Medieval Iberian Cultures in Contact

Iberian Cultural Production as Translation and Adaptation

Authored by: Michelle M. Hamilton

The Routledge Companion to Iberian Studies

Print publication date:  March  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415722834
eBook ISBN: 9781315709895
Adobe ISBN:


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Scholars of medieval Iberia have expressed frustration with the perceived limitations of Américo Castro’s theory of convivencia as a model for explaining the cultural interactions between different religious, ethnic, and linguistic groups in the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages (Catlos 2014b; Ray 2005; Soifer 2009). Brian Catlos (2014a) has argued that the creative and sometimes destructive interactions between Iberians in the Middle Ages are not unique, but reflect the larger Mediterranean world in which Muslims, Jews, and Christians (in addition to Byzantines, North Africans, Romans, Phoenicians, etc.) had been meeting, interacting, and sharing ideas and customs for millennia. While the aforementioned historians are primarily concerned with describing the social, political, and economic exchanges between Iberians (and to a lesser extent their artistic and literary production), scholars of Jewish cultural production in the medieval Mediterranean have been wrestling with how to explain what they call the Islamic or Arabic nature of Jewish cultural production in the medieval Arabo-Islamic world (including al-Andalus). Charles Manekin (2012), Daniel L. Lasker (2012), Gad Fruedenthal (2012), and Sarah Stroumsa (2012) have nuanced the theory of cultural symbiosis that S. D. Goitein used to describe early medieval Jewish-Islamic thought (1971, 2003). These scholars see the prevalence of philosophical rationalism as key to explaining the nature and types of ideas and cultural production that were both imported (through translation and commentaries), as well as created in original compositions produced throughout the Arabo-Islamic world, and particularly in Iberia. The Peninsula constituted one of the areas in which “polemical exchange between Jews and Christians was rational and relatively free,” and where “philosophy and logic were eagerly developed as tools of such exchange” (Goldstein 2012, 9–10).

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