Biblical and Koranic Quotations in Hebrew and Arabic Andalusian Poetry

Biblical and Koranic Quotations in Hebrew and Arabic Andalusian Poetry

By Arie Schippers

Ever and ‘Arav, Contacts between Arabic Literature and Jewish Literature in the Middle Ages and Modern Times, Vol. 2, edited by Joseph Tobi (Tel Aviv: Afikim, 1998)

In this article I deal with the relation between Holy Writ and poetry in Arabic and Hebrew Andalusian literature. In the first part I discuss general aspects of the Arabs and the Jews and their attitude to their poetic language, and their role as poets in society. In the second part I focus on the theory of Koranic and Biblical quotations in medieval thought.

The first issue is the opposition between Arabic and Jewish languages, although Jews formed part of Arabic culture and Arabic culture was also their own culture. However, as Jews they also wrote Hebrew poetry in which they composed in the language of the Holy Bible. Arabic was the language of their culture, Hebrew the language of their religious tradition. Arabic in principle encompasses a larger domain than just the Holy Writ and religion. For instance, Allah, the Arabic word for God, was used equally by pagans, Christians, Jews, and Muslims. This imparted to it more possible connotations than the Hebrew Elohim. Medieval Arabs often used the word Allah in a jocund sense, which would be unthinkable for present-day Muslims. The latter occasionally forbid the use of Allah for God in Arabic Bible translations, as a recent case in Malaysia shows. However, medieval Muslims played around with the language and also with the word Allah. For instance, they said – as a parody on the expression Allahu a ‘lam (God knows best) – ‘Istu-hu ‘I-bet ‘in a ‘lam’ (his separated buttocks have a fissure).

Click here to read this article from the University of Amsterdam

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

medievalverse magazine