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In the Eyes of the Christian Writer al-Hārit ibn Sinān Poetics and Eloquence as a Platform of Inter-Cultural Contacts and Contrasts

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While ostensibly aspects of poetics are best discussed within a purely literary perspective, in fact they can hardly be disconnected from their socio-cultural and religious frameworks. Al-Hārit ibn Sinān was a Christian scholar and writer who lived under Muslim rule towards the end of the ninth and apparently also the beginning of the tenth century, precisely at the time when the first fruits of the idea of the Qur‘ān's stylistic inimitability (i’ğāz) began to ripe. Although this concept played a role also in interfaith polemics throughout the Middle Ages, our author shows his temperance and restraint by praising the style of the Bible (he would appear not to have read the books of the Old Testament in the original Hebrew but demonstrated understanding and a feeling for the text through another Semitic language: Syriac), both because as a Christian living under Muslim rule he was loathe to arouse an overt controversy with the society in which he lived, and also because glorifying the style of Holy Scripture, which he had apparently inherited from the Syriac-Byzantine culture, was an important tendency in and of itself in both Jewish and Christian literature (in England, for example, upsurges of this tendency have occurred even in modern times). Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the fact that our author did compare the poetics of four cultures: that of the Hebrews, that of the Greek (or rather Greek-Byzantine, rūm), that of the Syriac elements and that of the Arabs. He even tries to prove, using somewhat specious arguments, that the Hebrew portions of the Bible contain rhymes. His positions thus deserve to be considered retrospectively also in an interfaith and intercultural context.

Affiliations: 1: Tel Aviv University


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