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Polemics Real and Imagined in Zechariah Alḍāhirī’s Sefer Ha-Musar by Adena Tanenbaum

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Chapter Summary

This chapter examines a seemingly realistic polemical encounter between a Muslim and a Jew with an eye to its literary features, and argues for a modified reading of the text based on consideration of its inventive qualities. A closer look at the narrative structure, the rhetorical techniques used to present its arguments, its internal tensions, and its thematic relationship to certain literary antecedents, can help in answering questions about its fictitiousness and verisimilitude, its intended audience, and the underlying social, cultural, and intellectual concerns it addresses. The Muslim disputant in the chapter is thus a rare bird, worthy of particular scrutiny, although in typical maqama form, his character is not terribly well developed. Abner's chimerical, preposterous victory is best viewed as a consolation for an internal Jewish readership whose sociopolitical status under Islam was far more precarious than this tale would lead to believe.

Keywords: Abner; Islam; Jew; Muslim; Polemics; Sefer Ha-Musar; verisimilitude; Zechariah

10.1163/ej.9789004203815.i-328.58
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