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The University of Southampton
HistoryPart of Humanities

Research project: Jewish Apocalypticism at the Emergence of Islam

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The Islamic conquests of the seventh-eighth centuries and the emergence of Islam marked a major transition period for world history, with a significant legacy for today’s societies.

This was a period of both religious and political turmoil with competing claims amongst Jews, Christians and Muslims to religious authority and status. This political and religious volatility was accompanied by an increase in apocalyptic speculation amongst Jews, as well as their Christian and Islamic contemporaries. This research project focuses on apocalyptic literature of Jews and its relationship with traditions of Christians and Muslims in this foundational period for Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations.

Apocalypticism is fundamentally a response to times of historical turmoil and instability such that those producing apocalyptic works understand the times in which they are living to be the end of the current world order. The seventh and eighth centuries are no exception. Jewish compilations such as Sefer Zerubbabel, Otot ha-Mashiaḥ, Nistarot Rabbi Shim’on ben Yoḥai, Pirqe deRabbi Eliezer and Pirqe Mashiaḥ highlight the importance of apocalyptic ideology in this period, but they do not simply narrate the events of the end; the texts connect apocalyptic ideas and motifs to contemporary events and utilise the genre to comment on the religious and political situation, including the defeat of Christian Byzantines in the seventh century and the beginnings of Islamic rule. In this way, the texts offer a form of literary resistance by protesting against contemporary hegemonic political or religious forces, and at the same time offering assurances about the status of the compiler’s community and hopes for restoration and renewal.

This project examines Jewish apocalyptic literature from the seventh and eighth centuries with the aim of expanding knowledge of Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations at this historic period of religious development, and analysing responses by Jews to the changing political and religious environment as a result of the conquests. In this way, it provides an essential insight into Jewish attitudes to events and the relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims from the formative moments of contact in the seventh century.

Key Publications

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