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Title: Syriac Christians in the Medieval Islamic World: Law, Family, and Society
Authors: Weitz, Lev E.
Advisors: Cook, Michael
Contributors: Near Eastern Studies Department
Keywords: Abbasid Caliphate
Family history
Law and society
Medieval Islam
Syriac Christianity
Subjects: Middle Eastern history
Near Eastern studies
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation examines the emergence and development of traditions of family law among East Syrian and West Syrian Christians in Muslim-ruled Syria, Iraq, and Iran between the late eighth and early fourteenth centuries CE. With the general interest of integrating the history of these demographically and culturally significant communities into the narratives of medieval Islamic societies, the dissertation argues that bishops of the Syriac churches developed traditions of family law in order to foster conceptions of Christian community within the Islamic world grounded in marital practice. At the same time, their cultivation of law as an intellectual discipline entailed engaging with broader intellectual trends in the Islamic Middle East. After reviewing the historiography of Syriac Christian law, the dissertation focuses on three law books composed by East Syrian bishops in the late eighth and early ninth centuries and investigates their techniques for instilling Christian distinctiveness in common Middle Eastern practices of marital life. By introducing Christian ritual dimensions into the contracting of betrothals and by prohibiting close-kin marriage, polygyny, and divorce, the bishops redefined certain regional practices as constitutive of Christian communal belonging. Even as they articulated distinctively Christian norms for household life, however, these bishops appropriated common institutions of Middle Eastern legal culture and engaged in disputes broadly characteristic of legal discourse in the Islamic Middle East, particularly over the authoritative sources of norms within religious legal traditions. The dissertation's final section moves to the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries to trace the longer-term convergence of Syriac Christian family law with Islamic traditions. It demonstrates how the West Syrian Bar Hebraeus produced a comprehensive but hybridized summary of communal law by reconfiguring Shafii family law and assembling it with a variety of Christian sources. His East Syrian contemporary Abdisho bar Brika, on the other hand, drew on the more extensive resources of East Syrian law to compose summary legal works that largely, though not wholly, avoided appropriating from Islamic fiqh. In composing systematic statements for their respective communities, however, both writers responded in different degrees to normative conceptions of social hierarchy and gender suggested by Islamic legal traditions.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Near Eastern Studies

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