Bible and Historiography
in Transcultural Iberian Societies, 8th to 12th Centuries


The Bible is the only book ever to be granted ‘World Heritage’ status by the UNESCO. Its cultural impact on the European Middle Ages has been massive, and has been studied from many perspectives by theologians, historians, literary scholars and others. Still, much remains to do, especially in fields where biblical influences may not be as immediately obvious as elsewhere. This regards, for instance, the role of biblical models for the formation of identity and difference, for perceptions of ethnicity and ‘otherness’.

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How was Christianity as a ‘universal’ religion related to particular communities and identities, and to other religions? Aspects of this question are currently studied in Vienna in the context of the SFB ‘Visions of Community’ (VISCOM). The present FWF-project seeks to complement this line of research in important respects and from a different perspective by studying the transcultural setting of the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th to 12th centuries. Historical approaches to the ‘Book of books’ from a transcultural perspective have so far been rather neglected. What was the relationship of the Bible to other holy or sacred scriptures, for instance the Muslim Qur’ān and the Jewish Tanach and Talmud? How did it influence perceptions of other religious cultures, and their interaction with Christians, in terms of liturgy, historiography, and polemics?

Medieval historians have, of course, studied the Latin-Christian imaginaire of God, World and Men in the Early and Central Middle Ages. Much needs to be done to compare concepts of time and space, of God’s word and sacred text, or the views of the rest of the World offered by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scripture, and by texts building on it. These texts’ transcultural entanglement specifically in narrations of exegesis, liturgy or historiography and their medial and material representations need to be assessed. In Iberian frontier societies, the transcendentally-founded normative visions of the respective ‘sacred texts’ competed against each other and had to confront foreign perceptions of time, space, nature and history. Even though Jews, Christians and Muslims all recognize God’s plan to provide salvation to mankind as the primary driving force of history, their strategies of how to portray this history differ remarkably. This had an impact on the respective historiographies, and the consequences of different conceptions of time, space and history in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam can be detected in their exegetical, polemical and historiographical practices. However, that does not exclude mutual influences and transcultural exchanges between these modes of perceiving and transforming foreign histories. As yet, we do not adequately understand the exact role of the different religious frames in the respective systems of knowledge. These are the fundamental questions that the project will address. The approach chosen here will access the problem (according to the expertise of the project team) from the angle of the Christian-Latin tradition. Two large areas will be studied in detail: first, the Bible manuscripts transmitted from the period, both in al-Andalus and in the Iberian regions ruled by Christians, will be studied, with special regard to their illuminations, paratexts, non-biblical additions in the codices, their marginal notes and other traces of their use and their movements. Preliminary autopsy of many of these manuscripts by Matthias M. Tischler has already demonstrated that rich and to a large extent unstudied evidence is to be expected. Second, the use of Biblical models in Latin historiography, specifically in its treatment of intercultural conflict and contact, will be assessed. The case of the Mozarabic and Latin biblical and historiographical legacies of the Iberian Peninsula offers the unique and still unexploited opportunity to analyze the close interaction between the specific designs of biblical manuscripts and historiographical writing as two complementary modes of perceiving and transforming the ‘Other’ in the Early and Central Middle Ages. A third, synthetic strand of the project will draw the results together and compare them with what is already known about the Muslim and Jewish perspective. Furthermore, the project will also profit from the wide comparative framework of the SFB ‘Visions of Community’ (VISCOM), and provide important complementary results.