In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Medieval Exegesis and Religious Difference: Commentary, Conflict, and Community in the Premodern Mediterranean ed. by Ryan Szpiech
  • Steven J. McMichael
Medieval Exegesis and Religious Difference: Commentary, Conflict, and Community in the Premodern Mediterranean Ed. by Ryan Szpiech. New York: Fordham University Press, 2015. <>

Medieval Exegesis and Religious Difference is a collection of thirteen articles that explores the nature of exegesis (among Jews, Christians, and Muslims) during the High and especially Late Middle Ages as a discourse of cross-cultural and interreligious conflict, paying particular attention to the commentaries of scholars in the western and southern Mediterranean from Iberia and Italy to Morocco and Egypt. It is not only about how medieval writers from the three religious traditions engaged in exegesis of religious texts, but also about their own eisegesis, as the editor of the volume explains: "… the subject of these essays might be said to be how exegesis, commentary on sacred text, was regularly a form of eisegesis, a manner of reading that inserts one's own assumptions and bias into the process of interpretation. Medieval polemical writers practiced exegesis eisegetically by 'reading into' the text their own theological and historical assumptions" (10).

The book is divided up into four interconnecting parts. The first part is entitled "Strategies of Reading on the Borders of Islam," which contains three articles that focus on such issues as Abraham as the model of contemplation (individual and communal), abrogation of previous scriptural legislation, and the differences between Christian and Muslim approaches to the Hebrew Bible. The second part, "Dominicans and Their Disputation," deals with the role Dominicans played in medieval exegesis, hermeneutics, public disputations, and polemical literature, highlighting the roles of prominent Friar Preachers such as Riccoldo da Monte Croce, Ramon Martí, and Alfonso Buenhombre. The third part, "Authority and Scripture between Jewish and Christian Readers," treats later developments of Dominican engagement with the Talmud, biblical commentaries (especially by the Franciscan Nicholas of Lyra), and biblical glosses to the Hebrew Bible. The fourth part, "Exegesis and Gender: Vocabularies of Difference," "reprises the historical and theological foci [End Page 127] of the previous parts and takes them up in turn by addressing the theme of gender imagery in exegetical commentaries, polemical and otherwise" (24). The last part of the book highlights the presentation of Jesus in medieval Jewish and Muslim use of the text Toledot Yeshu, the interpretation of Genesis 6: 1-4 and the various interpretations of "sons of God" in these verses, the interpretation of the "strange women" in Proverbs, and the biblical commentary on John 8:1-11 of the thirteenth-century Jewish convert Guillaume de Bourges.

The introduction to this volume presents an excellent challenge to common assumptions many students of medieval interreligious relations often make. It challenges the reader to hold a "hermeneutic of suspicion" (in David Tracy's terminology) toward the way that we speak of the relationship between medieval Jews, Christians, and Muslims in terms of "the three cultures," "Abraham religions," and "religions of the book, but also what the terms scripture, textual community, and polemic mean in their medieval context.

The major focus of the articles in this volume is how certain medieval writers reflected upon their own self-identity while at the same time were engaged with reading texts of the other religious traditions. Exegesis, therefore, was the act of reading texts not only from one's own tradition, but also from one or more other religious traditions. As the editor of the volume explains: "in the later Middle Ages, Jews, Christians, and Muslims did engage with each other's books and arguments, drawing from one another's traditions and expertise almost as often as they engaged in controversy and disputations; that exegesis, as a common practice, became the main medium by which writers of each group came in contact with each other's ideas and debated scripture, prophecy, sacred history, and truth; and that scriptural commentary itself provided a common and recurrent means by which these writers defined and defended their similarities and differences, and thus functioned as the foundation for a communal sense of textual understanding" (14). This volume essentially gives the...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 127-130
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.