to weave your thoughts together with other people’s thoughts, in speech and in writing. The art of genuine response is difficult and important.

Historical consciousness. Besides gathering information about how important elements of human culture came into existence and spawned consequences, we will strive to understand more substantially how our lives belong to a historical-cultural continuum and how our perceptions, desires, and choices relate to the raveling and unraveling of this larger fabric.

Social and cultural awareness. It has long been recognized that the “Western” culture we inhabit has been mixed out of culturally very diverse sources, including Islamic sources. It’s important that we see more clearly how this has come to pass, not only for a more accurate understanding of the “Western” legacy but so that we can recognize the issues being negotiated and the maneuvers that are available to us in forming today’s global culture.

Our activities will include movie viewing and a field trip to the International Museum of Muslim Cultures. Grading will be based on class participation, including daily reading responses (20%), shorter writing assignments (10%), an 8-10 pp. research paper (20%)—this is a required entry in your Millsaps Writing Portfolio—two sectional exams (15%, 15%), and a final exam (20%).

Readings will be required in handouts and in these books available in the bookstore:

Karen Armstrong, Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today’s World
Richard Fletcher, Moorish Spain
Zachary Karabell, Peace Be Upon You. Fourteen Centuries of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Conflict and Cooperation

The READ and WRITE assignments are placed on the day on which they are due. For each WRITE assignment I ask for a certain length, measuring by typed pages. A typed page is about 250-300 words. Typing is not required, however.
Although this schedule lists only three meetings during our fourth hour, Thurs. at 9:00 a.m., we may use this time on occasion for a make-up class or help session.

Week 1: Introduction to the course and to the Abrahamic religions
M 1-11 Introduction to the course
W 1-13 Introduction to the Abrahamic religious family
READ: Armstrong, pp. 3-20
Th 1-14 The emergence of Judaism reflected in the Tanakh
READ: Selections from Hebrew scriptures
F 1-15 The emergence of Judaism reflected in the Talmud
READ: Handout; Talmud selections

Week 2: Introduction to the Abrahamic religions, cont.
W 1-20 The emergence of Christianity reflected in the New Testament
READ: New Testament selections
Th 1-21 The emergence of Christianity reflected in Church Fathers
READ: Augustine selections; Armstrong, pp. 20-26
F 1-22 The emergence of Islam reflected in the Qur’an
READ: Qur’an selections; Karabell, pp. 21-62
WRITE: Review of Quran passage (1 p.)

Week 3: Introduction to the Abrahamic religions, cont. Muslim Spain
F 1-25 The emergence of Islam reflected in the Hadiths
READ: Karabell, Chap. 2; Hadith selections
W 1-27 The Muslim conquest of Spain
READ: Fletcher, Chap. 2; excerpts from The Song of Roland
F 1-29 The consolidation of Muslim Spain; the Emirate/Caliphate of Cordoba
READ: Fletcher, chaps. 3-4

Week 4: Muslim and Jewish Spain, cont.
M 2-1 The Jews in Spain
READ: Karabell, chaps. 3, 6
W 2-3 The Jews in Spain, cont.
READ: Fletcher, chap. 5
F 2-5 Judah Halevi
READ: Handout on Judah Halevi
WRITE: Review of Judah Halevi’s Kuzari (1 p.)

Week 5: Muslim and Christian Spain
M 2-8 Christian and Muslim architecture; the Great Mosque of Cordoba
READ: Handout
W 2-10 The Poem of The Cid and other evidences of the Taifa kingdoms period
READ: Handout
F 2-12 Visit to International Museum of Muslim Cultures

Week 6: Muslim and Christian Spain, cont.
M 2-15 Discuss museum visit
W 2-17 The Almohads
READ: Fletcher, chaps. 6-7
VIEWING (TBA): Destiny (Youssef Chahine, 1997)
F 2-19 EXAM 1

Week 7: Medieval conversations: mysticism and love
M 2-22 Origins of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim mysticism
READ: Selections from Ezekiel, Paul, Qur’an, Rabi’a
W 2-24 Spanish roots of Kabbala
READ: Selections from the Zohar
F 2-26 Ibn ‘Arabi and Dante
READ: Selections from Interpreter of Desire and Vita Nuova
WRITE: Is love allegorical? (2 pp.)

Week 8: Conversations, cont. Ibn ‘Arabi and Dante. Medieval Jewish philosophy and theology, part 1
M 3-1 Ibn ‘Arabi’s imaginal worlds
READ: Selections from Meccan Revelations
W 3-3 Dante’s imaginal worlds
READ: Selections from Divine Comedy
F 3-5 Two types of medieval Jewish thought: Saadia Gaon and Rashi
READ: Handouts on Saadia and Rashi

Week 9: Conversations, cont. Philosophical theology
M 3-8 The Greek intellectual heritage in Abrahamic theology: Ibn Sina, al-Ghazali, Ibn Rushd
READ: Selections from Ibn Sina, al-Ghazali, Ibn Rushd
W 3-10 Negative theology in Moses Maimonides
READ: Selections from The Guide for the Perplexed
F 3-12 Theology of analogy in Thomas Aquinas
READ: Selections from Summa Theologica
WRITE: What can be said of God’s nature? (2 pp.)


Week 10: The Byzantines
M 3-22 The relationship between the Byzantine and Abbasid realms; the church of Hagia Sophia
READ: Handout; Karabell pp. 57-62
W 3-24 Byzantine religion: the iconoclastic controversy
READ: Handout
F 3-26 EXAM 2

Week 11: The Crusades
M 3-29 The Crusades 1096-1146
READ: Armstrong, Chap. 4
W 3-31 The Crusades 1146-1148
READ: Armstrong, Chap. 5
WRITE: On the relation of religion and war (2 pp.)
Th 4-1 The Crusades 1168-1221
READ: Armstrong, Chap. 6

Week 12: The Crusades, cont.
M 4-5 The Crusades 1168-1221, cont. Course evaluation.
READ: Armstrong, Chap. 9
W 4-7 The Crusades 1220-1291
READ: Armstrong, Chap. 10
F 4-9 Armstrong’s thesis about contemporary conflict

Week 13: The Ottoman world
M 4-12 The conquest of Constantinople and the peak of Ottoman power
READ: Karabell, Chap. 7
W 4-13 Ottoman art
READ: Handout
F 4-15 Ottoman decline
READ: Karabell, Chap. 8

Week 14: The Ottoman world, cont. Spain in 1492
M 4-19 Guest presentation by Mike Galaty on religion and society in the Balkans today
READ: Handout
W 4-21 The Spanish Reconquista as of 1492
READ: Handout
F 4-23 Conclusion.



Jane Gerber, The Jews of Spain
Leonard Glick, Abraham’s Heirs: Jews & Christians in Medieval Europe
Jason Goodwin, Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire
Salma Khadra Jayyusi, ed., The Legacy of Muslim Spain
P. M. Holt et al., eds., The Cambridge History of Islam
Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity
_______, A History of the Jews
David Levering Lewis, God’s Crucible. Islam & The Making of Europe, 570-1215
Vivian B. Mann et al., eds., Convivencia. Jews, Muslims, & Christians in Medieval Spain
Jacob Marcus, ed., The Jew in the Medieval World (sourcebook)
John Julius Norwich, A Short History of Byzantium
Simon Noveck, ed., Creators of the Jewish Experience in Ancient & Medieval Times
F. E. Peters, ed. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Classical Texts and Their Interpretations
_______, The Monotheists: Jews, Christians, & Muslims in Conflict and Competition
Colin Smith, ed., Christians & Moors in Spain (sourcebook)
Theodore L. Steinberg, Jews & Judaism in the Middle Ages
Norman Stillman, ed., The Jews of Arab Lands (sourcebook)

Reference works on the three major traditions:
Encyclopedia Judaica
The New Catholic Encyclopedia
The New Encyclopedia of Islam

Covering many things of interest to us:
Paul Fouracre, ed., The New Cambridge Medieval History (7 vols.)


1. Class attendance. Being in class, being engaged with the work of the class, and behaving courteously are all expected. One discourtesy to avoid is coming into class late. Better late than never, definitely; but lateness counts as half an absence—that is, your work with the class that day will be counted as only half done. One percent of the course grade will be lost for each absence from class for any reason, beginning with the fourth absence. (For example, someone who missed class 8 times would lose 5% of the course grade, or half a letter grade.) The reason for this: our in-class work is a crucial and irreplaceable part of the substance of the course.

2. Electronic communication devices (cell phones, laptops, etc.). Electronic devices have become harmful Interrupters and Distracters in the current state of our social evolution. Their use is banned in our class. If you have special needs, discuss with me.

3. Late papers. Written assignments turned in late will lose a letter grade or equivalent. Homework may not be turned in more than one week after its due date. No work of any kind will be accepted after the last day of final examinations. Exceptions to this policy will only be granted to the victims of unforeseeable and uncontrollable circumstances.

4. As a general rule, no e-mail submissions. Unless the instructor allows it under specified circumstances, e-mail submissions of assigned writing are not accepted.

5. Plagiarism. Using the words or ideas of others without acknowledgment—that is, passing them off as your own—is a fraudulent practice called plagiarism. It also misses one of the main points of being in college, which is to develop your powers of thought and expression. Plagiarism is an offense under the Academic Honor Code (see next page).

6. Incompletes. An “Incomplete” grade for the course will only be given to students who, due to unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances, find themselves unable to complete course requirements during the term and can reasonably be expected to complete them within a few weeks after the term’s end. The “Incomplete” must be requested and appropriately justified before the end of final examinations.

7. Disabilities. Students with documented disabilities should discuss their needs with the instructor at the beginning of the semester.