Embedded in the literature of Muslims, Christians, and Jews are historicized narratives that purport to rationalize and contextualize the place of minority and sectarian groups in medieval Islamic society. Among these are those that, at first reading, tell the story of an intentional fictionalizing of history on the part of a minority group with the intent to deceive Muslim authorities and thereby gain advantage. A prototype for this narrative strategy is observed in the Book of Joshua, wherein the “pagan” Gibeonites employ a ruse to secure recognition and protection from the conquering monotheistic Israelites, who had been commanded by God to exterminate pagans. Three case studies (on the Sabians of Ḥarrān, Karaite Jews, and Khaybarī Jews) reveal that similar stories in medieval Islam are often the result of co-production, a phenomenon which constitutes a kind of cultural negotiation between the dominant culture and a sub-culture; between rulers and subject peoples, between Muslims and non-Muslims, and even between competing subaltern groups. Reshaped narratives about the caliph al-Ma‘mūn, the Prophet Muḥammad, or other key figures offered narrativized permission for the dominant Muslim religion and culture to tolerate the existence of groups whose theologies or practices challenged Muslim assumptions of collectivity, and correspondingly, might or might not be otherwise deemed unacceptable. These narratives also provided subalterns a kind of myth of origin for their place in Islamic society. What is at stake in these complex interweavings of memory, history, and literary construction are the rights and duties of the subordinate groups.

For both individuals and groups, the past often illuminates the present through narratives that support and make understandable contemporary notions of social order.1 For minority and sectarian groups, narratives of the past can be used to explain the presence of the group within a dominant society in the face of contradictory assumptions of collectivity inherent in the dominant culture. In doing so, a minority or sectarian group may internalize aspects of the dominant society’s sense of the past in order to harmonize the surrounding culture with its identity.2 Narratives of origin, in particular, can be important for the way minority groups express an understanding of their place in society. The result can be a complicated blending of minority self-definition and dominant-society norms in which adopted and adapted notions become narrativized through complex reflexive processes of co-production. As this paper seeks to demonstrate, stories constructed through co-production are layered, interwoven, and re-written by different authors representing a variety of dominant and subordinate perspectives. This reflexive process may be difficult to identify in the narratives, and its setting is further complicated by confrontational relationships among competing subordinate authorial groups within the dominant society.

Several stories of obscure historical origin, two of which are connected to the time of the caliph al-Ma’mūn (d. 833), exemplify the complexity of minority representations of the past in medieval Islamic society. The stories constitute historicized narrative contextualizations of three medieval non-Muslim groups: Sabians (that is, the “pagans” of Ḥarrān3), Karaite Jews, and Khaybarī Jews. In these narratives, the subordinate religious minority is portrayed intentionally misrepresenting itself in order to seek advantage in relationship to the majority and other minorities. In all three cases the misrepresentation involves the manipulation of known characteristics of the dominant religious and political culture of Islam. This type of ruse appears as a literary-historical topos but, as will be shown, can have effects beyond the literary and imaginative realms of historicized narrative to leave evidence in the historical record. In this paper, the functions of such stories and their continued value by both minority and dominant cultures will be analyzed.

An archetypal example of such a narrative is found in the Hebrew Bible. In Joshua 9, the Gibeonites, a Canaanite people, are portrayed employing a ruse to avoid war and destruction at the hands of the conquering Israelites. Knowing that the Israelites had been ordered by divine decree to destroy the Canaanites, the Gibeonites made great efforts to present themselves as foreigners who resided outside of the land of Canaan, saying, “We come from a distant land; we propose that you make a pact with us” (Josh. 9.6). They even possessed particular knowledge of the Israelite God and recent Israelite history. “For we heard report of Him; of all that He did in Egypt, and all that He did to the two Amorite kings on the other side of the Jordan” (Josh. 9.9–10). Joshua and the Israelites, unaware that the Gibeonites were inhabitants of Canaan, were eager to gain allies among other nations as they established themselves in the land. So the men of Israel accepted the Gibeonites’ willingness to become Israelite subjects (Josh. 9.8), and Joshua “established friendship with them” (Josh. 9.15). The key element of the narrative is that the Gibeonite strategy was based on using specific knowledge regarding the soon-to-be dominant Israelite enemy. They knew both that the God of the Israelites had decreed utter destruction (ḥerem) for the “people of the Land” (Deut. 7.1–2), and that oaths were considered sacred for Israelites and were to be scrupulously affirmed.4 

Even when the ruse became known, the Gibeonites were saved from massacre on account of the oath of friendship. The Israelite chieftains declare that, “We swore to them by the Lord, the God of Israel; therefore we cannot touch them” (Josh. 9.19). “They shall live!” (Josh. 9.21). In this instance of conflict between two contradictory divine laws, the oath has priority over the ḥerem.5 

Given the literary and historical problems associated with the authorship and composition of the Hebrew Bible, one finds no consensus among modern Bible scholars regarding the historicity and import of this tale. Opinions range from complete fabrication to reliable source, and beyond that, conclusions are highly qualified regarding who the specific players are in the narrative and when events occurred.6 

From a literary-historical point of view, Joshua 9 is an etiological tale that explains an anomalous situation in the context of biblical assumptions of Israelite collectivity centuries after the time of the described events—that is, the presence of a non-Israelite idol-worshipping people in the midst of the Israelite nation. The tale harmonizes what otherwise would be a contradiction between God’s explicit command in Deuteronomy to destroy the Canaanites and the continued presence of a Canaanite group in the land after the Israelite conquest and settlement. The poles of this disparity represent the difference between historical realities of the Israelite conquest of the late second millennium B.C.E., which permitted the continued presence of “pagan” non-Israelites in the land, and divinely ordained, utopian geo-political objectives as recorded in the Bible perhaps as late as the eighth century B.C.E. The continued existence of Gibeonites in latter days challenged the authors of the Book of Joshua to speak to the inconsistency of memory and reality.7 

Furthermore, after the deception was recognized the Gibeonites were reduced to subservient status in Israelite society, relegated to be “hewers of wood and drawers of water” (Josh. 9.21).8 Here the narrative offers a secondary etiology to explain the subordinate status of latter-day Gibeonites. The function of this secondary etiology demonstrates that the Israelites remained honor-bound to their oath, but there were consequences for the ruse. Both the anomaly of continued Gibeonite existence and the subordinate and marginalized place of Gibeonites in society are rationalized.

The socio-historical function of this biblical narrative and its particular features constitute a literary topos that is found elsewhere in traditional literature of the ancient and medieval Near East. The important features are: 1) that the Gibeonites, a subordinate group at the time of the writing of this story, had possessed and exploited particular knowledge of the dominant Israelite culture; and 2) that they used this knowledge in a gambit to trick the representatives of dominant Israelite power into adopting a more favorable policy toward their subordinate group than might otherwise have been the case.

In medieval Islamic history, three examples of similar literary-historical topoi open up differences between Islamic assumptions of collectivity and contradictory historical realities.

With the “Gibeonite gambit” narrative in mind, a similar ruse is uniquely documented in the tenth-century Fihrist of Ibn al‑Nadīm, whereby the non-monotheistic inhabitants of Ḥarrān in upper Mesopotamia were able to justify their existence in the face of monotheistic Muslim assumptions of collectivity.9 It is reported that on his way to campaign against the Byzantines, the caliph al‑Ma’mūn (813–33 C.E.) encountered the non-Muslim Ḥarrānians. He asked them, “Which of the subject peoples (dhimmīs) are you?” When they were unable to provide a satisfactory answer, the caliph declared that when he returned from campaigning they would be required to convert either to Islam or one of the recognized religions or be slaughtered. Some promptly converted to Islam or Christianity. Others who did not benefited shortly thereafter, when a Muslim shaykh provided the Ḥarrānians a piece of particular knowledge with which to represent themselves to the caliph and thereby trick the Muslims. After receiving a large sum of money, the shaykh told the Ḥarrānians that they must represent themselves as “Sabians” (al‑Ṣābi’ūn), a pre-Islamic “people of the book” mentioned in the Qur’ān.10 Although al‑Ma’mūn died on campaign and would never return from this journey, the Ḥarrānian community, now identified as Sabian, continued to exist and even flourished for some time afterwards.11 

A comparison of this narrative with the Gibeonite story is instructive in several ways. First, as in the Book of Joshua, it offers an etiology for the challenge to Muslim assumptions of collectivity represented by the continued anomalous existence of “pagans” in the heart of dār al‑Islām, the “abode of Islam.”12 Among the assumptions of collectivity of mature medieval Islam was the premise that the presence of polytheism had not and would not be tolerated in society. Muslim collectivity sanctioned the presence of Jews and Christians, who were members of an ahl al-kitāb, or “people of the Book,” and thereby were granted dhimma, or “protection.” Dhimmī communities were permitted to practice their religions and enjoy communal autonomy in exchange for certain limitations and the payment of taxes applicable only to dhimmīs.13 In contrast, idolaters and “pagans” were not to be tolerated. This prohibition was, in part, premised on an image in Muslim tradition of the seventh-century Muslim conquests, when idolaters would either have been exterminated or saved themselves by choosing to convert to Islam. Nonetheless, the historical unfolding of the conquests at a time when Islamic assumptions of collectivity were not fully developed meant that non-monotheistic groups such as the “pagans” of Ḥarrān or Zoroastrians were offered dhimmī status.14 In fact, it is recorded by the thirteenth-century ‘Izz al‑Dīn ibn Shaddād that when ‘Iyād ibn Ghanm conquered Ḥarrān in 639, he took the Ḥarrānian temple and made it into a mosque, but then granted the Ḥarrānians another site at which to build a new temple.15 As in the case of the ancient Israelites, the history of conquest and later assumptions of collectivity presented contradictory notions.16 

It must be observed that both stories hinge on a seemingly preposterous element that would lead us to believe that in both dominant cultures, biblical Israelite and early medieval Muslim, the ruling elites were completely unaware of the presence and character of minorities in their midst. It is difficult to believe that after conquering all of Transjordan and then establishing a foothold in Canaan with victories at Jericho, Bethel, and Ai, the Israelites would not have known of the Gibeonites.17 More preposterous is the assumption that al‑Ma’mūn would not have known of the identity of the Ḥarrānians. In fact, after Ḥarrān surrendered to Muslim forces in 639 or 640, it was a site of some importance in early Islamic history.18 Under the Umayyads it was a center for the Banū Qays tribal confederation.19 The caliph ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al‑Azīz (717–720) is credited with relocation of the Alexandria school of medicine to Ḥarrān and Antioch.20 In 744 it became the caliphal capital for six years under Marwān ibn Muḥammad ibn Marwān.21 Al‑Mansūr spared its walls in the reduction of Mesopotamian fortresses after the ‘Abbāsid revolution,22 and under Harūn al‑Rashīd (786–809) a canal was constructed for the city’s water supply.23 Significantly, according to Bar Hebraeus, Ibrāhīm, the uncle of al‑Ma’mūn, “permitted the pagans of Ḥarrān to perform their mysteries openly.”24 For a century Ḥarrānian religion was tolerated by the highest Muslim authorities.

Even if the Gibeonite and Ḥarrānian narratives are based on kernels of historical truth, the credulity attributed to the dominant cultures in the face of historical evidence to the contrary suggests a high level of literary reshaping. The confused historicity of the Israelite tale and the lack of corroboration for al‑Ma’mūn’s encounter with the Ḥarrānians begs that the stories be analyzed using literary-historical approaches. The credulity of the dominant culture in these narratives, in fact, places blame squarely on the dominant culture itself for the anomaly in its midst. In the case of Ḥarrān, this critique of the dominant culture’s easily-manipulated rulers can be read either as minority accusation against Islam or majority self-criticism, depending on the context. However, this observation by itself is insufficient for understanding the text’s origins or its multiple functions.

A difference in these two stories will help illuminate features of the medieval Islamic social structure. Whereas the Bible does not tell how the Gibeonites gained knowledge of the Israelite dominant culture, the Ibn al‑Nadīm account is explicit in identifying a renegade, corrupt Muslim shaykh as the source of the key information gained by the Ḥarrānians. This narrative element of an informer functions differently when considered from the points of view of different religious communities.

Some scholars have cited Christian hostility to both Ḥarrānian “paganism” and Islam as an explanatory key for this story. A “Christian reading” of the corrupt shaykh rests on Ibn al‑Nadīm’s cited source for the narrative, a Christian named Abū Yūsuf Īsha’ al‑Qatī‘ī.25 It would advance the interests of Christian opposition to Ḥarrānian “paganism” to lay blame for the city’s “pagan” religion and regional power on Muslim credulity. Such a religio-historical polemic is not merely a one-dimensional argument directed against an opponent, but in this case, the narrative’s social and historical context suggests a maneuvering for position that often occurs as different subordinate groups compete for a place within a dominant society (in this case, Christians and Ḥarrānians). By portraying one’s co-subordinate opponents negatively, one’s own group can be made to appear more favorably. The polemic of al‑Qatī‘ī is representative of an ancient enmity and competition in Syria and Mesopotamia between Christianity and various Hellenistic religious traditions, often expressed through the competition and hostility of the Christian city of Edessa with “pagan” Ḥarrān.26 Because some Christians in the ninth-century caliphate could be perceived as a kind of fifth column with pro-Byzantine leanings, it was inevitably in their interest to try to position themselves favorably in relation to the dominant culture and in opposition to other subordinate groups. In fact, the record of this Christian-Hellenistic contest helps to explain why the caliph Mu‘āwiya (661–80) and other Umayyads selected Ḥarrān as a place of military and administrative importance to counter the perceived power of Christianity, both local and foreign. The city’s religio-strategic position was confirmed in the revolt of the Jazīra during the ‘Abbāsid revolution. While Edessa and other cities supported the Umayyads, Ḥarrān was an ‘Abbāsid stronghold.27 

In contrast, the “Islamic reading” of the story provides a secondary etiology to explain how the Ḥarrānians were able to acquire specific knowledge of the Qur’ān and its contents, something that should not occur given strictures against the teaching of scripture to non-Muslims (another assumption of collectivity).28 The informer in the narrative takes care of this contradiction. The Islamic reading is further supported by the report that after the death of al‑Ma’mūn and the subsequent success of the new Sabian identity, many newly-baptized Christians returned to their former religion. Without this last element, the narrative retains a Christian triumphalist conclusion. Interestingly, this element also suggests that the report in Ibn al‑Nadīm comes from early in Islamic history, before the prohibition against conversion to a religion other than Islam became a general (though not unanimous) assumption of collectivity.29 

One must note that although this story contains elements that can be read as critical of Islam, it is located in the literature of the dominant Islamic culture. A Christian reading, as an anti-Ḥarrānian story, places value on the unworthiness of Islam exemplified by Muslim credulity and despotic power, but a Muslim reading of the same story functions as the Gibeonite story does for the Bible—providing a necessary etiology for the existence of an anomalous group within dār al‑Islām. Although it appears in this Muslim narrative that Muslims are telling stories about dhimmīs, in fact Muslims are adopting a mimetic strategy to describe their own society.

The double reading suggests that these stories are needed whether or not they are true. One cannot tell whether the story is historically reliable, or what elements of the story may be Christian or Muslim. Many important Ḥarrānians are identified with the nisba “al‑Ṣāb’ī” (“the Sabian”) beginning in the middle of the ninth century. Thus, the Ḥarrānians adopted and internalized the story to create an originary myth for their presence and continued existence in Islamic society. And, in later Muslim historical and other writings, the appellation al‑Ṣāb’ī designates “pagan” Ḥarrānians.30 Whatever the historicity of the narrative, it marks a key transformative historical moment in Ḥarrānian-Muslim relations.31 The tenth-century al‑Khwārizmī manifests Muslim internalization of the story and states in regard to the Ḥarrānians that “they were called Sabians from the time of al‑Ma’mūn.”32 Although Muslim authorities debated the status of Sabians,33 the new usage served both minority and dominant perspectives, because it opened up an historically imaginative space in which the myth of origin could exist.

The composition of this narrative must be understood as a joint production of Christians, Muslims, and Ḥarrānians. Narratives such as this one, which describe Muslim relations with non-Muslims, can be the result of a complex dialogical process between the dominant and the dominated. Chase Robinson has demonstrated that in regard to conquest narratives, this mediated process emerged from the interaction between minority communities seeking to defend or expand their customary privileges and efforts by the ‘Abbāsid administration to establish (or impose) organized and coherent regulation of non-Muslims in the late eighth and early-ninth centuries.34 Even later, the establishment of Muslim legal norms would further impel non-Muslims to produce historical evidence as precedent in support of their communal rights and privileges. In these historical examples, the produced and co-produced evidence took the form of an aesthetic object, specifically a historical narrative or myth. As such, one can imagine the encounter of al‑Ma’mūn with the Ḥarrānians to be a co-production whose contributing authorship includes Christian, Muslim, and Ḥarrānian voices.

The co-production of minority tales in medieval Islam speaks to the contractual character of the social order for minority communities (and thus to dhimma) and to the importance of historical precedent in the formation of social contracts. These tales are expressions of powerlessness and power in the relations between subordinate and dominant communities.

Another example of the “Gibeonite gambit” in medieval Islamic history comes from a story found in the literary tradition of the Karaites, a sect of the Jews that rejected the authority of the rabbis and of rabbinic texts such as the Mishna and Talmud. Like the Gibeonite story, the historicity of narrative elements is difficult to ascertain. And like narratives associated with the rise of Islam in the Middle East, the story of the beginnings of Karaism is obscured by a complex layering of narrative resulting from co-production. Before the early tenth century, Karaite origins are obscure, but by that time a scripturally-oriented, anti-rabbinic, Palestino-centric, and strongly millenarian Karaite movement was active in Palestine.35 Over the following two centuries a flourishing alternative to rabbinic Judaism was centered at Jerusalem.36 In this period, Karaite scripturalism and messianic millenarianism placed the focus of attention on the divinely revealed text of the Hebrew Bible. Self-definition found expression in legal and pietistic activity buttressed by textual exegesis and philosophy, and as a consequence, notions of the Karaite past and history were devalued as a means for understanding the community.37 The immediacy of sanctification and messianic expectation made irrelevant a need for thinking about the interval between events in the Bible and the present.

By the end of the eleventh century, the Karaite center in Jerusalem was destroyed in the aftermath of Seljuq inroads into Palestine and the Crusader conquest. The center of Karaism shifted to Constantinople, where new perspectives on the past emerged as part of subsequent developments in Byzantine Karaite thought and literature in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.38 This change in Karaite attitudes towards the past is woven into the story of the eighth-century heterodox figure, Anan ben David, who is framed as the founder of Karaism in the twelfth-century Ḥilluk ha-Kara’im veha-Rabbanim (“Differences between the Rabbanites and the Karaites”) by Elijah ben Abraham.39 

The Ḥilluk seeks to explain the division of Israel (that is, of Jews) between Karaites and Rabbanites (rabbinic Jews), in part by laying out a historical scenario that begins in biblical times and culminates with the story of Anan. Appended to the narrative is a list of post-Anan Karaite scholars that brings the timeline up to the twelfth-century period of the author. The Anan story demonstrates how Karaites and their interlocutors utilized narrative strategies similar to the Ḥarrānians in order to establish a useful post-biblical past and a foundational myth for medieval Karaism.

To summarize the story, Anan, of the ancient Davidic princely family in Iraq, was passed over in the succession to the princely office of the exilarchate on account of his heterodox ideas. His brother was elected as exilarch (resh galuta, “Head of the Exile”), so Anan gathered both his own followers and the surviving remnants of Second Temple sects, such as Sadducees and Boethusians, and declared himself exilarch.40 As a result, he incurred the wrath and opposition of the rabbis, who persuaded the Muslim authorities to intervene. Anan was thrown into prison and sentenced to death for challenging caliphal authority, since succession to the exilarchate was confirmed by way of caliphal appointment and any tampering with the process would be considered an act of disobedience. While in prison, he met a Muslim scholar who advised him how to approach the Muslim authorities. Following the advice, Anan bribed the vizier to gain an audience with the caliph and presented himself as leader of a religious community different from that of the rabbis, and not merely an unauthorized sectarian group. He also said to the caliph, “The religion of my brother employs a calendar based upon calculation of the time of the new moon and intercalation of leap years by cycles, whereas mine depends upon actual observation of the new moon and intercalation regulated by the ripening of new grain.”41 Since this Jewish law, or halakha, was in accord with Muslim sharī‘a, the caliph looked favorably on his case and Anan was able to secure governmental protection for himself and his followers. Thus, according to this story, Anan’s hoax elicited the caliph’s identification and Karaism was founded.42 

Parallels with the Ḥarrānian story are noteworthy. Just as the al‑Ma’mūn story is credited to a Christian anti-Ḥarrānian source, the Anan story is explicitly identified as a Rabbanite polemical tale aimed at demonstrating that Karaism is a false creed whose very existence is the result of caliphal intervention into internal Jewish affairs. It has been attributed to the polymath Saadia Gaon (892–942), head of the rabbinic academy of Sura in Baghdad and active opponent of Karaism.43 Like the Christian reading of the Ḥarrānian story, the “Rabbanite reading” of the Anan story places blame on Islam for the existence of a competing errant religious tradition. Part of the Ḥilluk reproduces the anti-Karaite narrative, but then states that “the account proves the opposite of what the Rabbanites had intended.”44 Elijah then takes up the anti-Karaite accusations one at a time. To give a single example, he argues that Anan could not have successfully bribed the vizier since the Rabbanites, as leaders of the Iraqi Jewish community, could easily have outbid him. In fact, such a claim better reflects Elijah ben Abraham’s twelfth-century Byzantine circumstances rather than that of previous centuries when Karaite wealth and power could be significant.45 More to the point, the wealth and power of rabbinic elites in seventh century Iraq are unknowable.

Both stories, Ḥarrānian and Karaite, engage the plot device of a Muslim informer, a renegade shaykh, who advises the protagonists on how to proceed. This renegade possesses the inside information necessary for the plot to unfold and for the gambit to be risked. In a document from the Cairo Geniza, Anan’s cellmate is identified as Abū Ḥanīfa al‑Nu‘mān ibn Thābit, the imam of one of the four orthodox schools of Sunnī Muslim law.46 In fact, Anan probably lived in the middle of the eighth century, and the dates of Abū Ḥanīfa in Muslim tradition are 700–767. Indeed, Abū Ḥanīfa was imprisoned late in his life, probably for supporting a Zaydī Shī‘ite rebellion.47 Notwithstanding possible historical contemporaneity, Abū Ḥanīfa’s appearance as a trope in a Geniza text that cannot be earlier than the thirteenth century strongly suggests literary reshaping and functions as a plot device that adds an additional dimension to the interpretation. As founder of one of the orthodox schools of Muslim law, Abū Ḥanīfa’s function not only makes the Muslim host culture culpable for the birth of Karaism, but also reframes the entire story. It suggests that the caliph was able to offer recognition to the nascent Karaite community because the problem of Anan and the rabbis corresponded to Muslim jurisprudential notions, whereby a madhhab, or “law school,” can co-exist with other equally orthodox schools of legal interpretation.48 With the cellmate identified as Abū Ḥanīfa, Anan becomes the founder of a jurisprudential school that can be understood to be cognate to the way schools of law are understood in Islam and is worthy of recognition in the eyes of the Muslims. Interpreted this way, the narrative suggests that the caliph could easily understand Anan’s legally defined position. Identification of Abū Ḥanīfa provides for the “Karaite reading.”

In terms of leveraging the dominant culture by following the Muslim scholar’s advice, Anan’s (and late Karaite) calendrical determination of the new moon is a legal problem firmly rooted in Scripture, and as such, responds to rabbinic halakha. It does not derive from Muslim counsel, as the story claims, but is a halakhic position that is both characteristic of several Jewish sects in history and is also debated in rabbinic literature.49 The Rabbanite anti-Karaite intentionality of the “original” narrative notes the similarity of Karaite and Muslim calendation in order to claim that the Karaite halakhic position is derivative of Islam, thereby furthering Muslim responsibility for the birth of Karaism and framing Karaite belief and practice to be both false and essentially not Jewish.

In the end, Anan was able to persuade the caliph that he was the head of a community separate from that of his brother, the exilarch. This element of the narrative makes historical sense for circumstances many decades after the tale’s eighth-century setting, when, under the religious policies of al‑Ma’mūn, the caliph might recognize a group with as few as ten adherents as a separate religion. In fact, a decree of al‑Ma’mūn in 825 is recorded in the Syriac Chronicle of Zuqnin and repeated by Bar Hebraeus in regard to a Jewish exilarchic contest of that century, when the grandson of Anan, Daniel ben Saul, was removed as exilarch.50 His followers continued to maintain allegiance to Daniel’s family and his son, also named Anan. Moshe Gil has argued persuasively that the Anan “Karaite gambit” narrative conflates Anan ben Daniel with his great-grandfather Anan ben David as a polemic directed against an entire branch of the exilarchic family.51 

Whereas Elijah ben Abraham sought to refute the anti-Karaite story’s particulars in the twelfth century, the very fact that he used this narrative points to the ahistorical perspective hitherto embraced by Karaites. The challenge in twelfth-century Byzantium was for Karaites to present themselves as a legitimate religious entity to two dominant powers: Rabbanite Jews and Byzantine imperial authorities. Byzantine Karaites first came to the empire by way of Greek conquests of Muslim lands in tenth-century Syria and later through immigration from the Islamic world.52 As a consequence, these non-rabbinic Jews—whose wider cultural background was Islamic—suffered in the empire as foreigners with a double disadvantage, being both non-Christian and culturally non-Greek at the same time.

At the time of Elijah ben Abraham’s writing of the Ḥilluk, the descendants of those formerly Islamicate Karaites were engaged in a massive transformation of the linguistic and cultural heritage of Near Eastern Karaism—with its Judeo-Arabic written tradition—into something new in the Greek Orthodox Byzantine environment. By translating old texts and writing new ones in Hebrew (such as the Ḥilluk), a written tradition was inaugurated that shared the language of law and religious discourse with the rabbis. Karaite writing began to display more focused concern for issues of self-definition, partly as an effort to deflect rabbinic attacks. The shift in environment coupled with the trauma of the late eleventh-century destruction of the Jerusalem center forced them to face the fact that they indeed had a past. The ahistorical immediacy of a scripturalist and messianic-millenarian Palestino-centrism would not suffice in the new doubly-articulated, diasporic environment.

A third order of disadvantage resulted from rabbinic opposition to the presence of Karaites in the Empire. In response, the Karaites became acutely aware of their status as a minority within a minority and responded in part by trying to position themselves in a favorable light in relation to other Jewish sects, such as the Mishawites.53 Karaites sought to describe a continuum of Jewish beliefs and practices, in which they themselves represented a lesser aberration than others from assumptions of collectivity held by rabbinically self-defined and Christian-recognized dominant Judaism. Thus, the connection of Anan with the ancient Sadducees and Boethusians, the prototypical heretics of the rabbis, is retained in the Karaite narrative.54 This kind of social maneuvering among subordinate Jewish groups mirrors the competition between Edessa and Ḥarrān in the ninth century and is evident in other Byzantine Karaite works.55 In sum, the Karaites sought to locate themselves positively in relation both to the Byzantine Greeks and Rabbanite Greek Jews by using ideas and images that would be recognizable to the recipients of their message. By representing themselves as a Jewish sect with historical roots sanctioned by the foreign and Islamic past, they describe themselves using the language of heresy (well-known in Byzantine Greek culture). And, to Rabbanites, they portrayed a wide range of Jewish difference, in which Karaism was portrayed as the least offensive to the rabbis. Thus, Karaites began to describe themselves self-consciously by using some of the Jewish terminology of sectarianism, thereby insinuating Rabbanite dominance.

The construction of the Anan narrative demonstrates more transparently than the Ḥarrānian story the stages and internal logic of co-production. Like the Ḥarrānians, the Karaites explicitly adopted and were able to capitalize on what was originally an antagonistic narrative by substituting new interpretations and establishing new meaning for the story. Just as Ḥarrānian-Christian antagonism was contextualized against Muslim authority, this story displays the over-arching Muslim and Byzantine contexts for Jewish-Jewish (that is, Rabbanite-Karaite) co-production. Whereas the Ḥarrānian-Sabian narrative is obscure in regard to internal Ḥarrānian developments and thereby frames the “new” ninth and tenth-century identity of Sabian to have been created from impetuses external to the Ḥarrānian community, the Karaite narrative lays bare the historical fact that Karaite identity was constructed simultaneously both from within and without.

Originally, the Rabbanite reading offered etiological explanation for the existence of an anomalous non-rabbinic Judaism that challenged Rabbanite assumptions of collectivity. By employing the “Gibeonite gambit” as a topos, the dominant, non-Jewish Muslim culture was portrayed as responsible for the “illegitimate” birth of Karaism. Later (perhaps two centuries) and in a different civilizational orbit, the Karaite reading offered a narrative of origins in which the authority of dominant Islam was no longer an interfering evil force that forced a false sect on the Jewish community, but was a wise arbiter of Jewish difference providing acknowledgment and sanction for an ancient and separate Judaism inscribed in the image of Christian heresy. The story of Anan became a permanent feature of Karaite memory.

Although the examples of the “Gibeonite gambit” discussed above are rooted in literary traditions as much as history, the third example of this type of narrative moves the story-as-strategy further out of the realm of literature and into historical documentation. As such, it concretely illustrates the interaction of narrative with political power.

The fourteenth-century Sunnī Muslim traditionist and historian Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad al‑Dhahabī (d. 1374) reports in his massive biographical dictionary, Siyar a‘lām al‑nubalā’ (“Biographies of the Most Learned Nobles”), on an incident involving al‑Khaṭīb al‑Baghdādī, one of the great Sunnī traditionists and historians of the eleventh century (d. 1071).56 Al‑Baghdādī’s patron was the vizier, Abū al‑Qāsim ibn al‑Muslim, who decreed that no one in Baghdad was permitted to narrate a ḥadīth (tradition about the Prophet Muḥammad) without first authenticating it with al‑Khaṭīb al‑Baghdādī. It is reported that on one occasion some Jews presented the vizier a document which they claimed to be a letter of the Prophet Muḥammad that exempted the Jews of Khaybar in northwest Arabia from paying the poll tax or jizya, a stipulation of dhimma that was otherwise incumbent upon all Jews and Christians. This document cited as witnesses some Companions of the Prophet who were purportedly present in the year 7 A.H. (629) after the defeat of the Jews of Khaybar by the Muslim army. The Jews claimed the letter had been dictated by Muḥammad and written by ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib, the Prophet’s cousin and close associate. The vizier forwarded the document to al‑Khaṭīb al‑Baghdādī, who identified it as a forgery through disqualification of the signed witnesses, Mu‘āwiya ibn Abī Sufyān and Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh. He noted that Mu‘āwiya had not become a Muslim until two years after events at Khaybar (Mu‘āwiya would go on to become the first Umayyad caliph many years later), and that Sa‘d died two years previous to the battle.57 The Jewish claim was dismissed.58 

From a literary point of view, this effort at deploying the “Gibeonite gambit” works differently from the others. It is not characterized by credulity on the part of representatives of dominant culture. In fact, although Jews do have particular knowledge of the Muslim past and its prosopography, the gambit fails because they do not know it well enough. They fail in arranging the details. The purpose of such a tale in this biographical setting is to demonstrate the efficacy of Muslim legal methodology and the deep and particular knowledge of tradition that could be brought to bear by someone like al‑Khaṭīb al‑Baghdādī. Jews function merely as a narrative device in this minor representation of dhimma, which teaches that the dominant authorities need be wary of claims from the subordinate dhimmīs. Naturally, like the other “Gibeonite gambit” narratives, the contractual nature of dhimma is central to its cultural assumptions. Most interestingly, the narrative does not offer etiological explanation for the presence of an anomalous group in society—as the Gibeonite, Ḥarrānian, and Karaite narratives—but is witness to a group seeking anomalousness.

The “Khaybarī gambit” is not merely the product of Muslim literary imagination, but also has documentary attestation. A Judeo-Arabic Geniza document that was first published by Hartwig Hirschfeld in 1903 is a letter of protection from the Prophet Muḥammad written to the people of Khaybar and Maqnā.59 In Muslim tradition, after the battle of Khaybar in 7 A.H. the Jews were allowed to retain and work their lands in exchange for half of their annual harvest.60 Maqnā enters the historical narrative two years later during Muḥammad’s Tabūk campaign, when it is recorded that letters of protection were issued to Ayla (modern Eilat/Aqaba) and to three communities in northwest Arabia whose inhabitants are specified or understood to be Jews: Adhruḥ, Maqnā, and Jarba. The terms of each of these letters display a differing variety of payments owed as tribute.61 

The reliability of these letters of protection as historical evidence for the seventh-century is debated by scholars.62 The absence of a systematic and well-understood method for exacting tribute in these and others letters suggests that none existed at the time of the Prophet. On the other hand, the presence of anachronistic features more characteristic of later ‘Abbāsid-era administration are present.63 Together, these contradictory features indicate literary shaping over time, which establishes many aspects of the letters as backward projections of Muslim notions of sovereignty and dhimma from a later era. By the time such documents appear in Muslim literature—in the sīra (biography of Muḥammad) and in Arabic historical writing in the ninth century and beyond—they had been reshaped and rewritten in order to support agendas contemporaneous with their time of writing. In the case of the letters to the three communities, they were framed to provide historical precedents for military engagements authorized by Muḥammad outside of the Arabian peninsula and to fully articulate imperial and constitutional concepts of dhimma including the duties and taxes owed by these (and later) non-Muslim communities.64 

Furthermore, the Geniza document is addressed to “the people of Khaybar and Maqnā and their progeny as long as the heavens are above the earth,” although in Muslim conquest narratives a letter of protection is witnessed for Maqnā only.65 Neither does the Maqnā letter of Muslim tradition imply that descendants of the Jews of Maqnā could bear the terms of the settlement with them in perpetuity. The Geniza document combines elements of the unique terms granted to the Jews of Khaybar in the sīra and maghāzī literature (some of which were generous in comparison with terms later set for dhimmīs) with elements and the form of the Maqnā letter as it is known from Muslim tradition. This awkward editing together of features from reports of two moments in early Muslim history is a Jewish forgery, whose re-writing of the Muslim past has practical implications for its bearer. The content of this letter includes obvious interpolations and extravagant claims written in the Geniza period of the tenth through twelfth centuries. As Salo Baron noted, the letter is “almost exclusively concerned with the safeguarding of the latter’s [Jews’] rights, rather than the imposition of duties.”66 Its bearer seeks privileges and tax exemption. Contrary to the Maqnā letter of Muslim tradition, found in al‑Wāqidī, al‑Balādhurī, and Ibn Sa‘d, and contrary to classical conceptions of dhimma, the Geniza letter states, “You shall not have the annoyance of land-tax,” and “. . . you shall not be as other poll-tax payers.” Although scholars today might doubt the authenticity, wholly or in part, of Muḥammad’s letters, this document illustrates that in Muslim society of the Geniza era, Muḥammad’s letters of protection were understood to be authentic, and as such, could have legal standing.

More to the point, the document demonstrates much more impressive familiarity with Muslim historical narrative on the part of Jews than does the report in al‑Dhahabī, and it manipulates that familiarity in order to bolster its claims of authenticity. For example, the letter stipulates to the Jews of Khaybar and Maqnā, “You shall be held in honor on account of your own high station and the station of Ṣafiyya, the daughter of your uncle.” The Muslim past is used by referring to Ṣafiyya bint Huyayy of Khaybar, whom Muḥammad took as a wife after the campaign there.67 Safiyya is mobilized as a mediating signifier that links the honor of Muḥammad to Jews through marriage. And, like al‑Khaṭīb al‑Baghdādī’s document, Hirschfeld’s Geniza letter is noted to have been written by Muḥammad’s cousin and close associate, ‘Alī ibn Abū Ṭālib (after being dictated by the Prophet). However, it has a different list of witnesses than those disqualified by al‑Khaṭīb al‑Baghdādī, two of whom in Muslim literature are actors in the march to Tabūk. All three witnesses, Ammār ibn Yāsir,68 Salmān al‑Fārisī,69 and Abū Dharr al‑Ghifārī70 are recorded to have died well after the battles of Khaybar and the later Tabūk expedition.71 

Most interestingly, the letter uses Qur’ānic terminology and also quotes the Qur’ān itself,72 although canonization would not be complete for at least some decades after the letters to Khaybar and Maqnā (and after the death of Muḥammad).73 However, in Muslim literary tradition quotation of Qur’anic verses by Muḥammad, a Companion, or other speakers (for example, the akhbār of the Jews in Medina) before the redaction is a natural Sitz im Leben. This feature of the text is not itself anachronistic or problematic from a traditional Muslim perspective and would support the letter’s authenticity. Nonetheless, when such a quotation is analyzed from a literary-historical point of view, it stands as testimony to Jewish familiarity with the Qur’ān later in the Geniza period.74 Since in sharī‘a, non-Muslims are prohibited from touching a Qur’ān, much less reading or studying it, the document represents another kind of anomaly set against Muslim assumptions of collectivity.75 

Attestation to the historicity and effective use of Khaybarī identity is found in several eleventh-century contexts. An Arabic petition from the Geniza, dated c. 1030, is directed to the Fāṭimid authorities regarding the Jewish taxes (jizya) of Tiberias, in which it is noted that some Jews pay 5 dirhams “at a fixed rate” and others pay 10, while “those who claim they are Khaybarīs” pay none.76 Since Jewish communities were collectively responsible for taxation to the Fāṭimid government, the Khaybarī claim in this document not only supports an exemption vis-à-vis Muslim power, but also is used to obtain release from Jewish communal responsibility. In a Geniza letter a poet named Yākhīn seeks relief from paying the jāliya (as the poll tax was called in Egypt) based on his Khaybarī descent.77 

A number of other Geniza documents are pertinent. An eleventh-century petition is concerned with the financial difficulties of Ṣāliḥ al-Khaybarī, “a Khaybarī Jew from Baghdad.”78 A list of contributors dated to around 1035 includes one Ibn al-Khaybarī.79 Another Ibn al-Khaybarī is mentioned to have sent a letter from Egypt to the West.80 A court record indicates that a certain Rayyisa bint Joseph Bīmī, wife of Yeshū‘ā ben Nissīm, brought suit against Saadya ben Benjamin Khaybarī for four dinars.81 In a letter dated 1090, Abraham ben Ḥalfōn, chief judge of Ashkelon, mentions to the addressee in Fusṭāṭ that a letter from the Kayābira (plural of Khaybarī) is on the way.82 Finally, a petition dated Shawwāl 654 A.H. (October–November, 1256) certifies that one Ibrāhīm ibn Ismā‘īl is a “son of one of the ‘pardoned’ Khaybarī Jews,”83 which demonstrates the persistence of Khaybarī identity beyond the eleventh century.

In fact, the preponderance of attestation to the “Khaybarī gambit” comes from the eleventh century, including reports found in the Ta’rīkh of the Melkite Christian historian Yaḥyā ibn Sa‘īd (d. c. 1066), who mentions that on two occasions the Fāṭimid Caliph al-Ḥākim (996–1021) exempted Khaybarī Jews from sumptuary regulations and other restrictions imposed on Jews and Christians.84 This exemption must be understood as a consequence of the difference between Sunnī and Shī‘ite versions of early Islamic history. Sunnī Muslims were forced to rewrite the history of Khaybar in order to harmonize Muḥammad’s assurances to its Jews with the later expulsion of Jews and Christians from the Hijāz that is ascribed to the caliph ‘Umar (634–44). For Sunnīs, the contradiction between authoritative precedent set forth by the Prophet and later caliphal policy led to the generation of ahādīth that provide prophetic foreknowledge of this later development.85 In addition, Muḥammad’s settlement imposed upon the Jews of Khaybar was revised in order to demonstrate that the Prophet was explicit in indicating that its terms could be revoked.86 For the Shī‘ite Ismā‘īlī Fāṭimids, the first three caliphs were illegitimate usurpers who supplanted the rightful caliph, ‘Alī ibn Abū Ṭālib. The Sunnī historian al-Maqrīzī (1364–1442), a major source on the Fāṭimids, characterizes the Fāṭimids, and al-Ḥākim in particular, as “excessive in terms of rafḍ,” that is, refusal to accept the authority of ‘Umar and other Companions.87 Hence, al-Ḥākim’s exemption of Khaybarī Jews constitutes an anti-Sunnī gesture that upholds Muḥammad’s prophetic authority against its later violation by ‘Umar.

In the context of Fāṭimid Shī‘ite anti-Sunnī ideology, claims to Khaybarī Jewish identity make sense. For Fāṭimid Shī‘ites, acknowledgement of the existence of Khaybarī Jews created an anomaly that challenged Sunnī assumptions of collectivity. Had the Khaybarī Jews not been expelled by ‘Umar, their particular tax regime would in the eleventh century have been local (at Khaybar) and knowable. Neither would there have been a heretical deviation from prophetic command. Mirroring ninth-century Ḥarrānians-cum-Sabians, evidence of the nisba al-Khaybarī, or Ibn al-Khaybarī in the eleventh-century suggests that deployment of the “Khaybarī gambit” likely emerged in the aftermath of al-Ḥākim’s persecution of Christians and Jews on account of its Khaybarī Jewish exemption. Conditions favored those who would claim Khaybarī Jewish descent, providing new opportunity to engage in the Gibeonite strategy by disseminating their version of the terms of an ancient treaty of the Prophet and claiming its tax regime for themselves “as long as the heavens are above the earth.”88 

Perhaps as important as documented use of the “Khaybarī gambit” is the retelling of the story in Islamic literature, because the process of co-production is revealed. In the first instance, the “Khaybarī gambit” topos was the work of “Muslimly-informed” Jews who sought tax exemption, if not prestige. Subsequently, Jews sought to establish Khaybarī identity in Egypt, while Sunnī authorities quashed it in Baghdad, whose story was subsequently incorporated into Sunnī Muslim tradition. That is, the complex interplay of Sunnī and Shī‘ite historiosophical polemics included—and contested—events at Khaybar during the life of the Prophet. The contest created an opening for Jewish manipulation of the past which resulted in multi-layered co-production that is evident in Geniza documents and enshrined in the fourteenth-century Sunnī biographical dictionary of al-Dhahabī. With this in mind, al‑Khaṭīb al‑Baghdādī’s repudiation of the “Khaybarī gambit” was also an anti-Shī‘ite move.

These narratives are not unique examples in medieval Islam of the reformulation of memory on the part of minority groups whose purpose was to gain recognition and advantage. The concern for defending against dhimmī trickery that underlies the narrative of al‑Khatīb al‑Baghdādī reflects the contractual character of dhimma, which consequentially opens the door to other non-Muslim minorities with similar claims. The so-called Edict of the Prophet to the Christians is described by Claude Cahen as a “pious fraud of Nestorian monks in the 3rd/9th century.”89 This document, as described in the tenth-century Chronicle of Seert and elsewhere, purports to be a letter of security given to the Christians of Najrān after the city’s conquest in A.H. 10. It bears several features of the “Gibeonite gambit:” topos, including the use of Muslim sources, the maneuvering of minorities (denunciation of idolators and Jews), a meeting with Muslim authorities (the delegation of Catholicos Ishoyabh II to Muḥammad), and claims to tax exemption (for monks).90 Another example is the Bahīrā story, which functions in similar ways in Muslim literature. As a Muslim narrative, it portrays the monk Bahīrā acknowledging prophetically the prophethood of Muḥammad early in his career. Embellished as a Christian story, it depicts Muḥammad granting perpetual recognition and protection to monks and Christians in exchange for a divine promise of Muslim invincibility.91 The extensive use of these memory projects, including those of the Ḥarrānians, Karaites, and Khaybarī Jews, are fantasies of minority relations to power in Islam.

The “Gibeonite gambit” narratives represent “dreams” of subordinate groups in Muslim society that through the motif of manipulation express such themes as anomalousness, powerlessness, subordination, and integration into the larger society. These themes are descriptive of some general conditions of minority life under Islam and consequently are plausible and thereby integral to the self-perception of minority groups. Identifying a fundamental circumstance for minority life in medieval Islam, the narratives are all dependent upon the contractual nature of the relationship between non-Muslim groups and power in the dominant Muslim society and culture. In the historical record, the contractual relationship of dhimma is played out between elements of the minority groups on one hand and tax officials, the caliphal and princely chanceries, the courts of rulers, and religious authorities on the other.92 The enactment of these relationships constitutes rituals of subordination, or what James C. Scott refers to as “public transcripts.”93 The “Gibeonite gambit” stories represent the narrativization of the origins of such relationships in early Islam as imagined through the imbrication of subordinate and dominant memory in the process of literary co-production. They stand between what Scott refers to as “hidden transcripts” and public transcripts, in that they contain elements of inner-minority discourse about dominant power, while at the same time are presented as open and unrestricted demonstrations of dhimmī cooperation with Muslim authorities. Although the fundamental manipulation is literary and intertextual at its base, its impact in terms of official recognition, taxes, and day-to-day life could be concrete.

As hidden transcripts, these narratives are also what Marc Michael Epstein calls “dreams of subversion.”94 As such, the subversive element expressed in the motif of manipulation indicates ironically the depth of integration into the dominant society that these minority groups arrogate to themselves. In terms of literary integration, these acts of manipulation require deep knowledge of Islam, while at the same time they reify a highly developed Islamic literary sub-genre in which the motif of trickery is given distinction. Robert Irwin notes, “The celebration of artfulness or tricksiness, whether in the commission of crimes, in arguing points of law or in inserting puns in poems, is one of the most striking features of medieval Arabic literature.”95 In these stories, characterized by a doubly-articulated strategy, the minority imaginary is intimately connected to that of dominant Muslim society. Thus, identity formation among these minority groups cannot be purely an inner-group development, but must take Islam into account. That is, identity formation is characterized by the dhimmī contract and the group’s ability to negotiate its terms.

Negotiation of dhimma can be a moment of danger when potential loss or gain is risked. As such, the risk of the “Gibeonite gambit” offers an additional and imagined element to the originary moment of negotiation as it is inscribed in Muslim memory. Put simply, the narratives allow the minority group to take responsibility for the risk of dhimma rather than assign its dangers solely and wholly to dominant Islam. As such (and again, ironically), these narratives are dreams of integration.

Special thanks to my colleague, Kitty Millet, whose close reading of this article was indispensible, and to Liran Yadgar and Sharon Kinoshita for valuable comments. This project also benefited greatly from workshops at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Cambridge (2012) and at Harvard University, sponsored by the Mediterranean Seminar (2016).
For an approach to this, see Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized (New York: Orion Press, 1965).
The term “pagan” is a monotheist pejorative that effaces difference among non-monotheists and obscures specificity in portraying cosmology, ritual, and social order. It is not a term that would be used by Ḥarrānians (or other non-monotheists) to describe themselves, nor does it indicate any features about their practices and beliefs. As such, the term will appear in quotation marks.
In Deut. 7.1–2, seven nations are singled out for the ḥerem: Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. The ḥerem is associated with fear of contamination from non-Yahwist cultures and intermarriage. See also Deut. 20.16–18; and the story of Achan in Josh. 7.19–26, where Achan and his family are killed, thereby purging contamination from the community. On the ḥerem, see Susan Niditch, War in the Hebrew Bible: A Study in the Ethics of Violence (New York: Oxford University Press), 1993; and the form-critical approach of Gerhard von Rad, Holy War in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans), 1991.
In I Samuel 15, Saul’s failure to observe the ḥerem leads to the demise of his kingship. The stories of Achan and Saul give the ḥerem priority over material gain and pragmatic statecraft. See Niditch, War in the Hebrew Bible, 58–62. Cf. the story of Jephthah in Judges 11, where the oath trumps the prohibition against human sacrifice. Niditch connects Jephthah’s oath to the ḥerem. See War in the Hebrew Bible, 33–35.
For differing views, see: H. Cazelles, “David’s Monarchy and the Gibeonite Claim (II Sam. xxi, 1–14),” Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 87 (1955): 165–75; Jacob Liver, “The Literary History of Joshua IX.” Journal of Semitic Studies, 8/2 (1963): 227–43; F.C. Fensham, “The Treaty Between Israel and the Gibeonites,” Biblical Archaeologist, 27 (1964): 96–100; J.M. Grintz, “The Treaty of Joshua with the Gibeonites,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 86 (1966): 113–26; Peter Kearney, “The Role of the Gibeonites in the Deuteronomic History,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 35 (1973): 1–19; Baruch Halpern, “Gibeon: Israelite Diplomacy in the Conquest Era,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 37 (1975): 303–16. Most important is the work of Joseph Blenkinsopp. See his articles on the subject, and especially Gibeon and Israel, The Role of Gibeon and the Gibeonites in the Political and Religious History of Early Israel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972).
See Christoph Berner, “The Gibeonite Deception: Reflections on the Interplay between Law and Narrative in Josh 9,” Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament, 31:2 (2017): 254–74. On the Book of Joshua in modern scholarship, see the review and bibliography by Robert G. Boling in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Joshua, Book of,” 3:1007–15. Some of these problems are taken up in rabbinic tradition; see Sifrei on Deuteronomy 20.10 and 21.10 (Piskas 79, 189, 211); Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sotah 35b (and Tosafot), Palestinian Talmud, Tractate Shevuot 6:1; Maimonides, Mishneh Torah in Hilkhot Melakhim; and Nahmanides, Commentary to Deuteronomy 20.10.
Menaḥem Haran, “The Gibeonites, the Nethinim and the Sons of Solomon’s Servants,” Vetus Testamentum, 11 (1961): 159–69.
Kitāb al‑Fihrist, ed. Gustav Flügel (Leipzig: Vogel, 1871–72), 320. Photographic reproduction: Beirut: Khayat, 1964. Other editions include Cairo: al‑Raḥmānīya Press, 1929, and M. Ridā Tajaddud (ed.), Teheran, 1971. In English, The Fihrist of Ibn al‑Nadīm, edited and translated by Bayard Dodge (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1970), 751–53.
See Qur’ān 2.62; 5.69; 22.17.
The literature on Ḥarrān and the Sabians is extensive. Important works include: D. Chwolson, Die Ssabier und der Ssabismus (St. Petersburg: Der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1856), 2 vols.; Jan Hjärpe, Analyse critique des traditions arabes sur les Sabéens Ḥarraniens (Uppsala: University of Uppsala dissertation, 1972); Tamara M. Green, The City of the Moon God, Religious Traditions of Harran (Leiden: Brill, 1992); Şinasi Gündüz, The Knowledge of Life, The Origins and Early History of the Mandaeans and their Relations to the Sabians of the Qur’ān and to the Harranians (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994); D.S. Rice, “Medieval Ḥarrān,” Anatolian Studies, 2 (1952): 36–84; Michel Tardieu, “Ṣābiens coraniques et ‘Ṣābiens’ de Ḥarrān,” Journal Asiatique, 274 (1986): 1–44.
Dār al‑Islām is a juridical concept derived from the ḥadīth literature that defines territory in which Islam and its values are dominant and sharī‘a has been effectively established. See Dār al-islām, dār al-ḥarb: Territories, People, Identities, eds. Giovanna Calasso and Giuliano Lancioni (Leiden: Brill, 2017); and the articles in Yanagihashi Hiroyuki, The Conception of Territory in Islamic Law and Thought (London and New York: Kegan Paul International, 2001), especially Brannon Wheeler, “From Dār al‑Hijra to Dār al‑Islām: The Islamic Utopia,” 3–36.
For surveys of dhimma, see Mahmoud Ayoub, “Dhimma in Qur’an and Hadith,” Arab Studies Quarterly, 5 (1983): 172–82; C.E. Bosworth, “The Concept of Dhimma in Early Islam,” in Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire, eds. B. Braude and B. Lewis (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1982), 37–55; Claude Cahen, s.v. “Dhimma,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed. (Leiden: Brill, 1960–2000), 2:227–31; Georges Vajda, s.v. “Ahl al‑kitāb,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1:264–66; Fred Astren, s.v. “Dhimma,” Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World (Leiden: Brill, 2010) 2:70–72; and Milk Levy-Rubin, Non-Muslims in the Early Islamic Empire: From Surrender to Coexistence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
In regard to Magians (Mājūs, Zoroastrians), a report in the Kitāb al‑Kharāj (Cairo: Būlāq, 1302 A.H., p. 74) of Abū Yūsuf Ya‘qūb (d. 789) and repeated in the Muwaṭṭa’ of Mālik (d. 796) (17.24.43) and the Ṣaḥīḥ of al‑Bukhārī (Volume 4, Book 53, Number 384), states that the Caliph ‘Umar, upon hearing of a people who worshipped fire and were neither Jews, Christians, nor of any other people of the book, was advised to treat them like the people of the book (ahl al‑kitāb, that is, as dhimmīs). The Muwaṭṭa’ also states (17.24.42) that Muḥammad collected the poll tax from the Magians of Bahrain, and ‘Umar collected it from the Magians of Persia, thus establishing dhimma for Zoroastrians.
In al‑A‘laq al‑khāṭira fī dhikr umarā’ al‑shām wal‑jazīra, Bodleian MS Marsh 333, cited by D.S. Rice, “Medieval Ḥarrān,” 38. Now translated and annotated by A.-M. Edde-Terrasse as Description de la Syrie du nord (Damascus: Institut français de Damas, 1984).
See Hans Drijvers, “The Persistence of Pagan Cults and Practices in Christian Syria,” in East of Byzantium: Syria and Armenia in the Formative Period, ed. Nina Garsoïan, Thomas F. Mathews, and Robert W. Thomson (Washington: Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, 1982), 35–43; and Michael G. Morony, Iraq after the Muslim Conquest (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 384–430. See Garth Fowden, Empire to Commonwealth (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 75: “Sabianism was a classic case of polis polytheism, at once nurtured, empowered, and limited by the socio-political organism of the city, in this case Harran.” As such, the religious tradition had always been integrated with local political power, and consequently had a relationship with imperial power. Cf. Fowden, Empire to Commonwealth, 63–65, for his treatment of the Sabians of Ḥarrān.
The scholarly debate on the Israelite conquest and/or settlement can be contentious. Whereas the Bible narrates a military conquest, modern scholars have adopted one of three models (or combinations thereof): migration model, military conquest model, and internal revolt model. See William G. Dever, s.v. “Israel, History of (Archaeology and the ‘Conquest’),” Anchor Bible Dictionary, 3:545–58; cf. Norman K. Gottwald, The Tribes of Yahweh: A Sociology of the Religion of Liberated Israel, 1250–1050 B.C. (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999 [repr. of 1979]).
al‑Balādhūrī, Kitāb Futūḥ al‑Buldān, ed. M.J. de Goeje (Leiden, 1866), 174–75; al‑Ṭabarī, Tarīkh al‑rusūl wa’l-mulūk, ed. M.J. de Goeje (Leiden: Brill, 1964–65), 1:2505–07. On the Muslim conquests of the seventh century, see Fred M. Donner, The Early Islamic Conquests (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981) and Walter E. Kaegi, Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992). On the post-conquest settlement, see Michael G. Morony, Iraq after the Muslim Conquest; and Chase F. Robinson, Empires and Elites after the Muslim Conquest (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
Green, The City of the Moon God, 94–95.
It is reported by Ibn Abī Uṣaybi‘a (d. 1270), ‘Uyūn al‑anbā’ fī ṭabaqat al‑aṭibbā’, ed. A. Müller (Cairo, 1882–1884), I, 116. Also reported in an otherwise untitled risāla of the twelfth-century physician to Ibn Jumay‘ al‑Isrā’īlī (d. 1198). See Ibn Jumay‘: Treatise to Ṣalāḥ al‑Dīn on the Revival of the Art of Medicine, ed. Hartmut Fähndrich (Wiesbaden, 1983), 18–19. A more general statement on the transmission of knowledge from Egypt to Iraq is made by al‑Farābī, Taḥṣīl al‑sa‘āda (Hyderabad, 1345 A.H.), 38 [trans. by Muhsin Mahdi in Alfarabi’s Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1962, 43].
al‑Ṭabarī, Tarīkh, 2:1892, 1946; 3:9–10, 33. See also Yāqūt, Mu‘jam al‑buldān, 6 vols., ed. F. Wüstenfeld (Leipzig: 1866–73), 2:235. Marwān built a massive palace there. See al‑Ya‘qūbī, Kitāb al‑buldān, ed. M.J. de Goeje (Leiden, 1892), 2:405. Marwān departed from the city to battle the ‘Abbāsids in 750 (al‑Ṭabarī, Tarīkh, 3:38), after which he fled by way of the city (al‑Ṭabarī, Tarīkh, 3:43–47).
He also spared Mayyāfāriqīn. See J.B. Segal, Edessa, “The Blessed City” (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), 194.
Yāqūt, Mu‘jam al‑Buldān, 2:96.
The Chronography of Gregory Abū’l Faraj Bar Hebraeus,ed. E.A.W. Budge (Piscataway, New Jersey: Gorgias, 2003), 2:139 (English translation 1:128).
The “Christian reading” is favored by Green, The City of the Moon God, 120, and before that by Chwolson, Die Ssabier und der Ssabismus, 2:152–55.
See J.B. Segal, Edessa and Harran (London: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1963); and Claude Cahen, “Fiscalité, propriété, antagonismes sociaux en Haute-Mésopotamie au temps des premiers ‘Abbasides, d’après Denys de Tell-Mahré,” Arabica, 1 (1952): 136–52. See also Green, in The City of the Moon God, 54–59.
al‑Ṭabarī, Tarīkh, 3:57.
The question in sharī‘a of non-Muslims reading or learning the Qur’ān may be based on the idea of Muslim exaltedness as described by Yohanan Friedmann, whereby there is concern that the non-Muslim might misuse or misrepresent the Qur’ān to the detriment of Islam and Muslims. See Friedmann, Tolerance and Coercion in Islam (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 37–38. See also Christian C. Sahner, “Swimming against the Current: Muslim Conversion to Christianity in the Early Islamic Period,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 136, 2 (2016): 265–284. In addition, there are purities issues in connection with Q 56:77–79, “. . . which none shall touch save those who are clean.” From this it is deduced by some jurists that the Qur’ān may not be given as a gift or be given into the custody of a non-Muslim since non-Muslims do not observe the rules for ṭahārah. See note 75 below.
On conversion from one non-Muslim religion to another, see Friedmann, Tolerance and Coercion in Islam, 55–56 and 146–47, and the sources cited there.
There are two important Sabian-Ḥarrānian families of the ninth and tenth centuries, of which 13 members are identified by F.C. de Blois in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., s.v. “Ṣāb’ī,” 8:672–75. These include the famous physician-philosopher and translator of Greek scientific texts, Thābit ibn Qurra ibn Marwān (d. 901) and his descendants. Other notable Sabians are noted in Bayard Dodge, “The Ṣabians of Ḥarrān,” in American University of Beirut Festival Book (Festschrift), ed. F. Sarruf and S. Tamim (Beirut, 1967), 60–85. The important medieval biographical dictionaries include entries for Sabians (for example, Ibn Khallikān and al‑Qifṭī). See reviews of Muslim sources in Gündüz, The Knowledge of Life, 22–51, 131–34. Also, see T. Fahd, s.v. “Ṣābi’a,” in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., 8:675–78.
Whereas Chwolson (Die Ssabier und der Ssabismus, 2:14–19) accepted the Ibn al‑Nadīm narrative as an explanation for the Ḥarrānian adoption of Sabian identity, D.S. Margoliouth in the Hastings Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (1913), 6:519–20, notes that the link between Ḥarrānians and Sabians was known to al‑Ṭabarī’s sources at least 75 years prior to the encounter with al‑Ma’mūn. And, Hjärpe points out that Abū Ḥanīfa and two of his disciples discussed Sabian identity and status a century before al‑Ma’mūn. See his Analyse critique des traditions arabes sur les Sabéens Ḥarraniens, 8–9.
Mafātīḥ al‑‘ulūm, ed. Gerlof van Vloten (Leiden, 1895), 36. See Chwolson, Die Ssabier und der Ssabismus, 2:506. See also C.E. Bosworth, “A Pioneer Arabic Encyclopedia of the Sciences: al Khwārizmī’s Keys of the Sciences,” Isis, 54:1 (Mar., 1963): 97–111.
See Jane Dammen McAuliffe, “Exegetical Identification of the Ṣābi’ūn,” The Muslim World, 72:2 (1982): 95–106. Friedmann reports finding only a single legal case regarding the Sabians in Muslim sources: this case describes the request of the caliph al‑Qāhir bi-’llāh (932–34) for a fatwā on their identity. See Tolerance and Coercion in Islam, 82–83.
Robinson, Empires and Elites, 1–32.
On characteristics of early Karaism, see Moshe Zucker, “Responses to the Karaite Mourners of Zion Movement in Rabbanite Literature,” in Jubilee Volume in Honor of Hanokh Albeck (Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 1964), 387–401 [Heb.]. For the term “Palestino-centrism,” see Zvi Ankori, Karaites in Byzantium, The Formative Years, 970–1100 (New York and Jerusalem: Columbia University Press and the Weizmann Science Press of Israel, 1959), 22–24 and passim.
See Haggai Ben-Shammai, “The Karaites,” in The History of Jerusalem: The Early Muslim Period, 638–1099, eds. Joshua Prawer and Haggai Ben-Shammai (Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi and New York University Press: Jerusalem and New York, 1996), 201–224.
See Fred Astren, Karaite Judaism and Historical Understanding (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2004), 124–57. For another view, see Yoram Erder, “The Karaites’ Sadducee Dilemma,” Israel Oriental Studies, 14 (1994): 195–226; and Erder, The Karaite Mourners of Zion and the Qumran Scrolls (Brepols: Turnhout, Belgium, 2017).
See Golda Akhiezer, “Byzantine Karaism in the Eleventh to Fifteenth Centuries,” in Jews in Byzantium: Dialectics of Majority and Minority Cultures, eds. Robert Bonfil, et. al. (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 723–61. Cf. Ankori, Karaites in Byzantium.
The Ḥilluk was published by Simhah Pinsker based upon two manuscripts in Likkute Kadmoniyot (Vienna: Adalbert della Torre, 1860), 97–106. One manuscript belonged to Abraham Firkovitch and the other was owned by a certain R. Masri. Portions were previously published by Jacob Trigland, Diatribe de Secta Karaeorum, Trium Scriptorum Illustrium de Tribus Judaeorum Sectis Syntagma, II (Delft, 1703); and it was subsequently abridged in German in several installments as “Abhandlung über die Sekte der Karäer.” An article by Leon Nemoy provides invaluable notes and a synopsized translation in “Elijah ben Abraham and His Tract Against the Rabbanites,” Hebrew Union College Annual, LI (1980): 63–87. On the Ḥilluk, see Astren, Karaite Judaism and Historical Understanding, 141–57. It is not known whether the title is Elijah’s or was attached to the text by later copyists.
On the exilarchate, see Moshe Gil, A History of Palestine, 634–1099 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 540–44; and Gil, “The Exilarchate,” in The Jews of Medieval Islam: Community, Society, and Identity, ed. Daniel Frank (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 33–65. On claims of Davidic ancestry more broadly, see Arnold E. Franklin, This Noble House: Jewish Descendants of King David in the Medieval Islamic East (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013).
Ḥilluk in Pinsker, 103.
On Anan, see Samuel Poznanski, “Anan et ses Écrits,” Revue des Études Juives, 44 (1901): 161–87; 45 (1902): 51–69, 176–203; Leon Nemoy, “Anan ben David, a Reappraisal of the Historical Data,” in Karaite Studies, ed. Philip Birnbaum (New York: Hermon Press, 1971), 309–18 [article reprint of 1947]; Martin A. Cohen, “Anan ben David and Karaite Origins,” Jewish Quarterly Review, 68, 3 (1978): 129–45 and 68, 4 (1978): 224–34; and Astren, Karaite Judaism and Historical Understanding, 84–88, 152–56. It is important to distinguish between Ananites and Karaites in the early centuries of Islam. On this and on Anan’s halakha, see Haggai Ben-Shammai, “Between Ananites and Karaites: Observations on Early Medieval Jewish Sectarianism,” Studies in Muslim-Jewish Relations, 1 (1993): 19–29; cf. Solomon Schechter, Documents of Jewish Sectaries, II, Fragments of the Book of the Commandments by Anan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910).
Pinsker held this view. See Likkute Kadmoniyot, 82. See also Samuel Poznanski, “The Karaite Literary Opponents of Saadiah Gaon,” in Karaite Studies, ed. Birnbaum, 129–234 [reprint from the Jewish Quarterly Review, o.s., XVIII (1906): 209–50; XIX (1906): 59–83; XX (1908): 74–85, 216–31, 232–39; and full reprint, London, 1908], esp. 204–05; cf. Poznanski, “The Anti-Karaite Writings of Saadiah Gaon,” in Karaite Studies, 89–127 [reprint from the Jewish Quarterly Review, o.s., X (1898): 238–76]. Nemoy concludes that there is no evidence for this conclusion, and refers to it as “pseudo-Saadian.” See Nemoy, “Elijah ben Abraham and His Tract Against the Rabbanites,” 63–64.
Ḥilluk in Pinsker, 104.
See Marina Rustow, Heresy and the Politics of Community: The Jews of the Fatimid Caliphate (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008), which demonstrates that Karaite-Rabbanite relations in the Geniza period are far more complicated than a simple binary relationship of subordinate-dominant interaction.
Firkovitch II, no. 3799, fol. 2. A portion of this manuscript (on eating meat in Jerusalem) is reproduced in Jacob Mann, Texts and Studies in Jewish History and Literature, II, Karaitica (New York: Ktav Publishing House, Inc., 1972 [reprint of New York, 1931]), 108. Since the manuscript cites Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, it cannot be older than the thirteenth century. See Poznanski, “Anan et ses Écrits,” 167, and Poznanski, “The Karaite Literary Opponents of Saadiah Gaon,” 204.
On Abū Ḥanīfa, see Joseph Schacht in the Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., s.v. “Abū Ḥanīfa”; and Mohammad Akram Nadwi, Abu Hanifa (New York and London: I.B. Tauris, 2007). See also al‑Dhahabī, Manāqib al‑Imām Abī Ḥanīfa, ed. M.Z. al‑Kawtharī and Abū al‑Wafā al‑Afghānī (Hyderabad, n.d.).
The Geniza document refers to Anan as al‑mubtadi‘ bi-hādhā al‑madhhab (“creator of this madhhab” or “innovator of this madhhab”). On madhāhib, see Joseph Schacht, An Introduction to Muslim Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964), and now Christopher Melchert, “The Formation of the Sunni Schools of Law” in The Formation of Islamic Law, ed. Wael B. Hallaq (Aldershot, Great Britain: Ashgate, 2004), 351–66.
On lunation in Judaism, see Sacha Stern, Calendar and Community: A History of the Jewish Calendar, Second Century B.C.E.–Tenth Century C.E. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 99–154 (chapter, “The New Moon”), 235–36. On observing the ripening of the new grain in Judaism (aviv), see Stern, Calendar and Community, index, s.v., “Aviv.” For Karaite and other Jewish sectarian debates on calendars, see Ankori, Karaites in Byzantium, 292–353. On lunation in Islam, see D. Pingree, s.v. “al‑Ḳamar,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., 4:517–19.
See Dionysius of Tellmaḥre, La chronique de Denys de Tell-Mahré, ed. and trans. Jean Chabot (Paris: Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 1895), xii, xx ff. [this is actually a portion of the Chronicle of Zuqnin]; and Bar Hebraeus, Gregorii Barhebraei chronicon ecclesiasticum, eds. and trans. J. B. Abbeloos and T. J. Lamy (Paris and Louvain, 1872–77), 1:365 ff.
Moshe Gil, “Karaite Antiquities,” Te‘uda 15 (1999): 71–107 [Hebr.].
See Ankori, Karaites in Byzantium, 87–168. On these conquests, see Mark Whittow, The Making of Byzantium, 600–1025 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 310–57.
For extensive analysis of Byzantine Karaism, Mishawites, and other sects, see Ankori, Karaites in Byzantium, 362–415. See now Yoram Erder, The Karaite Mourners of Zion, 167–307.
Zadok and Boethos are reported to support some halakhot similar to those of Karaism, but they also denied the fundamental Jewish beliefs of divine reward and punishment and an afterlife. See Bernard Revel, “The Karaite Halakah and Its Relation to Sadducean, Samaritan and Philonian Halakah,” in Karaite Studies, ed. Birnbaum, 1–88 [article reprint of 1913].
For example, Lekaḥ Tov of Tobias ben Eliezer, a Byzantine Rabbanite. The scholarly edition is Midrash Lekaḥ Tov ha‑Mekhuneh Pesikta Zutrata, edited in three parts: Genesis-Exodus by S. Buber (Vilna, 1880); Leviticus-Numbers-Deuteronomy by A.M. Padowa (Vilna, 1880); and Canticles by A.W. Greenup (London, 1909). The entire commentary on the Torah was reprinted as Jerusalem: n.p., 1959.
(Beirut, 1984), vol. 18, 280. See Mohammed Ben Cheneb, s.v. “al‑Dhahabī,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., 2:214–16; and R. Sellheim, s.v. “al‑Khaṭīb al‑Baghdādī,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, 4:1111–12.
On Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh, see al‑Ṭabarī, Ta’rīkh, 1:1703. See also The History of al‑Ṭabarī, vol. 9, trans. by Ismail K. Poonawala (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press), 59, n. 415.
Other versions of the story are cited by M. Gil, A History of the Jews of Palestine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 152–53, n. 20: Ibn al‑Jawzī, al‑Muntaẓam (Hyderabad, 1938/40), VIII, 265; Subkī, Ṭabaqāt al‑shāfi‘iyya al‑kubrā (Cairo, 1964–68), iv, 35; Ṣafadī, al‑Wāfī bi’l-wafayāt, (Wiesbaden, 1959), 44f.; Ibn Kathīr, Bidāya wa’l-nihāya (Beirut, 1966), IV, 219. See also Ibn al‑Jawzī, MS Paris 1506, fol. 130b, and Ibn Qudāma, al‑Mughnī (Cairo, 1969), IX, 363, cited in M. Gil, Jews in Islamic Countries in the Middle Ages (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 291, n. 173.
Hartwig Hirschfeld, “The Arabic Portion of the Cairo Geniza at Cambridge,” Jewish Quarterly Review, XV (1903): 167–181. This document is designated Cambridge T-S 16.353. Now see that English translation and discussion in Miriam Frenkel, “Adaptive Tactics: Jewish Communities Facing New Reality,” Medieval Encounters 21 (2015): 364–89.
See L. Vecchia Vaglieri, s.v. “Khaybar,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., 4:1137–43. Cf. Michael Lecker, “The Hudaybiyya-Treaty and the Expedition against Khaybar,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam, 5 (1984): 1–12.
The main sources for the Tabūk campaign are: al‑Mas‘ūdī, al‑Tanbīh wa’l-ishrāf, ed. M.J. de Goeje (Leiden, 1864), 272; al‑Ya‘qūbī, Ta’rīkh, ed. M.T. Houtsma (Leiden, 1883), 2:70; al‑Wāqidī, Kitāb al‑maghāzī, ed. M. Jones (London, 1966), 1031; Ibn Sa‘d, Kitāb al‑ṭabaqāt al‑kubrā, ed. E. Sachau, et. al. (Leiden, 1905), 1:277–78, 289–90; Ibn Hishām, al‑Sīra al‑nabawiyya, ed. F. Wüstenfeld (Göttingen, 1868), 902 [translated in A. Guillaume, The Life of Muḥammad (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955), 607]; al‑Ṭabarī, Ta’rīkh, 1:1702, 2374; al‑Balādhurī, Futūḥ al-buldān, 59. See Philip Mayerson, “The First Muslim Attacks on Southern Palestine, (A.D. 633–634)” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, 95 (1964): 169–77; and A.G. Killick, “Udruh and the Early Islamic Conquests,”in Proceedings of the Second Symposium on the History of Bilād al‑Shām during the Early Islamic Period up to 40 A.H./640 A.D., ed. Muhammad Adnan Bakhit, (Amman: The Fourth International Conference on the History of Bilad al‑Sham, 1987), 63–72.
Hirschfeld believed the Geniza letter was authentic, whereas Braslavsky thought it was a Fāṭimid-era forgery. See Joseph Braslavsky, “The Jewish Community of Khaibar,” Zion 1 (1936), 148–84 [Hebr.]. On Muḥammad’s letters, see Julius Wellhausen, Skizzen und Vorarbeiten IV, Medina von dem Islam (Berlin, 1899); and Michael Lecker, “The Preservation of Muḥammad’s Letters,” in Lecker, Peoples, Tribes and Society in Arabia Around the Time of Muḥammad (Aldershot, Great Britain: Ashgate Variorum, 2005), X, 1–25. Both Wellhausen and Lecker accept many of Muḥammad’s letters as genuine.
See Fred Astren, “Re-reading the Arabic Sources: Jewish History and the Muslim Conquests,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 36 (2009): 83–130.
The Tabūk campaign treaties are paradigmatic in al‑Balādhurī, Futūḥ al‑buldān, 68; translated in Hitti, The Origins of the Islamic State, 105: “Thus the first among the ‘People of the Book’ to pay poll-tax, so far as we know, were the people of Najrān who were Christian. Then, the people of Ailah, Adhruḥ and Adhri‘āt paid it in the battle of Tabūk.” This is echoed by al‑Ṭabarī, Ta’rīkh, 1:2374. See Gil, A History of Palestine, 30: “From such precedents, the basic legal outlook of Islam toward non-Muslims developed, becoming an integral part of Muslim martial law.” See Astren, “Re-reading the Arabic Sources.”
As Hirschfeld notes, the letter in Ibn Isḥāq’s biography of the Prophet is predominantly an assemblage of Qur’anic verses. It is not a letter of protection, neither in style nor epistolary form. See Ibn Hishām, al‑Sīra, 376–77 [translated in Guillaume, The Life of Muḥammad, 256].
Salo Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews (New York, 1952–83), 19 vols., 3:264.
On Ṣafiyya, see al‑Ṭabarī, Ta’rīkh, 3:2452-53. See also, al‑Balādhurī, Ansāb al‑ashrāf, ed. M. Hamīd Allah (Cairo, 1959), 1:442–44. She is mentioned in several reports connected with the conquest of Khaybar in Ibn Hishām, al‑Sīra. For a survey, see Ronen Yitzhak, “Muhammad’s Jewish Wives: Rayhana bint Zayd and Safiya bint Huyayy in the Classic Islamic Tradition,” Journal of Religion and Society (Kripke Center, Creighton University) 9 (2007): 1–14.
al‑Ṭabarī describes Ammār b. Yāsir in a key role during the march to Tabūk. See Ta’rīkh, 1:1701–02, 3:2314–19. On Ammār b. Yāsir, see the entry under his name by H. Reckendorf in the Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., 1:448. The story of Abū Dharr on the march to Tabūk is also found in Ibn Hishām, al‑Sīra, 901–02. He died at the Battle of Ṣiffīn in 657.
al‑Ṭabarī reports that Salmān accompanied Muḥammad on all his expeditions, and that he died on the day of ‘Umar’s accession to the caliphate in 634–635. See Ta’rīkh, 1:1779; 3:2344–45, 2371–72. On Salmān al‑Fārisī, see the entry under his name in by G. Levi Della Vida in the Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., 12:701–02. Cf. J. Horovitz, “Salmān al‑Fārisī,” Islam 12 (1922): 178–83.
Abū Dharr al‑Ghifārī is also described by al‑Ṭabarī in a key role during the march to Tabūk. See Ta’rīkh, 1:1699–1701; 3:2347–48. On Abū Dharr al‑Ghifārī, see the entry on him in by J. Robson in the Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., 1:114–15. The story of Abū Dharr on the march to Tabūk is also found in Ibn Hishām, al‑Sīra, 900–01. Abū Dharr lived in Syria after the conquest and died in 652–3.
See Frenkel, “Adaptive Tactics,” 364–89, for complementary analysis of the elements of this letter.
Including phrases from 2:120 (and passim); 2:257 (“There is no compulsion in matters of religion.”); 4:81 (and passim); 56:95; 69:51. See Hirschfeld’s published text for Qur’anic quotations.
On the difficult question of redaction and canonization of the Qur’ān, see two survey articles in The Cambridge Companion to the Qur’ān, ed. Jane Dammen McAuliffe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006): Claude Gilliot, “Creation of a Fixed Text,” 41–57; and Harald Motzki, “Alternative Accounts of the Qur’ān’s Formation,” 59–75.
Although Sarah Stroumsa has demonstrated that Samuel ha-Nagid (d. 1056) did not write a commentary on the Qur’ān, the fact that Ibn al-Rāwandī’s tenth-century polemic against Islam was attributed to Samuel testifies to the plausibility that a Jew might know the Qur’ān. See Stroumsa, “From Muslim Heresy to Jewish-Muslim Polemics: Ibn al-Rāwandī’s Kitāb al-Dāmigh,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 107:4 (1987): 767–72. See also Hava Lazarus-Yafeh, Intertwined Worlds: Medieval Islam and Bible Criticism (Princeton: University of Princeton Press, 1992), especially “Jewish Knowledge of, and Attitudes towards, the Qur’an,” pp. 143–160; David Sklare, “Responses to Islamic Polemics by Jewish Mutakallimun in the Tenth Century,” The Majlis: Interreligious Encounters in Medieval Islam, ed. H. Lazarus-Yafeh, et al. (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1999), 137–61; Camilla Adang, Muslim Writers on Judaism and the Hebrew Bible: From Ibn Rabban to Ibn Hazm (Leiden: Brill, 1997), esp. 67–69; and Jonathan Decter, “The Rendering of Qur’anic Quotations in Hebrew Translations of Islamic Texts,” Jewish Quarterly Review 96:3 (2006): 336–58.
The Qur’ān states (56.79), “. . . which none shall touch save those who are clean.” Therefore, sharī‘a requires ablution before handling the Qur’ān. See al‑Sayyid Sābiq, Fiqh al‑sunna (Beirut, 1969), Book 1, fiqh 40. Extensive ahādīth confirm this. Since non-Muslims do not observe Muslim rules regarding impurities, it is concluded that they are forbidden to handle, and therefore read, the Qur’ān. This is further supported by Qur’ān 9.28: “Indeed, the mushrikūn are impure.” Although mushrikūn is “idolators,” the principle can be been extended to apply to kāfirūn (“unbelievers”). This problematic is reflected in the terms of dhimma as enumerated so-called Pact of Umar: “We shall not teach the Qur’ān to our children.” From al-Ṭurṭūshī, Sirāj al-mulūk (Cairo, 1872), 229–30.
Jewish Theological Seminary MS ENA NS 18, fol. 26b, edited and published by M. Gil in Palestine During the First Muslim Period (634–1099), Part II, Cairo Geniza Documents (Tel-Aviv: Tel-Aviv University, 1983), 453–54 [Heb.].
Cambridge T-S 10, J 10, f. 10, briefly commented upon by S.D. Goitein in A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza, 5 vols. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967–1988), 2:386–87.
Cambridge T-S K25.214, published by Geoffrey Khan in Arabic and Administrative Documents in the Cambridge Genizah Collections (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 379–80.
Jewish Theological Seminary MS ENA 2348, fol. 1v. See Goitein, Mediterranean Society, 2:504 (item no. 121).
Cambridge T-S 12.245. See Goitein, Mediterranean Society, 2:611, n. 25.
Cambridge T-S NS J 73. See Goitein, Mediterranean Society, 2:611, n. 25.
Cambridge T-S 18 J 2.3, cited in Frenkel, “Adaptive Tactics,” 378–79, who muses on the possibility that the letter could be the one published by Hirschfeld.
Cambridge T-S NS 327.2(c), published by Khan in Arabic and Administrative Documents, 243–44.
Yaḥyā ibn Sa‘īd al-Anṭakī, Ta’rīkh, ed. J. Kratschkovsky and A. Vasiliev, 468, 508 (Patrologia Orientalis 23). See Gil, A History of Palestine, 153, who cites other Arabic sources. See also Jennifer Pruitt, “Method in Madness: Recontextualizing the Destruction of Churches in the Fatimid Era,” Muqarnas 30 (2013): 119–139; and Paul E. Walker, “al-Ḥākim and the Dhimmīs,” Medieval Encounters 21 (2015): 345–63.
For example, see Abū Dā’ūd, Sunan, 3 vols., Book 14, Kitāb al‑Kharāj, nos. 3029–34 (“Chapter on the Expulsion of the Jews from the Arabian Peninsula”) (Beirut: Dār al‑Kutub al‑‘Ilmiyya, 1996), 2:372–73.
See Abū Yūsuf Ya‘qūb, Kitāb al‑Kharāj (Cairo, 1346 A.H.), 13 f. and 29 f., cited by Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, 3:274, n. 28.
See Paul E. Walker, “Al-Maqrīzī and the Fatimids,” Mamluk Studies Review 7, 2 (2003): 83–97, quoted on p. 90.
On a later popular Yemenite Jewish tradition of the Khaybar narrative, see S.D. Goitein, “Kitāb dhimmat an-nabī,” Kiryat-Sefer 9 (1932): 507–21 [Hebr.].
Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., s.v. “Dhimma,” 2:227–31.
The Muslim sources for Muḥammad’s conquest of Najrān and later Christian reworkings are treated at length by Antoine Fattal, Le statut légal des non-musulmans en pays d’Islam (Beirut: Institute de Lettres Orientales de Beyrouth, 1958), 22–33. See also John Andrew Morrow, The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World (New York: Angelico Press, 2013), who argues for the authenticity of these treaties; and Ahmed El-Wakil, “The Prophet’s Treaty with the Christians of Najran: An Analytical Study to Determine the Authenticity of the Covenants,” Journal of Islamic Studies, 27, 3 (2016): 273–354. See Philip Wood, The Chronicle of Seert: Christian Historical Imagination in Late Antique Iraq (Oxford: Oxford University press, 2013). The story in the Chronicle of Seert also uses another well-attested Near Eastern topos, in which an important forgotten document is found. See Fred Astren, “The Dead Sea Scrolls and Medieval Jewish Studies: Methods and Problems,” Dead Sea Discoveries, 8, 2 (2001): 105–123.
On these two narratives, see Barbara Roggema, The Legend of Sergius Baḥīrā: Eastern Christian Apologetics and Apocalyptic in Response to Islam (Leiden: Brill, 2009); and Moshe Gil, “The Story of Bahira and Its Jewish Versions,” in Related Worlds: Studies in Jewish and Arab Ancient and Early Medieval History (Aldershot, Great Britain: Ashgate Variorum, 2005), VIII, 1–22 [reprint of 1993].
See Marina Rustow, Jews and Islamic Empire: A Study in Medieval Middle Eastern Governmentality (Princeton: Princeton University Press, forthcoming).
Domination and the Arts of Resistance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990). See Frenkel, “Adaptive Tactics,” 383–84, who uses Scott to analyze the so-called “Egyptian Scroll” and frame Jewish responses to Fāṭimid power. On the Egyptian Scroll, see The Yotserot of R. Samuel the Third; a Leading Figure in Jerusalem in the 10th Century, ed. Joseph Yahalom and Naoya Katsumata (Jerusalem: Yad Ben Zvi, 2014), 2 vols. [Hebr.].
Marc Michael Epstein, Dreams of Subversion in Medieval Jewish Art and Literature (University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997).
Robert Irwin, The Arabian Nights, A Companion (London: I.B. Tauris, 1994), 145. An appreciation of trickery is the theme of a literary collection of the thirteenth century, Raqā’iq al-ḥilal fī daqā’iq al-ḥiyal, translated by René R. Khawam as The Subtle Ruse: The Book of Arabic Wisdom and Guile (London: East-West Publications, 1980). For a religio-historical narrative, see pp. 322–26, “Jounus Takes his Revenge,” an etiological story for the existence of different Christian confessions. A Jewish ascetic tricks three groups of Christians into believing in different christologies, thereby leading to the establishment of Jacobite, Nestorian, and Melkite Christianities.