The Islamic context of medieval Jewish philosophy: In memory of Franz Rosenthal

Joel L. Kraemer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Introduction Medieval Jewish thought flourished under the aegis of Islamic civilization from the ninth through the thirteenth centuries when the venue shifted to the Christian West. Its language was Arabic, its concerns determined by issues raised in the context of Islamic thought. The same issues (e.g. the nature of the divine, creation, prophecy, providence, human perfection, and immortality) were later pondered by Jewish thinkers in the Christian milieu, and Hebrew scientific terminology was modeled on Arabic. For Islam, as for Judaism, the religious law is paramount, a comprehensive guide to life in all its aspects. Study of Qur’an, tradition (hadith), theology (kalam) and jurisprudence (fiqh) dominated Muslim intellectual life. The ‘ulama’ (clerics) regarded “the ancient sciences” as alien and useless, as an insidious threat to religious faith. Ibn Rushd (Averroes) (d. 1198), a philosopher and jurist, justified philosophy as a religious obligation, but his opinion had no effect on the career of philosophy in Islam, which was emphatically rejected by religious authorities. Even the Tunisian historian Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406) felt the need to refute philosophy. The medieval Islamic world had no universities as did Europe, where philosophy was taught alongside theology. Muslim rulers sponsored scientific research, which was institutionalized in libraries, hospitals, and observatories. Philosophers taught privately or to circles that met in their homes or in other venues such as bookstores.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Medieval Jewish Philosophy
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages31
ISBN (Electronic)9781139000055
ISBN (Print)9780521652070
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2003
Externally publishedYes


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