A perplexing rewriting of history

 Maimonides: the encyclopedia can’t agree on the year of his birth

When does history become propaganda? When a new encyclopedia in French and English, supported by a huge promotional budget, sanitises Muslim-Jewish relations. Lyn Julius writes in the Times of Israel:

Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish thinker
and physician, is famous for his Guide for the Perplexed. But readers of
a glossy new 1150-page encyclopedia in English and French will be
equally perplexed by accounts of Maimonides’ life that can’t even agree
on the correct year of his birth.

joint editors are a Tunisian professor at the university of Nanterre
(Paris), Abdelwahab Meddeb, and Benjamin Stora, a Jewish professor of
North African history and author of a history of the Jews of Algeria.
The two men have been touring France, North Africa, Israel and Belgium
promoting the encyclopedia.

“The Encyclopaedia of Jewish-Muslim relations from their origins to the present day” was launched in November 2013. There is amore modest English version, published by Princeton.

Critics such as the authority on Sephardi Jews, Professor Shmuel Trigano, have charged that the encyclopedia is nothing but a work of propaganda.
It is all the more insidious because so much money has been spent on
its promotion. Unusually for a book, the encyclopedia has a website all
to itself and was the subject of a TV series on the French channel Arte.

Among the sponsors are The Alliance of Civilisations(co-sponsored
by Spain and Turkey, and adopted as a UN initiative which excludes
Israel from its Council of Friends), whose task is to change the
‘narrative’ by promoting the Spain of the Three Religions, the
Andalusian Golden Age, and so forth.

Professor Trigano wrote:

An incredible publicity and
ideological campaign is underway in France. Its target is world public
opinion by way of the Jews, and more specifically Sephardi Jews – sorry,
‘Arab Jews’.

Dr. Rudi Roth, a mathematician and computer
scientist who lives in Belgium, has spent hours combing through the
encyclopedia, finding errors of omission and commission. He has
contacted dozens of scholars and academics for their comments.

“It’s astonishing,” he says, “that an
Encyclopaedia purporting to be precise and accessible, overseen by a
12-member scientific committee and more than one hundred contributors
from the world’s top universities, contains major errors of fact and is
sloppily edited.”

The encyclopedia variously lists Maimonides’
date of birth as 1135 or 1138 (the latter date is correct). Nowhere is
it mentioned that his father was a Talmudic scholar, a mathematician and
astronomer. On the other hand his son Abraham, like his father a
physician and philosopher, is described as a Jewish ‘sufi,’ influenced
by ‘Islamic mysticism.’

Aged 10, Maimonides was forced to leave his
native Cordoba to escape the Almohad invasion. These were a tribe of
fanatical Muslims who massacred Jews in Seville in 1147 and sought to
forcibly convert Jews and Christians in Spain. But Maimonides’ flight is
described as ‘an emigration.’ The family’s 12 years of wandering
through Spain as it escaped persecution are passed over in silence.
Arriving in Fez, Morocco, Maimonides was compelled to convert to Islam
to spare his life. “It was only for appearances’ sake,” claims Mercedes
Garcia-Arenal on page 143. Yet when he later rose to become head of the
Jewish community in Cairo, Maimonides came under suspicion both from
Muslims and Jews for living as a ‘converso.’

In his famous Epistle to the harassed Jews of
Yemen (c.1172), Maimonides proffers advice. But Yehoshua Frenkel’s entry
in English makes no mention of the persecution which the Yemenite Jews
suffered. Similarly, no mention is made that Maimonides himself fled to
Akko to escape Muslim persecution.

Maimonides died in Fostat (Old Cairo) in 1204,
but Suzan Youssef (pps 1005 – 13) insists that he was also buried
there. Yet historians are unanimous that his tomb is located in

Apart from the minimising of Jewish links with
the land of Israel, Dr. Roth has identified inaccuracies and omissions
that exaggerate Arab Muslim influence in culture and science while
downplaying the Jewish contribution.

Read article in full

New Encyclopaedia is propaganda


  • A small correction addressed to Dr. Susan Youssef. As all the Jews of Egypt know, and I am one of them, Maimonides was burried for just seven days in Fostat (old Cairo)in his own Talmoud Thorah, which became later the HARAMBAM Synagogue, or as we used to call it RAB-MOSHE Synagogue. After the Shiva the Jewish Community of Cairo transferred his body to be burried in Tiberias, where his grave is most honored until today, and visited during the whole year.
    Levana Zamir


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