The Multicultural Roots of “God-Willing”

Much as pious Jews use variants of im yirtseh Hashem (“if God wills it”) when discussing plans for the future, pious Muslims say inshallah or bismillah. But the first explicit mention of this practice comes from the New Testament (James 4:13–15), which castigates those who don’t use the expression for their arrogance. Shlomo Zuckier notes that the three religions’ similarity in this regard was noted by the English churchman and orientalist John Gregory in a 1646 Bible commentary:

Given the strong Christian tendency to understand [Christian] norms as authorized by Hebrew scriptures, it is not surprising that Gregory puts his historical scholarship to the work of establishing a prophetic origin for this teaching. “The Jewes gave the first example, and they themselves brought it into use.” He cites the Aramaic Alphabet of Ben Sira, a medieval Jewish text composed in a Muslim context, but presenting itself as having been authored by Ben Sira—“beleeved by them to be Jeremie the Prophet’s Nephew”—in biblical times.

Gregory’s historical reconstruction is flawed.  Ben Sira is not the source for the passage in James but rather its descendant, born through the mediation of Muslim texts. And σὺν θεῷ (with God) was common in Greek literature (e.g., Sophocles and Plutarch) before any biblical influence.

But his effort presents a fascinating model for a concurrent process of scholarship and constructive theology. Gregory asserts the Jewish sources of James’s teaching and the exemplary zeal of Muslim and Jewish practitioners in its implementation. He does not do so in order to discredit Muslims and Jews or to argue the superiority of Christianity. Rather he offers his history as an inspiration for all believers to appreciate better the role of God in the world. His message is explicitly framed as relevant for all nations under Heaven: an example of a historical study of sectarian co-production put to the work of a cross-religious message.

Read more at Coproduced Religions

More about: Christian Hebraists, Jewish-Christian relations, Muslim-Christian relations, Muslim-Jewish relations

The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law