It is usually accepted among modern scholars that the Mamluk period marked a drastic decline in the position of non-Muslims. Jews and Christians were exposed to increasing persecutions and, inter alia, could not serve as great physicians unless they converted to Islam. Against these assumptions, the article discusses new data regarding three Jewish court physicians from the first half of the 8th/14th century. Despite being under a strong pressure to convert, these doctors gained honorable positions and a high social status in the Mamluk sultanate. As erudite physicians and skillful practitioners, they were integrated with the highest circles of the political, military and especially intellectual Muslim elite of their time.
This article discusses the phenomenon of dynasties of Jewish physicians in the Late Middle Ages in Egypt and Syria. Based on Muslim Arabic historiographical literature on the one hand, and Jewish sources such as Genizah documents on the other, this paper reconstructs fourteen dynasties of Jewish physicians that were active in the Mamluk Sultanate (1250–1517). Examination of the families reveals that the most distinguished dynasties of court physicians were of Jewish origin, and had to convert to Islam during the Mamluk period. Moreover, the office of the “Head of the Physicians” was occupied mainly by members of these convert Jewish dynasties. This situation stands in stark contrast to the pre-Mamluk period, in which dynasties of unconverted Jewish court physicians flourished. However, Jewish sources reveal that dynasties of doctors who were also communal leaders continued to be active also during the Mamluk period.
The article focuses on a Muslim commentary on a section from Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed, written by a 13th-century Persian scholar. Whereas the first part of the article briefly discusses the reception of Maimonides’ Guide in medieval Islam, the nature of the commentary, and the identity of its composer, the second and main part discusses a mid-20th-century Egyptian critical edition of the commentary. This part focuses on the Muslim editor’s preface to the commentary, in which he depicts Maimonides and his Guide in a positive light, against the negative portrayal of Jews and Judaism. The contemporary political context is suggested as a motive for this apologetic and polemical depiction.
Obscurity surrounds not only the date and name of the inventor of eyeglasses, but also the date and place where eyeglasses (or information pertaining to them) reached the Muslim world. It is assumed that eyeglasses were transmitted to the Muslim world through commerce with Italian traders, which is probable, while other options also present themselves. This paper shows, at any rate, that the date traditionally given for the first acquaintance of the Muslim world with eyeglasses is wrong. In this article, we present evidence that eyeglasses were available in Syria since the fourteenth century and discuss the implications of this discovery.