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Jews and Christians in the East: Strategies of Interaction between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - JEWSEAST (Jews and Christians in the East: Strategies of Interaction between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean)

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2020-02-29

The encounters and interactions between Jews and Christians in the Middle East, Ethiopia, India and the Caucasus, which have hitherto been only insufficiently researched, is the subject matter of the project “Jews and Christians in the East: Strategies of Interaction between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean” (JewsEast). One of the main premises of JewsEast is that in order to obtain a truly accurate understanding of the dynamics of Jewish-Christian relations in the non-Latin world during the Middle Ages and early modern period, these various regions and traditions must be studied together because they were all profoundly interconnected through the exchange and translation of texts, artistic motifs and techniques, and other goods, via long-distance trade along the “silk road”, the Mediterranean, and the Indian Ocean, which, of course, also entailed the movement and encounter of peoples, Jews and Christians among them. The project explores 4 main questions:

1) What we can know about actual “real-life” interactions between Jews and a variety of Eastern Christian communities in the pre-modern period?;
2) What were the meanings and functions of invented or rhetorical Jewish identities?;
3) What is the significance of Jewish-Christian polemics, both written and visual, in lands or among communities where there were supposedly few to no Jews, or Jewish identity was “invented” vs. communities where Jews and Christians had the opportunity to be in regular contact with one another?;
4) How were Christian stories, laws, biblical interpretations, or motifs in which Jews featured prominently, or Jewish tales and motifs about Christians transformed as they were transported from one cultural milieu to another?

The project is important for understanding how different religious groups interact in general, because it provides a set of “test cases” outside of the European ones, which are already well researched, and which scholars often take as the single model for inter-religious relations in the past. The project also focuses largely on inter-minority relations, whereas most studies of religious plurality focus on majority-minority relations, i.e. the relationship between those in power and those who are not. Yet in pluralistic societies this is only one of many axes of inter-religious relations. This project provides a corrective to this approach within a set of specific, historical circumstances.
During the first half of this project we have achieved several milestones. As far as Arabic sources are concerned, we have discovered many more polemical texts written in Arabic by Christians against Judaism than was heretofore known. This change of perspective compels us to critically revise the commonly accepted idea that Jewish-Christian polemic was no longer high on the agenda among Christian intellectuals after the rise of Islam. Nor does the polemical material we have found simply repeat patterns extant in late antiquity, as scholars have suggested in the past. The presence of anti-Jewish material in Christian chronicles and numerous Arabic narratives of miracles of the Virgin Mary, some of which contain anti-Jewish material, also point to the need which Christians in the Middle East felt to create boundaries between themselves and Jews. At the same time, this particular body of literature also indicates the need to examine the dynamics of Christian-Jewish relations and polemic between Western Europe, Byzantium, the Middle East and Ethiopia since some of these Marian texts appear to have been translated into Arabic from Western European texts, and from the Arabic renditions into Ge‘ez. We have begun collecting these anti-Jewish Marian miracles in Arabic, Syriac and Ge‘ez. How this literature functioned in both the Middle East and Ethiopia, and how it connects to the Middle Eastern Toledot Yeshu tales (Jewish accounts of the life of Jesus) is part of our current investigation. Numerous manuscripts in Judeo-Arabic, Hebrew, and Judeo-Persian of the Toledot Yeshu over a wide chronological spread, represent a sustained attack on the New Testament, and on the persons of Jesus, the disciples, the Virgin Mary, and later Christian figures, such as Nestorius or Queen Helen in the Middle East. Jewish polemic also comes in the form of such texts as the Judeo-Arabic anti-Christian treatise, Qiṣṣat Mujādalat al-Usquf, thought to have been composed in the ninth century CE, but it appears that this type of polemic was less popular than the Jewish “anti-gospel” the Toledot Yeshu. We have been working on trying to understand the function of the Toledot Yeshu in Jewish-Christian relations in the Middle East and their impact on Muslim polemic against Judaism and/or Christianity on the one hand, and the movement of the Toledot Yeshu cycle between the Middle East and Europe and its influences, on the other. This material is and will be dealt with in a series of published and forthcoming articles.

We have examined the interplay between “invented” and “real” Jewish-Christian relations in Ethiopia and Armenia quite intensively. Much of the evidence for “real” relations in these regions lie in archaeology, and to that end we have conducted two archaeological surveys of Jewish monastic sites in Ethiopia and compared them with what is known of Christian monasticism in Ethiopia. Written sources are more complex to evaluate. An examination of Ethiopian Christian literature about Jews shows that sometimes Jews were viewed neutrally, but at other times castigated as the enemies of the Christians and compared with heretics, “Pagans” or Muslims. Archaeological evidence is similarly important for understanding Jewish-Christian interactions in Armenia and Georgia. In July 2018 a field survey of various Jewish sites in Georgia will be conducted, while in August 2018 we will complete a “deep impact archaeological survey” of the medieval Jewish cemetery in Armenia that had first been discovered and analyzed by Prof. Michael Stone and his team. As far as Armenian and Georgian written sources are concerned, it appears that polemic and/or dialogue with the Jews was channeled through translated literature. A number of works translated could be characterized as adversus judaeos texts, while others belong to hagiographical or apocalyptic genres, but included reflections on the Jews and Judaism, or anti-Jewish attitudes. On the other hand, both in Georgian and Armenian written sources we find other narratives about Jews, where the latter appear in a rather positive light, for example, in discussions of kingship and origin myths, or in some apocalyptic sources where Jewish conversion to Christianity and martyrdom before the End of Times is highly eulogized. The pattern we have seen thus far is that there is not much Armenian and Georgian native literature that can be defined as anti-Jewish polemic. Rather, such texts were translated either from Greek, Arabic or Syriac.

Among our further findings, are material indications of interactions between Ethiopia and Armenia in the Middle Ages. Previous studies had noted that connections existed based on the study of written sources and remarked the difficulty of substantiating some of their claims. Our research has revealed the existence of not only Ethiopian manuscripts in Armenia (already known), but also more Ethiopian fly-leaves bound in Armenian manuscripts than had previously been identified. We are working on substantiating rumors of Armenian manuscripts in Ethiopian monasteries and, to that end, have been conducting interviews with leaders of the monasteries in question. Such material evidence of medieval interactions between Armenia and Ethiopia remains to be investigated more fully. It is also still not clear whether such connections may account for similarities between Armenian (and Georgian), as well as Ethiopian claims of Jewish ancestry for some royal dynasties.

From fish, to carpets, to slaves and arguments with one’s business partner – one indicator of real-life interactions comes through trade. The Tarisappally Copper Plates – dated 849 AD making them the second earliest original written document preserved in Kerala – is one of the main documents on Jewish-Christian relations in India in the Middle Ages. This document, supplemented by later medieval copper plates and granite inscriptions, permits us to write a preliminary joint history of the three Abrahamic communities in medieval South India, something that has not been attempted to date. Members of the JewsEast team have been collaborating about this and related texts and issues with Elizabeth Lambourn, who had directed a British Arts and Humanities Research Council project, entitled A Persian church in the land of pepper - routes, networks and communities in the early medieval Indian Ocean, which ran from 2011-13 (grant reference: AH/I025948/1). We have also been going through evidence in the Cairo Geniza, a vast body of mostly Jewish texts spanning from the tenth up to the nineteenth century, which were hidden in a kind of synagogue in old Cairo, to find evidence of Jewish involvement with trade between Egypt and the Caucasus, and combining material from the Cairo Geniza, Muslim and Christian Arabic and Syriac sources from the Middle East and India, and Malayalam sources from India to better understand patterns of trade and settlement by Jews and Christians from the Mediterranean and India. We have found indications of Jewish settlement and intermarriage with local inhabitants of S. India, and Jewish adoption of Malayalam words and integration into Indian merchant society. We have also found that the conversion of Christian slaves to Judaism was common in Egypt, and that conversion between Judaism and Christianity by free individuals was largely ignored by Muslim authorities, despite regulations prohibiting such conversions. Jews did sometimes work with Christian businessmen, but evidence is sparse, because of similar naming patterns between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Often individuals are identified by religion only when there was a problem.

In India, it becomes increasingly apparent that local Christians adapted material about Judaism and the Hebrew language from Europeans during the early modern period, however, we have also found a local, Malayalam reworking of the gospel story and the role of the Jews in that, where the author seems to eschew assigning Jews negative roles in the story. The text still needs to be read and edited in full before concrete observations may be made. In the process of going through collections of Syriac and Garshuni-Malayalam mauscripts from India the following have been found: 1) canons against the Jews (translated from Latin) included in the “Enlightening Lamp” of the Chaldean Patriarch Joseph II of Amid (1696-1713) (in the manuscript Thrissur Syriacus 67); the manuscript is from the Middle East and the scribe seems to be author himself; 2) texts against the Jews excerpted from the works of Bar Hebraeus and Dionysius Bar Salibi in a Middle Eastern manuscript, whose model was copied near Mardin, in the 14th century (in the manuscript Thrissur Syriacus 82); 3) fragment of a letter addressed to an Indian priest, Matthew, who apparently was interested to know whether the Jacobites are descending from the race of the Jews or from the Gentiles and why the King of Ethiopia was practicing circumcision; the letter is inserted into a 19th century Syriac Indian manuscript (Thrissur Syriacus 11) and it is not dated. 4) canons against the Jews written in Portuguese scattered in the decisions of the various Councils of Goa (these be will included in the introduction of Kadavil Chandy’s trilogy); 5) Two manuscripts, Codex Mannanam Syriacus 63 and Codex Thrissur Syriacus 62 containing the poetry of of Kadavil Chandy Kattanar (the panegyrics of the three sacred languages featuring Syriac/Aramaic, Hebrew, and Arabic; 6) a group of twenty one liturgical hymns hidden in at least fifteen liturgical manuscripts which are to be found in the Syriac manuscript collections from Thrissur, Mannanam and Ernakulam, and discovered an acrostic hymn dedicated to the Virgin. All these compositions belong to the same poet; 7) short descriptions of languages inserted in Syriac miscellanies from Malabar (most likely written for didactic purposes); 8) an encyclopaedia/dictionary (five copies have been found), most probably used at the Jesuit seminary of Vaipicotta in Chennamangalam between 1622 and 1656, or, after 1656, at the seminary of Sampallur at Ambazhakad. This is in the form of a Syriac-Garshuni Malayalam dictionary and, as such, it is the oldest systematic dictionary, written by Europeans, of any Indian language. These are in addition to the untitled interfaith dialogue, written in Garshuni Malayalam and preserved in an 18th-century manuscript in the Mannanam library, Mannanam MS Syr 74 (=MS MalGar 2) which was mentioned in the initial ERC grant proposal for the JewsEast project, and an edition and translation of which is proceeding apace. A member of the team is also preparing an edition and translation of Kadavil Chandy Kattanar with discussions of the related literature such as the older, shorter descriptions of languages.

While a structural comparison of Kadavil Chandy Kattanar’s three hymns is an important witness to the relationship between Jews, Christians and Muslims in South India during the late 16th and the first half of the 17th centuries, much of the material used by the poet for his hymns seems to come from Western knowledge. In order to contextualize correctly this transfer of knowledge and to understand which European sources on Hebrew, Arabic and Syriac (eventually translated first from Latin into Syriac) were used by the poet.

The encyclopaedia/dictionary is, besides being an astonishingly early example of European linguistic inquiry into Indian languages, also a product of Jesuit philosemitism. It is seemingly a Syriac-Malayalam dictionary written in Syriac and Syro-Malayalam characters and is based on the Nomenclator Syriacus, the most up-to-date Syriac-Latin dictionary of the early 17th century, compiled by Giovanni-Battista Ferrari and published in Rome in 1622. Giovanni-Battista Ferrari was part of a larger circle of Christian semiticists from Europe. Kadavil Chandy, the author of the trilogy on the sacred languages mentioned above, was influenced by these circles, while his work also reflects the local situation, in which Jews and Syrian Christians had been members of the same trading guild and natural allies against the rival Muslim traders for many centuries. The encyclopaedia/dictionary is a very important source for our JewsEast project, as it contains in its first column, besides the Syriac words of the Nomenclator Syriacus, many Talmudic and Mishnaic words. This testifies not only to the good knowledge of the Jewish literature on the part of the Jesuit philosemitists, but also to the fact that this knowledge was transmitted to and was of interest for their Indian students as well. In fact, Kadavil Chandy’s poem on the Syriac language, which he identifies with Aramaic tout court, testifies to a good knowledge of the Jewish Aramaic literature. In fact, he mentions “the Targum (translation) of the Holy Book,” “the Talmud of Jerusalem,” “the Perushim“, “the Babylonian Talmud,” the “Book of Zohar,” and the “Book of Midrash” as parts of the Aramaic literature. As mentioned above, this is both a testimony to the influence of the Jesuit philosemitists and to an interest, among the elite of the Indian Christians, in the Jewish lore, toward which they did not feed any enmity because of the traditional good relations between the two communities. The same tone may be found in the interfaith dialogue, (Mannanam MS Syr 74 (=MS MalGar 2) which was written in a Sanskritised Malayalam (Brahminic) dialect, apparently by a European missionary knowing very good Malayalam, on the truth of the Christian religion, directed mainly against the Jews, but in a rather friendly manner. The venue of the dialogue is the synagogue in North Paravur, a locality where Hindus, Jews, Christians and Muslims have lived together. The dramatis personae are a certain Rabbi Jacob, who is the rabbi of the Paravur synagogue, a Jew, a “Malayali” (that is, Hindu), a Christian and an “Ismaelite” (that is, Muslim) on the question, whether the redemption of the world has happened and whether Jesus is the Messiah. The representatives of the four faiths are contributing with the arguments of their respective religions to the debate. The dialogue is unique in its genre and the world view behind it is definitively a European one – an eminently humanistic genre practiced by Erasmus of Rotterdam. At the same time, it is also a unique source for understanding the traditional relationship of the four communities in South India.

Informal descriptions of the archaelogical surveys and textual discoveries are included on our website. More detailed case studies may be found in the various articles published or forthcoming by team members so far. Some initial findings were included in volume 6 (2018) of the online journal Entangled Relgions: also: file:///C:/Users/Alexandra/Downloads/872-2280-1-SM.pdf in which the proceedings of a conference sponsored by JewsEast, the Ben Zvi Institute, and the Jewish-Christian-Muslim Center of the Open University of Israel are publshed. The following books are contracted and forthcoming from the project: a three volume guide to sources on Jewish Christian Relations, Jewish-Christian Relations from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean. A Source History (600-1800); Relocating Malabar Jewry: Judaism across the Arabian Sea 900s-1900s by Ophira Gamliel; Shared Saints and Festivals among Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the Medieval Mediterranean by Alexandra Cuffel all of which are forthcoming with ARC Humanities Press.
While even before the project began, we knew that there was more Christian-Jewish polemical material from the Middle East than scholars had indicated up until now, the amount of material we have uncovered has far surpassed our expectations, and we continue to find more manuscripts. We will identify and briefly describe these in the Jewish-Christian Relations from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean. A Source History (600-1800). We are also inviting other specialists to write entries on them in our forthcoming volumes. Identifying the texts and pointing to the need for further research on them in our source history lays the groundwork for future research in this area. This is precisely what we foresaw when we proposed the JewsEast project, so in that regard we are satisfied.

The plethora of Marian anti-Jewish texts in Arabic, Syriac, and Ge‘ez and the extent to which it had not been studied, given the abundance of material there (including also iconographic material) surprised us, and is clearly yet another area for future research. We have networked with a number of other scholars also interested in the Marian miracles and we hope to publish on the interplay of such tales with ritual practices, and the Toledot Yeshu texts from the Middle East, thus gaining a better perspective of Jewish-Christian interactions in the Middle East.

Examining Judeo-Arabic texts from the Cairo Geniza related to Indian Ocean trade in conjunction with Indian sources has proven very promising, and strongly suggests that scholars working on just one or the other (Jewish or Indian) sources (which has been the practice heretofore) miss vital information. So far the team has focused primarily on Malayalam and Judeo-Arabic sources, but we are hoping that Persian, Judeo-Persian and Syriac sources will be equally revealing, which is one of our intended foci for the remaining years of the project.

Further exciting finds of the project consist in the identification and mapping of Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jewish) monasteries, settlements, and possibly fortresses. Our research on the Beta Israel monasteries indicates that oral and written traditions are mostly accurate, at least in terms of locating these sites, thus the searches and archaeological surveys of the JewsEast team have been far more successful than we had hoped. We intend to survey these sites as thoroughly as possible, with an eye to identifying the most promising one for proposing a full excavation in the future. This last task is beyond the research aims and financial capacities of the JewsEast project, however, envisioning such an endeavor would not have been possible without the work that we are currently doing. In the meantime, we will continue to analyze the archaeological material we do have in conjunction with the written sources. In general, we have been finding that seeking and incorporating archaeological evidence with the written sources, something we are doing to a lesser extent in the Caucasus and India, have been very fruitful, although, since this is an unanticipated outgrowth of our mostly textual research for JewsEast, the extent to which we may pursue this avenue is limited.

Our proposal to work on Ethiopian-Armenian relations was based in part upon the marked similarity between royal claims of Jewish lineage and symbolism in Armenia, Georgia, and Ethiopia, a few textual references, and some general ‘floating ideas’ that such a connection might have existed in the Middle Ages. Investigating these was initially a very minor part of the proposal for JewsEast. We are still uncertain of the exact nature of the connections between the two regions – something we intend to continue investigating during the remaining years of the project – however, our work so far indicates that this is a much larger research field than expected. Analysis of literary connections, some unique, common topoi found in Armenian and Ge’ez texts, seems to be the most promising path to follow. Such scholarship has been partially impeded because of language and disciplinary boundaries; something that the combined expertise of the JewsEast team is able to overcome.

The attempts on the part of the Portuguese to influence inter-religious relations in southern India, and to reshape Indian Christianity to their satisfaction is well known and has long been studied. The extent to which European Christian attitudes toward Jews and Muslims, Christian Hebraicism, and more broadly, European Christian study of Semitic languages, and European, affected religious dynamics, specifically Christian-Jewish relations in early modern India we consider a significant find on the part of JewsEast. We had already suspected that some European influence was evident when we proposed to do an edition of Mannanam MS Syr 74 (=MS MalGar 2) for JewsEast, however further manuscript discoveries confirm that this text was part of a much larger exchange of ideas affecting Jewish-Christian relations in Asia.