EUME Workshop
Do 05 Jul 2012 – Fr 06 Jul 2012

Religious Narratives at the Crossroads of Scripture, Tradition and Culture: Reflections on the Jonah Story

Samer Rashwani (EUME Fellow 2011/12), Mehrdad Abbasi (EUME Fellow 2011/12) and Jospeh Witztum (EUME Fellow 2011/12 of the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung)

Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, Villa Jaffé, Wallotstr. 10, 14193 Berlin



This workshop wished to examine the reception of scriptural narrative in the three monotheistic traditions. While the fact that Biblical tradition has found a narrative extension in the religious lore of Judaism, Christianity and Islam has been honored in hosts of scholarly works, the comparative reading of these traditions together has not yet been given due attention.

Inspired by the path-breaking study of Abraham Geiger (1833), European scholars havelong been fascinated with the interrelations between Jewish and Christian readings of Biblical narratives and the Qur’an. This project needs to be resumed, though with a fresh look at the texts that incorporates traditional and modern Arab and Muslim scholarship: Rather than searching for influences or deviations, the relationship between the various traditions will be considered as a conversation between them, i.e. a process of negotiating and sometimes superseding given versions. The texts thus will no longer be treated as hierarchically scaled.

By focusing on shared narratives we wished to emphasize the continuity between the three traditions as well as to draw out some of the unique developments. In short, what we suggested here was not merely a descriptive approach, but rather a comparative study of the history of the intellectual and cultural reception of scriptural narratives.

The following broad issues are examples of suitable topics for the workshop:

  • The processes of transformation and modification which the narrative underwent when taken up in new religious settings
  • A comparison of the exegetical responses to various aspects of the narrative, including philological obstacles and theological difficulties (e.g., the infallibility of prophets and the tension between divine mercy and justice)
  • The mystical and symbolic interpretations and dimensions of the narrative (e.g., the great power of prayer)
  • The literary reception (in poetry and prose) of the narrative and its relation to the traditional and theological reception
  • The manifestations of the narrative in visual art
  • The social and popular manifestations of the narrative (e.g., myth, shrines, amulets).



Mustapha Bouhandi, professor of comparative religion at Hassan II university in Casablanca. He got his PhD from Hassan II University in Casablanca on the influence of Christian theology on Muslims commentary of the Qur'an. In 2010 he founded a research center for comparative religions (Adyan). Among his puplications are: "Akthara Abo Hurayrah" (2002), "We and the Qur'an" (2003), "The influence of Christian theology on Muslims commentary of the Qur'an" (2004), and recently "The Essential Qur'anic addition: critical reading in Genesis"(2012).

Orhan Elmaz currently is holding the position of an assistant professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Vienna. Orhan Elmaz studied Arabic Studies, Medical Informatics and IT Management. His dissertation on Qur'anic hapax legomena was published by Harrassowitz in 2011, and his major interests include the Arabian Peninsula in Antiquity, Qurʾānic Studies and Digital Humanities.

Susannah Heschel is the Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College. Her scholarship focuses on Jewish-Christian relations in Germany during the 19th and 20th centuries, the history of biblical scholarship, and the history of anti-Semitism. Her numerous publications include Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus, which won a National Jewish Book Award and Germany's Geiger Prize, and The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany.

Rainer Kampling, Study of Catholic theology, Latin philology and Jewish Studies at the Universität Münster; 1983 Promotion: Das Blut Christi und die Juden. Mt 27,25 bei den lateinischsprachigen christlichen Autoren bis zu Leo dem Großen (NTA.N.F. 16), Münster 1984/1991; Habilitation: Israel unter dem Anspruch des Messias. Studien zur Israelthematik im Markusevangelium (SBB 25), Stuttgart 1992. Visiting Professor of NT in Saarbrücken. Since 1992, Professor of Biblical Theology / NT at the Freie Universität Berlin. Main research areas: Theology and history of Jewish-Christian Relations, Theology of the Synoptic Gospels, Reception history of the Bible.

Hannelies Koloska has studied Protestant Theology and Arabic Studies in Berlin and Birzeit. She completed her Master's degree on Ibn al-Jawzī’s “Kitāb aḥkām an-nisāʾ“. She worked as aresearch assistant at the Collaborative Research Centre 626 “Aesthetic experience and the dissolution of artistic limits” at Freie Universität Berlin and wrote her Ph.D. thesis on “Asthetic and literary dimensions of Sura 18 (al-Kahf)”. She is currently a researcher at the Corpus Coranicum project. Her research interests include the Qur’an, Islamic exegesis and Christian-Islamic relations. 

Admiel Kosman is a professor in the department of Religious Studies at the Universität Potsdam, and the Academic Director of the Abraham Geiger Kolleg.

Yousef Kouriyhe, Lecturer of Syriac and Aramaic literature in Seminar for Semitic and Arabic Studies (Freie Universität Berlin), and researcher in Corpus Coranicum project. He graduated from the philosophy Department in Damascus University, and got his PhD from the Seminar for Semitic and Arabic Studies „Buch der ersten Philosophie: Aus dem Kompendium Ruhm der Weisheit, Edition und Übersetzung.“.

Samuela Pagani is lecturer in Arabic language and literature at the University of Salento (Lecce, Italy). She also teaches History of the Islamic Near East at the University of Naples “L’Orientale”. She got a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from the “Istituto Orientale” of Naples in 2000. Her main research field is the intellectual history of Sufism in the early modern period.

Samer Rashwani studied Islamic Sciences at Damascus University (BA, 1997). In cooperation with a group of pan-Arabic young intellectuals, he laid the foundation for a new forum of critical Islamic thought (al-Multaka al-Fikri/Intellectual Forum for Innovation) in 1998. Rashwani moved to Egypt to complete his Qur'anic studies at the University of Cairo, receiving an MA in 2004 and a PhD in 2007 for his dissertation "Defending the Qur'an from the 3rd to the 5th century A.H. and its role in the development of Qur'anic Sciences". Rashwani has been a lecturer at the Faculty of Sharia (Universities of Damascus and Aleppo) since 2007. He has taught several courses in Hadith, Qur'anic studies and methodology. He currently is a fellow of the research program ‘Europe in the Middle East – The Middle East in Europe’.

Daniel Vorpahl, is a visiting lecturer at the Freie Universität Berlin and the University of Potsdam since 2009. He studied English and American philology, Jewish Studies, Religious Studies and Comparative Literature (Universität Potsdam). In 2011 he was awarded a PhD scholarship from the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung für die Freiheit. His doctoral dissertation is on “The history of reception of the Book of Jonah in the early Jewish and rabbinic scriptural interpretation until 10th century”.

Joseph Witztum holds a BA and MA in Arabic Language and Literature from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and his doctoral dissertation, "The Syriac Milieu of the Qur'an: The Recasting of Biblical Narratives", was completed in the Near Eastern Studies Department at Princeton University (2011). He is especially interested in the comparative study of the Qur'an, Syriac poetry, and rabbinic texts. 



Thursday, 5 July
10 am – 10.15 am Introduction
Samer Rashwani (EUME-Fellow 2011/12 / University of Aleppo)

10.15 am – 12.15 am 
Samuela Pagani (Università degli Studi di Lecce), Jonah According to Ibn 'Arabī
Orhan Elmaz (Universität Wien), On Difficult Words in Surah 37:139-148
Chair: Islam Dayeh (Zukunftsphilologie / Freie Universität Berlin) 

1.15 pm – 3.15 pm
Rainer Kampling (Freie Universität Berlin), A Fish is not Necessarily a Fish – the Triple Reception of the Story of Jonah by Christian Authors in Late Antiquity (in German)
Hannelies Koloska (Corpus Coranicum / Freie Universität Berlin), 'The Sign of Jonah': Early Christian Readings of the Jonah Story and the Iconography of the Qur'an
Chair: Clemens Leonhard (Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin 2011/12)

3.30 pm – 5.30 pm Panel
Samer Rashwani, The Jonah Story between The Qur’an and Traditions: Reading from Al-Tha'labi's Qisas Al-anbiya'
Joseph Witztum, The Recasting of the Jonah Story in Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer
Mehrdad Abbasi, The Jonah Story in the Shi'i Tradition : Reading from Bihār al-Anwār

5.45 pm – 6.45 pm
Keynote Susannah Heschel (Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin 2011/12 / Dartmouth College), Scriptural Mysteries: The Rise of Scholarly Investigations of Scriptural Transmissions in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
Chair: Angelika Neuwirth (Corpus Coranicum / Freie Universität Berlin)

Friday, 6 July
10 am – 12.00  
Admiel Kosman (Universität Potsdam), Jewish and Non-Jewish Ways for Decoding Jonah’s Story as a Symbol
Daniel Vorpahl (Freie Universität Berlin / Universität Potsdam), The Impact of Jonah’s Nineveh-Image on the Books of Tobit and Judith
Chair: Joseph Witztum

12.15 – 2.15 pm
Mustapha Bouhandi (Casablanca University), The Essential Qur’anic Addition in the Field of Abrahamic Religions: The Narrative of Yunus as a Case Study (in Arabic)
Yousef Kouriyhe (Corpus Coranicum / Freie Universität Berlin), The Story of Jonah in Syriac Literature: Jacob of Serugh as a Case Study (in Arabic)
Chair: Mehrdad Abbasi


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