Twitch divination (palmomancy) entails observing the involuntary twitches of a person’s body to predict his or her future. It is a practice attested already in the Assyro-Babylonian world and it circulated widely in late antiquity and in the Middle Ages. It is well attested in the Cairo Genizah, which shows its great popularity among the Jews of medieval Cairo. The present paper provides an edition and translation of the extant Genizah fragments of Kitāb al-Ikhtilāj, “The Book of Twitches,” attributed to Shem, son of Noah. This is followed by a detailed survey of all the palmomantic fragments from the Cairo Genizah in Aramaic, Judeo-Arabic, and Hebrew. Finally, I offer a reedition of a palmomantic fragment from al-Quṣayr, which has previously been misidentified as an amulet. Together, all these fragments attest to the vitality of the palmomantic tradition in medieval Egypt.
After the conquest of Toledo in 1085 the Christians, Muslims, and Jews of Toledo continued writing their legal documents in Arabic for a period of 250 years, following the pattern of Muslim administrative handbooks, such as those of Ibn al-Mughīth and Ibn al-ʿAṭṭār. The Toledo collection of legal documents has been preserved in the Cathedral of Toledo and in 1930 was partially edited by A. Gonzalez Palencia. However, it is an exceptional collection that deserves a complete edition, since this is the only known existing collection in the world of Arabic legal documents written by non-Muslims who were living under Christian rule. It is also a pristine portrait of the process of change in Toledo’s society—the economy, the balance of power, and the process of conversion and assimilation of Muslims and Jews—from the eleven to the fourteenth century. Moreover, with over a thousand documents, this is one of the biggest collections of Arabic documents existing in Spain, most of the documents being written on parchment, some on paper.
The similarities in between Christian documents from Toledo and Islamic documents are great, the differences few. One of the main differences is the introduction of “Christian law” (sunnat al-naṣārā). However, the law applied in Toledo, in spite of some differences detected in the document, reflects commonalities. I will argue that Arabic sunna and Spanish fueros had an element of orality that allowed the share of customary law anchored in the life of the communities across religious borders. The term sharīʿa, with the meaning of law, is not found at all in al-Andalus, with exception of some late documents from fifteenth-century Granada. In the east, the term is not found prior to the thirteenth century. Indeed, the change from sunna to sharīʿa, to refer to law, reveals a process of the institutionalization and professionalization of legal activity and a more predominant written legal culture.