Friday, June 19, 2020

Nabil Matar: The Protestant Reformation through Arab Eyes

The very important article "The Protestant Reformation through Arab Eyes: 1517-1698" by Nabil Matar, originally given as the 2018 Josephine Water Bennett Lecture to the Renaissance Society of America, is now available for download online. In it, Matar describes Arab Muslim, Catholic and Orthodox attitudes toward Protestantism in the early Ottoman period, emphasizing how these views were conditioned by religious conflicts in Europe, with both Catholic and Protestant missionaries attempting to export the Reformation and Counter-Reformation to the Eastern Mediterranean. The discussion of Arab Orthodox views of Protestantism during this period begins on page 790.


The Protestant missionary effort was met with resistance by the Orthodox Christians (Orthodoxiyyūn), who belonged to the patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem. These Christian Arabs were concentrated in the major urban centers of Aleppo—the third largest city in the Ottoman Empire—and Damascus, with communities in Lebanon and Palestine. Since the Arab conquest in the seventh century, these Orthodoxiyyūn had developed their own linguistic and theological traditions in Arabic, and with the demographic and cultural revival of the seventeenth century, they saw themselves as separate in their arabicity from the other Orthodox ethnicities in the Ottoman Empire (Greek, Slavic, Serbian, and others). In 1612, Patriarch Meletius (1572–1635) wrote that he found a Greek typikon, which he translated into the language of “the Arabians [I‘rāb] so it could correct the errors in the churches of the Arabs [‘Arab]”; in his travelogue of the 1650s, Bulus (1627–69), son of Macarius, 141st patriarch of Antioch (Ibn al-Za’īm, r. 1647–72), referred to the “land of the Arabs”(“arḍ al-‘Arab”); and when five monks wrote to Rome, in 1704, they presented themselves as belonging to the “denomination of the Rumi Arabs”(“millat al-rūm al-‘Arab”). Two years later, the first publication in Arabic by an Orthodox press appeared in Aleppo: it was the book of Psalms, and in the dedication, there was a prayer to God to protect the believers in “al-bilād al-‘arabiyya,” or Arab lands. Arabic was a determining factor in self-definition.


Download and read the entire article here.

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