Guillaume Postel and the Primordial Origins of the Middle East

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

Abstract

Guillaume Postel is often credited as one of the founding fathers of the modern “orientalist” European study of the Middle East, and of Arabic, Islam, and the Quran in particular. He published his most influential work in 1544, calling on the French king to lead a Crusade against the Ottomans and usher in a new, apocalyptic age. Although usually credited as a pioneer in the comparative study of Semitic languages, an influential figure in French-Ottoman relations, and as one of the first Europeans to study the Quran in comparison with the Bible, it was the unique sixteenth-century renaissance combination of apocalyptism, European nationalism, and alchemy behind the specific formation of Postel’s universal linguistic theories that would most influence future scholarship. The following pages examine the historical context in which Postel produced his work with particular attention to the apocalyptism of his religious ideas and the kabbalistic sources of his linguistic scholarship.

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