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The Legend of the Middle Ages

Philosophical Explorations of Medieval Christianity, Judaism, and Islam

The Legend of the Middle Ages

Philosophical Explorations of Medieval Christianity, Judaism, and Islam

This volume presents a penetrating interview and sixteen essays that explore key intersections of medieval religion and philosophy. With characteristic erudition and insight, RémiBrague focuses less on individual Christian, Jewish, and Muslim thinkers than on their relationships with one another. Their disparate philosophical worlds, Brague shows, were grounded in different models of revelation that engendered divergent interpretations of the ancient Greek sources they held in common. So, despite striking similarities in their solutions for the philosophical problems they all faced, intellectuals in each theological tradition often viewed the others’ ideas with skepticism, if not disdain. Brague’s portrayal of this misunderstood age brings to life not only its philosophical and theological nuances, but also lessons for our own time.


“Brague is one of the few scholars alive who is equally an expert on medieval Arabic, Jewish, and Latin philosophy (as well as on ancient Greek philosophy). He is an extraordinary linguist in both ancient and modern languages, which enables a truly subtle analysis of texts and ideas. The Legend of the Middle Ages demonstrates his special ability to discover profound philosophical implications in notions and questions in medieval texts that modern scholars would usually pass over.”

Kent Emery, Jr., University of Notre Dame

"This account will illuminate novices as well as adepts embarked on a shared journey into a fascinating world. . . . By using contemporary reflections on hermeneutics and other sophisticated tools . . . [Brague] deftly introduces us into this world in a way that helps us attain the consciousness demanded to understand ’the other,’ so as to better appreciate our own limitations. In fact, that correlative activity of coming to understand ourselves as we seek to understand the other fairly defines the journey on which these essays launch us. So it could best be described as an exercise in self-understating, facilitated by a rich store of historical examples, deftly employed."

David Burrell | Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"Brague shows [how] the subtle, often acrimonious interplay between Judaism, Christianity and Islam helped to create the advanced thought of the Middle Ages—a phrase that, after reading Brague’s book, no longer sounds like an oxymoron."

Adam Kirsch | Nextbook

"Highly recommended to scholars of the Middle Ages as well as those in philosophy and religion more generally. They will all be enlightened by careful reading of this book."

Library Journal

"All of the essays offer fascinating insights into all manner of topics of interest to medieval thinkers. . . . Brague shows not only an encyclopedic and detailed grasp of his sources, but also a penchant for tying these to contemporary interests in intriguing, creative ways. . . . This truly is an informative, engaging, and very readable book that will be very useful to anyone with an intellectual interest in things medieval."


“Brague artfully explicates the commonalities of Islamic, Jewish, and Christian philosophy in the Middle Ages.”

Religious Studies Review

“A definitive statement on the wealth, complexity, and historicity of medieval Jewish, Christian, and Islamic philosophy. It is a substantially worthwhile and stylistically enjoyable read for anyone with an interest in medieval philosophy and the history of religion in the Middle Ages.”

Philosophy East and West

“A compelling argument that the medieval philosophical (and broader intellectual) tradition is a highly integrative body of work that ought to be considered on its own terms. . . . A trusty guide for the beginner, a reappraisal worthy of consideration by and interchange with the experts, a sublime reflection on the academic life, and a legacy worthy of the author’s career.”

Al-Masaq: Islam and the Medieval Mediterranean

Table of Contents


Translator’s Note



1 The Lessons of the Middle Ages

2 The Meaning and Value of Philosophy in the Three Medieval Cultures

3 Just How Is Islamic Philosophy Islamic?


4 Is Physics Interesting? Some Responses from Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages

5 The Flesh: A Medieval Model of Subjectivity

6 The Denial of Humanity: On the Judgment “These People Are Not Men” in Some Ancient and Medieval Texts


7 Three Muslim Views of the Christian City

8 The Jihad of the Philosophers


9 Inclusion and Digestion: Two Models of Cultural Appropriation, in Response to a Question of Hans-Georg Gadamer (Tübingen, September 3, 1996)

10 The Interpreter: Reflections on Arabic Translations

11 The Entry of Aristotle in Europe: The Arab Intermediary

12 The Extra-European Sources of Philosophic Europe


13 Some Mediterranean Myths

14 Was There Any Dialogue between Religions in the Middle Ages?

15 Geocentrism as the Humiliation of Man

16 Was Averroes a “Good Guy”?

Appendix: Original Texts


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