This year I attended and filmed three lectures by three eminent visiting scholars at McGill University: I believe that all three can be included in David Nirenberg’s elegant phrase, of “Interrogating the past to understand the present”. All three talks have now been posted to the internet and the links are below. David Nirenberg’s subject was “Sibling Rivalries, Scriptural Communities: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam”. And Dr.Mordechai Kedar developed the theme “Antisemitism in Modern Islamic and Arab Discourse”.And Christine Hayes spoke on “What is Divine about Divine Law?“.
David Nirenberg is the author of Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition (2013) and Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in the Middle Ages and Today (2014). He is a contemporary scholar fully conversant with Muslim, Jewish and Christian texts. What is clear from his talk is the intertextual borrowing of Jewish sources by both Muslim and Christian writers. The various traditions were conversant with each others texts, and yet used them to bolster their imaginative agendas of how they conceived of the other: Christians disparaged Jews, and Muslims disparaged both Jews and Christians. And as David Nirenberg points out this disparagement continued throughout the enlightenment period. As he cited Voltaire, and many other enlightenment philosophers who were anti-Jewish in their writings and doctrines. Karl Marx also being one of them.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar, was invited to speak at McGill by ISGAP. He spoke on Antisemitism in Modern Islamic and Arab Discourse. He explains the Arab discourse and conceptualization very well. He is an academic expert on the contemporary Arab world, has served in Israeli intelligence for twenty five years as a Lt. Colonel and since he reads and speaks Arabic fluently, he also appears on Arabic television.
Professor Kedar started his talk by explaining that the Arab view of History is different from that of the West: i.e. Islamic scholars don’t think of ancient history, middle ages and modern times. They think of history as starting with their Prophet Mohammed, (Peace be Upon Him), and continuing to present time. All history for Muslims is Islamic history that continues to the present and all narrative is Islamic narrative. He points out that the split between Sunni and Shia goes back to the succession wars following the death of Mohammed and continues unabated to this day. Sunni refer to the Shia as “Jews” and we see the internecine warfare that has erupted in our time.
Yes, Mohammed the Muslim Prophet and originator of what we now know as Islam, was very aware of Jewish practice and Jewish texts, and also of Christian practice and Christian texts. Mordechai Kedar explains exactly how Muslims think of “the ancient ones” Jews and Christians. Along with a very clear exposition of Islamic doctrine he points out how this slander continues today as the Middle East publishes and accepts in the present as truth the forged antisemitic tract. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion or The Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion is an antisemitic hoax purporting to describe a Jewish plan for global domination. It was first published in Russia in 1903, translated into multiple languages, and disseminated internationally in the early part of the 20th century. The Protocols purports to document the minutes of a late 19th-century meeting of Jewish leaders discussing their goal of global Jewish hegemony by subverting the morals of Gentiles, and by controlling the press and the world’s economies.
In his talk, he shares the covers of several current Middle East publications of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
And even an interesting story about the opening of an intercultural library in Egypt where two books were chosen to represent each faith and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was one of the two books chosen by the administrators to be displayed as representative of Jewish literature.
He also explains why people who follow Islam will never accept Jerusalem or Israel as having any Jewish roots. According to Islamic doctrine.”Once a country has become Islamic, it can never revert to its original status”
Nevertheless, Israel has forged bonds of peace with several neighbors, Jordan and Egypt. Is it a “cold peace”? Yes, but as an Israel author, Eshkol Nevo, recently responded to this question, “any peace is better than war”.
Christine Hayes, a Yale University biblical scholar, shared her appreciation and comparison of ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish theology and law. It was quite marvelous to hear her discuss the differences between Greek, Roman, and Jewish ideas and laws of theology and of society. Yes she spoke about each society’s conceptions of “G-D” and “Gods” and also their conceptions of “Law”. I was amazed by her erudition, her familiarity with ancient Greek, Roman and Hebrew texts and scholarship, theology and law. Especially profound and amazing is her familiarity with the Jewish Talmud and Mishna from which she quoted liberally.