Athletes of Virtue in the Age of the Caliphates: Monasticism and Pilgrimage in the Early Islamic ‘Holy Land’ c.650-900 CE

Athletes of Virtue in the Age of the Caliphates: Monasticism and Pilgrimage in the Early Islamic ‘Holy Land’ c.650-900 CE

By Daniel Reynolds

Rosetta, Vol. 9 (2011)

Introduction: Academic awareness and interest in the apologetic and theological activity of Palestine’s monastic milieu in the Early Islamic period has accelerated over the past twenty years and its growing profile on modern academic agendas has facilitated a more detailed understanding of the reaction of monastic writers to ‘Arab’ political hegemony after the 630s CE and their intellectual response to the consolidation of a rival Islamic theological discourse.

A steadily growing corpus of critical editions of surviving texts continues to endorse this trend and the appearance of many translations in modern European languages (increasingly English) has, in addition, facilitated the exposure of this material to a wider academic audience and a greater repertoire of critical and disciplinary approaches. Continuous publications focussing on individual writers are also beginning to open newer research avenues aimed at outlining the broader trends and theological approaches employed by Palestinian monastic communities in the defence of Christian doctrine and devotional identity.

Equally vibrant developments have characterised the concurrent academic analysis of Early Islamic polemical discourse directed against Christian communities and associated monastic writers between the eighth and tenth centuries: communities which still constituted a significant demographic presence in the Early Islamic Levant and which remained strongly imbued with connections to older established networks of authority.

Recent studies have drawn attention to the significant level of interchange and dialogue between writers of both social and religious factions. A resulting feature of this contemporary academic probing is the modern recognition of the sensitivity of Palestinian Christian apologetic to concurrent trends in Islamic theological thinking and methods of religious disputation. Following the adoption of Arabic by Palestinian monastic communities after 750 CE, monastic writers rapidly appropriated the style and linguistic flair of contemporary Islamic discourse (frequently inspired by the Qur’an) in order to safeguard the survival of the wider Christian community. Ongoing interest in this linguistic and theological transition has generated the publication of several eloquent studies and does not require fuller elaboration here.

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