Theses Doctoral

The World Could Not Contain the Pages: A Sufi Reading of the Gospel of John Based on the Writings of Muḥyī al-Dīn Ibn al-ʿArabī (1165-1240 CE)

Wolfe, Michael Wehring

This dissertation addresses the question: how might the Sufi master, Muḥyī al-Dīn Ibn al-ʿArabī (1165-1240 CE), have read the Gospel of John? Although the Gospel of John belongs originally to the Christian tradition, this dissertation is a contribution to Islamic Studies, endeavoring to illuminate Ibn al-ʿArabī’s distinctive manner of reading religious texts and to highlight features of his negotiation of a dual heritage from Jesus and Muḥammad. To set Ibn al-ʿArabī’s thought against an Islamic backdrop and situate it in an Islamic context, this dissertation adopts the device of constructing a commentary, guided by seminal passages in Ibn al-ʿArabī’s written corpus, on an Arabic translation of the Gospel of John: the Alexandrian Vulgate, widely circulated in the Arab world during Ibn al-ʿArabī’s time. This amounts not only to a comparison between Johannine doctrines and Ibn al-ʿArabī’s doctrines, but also a comparison between the latter and historical Muslim commentaries on the Christian scriptures—particularly the Biblical commentary (in circulation by the thirteenth century) attributed to the famed Sufi theologian Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī, and the fourteenth-century Muslim Biblical commentary by Najm al-Dīn al-Ṭūfī (d. 1316 CE). Part I of the dissertation establishes a foundation for the commentary, inquiring into Ibn al-ʿArabī’s general attitudes towards non-Islamic religions, then considering autobiographical accounts of his relationship to Christianity, the question of his familiarity with the New Testament, and illustrations of his creative engagement with Christian doctrines. Part II of the dissertation constitutes the commentary, considering Ibn al-ʿArabī’s possible views on a number of Johannine doctrines: Jesus’ claim to have been the son of God; Jesus’ claim to have been one with God; the doctrine that Jesus was the embodied Word; the expiatory and epistemic functions of the embodied Word (paralleled by a dialectic relationship between two divergent kinds of witnessing); and the rumor, at the end of the Gospel of John, that the Beloved Disciple would never die.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Awn, Peter J.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 19, 2016