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Natan'el al-Fayyumi

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Title: Natan'el al-Fayyumi  
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Subject: Jewish philosophy, Hoter ben Shlomo, Yemenite Jews, Holocaust theology, Jewish messianism
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Natan'el al-Fayyumi

Natan'el al-Fayyumi[1] (also known as Natan'el al-Fayyumi, Netan'el Ibn al-Fayyumi, or Nethanael ben al-Fayyumi), born about 1090 - died about 1165, of Yemen was the twelfth-century author of Bustan al-Uqul (Garden of Intellects), a Jewish version of Ismaili Shi'i doctrines. Like the Ismailis, Natan'el argued that God sent different prophets to the various nations of the world, containing legislations suited to the particular temperament of each individual nation. Each people should remain loyal to its own religion, because the universal teaching was adapted to the specific conditions and experiences of each community. Not all Jewish depictions of Muhammad were negative. Jews who lived in environments governed by Ismailis did not view them as enemies, and vice versa.

Nethanel explicitly considered Muhammad a true prophet, who was sent from Heaven with a particular message that applies to the Arabs, but not to the Jews.[2][3] Marc B. Shapiro has written that al-Fayyumi's pluralistic views on religion are shared by numerous other rabbinical sources.[4] However, al-Fayyumi's explicit acceptance of Muhammad's prophecy may be unique and was virtually unknown until recent times beyond his native Yemen.[5] Rabbi Yosef Kapach, however, maintains that due to Muslim attempts to catch Jews saying something against their faith - one who said that Muhammad was a false prophet would be judged for death - Nethanel was compelled to teach his people arguments and responses that would save them from ensnarement.[6]

Ismaili teachings speak of an evolutionary sequence of prophetic revelations, which will culminate in the era of the messianic al-Qa'im, who will unite all humanity in acknowledging God. Ismaili doctrine acknowledges that a single universal religious truth lies at the root of the different religions and that each of the historical revelations plays a role in preparing the path for that universal truth.

There were Jews, such as Natan'el, who accepted this model of religious pluralism, leading them to view Muhammad as a legitimate prophet, albeit not Jewish, sent to preach to the Arabs, just as the Hebrew prophets had been sent to deliver their messages to Israel.[7]

Within a single generation, Natan'el's son Yaqub was compelled to turn to Maimonides, asking urgently for counsel on how to deal with a new wave of religious persecutions and forced conversions that was threatening the Jews of Yemen. The letters and intellectual dialogue between Yaqub, Maimonides and Saladin had a lasting effect upon the Yemenite Jews.

See also


  1. ^ "A history of Jewish philosophy in the Middle Ages" By Colette Sirat
  2. ^ The Bustan al-Ukul, by Nathanael ibn al-Fayyumi, edited and translated by David Levine, Columbia University Oriental Studies Vol. VI, p. 105
  3. ^ Gan ha-Sekhalim, ed. Kafih (Jerusalem, 1984), ch. 6.
  4. ^ On Books and Bans, by Marc Shapiro, Edah Journal 3:2, 2003, The clearest support for Sacks' position is provided by R. Netanel ben al-Fayyumi (twelfth century), who maintains that "God sent different prophets to the various nations of the world with legislations suited to the particular temperament of each individual nation." Although Sacks is motivated by a post-modern vision, the medieval R. Netanel also claimed that God's truth was not encompassed by Judaism alone.
  5. ^ Abraham's children: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in conversation, by Norman Solomon, Richard Harries, Tim Winter, T&T Clark Int'l, 2006, ISBN 0-567-08161-3, p. 137 Netanel's work was virtually unknown beyond his native Yemen until modern times, so had little influence on later Jewish thought
  6. ^ Pages י-יא, Kafih edition available at
  7. ^ The Bustan al-Ukul, by Nathanael ibn al-Fayyumi, edited and translated by David Levine, Columbia University Oriental Studies Vol. VI, p. 105
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