Together with the election of Israel, the Holy Land is one of the central themes of the Hebrew Bible. Not surprisingly, it continued to be of paramount importance for the construction of Jewish identity in post-biblical Jewish literature. The major significance of the theme of “the Holy Land” or “the Land of Israel” is expressed in different ways in the traditional Jewish literature of the classical period, i.e. the literature of the sages (third-seventh centuries). The promised land of the Hebrew Bible is from then on consistently referred to with the Hebrew expression erets yisrael (“Land of Israel”). It features in retellings of the biblical narrative that deal with the patriarchs, as a territory with special laws, as one of two major centres of Jewish learning, etc.
The Land of Israel in Geonic times is a project dedicated to the study of how Jews related to their ancestral homeland, as it emerges from the literature of the period, from the coming of Islam in the seventh century until the First Crusade in the late eleventh, i.e. the so-called “geonic period” of Jewish history.
How did Jews envision the Land and their relation to it in this period of Jewish literary and cultural history? This project will map a variety of Jewish attitudes toward the Land of Israel in texts composed from the seventh century onward; it will identify old and new ways in which the Land continued to matter in the Middle Ages. To this purpose, we will examine a wide array of early medieval Jewish texts of diverse genres, including biblical commentary, poetry, apocalyptic literature, historiography, and legal literature. These are texts composed by authors who identified as Jews and who were at home both in “the Land” and “abroad.”
Research has so far tended to focus on the conceptualisation of the promised land in the Bible and in the post-biblical Jewish literature of Antiquity and late antiquity. The literature of Geonic times remains unexplored in relation to the “Land-question.” However, this period is crucial because it witnesses the beginning of the co-existence of the three Abrahamic religions for which the Land is holy. It is also in this period that the Jewish intellectual elite made fundamental choices relating to ideas, prayers, and laws developed in the earlier biblical and rabbinic times—choices that would lay the bases for the rest of Jewish history.