Wednesday, December 13, 2006
A Sufi-Jewish DialoguePhilosophy and Mysticism in Bahya ibn Paquda's Duties of the Heart
368 pages 6 x 9 Cloth Nov 2006 ISBN 0-8122-3953-9
"An ambitious attempt to fill a long-standing lacuna in the history of Jewish thought by presenting a synthesis and evaluation of Bahya in his intellectual context. It draws on over a century of scholarship, suggests some new sources for Bahya and new readings of old sources, and offers an interpretation of his thought."—Charles H. Manekin, University of Maryland
"This manuscript contains a subtle, probing, and rich exposition of the key issue of devotional self-examination within Jewish and Islamic mysticism. The author has a superb sense of Arabic, Sufi mystical psychology, and the extraordinary dialogue (sometimes openly acknowledged, often left unacknowledged) among Jewish, Islamic, Christian, and Greek traditions at the time of Ibn Paquda."—Michael Sells, University of Chicago
Written in Judeo-Arabic in eleventh-century Muslim Spain but quickly translated into Hebrew, Bahya Ibn Paquda's Duties of the Heart is a profound guidebook of Jewish spirituality that has enjoyed tremendous popularity and influence to the present day. Readers who know the book primarily in its Hebrew version have likely lost sight of the work's original Arabic context and its immersion in Islamic mystical literature. In A Sufi-Jewish Dialogue, Diana Lobel explores the full extent to which Duties of the Heart marks the flowering of the "Jewish-Arab symbiosis," the interpenetration of Islamic and Jewish civilizations.
Lobel reveals Bahya as a maverick who integrates abstract negative theology, devotion to the inner life, and an intimate relationship with a personal God. Bahya emerges from her analysis as a figure so steeped in Islamic traditions that an Arabic reader could easily think he was a Muslim, yet the traditional Jewish seeker has always looked to him as a fountainhead of Jewish devotion. Indeed, Bahya represents a genuine bridge between religious cultures.
He brings together, as well, a rationalist, philosophical approach and a strain of Sufi mysticism, paving the way for the integration of philosophy and spirituality in the thought of Moses Maimonides.
A Sufi-Jewish Dialogue is the first scholarly book in English about a tremendously influential work of medieval Jewish thought and will be of interest to readers working in comparative literature, philosophy, and religious studies, particularly as reflected in the interplay of the civilizations of the Middle East.
Readers will discover an extraordinary time when Jewish, Christian, and Islamic thinkers participated in a common spiritual quest, across traditions and cultural boundaries.
Diana Lobel is Associate Professor of Religion at Boston University. She is the author of Between Mysticism and Philosophy: Sufi Language of Religious Experience in Judah Ha-Levi's Kuzari.