Senior Fellow: February –August 2018
Research Project: Saadiah’s Tafsīr in the Context of Scriptural Scepticism in Geonic Times
The Classic Geonic period (850–1100 CE) marks a period of transition in the intellectual history of Judaism, a caesura no less cutting than that between the Second Temple and Rabbinic times. In Iraq, the old centres of learning and religious governance, the academies of Sura and Pumbedita—the yeshivot—flourished, and by the turn of the ninth century had moved to the political capital of the ʿAbbasid Empire, Baghdad. Palestine had its own competing Gaonate.
In Geonic times, the Written Torah moved back into focus in its own right. Some voices from the fringes of the Geonic establishment (such as some proto-Qaraites) go as far as calling for a complete rejection of the Oral Torah, yet also the Geonim themselves, to a certain extent, began to question the reliability of its transmission. My research project concentrates on one prominent figure: Saadiah Gaon (882–942). His Judaeo-Arabic Bible translation is one of the most influential texts produced in that language. He oscillates here between partial rejection and necessary (as well as expected) approval in refuting indiscriminate Qaraite scepticism.
The most powerful instrument for implementing his complex understanding of the acceptance of tradition and its rejection for a broad audience was his Arabic translation of the Torah, the Tafsīr, which was widely disseminated and which I propose to investigate with particular focus on the context sketched above.
Ronny Vollandt is a professor of Jewish studies at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München.