Dr. Reuven Firestone Presents Paper at Conference on "Rethinking Jihad" at Center for the Advanced Study of the Arab World of the University of Edinburgh

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"Divine Authority and Territorial Entitlement in Judaism and Islam, A Study of Two Interpretive Traditions," presented by Dr. Reuven Fireston at Conference on "Rethinking Jihad" at Center for the Advanced Study of the Arab World of the University of Edinburgh
 
Abstract: Both Judaism and Islam recognize a divine right to be in political control of territory, and both accept the legality and even the responsibility of engaging in military force in order to achieve that control. Both base their positions on the authority of scripture and tradition. And both have developed exegetical strategies to lay out doctrines providing significant detail regarding military tactics as well as religious law and the treatment of peoples holding other religious beliefs within the areas under divinely authorized control. While the phenomenology is parallel in this larger sense, the exegetical layering making the case that God has authorized or even commanded conquest and control of territory exhibits significant differences. Moreover, the definition of territory and any limitation to the size or extent of the territories that should be under political control varies significantly between the two. These differences seem to reflect differences in historical context at both the scriptural and interpretive levels. That is, it appears that differences in doctrine do not reflect essential differences in religion so much as they reflect differences in the way that religion has responded to the circumstances of history.

This paper will compare and contextualize the exegetical processes within each discreet interpretive system that attempt to justify the right and responsibility for religious territorial control (recognizing that not all exegesis arrived at this conclusion). It will begin with a brief overview of the scriptural context, since the Deuteronomic core of biblical war traditions seems to have emerged into history within a local economic/political environment that finds much more in parallel with that of seventh century Arabia than, say, the context out of which early Christianity emerged. It will then concentrate on "classical" Jewish and Islamic exegeses in relation to their own, more global economic/political contexts, followed by an examination of interpretive trajectories that have emerged in the last thirty years.


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