A modern Maimonides

Moses Maimonides is the great medieval Jewish sage. “From Moses to Moses, there was none like Moses” is the epitaph on his tomb. He was a physician, a philosopher and a profound religious scholar. Maimonides had an abiding concern for the survival of the Jewish people. His reputation was such that Jews throughout the world turned to him for advice.

In his “Epistle to Yemen” (1172), Maimonides advised the Jews of Yemen living under Muslim subjugation how to conduct themselves. The “Epistle” is an extraordinarily eye-opening work. Maimonides observed that “none has matched [the nation of Ishmael] in debasing and humiliating us.” I learned from Ralph Lerner’s Maimonides’ Empire of Light, which includes both a translation and interpretation of the “Epistle,” that some manuscripts show Maimonides in the “Epistle” to be referring to the prophet Muhammad as “the Madman.”

Like Maimonides, Andrew Bostom is a physician and scholar. He seems, like Maimonides, to be driven by a passion for the survival of the Jewish people in the face of irrational hatred. He is in any event driven to convey historical truth about Islam. In The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims (2005), Bostom compiles and explores Islamic texts on the subject of jihad.

This year Bostom returns with The Legacy of Islamic Anti-Semitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History. As it happens the first of the “Introductory Quotes” with which Bostom prefaces the volume is the passage from Maimonides’ “Epistle to Yemen” that I draw on above. (The “Epistle” is also discussed in Ibn Warraq’s foreword to the book.)

Bostom’s new book is devoted to the theme that anti-Semitism is intrinsic to Islam’s texts and history. Contrary to Bernard Lewis and others, Bostom argues that Islamic anti-Semitism is not a modern European import or a recent phenomenon.

In its more than 750 closely printed pages, the book comprises at least three or four books in one. First comes Bostom’s survey of theological-juridical origins and historical manifestations of Islamic anti-Semitism. The crux of his survey comes in the summary and conclusions of at pages 164-172. Bostom’s narrative could easily stand alone as a ground-breaking work of history. Bostom’s survey is followed by numerous expository essays by a variety of hands, excerpts of original sources, and documents and eyewitness accounts.

I don’t have the competence or expertise necessary to pass judgment on Bostom’s work other than to say I think it is serious and important. Attention must be paid. Here I want to collect material relevant to understanding and evaluating the book.

In “Jihad and Islamic anti-Semitism,” Bostom presents a summary of his work in a Hudson Institute lecture, drawing the connection between his two books. Among reviews of and comments on the book are those by Alyssa Lappen, Andrew McCarthy, Fjordman, and Rael Jean Isaac. Also helpful in trying to get a handle on the book are Bostom’s interviews with Frontpage and the Jerusalem Post.

UPDATE: The audio of Bostom’s Hudson lecture is accessible here. Click on “Media clips” in the upper right corner of the page, then click on “Listen now.”

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