The Use of Jewish Legal Sources to Tell Islamic Economic History

MPI-TAU Transnational Legal History Workshop

  • Date: Nov 15, 2022
  • Time: 07:00 PM - 08:30 PM (Local Time Germany)
  • Speaker: Phillip I. Lieberman (Vanderbilt University)
  • Location: Zoom
  • Host: Thomas Duve (MPI), Ron Harris (TAU), Assaf Likhovski (TAU), Stefan Vogenauer (MPI)
The Use of Jewish Legal Sources to Tell Islamic Economic History

The study of the world of the medieval Mediterranean has been aided immeasurably by the rise of social historians making use of the Cairo Geniza, a massive trove of documents largely written in Judeo-Arabic primarily issuing from Jewish hands discovered in a number of caches in Fustat (Old Cairo). Given the paucity of Arabic documents from the medieval Islamic world, scholars of the Geniza have striven to figure out how to use the Judeo-Arabic materials to say something about the broader world from which they emerged. Some scholars have understood the Geniza documents to be typical of an “Islamic” marketplace, while others have argued that the Jewish merchants whose lives are portrayed in the documents might have had their own, distinct mercantile practices.

In this talk, I will ask a corollary question about the relationship of Jewish materials to that of the world from which they emerged: can Jewish legal materials tell us something about the broader Islamic marketplace? If we presume law to be responsive to changes in daily life, the accommodation by Jewish law of instruments for financing and facilitating long-distance trade in the high middle ages may allow us to situate a “commercial revolution” in the medieval Mediterranean centuries later than imagined by earlier economic historians.

In this talk, I will explore the idea of this commercial revolution in light of the development of Jewish law, and ask how Jewish law might tell us something more or different from a study of medieval Islamic commercial law. I will argue that Jewish law presents a window into mercantile developments otherwise unavailable through the study of Islamic law alone.

All sessions of the MPI-TAU Transnational Legal History Workshop will be conducted on Zoom, and are based on pre-circulated papers. Registration for participation is required and open until one week prior to the event. Please register here.

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