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The Texture of the Divine

Imagination in Medieval Islamic and Jewish Thought

Aaron W. Hughes

Publication Year: 2004

The Texture of the Divine explores the central role of the imagination in the shared symbolic worlds of medieval Islam and Judaism. Aaron W. Hughes looks closely at three interrelated texts known as the Hayy ibn Yaqzan cycle (dating roughly from 1000--1200 CE) to reveal the interconnections not only between Muslims and Jews, but also between philosophy, mysticism, and literature. Each of the texts is an initiatory tale, recounting a journey through the ascending layers of the universe. These narratives culminate in the imaginative apprehension of God, in which the traveler gazes into the divine presence. The tales are beautiful and poetic literary works as well as probing philosophical treatises on how the individual can know the unknowable. In this groundbreaking work, Hughes reveals the literary, initiatory, ritualistic, and mystical dimensions of medieval Neoplatonism. The Texture of the Divine also includes the first complete English translation of Abraham Ibn Ezra's Hay ben Meqitz.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

I am fortunate indeed to have had the generous support of many individuals and institutions for this project. Here, I try to acknowledge, all too briefly, the intellectual and financial debts that have enabled this book to see the light of day. This work reached its first stage of completion...

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pp. 1-12

The quarrel between philosophy and literature, intellect and imagination, according to Socrates in Book 10 of the Republic, is ancient and virulent. In its most severe representation, philosophy and literature are seen as occupying opposite ends of a continuum. Philosophy is about all that is unchanging, universal...

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1. Reading the Divine: A User’s Guide to the Initiatory Tale

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pp. 13-47

Anyone who approaches texts necessarily brings to them certain questions and interests that, in turn, determine what of significance will be found. This is certainly the case with the...

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2. Reading between the Lines: Text as Encounter with the Divine

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pp. 48-81

In Chapter 1, I argued that there is a tendency to regard the initiatory tale from one of two competing and ultimately contradictory perspectives. For the sake of convenience, I referred to these as the maximalist and the minimalist positions. The former contends that these tales are sui generis, the apogee of medieval...

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3. Polishing a Dirty Mirror: The Philosophic Imagination

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pp. 82-114

Vision, the strongest of our senses, is central to our engagement with and in the world. Without vision, we encounter the world in only two dimensions, unable to process the fullness of the world in all of its richness and diversity. Since the currency of the imagination is images, its main activity is often associated with a type...

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4. The Initiation of the Philosopher: Ritual Poetics and the Quest for Meaning

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pp. 115-145

In a classic definition, Clifford Geertz argues that religion constitutes a complex system of symbols, offering both a context and an order for various moods and motivations.1 Religion provides an interlocking set of codes by which a community, and the individuals within that community, formulate...

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5. “God Is Beautiful and Loves Beauty”: The Role of Aesthetics in Medieval Islamic and Jewish Philosophy

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pp. 146-184

The rich interplay between Islamicate culture on the one hand, and Arabic and Hebrew poetics on the other, has been well documented.1 Rather than attempt to retell this relationship here, the aim of the present chapter is to establish the important place of aesthetics within medieval Islamicate philosophy. In so doing...

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pp. 185-187

This study has explored the intertwining of imagination and aesthetics in medieval Neoplatonism. To do this I focused on a distinct genre within the Jewish and Islamic philosophical sources, what I have called the “initiatory tale.” In particular, I examined what is probably its most famous manifestation...

Appendix: Hay ben Meqitz: An Initiatory Tale by Abraham ibn Ezra

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pp. 189-207


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pp. 209-244


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pp. 245-265


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pp. 267-273

E-ISBN-13: 9780253110879
E-ISBN-10: 0253110874
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253343536

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 1 bibliog., 1 index
Publication Year: 2004