Who Comes from Edom with Egyptian Garments from Bosrah? Judaeo-Arabic, Symbiosis, and Messiah as "Other"

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As part of a new book ms in the works on the Judaeo-Islamic tradition vis-a-vis the Judaeo-Arabic translation of the Hebrew Bible by the 10th-century Jewish Gaon and scholastic, Sa'adia ibn Yusuf al-Fayyum, this paper will discuss the cultural and historical significance of the debate in the Jewish tradition and its canonical texts of the Messiah as "Other." Moses is the archetype, a member of the Egyptian royal family (by adoption) and official in Pharaoh's court, living under the false impression that the Hebrew slaves are completely foreign to him, going on to discover his true mission in the "Other" and then as the "Other." The Book of Isaiah is another important messianic source text, documenting the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities of the "Chosen People" and propounding the somewhat eccentric if not treasonous suggestion that the Messiah--the messenger of Yahweh sent to liberate His people--will be (was) a foreigner. Second Isaiah identifies Cyrus, King of Persia, as the eschatological hope of Israel and political means of religious and national salvation. Third Isaiah, by comparison, is grim and nationalistic and a grizzly bit of anti-Babylonian polemic, to be sure. That said, the Messiah, by implication, is almost certainly of Babylonian descent, sent to punish wickedness and reward righteousness.

The importance of Trito-Isaiah (chapter 63 in particular) to the history and understanding of the Messiah in Jewish thought, as "Other," cannot be over-estimated in some respects, the eschatological debate for more than millennia of "where, when, and how" he will appear revolving around the identity of Isaiah's eschatological warrior from Edom (63:1), adorned in red garments from Bosrah, who is said to tread under foot the wicked like grapes in a winepress at the last day, stained from head to toe in this blood and in fulfilment of the long-awaited “day of vengeance” and “year of my redeemed.” Because of this, the Messiah in Jewish thought has been seen as both friend and foe, and of every nationality under which Jews have lived. The paper will discuss how the strident chiliasm of Isaiah 63 in particular has inspired a wide array of messianic pretenders in Jewish history--Simon bar Kokhba, Moses of Crete, David Alroy, Abraham ben Adulafia, David Reuveni, Isaac Luria, Hayyim Vital, Sabbatai Zevi, and Jacob Frank among the more notorious of these. The case of Sabbatai Zevi is instructive, living under the Ottomans and converting to Islam to save himself, his followers (the so-called Doenmey) following in his footsteps but believing that conversion to Islam signified a more complete embracing of and rededication to their native Judaism; likewise, the eighteenth-century Polish Messiah, Jacob Frank, and his eighth-century proto-type, Abu Isa of Isfahan, taught that conversion to the religion of the "Other" (Christianity and Islam respectively) constituted a more complete understanding and fulfilment of "Self."

Keeping this in mind, the focus of the paper will be on the identity of the Messiah under Islam, c. 900 C.E., in the Judaeo-Arabic translation of the Hebrew Bible by Sa'adia ibn Yusuf al-Fayyum, which dresses the warrior-king from Edom in Islamic garb and on a kind of Hajj or pilgrimage, taking great pains not to offend Islam by changing the wine imagery into olive juice, and by turning the entire affair bloodly affair of the end time into more of a philosophical and theological inter-faith dialogue. How such linguistic and religious accommodations to the hegemonic culture of medieval, imperial Islam speak to the larger question of Jewish and Islamic symbiosis, national identity under Islam, accommodation and/as resistance vis-a-vis discourse/counter-discourse theory will be discussed.


Keywords: Judaeo-Arabic, Judaeo-Islamic Tradition, Sa'adia ibn Yusuf al-Fayyum, Medieval Jewish Philosophy, Jewish Rationalism and the Kalam, Pseudo-Messiahs, Jewish Radicalism, National Identity, Discourse/Counter-discourse Theory
Stream: Language, Linguistics
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Dr. Clyde Revere Forsberg

Assistant Professor, Department of American Culture and Literature, Fatih University
Istanbul, Turkey

My education has been in Religious Studies and American, Canadian, and European social and cultural history, most of my work to date in the fields of comparative religion, biblical and Islamic studies, and religious outsiders in Reformation Europe and antebellum America. My first book, _Equal Rites: The Book of Mormon, Masonry, Gender, and American Culture (Columbia University Press, 2004), is a work of new gender history, new historicism, and deconstructionism, and a conflict interpretation of nineteenth-century America that has been the object of considerable praise and condemnation for its pioneering analysis of the importance of Masonry to an understanding of Mormon history, but more importantly, as a "new interpretation of America of the period" (Alfred Bush, Princeton University). A second book ms of ritual and mythological criticism, having a Mormon focus, but a broad discussion of American esoterica vis-a-vis the LDS crusade against the "homosexual lifestyle" is being considered for publication, its working title "Land, Race, Same-Sex, and Empire in Mormonism." I am the co-editor of a forthcoming conference book on the theme of "transdisciplinarity in American Studies" with Purdue University Professor Susan Curtis. This paper is from another book ms that I hope to complete by year's end and based on my Honours Thesis under the Islamic historian, Professor Andrew Rippin. It is, in short, an attempt to understand better my Turkish environs. In addition to my academic work and teaching--the latter largely in the area of mythology, religion and politics, American intellectual and cultural history, and, of late, jazz history--I have written and produced three plays, two for the National Arts Centre of Canada's Fourth Stage, and dealing with issues of class, race, and sexuality. A CEP (Civic Education Project/Open Society Institute) alumnist and former Visiting Faculty Fellow at the American University of Central Asia, I helped develop an American Studies curriculum for AUCA in 2003-2004 and train local faculty in the interest of greater cross-cultural understanding and civil society reforms in one of the poorest and most problematic of the Central Asian and Turkic republics. I continue to work to that end, with another research project planned for the summer of 2008 to study the practice of polygamy in Kyrgyzstan following the collapse of the Soviet Union and as a coping strategy in the wake of democratization, market economy, and the paucity of social welfare reform.

Ref: H08P0379